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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Deaf Education in America: Voices of Children from Inclusion Settings

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Some of the feelings of inferiority originated from outside sources, such as the hearing teachers’ lower expectations for the deaf students than for their other students. Sam specifically spoke of this happening in her school. Even with her mother’s determination in repeatedly addressing this issue, Sam still felt the teachers held lower expectations for her. Julie also alluded to this problem when she stated that she did not always answer the teacher’s questions because she did not have to.

A perception of inferiority came from the hearing students, as well. They seemed to think that deaf students were not capable. Ashley’s comments in particular expressed a frustration in the hearing students’ surprise that she could do things. Julie’s comments alluded to the harassment that she had endured due to other students treating her as if she were inferior.

Some of the deaf students blamed their inferior treatment on cultural oppression. Jasmine’s thoughts revealed a sense that she has been forced to assimilate and others do not respect her language and culture. This need for a culturally competent educational approach is echoed in the comments of other students, as well.

A few deaf students felt a lack of power in dealing with interpreters. Clearly, they did not see the interpreters as allies. For example, one deaf student remarked, “They earn money. They just take advantage of deaf people by earning money working with them.” If deaf students do not see the interpreter as an ally, they may tend to believe the interpreter is either aligned the teacher or is working for self-interest. Interpreters who are not involved with the deaf community outside of school walls may perpetuate this kind of viewpoint. Jasmine’s litmus test for interpreters seems to be “if you align yourself with hearing culture, you can’t really be my ally.”

Most students, especially adolescents, feel powerless in school. They cannot choose their teachers, classmates, curriculum, or school. And all students are involved in numerous relationships in which they are the one with less power. However, for deaf students, this lack of power is more intense. While hearing students can choose their friends, deaf students are often stuck with whoever chooses to learn sign language. While hearing students can exercise some control over their interaction with others, deaf students are severely limited and must rely heavily on the interpreter. Though hearing students often can work harder to achieve a better education, deaf students are limited by many factors, such as the effectiveness of their interpreters, their ability to interact with the curriculum, and the level of support services available. While most hearing students can gain support and advice on addressing their struggles at home, deaf students rarely have anyone at home who can communicate with them at that level. The lack of power for deaf students seems to extend far beyond that of other groups of students with disabilities or from those from culturally diverse backgrounds because it is inherently connected to communication access.

Deaf people have long been subjected to a lack of power. But the long history of forced oralism seems to now have turned into a new history of forced assimilation in hearing schools—without the tools to support success. Some deaf students seem so accustomed to this situation that they do not notice. But the deaf students who have experienced the language-rich environments of deaf schools show a sense of empowerment. A prevalent theme throughout Zack, Kyle, and Jasmine’s interviews involves multiple comparisons of the lack of power felt in hearing schools and the sense of empowerment gained through their experiences at the deaf school. These three students are highly aware of the oppressive nature of the language deprivation at hearing schools and highly supportive of the increase in power that is afforded them in the language-rich environment found in deaf schools.


How have you experienced social change as you’ve gotten older?

Several of the students experienced a change in their level of satisfaction as they grew older. Julie and Ashley, both deaf signing students, seemed to experience more alienation as they grew older. However, Leslie, a speaking deaf student, felt more acceptance.

   I think it is fun going to school now. I have a lot of friends, and I just feel normal.
      It is just that when I was little I didn’t really have many friends and I really didn’t want to go to school. Just being myself
   helped, I guess.

   I went to hearing schools. In elementary school I had good friends, and I enjoyed my social interaction at school. The
   teachers were learning some sign language and fingerspelling. Then later in middle school I was even more motivated to
   work hard. . . . I felt close and connected there. The people at the school seemed to have an understanding of deaf
   culture, such as making things more visual, and the struggles we have with written language. Middle school was no
   problem, everything was fine. In high school they are more strict, less flexible; more cold, less friendly.

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