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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Disabling Pedagogy: Power, Politics, and Deaf Education

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On another occasion, she asked for permission to focus on a deaf child’s writing development for an assignment about the social theories of language: “They said no, I have to write it from a hearing [point of ] view because I’m in a course studying regular education, so it’s a bit disappointing.” Persisting, she next attempted to negotiate the requirements for a sociology assignment and then for another assignment in language education:
I’m studying sociology, and we had to interview a family about their educational background, and I asked if I could interview a deaf family, and they sort of said, oh well, uh, and I said, well, I’m going to teach deaf children in the future. And so they said, oh, yes, okay. So I’ve had some wins.

[But] last year . . . I asked them if I could study a deaf child’s reading, and they said no, and I said, well, what about a CODA [child of deaf adults]? I said, it’s a hearing child of deaf parents, still a hearing child. And they said, that’s okay, but I wasn’t allowed to study a deaf reader. So it’s interesting.

In our final interview Brooke had another language assignment due. She was to observe a literacy session and discuss it in terms of pedagogical theories. She asked whether she could observe a literacy lesson with deaf students and consider the extent to which the language theories she had been studying could be applied to deaf education: “They said, no, you have to do the assignment as it has been handed out, so that it’s the same as all the other students’ work. . . . I wanted to do it from a deaf point of view, to research that, and I thought it would be really exciting, but they said no, I had to do the same task as everybody else in the class.”

Brooke was unsure how to teach deaf children using a bilingual approach. She knew of the increasing awareness and recognition of native sign languages, and as a deaf person fluent in Auslan, she intended to instruct in this language and teach English through reading and writing. She did not expect her university education to equip her with this information either in the mainstream teaching degree she was pursuing (“because they don’t know about deafness”) or in the class for teachers of deaf students offered at the same institution (“[because it] is focused on audiology and hearing”). She therefore sought her own ways of studying bilingual pedagogy and arranged to spend four months during the university break as a volunteer worker at a school for deaf children in the United States. Her university would not give her academic credit for this experience, however, and rejected her request to count the overseas work as part of her practice teaching requirement “because it is a special school.” Brooke went anyway.

When she returned to Australia, Brooke spoke enthusiastically about everything she had experienced. Her work as a student teacher in a U.S. school for deaf students stood in stark contrast to her experiences in Australian schools. The key point of difference for her was the large number of Deaf teachers in the United States:

We don’t have many deaf teachers [in Australia] for starters. I mean Deaf teachers of the deaf, so we can’t really lobby for good support and maybe make our schools really strong. . . . In America they’re really strong and, really, there’s equal numbers of deaf and hearing teachers of the deaf. So I don’t think we can compare. The principal was deaf also.
Brooke especially valued the feedback she received from deaf teachers:
Deaf teachers are in the same situation as I am. We have something in common. The hearing teachers supported me, yes, but they didn’t give me feedback really, not as much as the deaf teachers. Plus they [the deaf teachers] gave me positive feedback or they told me directly; they were honest with me—saying I was signing too fast or something like that. . . . It was because . . . [the deaf teachers] shared my culture.
Settling back into the “hearing university” now became significantly more difficult for Brooke. She felt more isolated than she had before her U.S. experience:
When I came back to class, I thought, oh, it just doesn’t seem to be relevant to me. There were excellent instructors, but, for instance, if they were talking about educating students, they’d say, “This is how you do it. Make sure that all the students are watching you because you have to be careful of this and this.” And so it was great. It was from their experience, but they concentrate only on regular students. and so they’re talking about having twenty or thirty students in a class, and I don’t want to work in regular schools. I am going to work with the deaf, so I lost a lot of motivation when I came back, and I didn’t attend many classes. . . . I wanted to start working now and not go to the university to learn how to do things in their classrooms.

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