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Constructions of Deafness: Examining Deaf Languacultures in Education|
Thomas P. Horejes
I am myself plus my circumstance
and if I do not save it, I cannot save myself.
Several more months passed, and my mother and grandmother’s intuition grew stronger. They demanded a scientific explanation for why I was not responding to certain sounds. Finally, as I approached 6 months old, the doctors agreed to run more “tests.” They placed me alone in a soundproof glass laboratory room with my body wired to several electrocardiography (EKG) machines in the hope of determining what was “wrong” with me. I would later learn that during this moment, my mother started to get very emotional, not because I might have a hearing loss, but because I was being examined in a quack-type experimental manner in the name of science. My mother felt that the doctors were engaging in some sort of “Frankenstein” experiment, using fabricated tools and exerting their “scientific” authority to justify their actions. After hours of testing, the doctors concluded that I had a hearing loss and told my mother that they would need to keep me overnight for further testing. Repulsed with the way they had treated me, my mother refused, demanded that they stop any further tests, and brought me home. And thus began a new journey in my parents’ lives, “one that challenge[d] their understandings of themselves as parents and of what it is to be human” (Erting, 1985, p. 230).
After confirming through science their intuition that I had a “hearing loss,” questions entered my parents’ minds, including Will my child be “normal”? Will my child “speak”? Will my child be able to “hear”? How can I make my child as “normal” as possible? Will my child ever be able to “function” in a hearing society? How will my child be able to go to the same school as his “hearing” sister? These questions reflected their notions of what it meant to be “normal,” which was based on the ability to speak and hear. For my parents, hearing loss was an indication of a lifelong deficit; the notion of hearing was a human value and a criterion for normalcy. My identification as an individual with a hearing loss constructed the cultural reality in which I was categorized. My parents looked in the Yellow Pages under the heading, “hearing loss” and found that there was a school for children with “hearing impairments.” At the age of 6 months, my parents enrolled me at Central Institute for the Deaf (CID) in St. Louis, founded in 1916 and one of the premier oral schools in the world.
Central Institute for the Deaf (CID)
For 10 years, I received oral training, including extensive speech therapy at CID, where each academic subject (e.g., math, social studies, science, and so on) revolved around the capacity to pronounce terminology within these subjects, but involved little emphasis on the context or the substance of the information being taught. The school focused on speech as Erting (2003) defines it: “the form of language most people consider synonymous with underlying linguistic competence and through which most everyday human relationships are created and maintained” (p. 374). This method would be reinforced as I witnessed my family members and hearing friends using speech as their primary form of communication and as I relied on my hearing aids to connect speech with sounds.
I wanted to be hearing like them, but I was reminded of my limitations every day, either because I could not understand what they were saying or because I had to repeat what I had just said to them. The school was not assisting me to help me “master” my speech, so my parents also became my “personal” speech therapists, correcting my speech whenever possible. My understanding of the social world was centered on the immense importance of speaking as a fundamental criterion of my wholeness as a human being, or a normal human being in accordance with my knowledge construction.