|Literacy and Deaf People|
From the Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education
This book is divided into two parts. Part I, “‘Modernizing’ Deaf Selves and Deaf Education: Histories and Habits,” contains four chapters. Part II, with five chapters, is “Multicultural and Bilingual Perspectives.” That was easy. The more difficult challenge is to describe the contents, recognizing that any account must be grounded in something. Most literacy teachers might remark that this book has nothing to do with literacy or that this is just a collection of works thrown together to promote Deaf identity and culture. If you are looking for fresh ideas on how to teach English reading and writing skills, do not even bother to open this book. However, if you wonder whether literacy means much more than accessing print, this book might just tickle your fancy. It might even cause you to wonder what directions literacy instruction will take in the future.
The authors agree that literacy is more than accessing print. There has been a proliferation of terms such as information literacy, digital literacy, visual literacy, and multiple literacies—terms associated with New Literacies, a concept that recommends a broad view of literacy to meet the needs of a diverse, complex society. Current literacy practices of schools are based on a narrow characterization—the ability to read and write English—which is often considered to be the dominant, hearing-world, hegemonic culture’s literacy tied to spoken and written forms. As a result, students who are literate in other ways are labeled as failures. Even children who are able to access print information in other ways are slated to be low achievers, as measured by current achievement tests.
The authors argue that the study of literacy and deafness must proceed beyond simplistic, deficit views. Although they agree that there are English reading and writing difficulties, the authors contend that these are socially constructed and context bound. This limited view of literacy does not consider the contextual, cultural worlds of Deaf individuals and impedes their development or, perhaps, does not give them credit for what it is that they know.
There are ample discussions of understanding how Deaf people transact with print as well as the call for a greater role of Deaf people, particularly Deaf women, in the education of all deaf or hard-of-hearing children. The need for culturally designed supports for language learning should be considered in light of the current language acquisition process of most children, which is not their fault and puts them at a disadvantage in narrowly defined literacy practices.
I agree with contributing authors Engen and Engen that the goal is to become literate, not simply to possess the ability to access print. I am even intrigued by Wilcox’s notion of a Deaf epistemology. Nevertheless, like most educators in the education of deaf and hard-of-hearing children, I am keenly aware of the constant pressures to develop literacy skills that are aligned with content standards. With this overwhelming focus on the narrow view of literacy as the pathway to diplomas and degrees, reading this book can elicit a tremendous amount of frustration and angst. But then again, maybe that is one of the purposes. If we could only broaden our concept of a rose . . .
— Peter V. Paul, The Ohio State University
Brenda Jo Brueggemann is a professor in the Department of English at the University of Louisville.
Print Edition: ISBN 978-1-56368-271-1, 6 x 9 casebound, 226 pages, photographs, figures, tables, references, appendices, index
E-Book: ISBN 978-1-56368-233-9
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