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"Deaf Enough"
May 9, 2006 10:14 AM   Subscribe

Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. is a liberal arts college and graduate school for the deaf (there's also a high school and primary school). In 1988, Gallaudet students protested when a hearing person was chosen as university president, and until today, I. King Jordan has served. Recently, a new president was chosen--Dr. Jane K. Fernandes, the school's Provost, who was born deaf but grew up speaking thanks to new therapies and technologies. A varied, vibrant student body never afraid to make their "voices" heard has spoken (with photos). Last night, so did a majority of the faculty, but Dr. Fernandes says she will stay.
posted by bardic (163 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
The whole idea of deaf culture seems completely perverse to me. It's a fetish. Is there a 'blind' culture as well?
posted by empath at 10:20 AM on May 9, 2006


The fascinating aspect of this story is the idea that there can be different levels of "deafness". I've heard of similar phenomenon amongst African Americans and Indians when it comes to skin color, but never with regard to a physical disability.
posted by aladfar at 10:20 AM on May 9, 2006


Don't think it is a fetish or perverse. People who are deaf have to accommodate those that are not, I see nothing weird that they would develop a specific culture where they operate as equals on a communication level. I think there may be several sub cultures based around disability but the deaf culture is definitively the most vocal and active-as-a-single-disability (as opposed to a general "crip")

I don't think people who have functional hearing can have a full understanding of the need for this for some people. As much as I work with people with disabilities I still have ambivalent feelings, especially towards the more radical factions, of deaf culture.

I think as a culture it is valid, but I am not a cultural realitivist so think that just as a person who is white should be allowed to teach, or be president of, a predominantly black university (and vica versa), so too should a person who can hear be allowed to be president of a deaf institution, providing they are able to represent the needs of the institution.
posted by edgeways at 10:32 AM on May 9, 2006


Yea, I don't get it. Shouldn't the only concern be whether or not Dr. Jane K. Fernandes will make a good president?
posted by Witty at 10:32 AM on May 9, 2006


Is there a 'blind' culture as well?

Yes, there is. There's also a white male culture, if you think about it, but it's so dominant in America as to "pass" for the norm (less so than it used to, but still).

Read the article--the students aren't naive. A lot of them don't mind Fernades' deafness as much as the fact that there were black candidates who were, according to them, overlooked. It's their school, and it's what they want--so they peacefully protested, as did the faculty.
posted by bardic at 10:36 AM on May 9, 2006


The president of a university is the representative of that community to trustees and university benefactors. So I guess the question is: can a "not deaf enough" president adequately represent a deaf university?

It seems to me like most of the protests are against the search process, rather than Fernandes herself (although it's pretty clear that some students/faculty think she's "not deaf enough" because she can talk!)
posted by muddgirl at 10:38 AM on May 9, 2006


Andrew Sullivan has a posting about this on his blog, here. He says this is evidence that "identity politics is clearly far from over."
posted by fugitivefromchaingang at 10:38 AM on May 9, 2006


What's Dr. Jordan's opinion of Fernandes's appointment? Has he made a statement, or is he not commenting for political reasons?
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:40 AM on May 9, 2006


Shouldn't the only concern be whether or not Dr. Jane K. Fernandes will make a good president?

Maybe. But I can understand how students and alumni can see a non-deaf president as a slight. Can you imagine a white president of a traditionally black college? Can you imagine a man as the president of NOW? Or a white person as the president of the NAACP?

While I'm sure a non-deaf person could do just as great a job as a deaf person in the role of president, I can understand why students and faculty might feel that this decision sends the wrong message.

Of course, it's all moot to me since I can hear and don't goto this college.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 10:40 AM on May 9, 2006


The whole idea of deaf culture seems completely perverse to me. It's a fetish. Is there a 'blind' culture as well?
posted by empath at 1:20 PM EST on May 9 [!]


This goes in the "ironic username" file...
posted by staggernation at 10:41 AM on May 9, 2006


The deaf are a group that has its own language which most Americans do not understand. Ponder that for a minute -- because a large part of what defines culture is communication, and ASL is its own distinct language. There's also the common disability and common discrimination which forms a basis for understanding. I agree that it is an American subculture.

So, when you consider someone who can speak, and didn't learn ASL as a first language ... yes, I think that this person must necessarily be, at least in part, an outsider to that culture.

The question I think, is what does a subculture do with outsiders? The culture can welcome those people in, like America does with immigrants, or it can reject them. Nevertheless, the question of whether or not immigrants are culturally different isn't the issue.
posted by adzuki at 10:42 AM on May 9, 2006


There's also a white male culture, if you think about it, but it's so dominant in America as to "pass" for the norm (less so than it used to, but still).

It's a stretch to compare skin color to physical disability. Skin color dosen't actually connote any lack of ability to do anything. Deaf people actually cannot hear. While 'deaf culture' is an interesting and admirable adaptation to circumstance, hearing is something that's nice to have. And I have heard some 'deaf culture' advocates equate cochlear implants and other procedures that would allow the deaf to hear with some kind of sellout, which is ridiculous.

Also, my (hearing) ex-girlfriend did graduate work at Gallaudet. She never told me about all this political intrigue.
posted by jonmc at 10:42 AM on May 9, 2006


There is Deaf culture because of Sign. The blind do not have their own native language. And speaking is a very politically sensitive matter in the Deaf community because it's only in this generation that speaking-only schools—where Deaf children were (are) punished if caught Signing—are the minority. All these issues are interrelated; but the important thing to understand is that because of there being a (relatively) unique native language associated with this disability, it is much more than a disability. I understand how this would seem "perverse" to the uninitiated, but the key to understanding this and just how different it is is to understand how important language is to a culture, particularly a very marginalized one. It is from this perspective, too, that it becomes possible for the hearing to begin to understand the issues and controversy surrounding cochlear implants in children.

It's also very important to understand that Sign are full human languages and within the context of a Signing culture, being deaf is not a profound disability and certainly is not comparable to being blind. Sacks, whose book I recommend below, talks at length about the Long Island town which had very high levels of endemic deafness and thus the entire community, hearing and deaf alike, were for several generations fluent in Sign. Within that context, a deaf person integrated transparently with hearing people in a way that is not possible in the absence of Sign. My point being that this about a language and, in the related context, not about a disability. Yes, in the end there's no denying that deafness is a disability. But in a great many ways deafness is quite unlike any other disabilities and is also a great deal more than a disability.

The reason that levels of deafness is a tricky social matter in the Deaf community is because of what I describe in the previous paragraph.

Gallaudet really is the symbolic center of American Deaf culture, and to some degree worldwide, too. Deaf education began in France and the US in the mid to late 1800s; prior to this the deaf were ignored, not educated, thought to be mentally deficient.

An excellent introduction to the medical and cultural implications of deafness is Oliver Sack's Seeing Voices. I recommend it highly.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:43 AM on May 9, 2006


Finally, this stuff is getting out in the open. I dealt with a large number of Gallaudet students in a former retail position, and I was SHOCKED at how many of them were jerks. And it wasn't unique to either gender. While I can assure you, of course there were nice students too, the majority of them treated the staff very poorly, and were totally rude as well. When I'd brought up the phenomenon to a reporter friend of mine, he told me about the whole "deaf culture" thing. I guess it just shows you that Assholes are everywhere.
posted by indiebass at 10:46 AM on May 9, 2006


You might want to watch Sound and Fury, a documentary about deaf culture and a family's decision to investigate a cochlear implant for their young daughter.
posted by cior at 10:46 AM on May 9, 2006


Can you imagine a white president of a traditionally black college? Can you imagine a man as the president of NOW? Or a white person as the president of the NAACP?

Isn't that what we're shooting for? Everyone shouts for equal this, equal that... then finds little ways to "keep it in the club" at every turn. "Not deaf enough"? Please. If I were a candidate, that lived with a hearing disability all my life, I would be insulted.
posted by Witty at 10:46 AM on May 9, 2006


"Not deaf enough"? Please. If I were a candidate, that lived with a hearing disability all my life, I would be insulted.

Maybe she could offer to put on earmuffs.
posted by jonmc at 10:49 AM on May 9, 2006 [1 favorite]


What?
posted by PHINC at 10:52 AM on May 9, 2006


Isn't that what we're shooting for?

No, and you're just being willfully obtuse now. The aforementioned groups represent very specific people with specific interests. It's just an extension of their identity to use people who most ably represent that identity as their leader. A non-deaf person does not most ably represent the culture and needs of the deaf college. A man does not MOST ABLY represent the culture and needs of an organization comprised of women. This isn't rocket science here.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 10:53 AM on May 9, 2006


A non-deaf person does not most ably represent the culture and needs of the deaf college. A man does not MOST ABLY represent the culture and needs of an organization comprised of women. This isn't rocket science here.

There's a flipside to that. Cultural Balkanization. Pandering (as in we have to throw a bone to this, that and every other group), and simply more hostility across the board. By your logic, I should never vote for a black, female, or gay political candidate since they couldn't MOST ABLY represent my straight white male culture.

But don't worry, deaf people everywhere are sleeping soundly tonight now that they've heard (heh) your brave speech.
posted by jonmc at 11:00 AM on May 9, 2006


PHINC writes "What?"


PHINC FTW... oh man, that is great.
posted by indiebass at 11:01 AM on May 9, 2006


"‘[black] skin color dosen't actually connote any lack of ability to do anything."

Yes it does—it indicates a lack of ability to be white. In some contexts, that's a disability. In others, it's not. In some contexts, being deaf is a very minor disability while, at the same time, being part of Deaf culture with its own languages and history and its unfortunate isolation from hearing culture make Deaf culture a very big deal.

indiebass: you don't know what you're talking about. You sound exactly like someone complaining about how an ethnic or racial group of people are often jerks "because of their culture". Such fatuous judgments are easy to make in ignorance and especially from a position of relative social privilege.

"A man does not MOST ABLY represent the culture and needs of an organization comprised of women. This isn't rocket science here."

I don't really agree with your argument as it stands. Rather, my argument would be that there's good reasons for it that don't center on identity politics. It's not that, say, a black college intrinsically needs a black president, or a women's college intrinsically needs a woman president, or a deaf college intrinsically needs a deaf president; rather, it's that to varying degrees and at different times in the past, all three of these groups where/are thought to be inherently subcompetent and the unquestioned norm would be a white, hearing male acting as president because a white, hearing male is competent where a black/deaf/female person is not. I don't think that's about identity issues in the more typical abstract sense, I think that involves many practical issues both in regard to education internally and also to education in the context of a larger society, as well.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:01 AM on May 9, 2006


The conversation I've had with social workers in the Gallaudet school for social work about identity and community have been completely fascinating. I can completely understand the need for a deaf president, although this kind of argument about being "x-enough" tends to tear groups apart. (I do understand some of the issues invovled in the new technologies etc.)

As an aside, but because it's something I never fail to think about when I read anything about Gallaudet, when I was in High School my school was in the same sports league as Gallaudet HS, and the cc runners for some reason could really run down hill. All of their runners just friggin' tore down hills with a kind of abandon that none of the other runners from other schools acheived. Because of the language barrier I never was able to discover if it was due to some special bit of coaching, or something to do with inner ear stuff, or what, but it was consistent across the whole team.
posted by OmieWise at 11:04 AM on May 9, 2006


indiebass writes: I dealt with a large number of Gallaudet students in a former retail position, and I was SHOCKED at how many of them were jerks.

And most hearing college-age kids are bundles of sweetness and light, I'm sure.

EB: There is braille, which while not a language per se, strikes me as something that many blind people rally around as their own, and which defines them, although perhaps not to the extent that American deaf rally around ASL.

jonmc: The deaf people I know don't consider not being able to hear a handicap, but if anything, a blessing. Indeed, their are even ASL separatist types out there who think the deaf community should have as few ties as possible to the hearing world. As for "white culture," it's there. I actually like a lot of it myself. Codes, norms, practices--we all engage in them, but often unconsciously.

What fascinates me about all of this (NB: my mom used to work at Gallaudet, but she and I are hearing folks) is how it models the practical/idealistic split in American assimilation going back to Booker T. Washington vs. WEB DuBois in many ways.

As for Fernandes, she probably is greatly offended--she's dedicated a lot of her professional life to the school. But my sense is that the deaf students don't just want their own deaf rights, they want solidarity with other minority groups, and hence a white woman who isn't as "deaf" as many of them doesn't cut it.

Side-note--for those of you not familar with DC, Gallaudet happens to be in a pretty bad area of town on Florida Ave (better than it used to be when I lived in NE, but still). The town v. gown issues are more complicated, and interesting, than in many other cities and towns.
posted by bardic at 11:06 AM on May 9, 2006


I genuinely do not understand the controversy. Religious schools do not hire atheists to run their campuses. Historically black colleges do not hire white deans and presidents. Why are these situations acceptable, but the community at this particular school cannot decide the acceptability of its leadership?
posted by Mr. Six at 11:09 AM on May 9, 2006


(Omiewise, I played football against Model HS growing up in DC (now called Clerc). They "called" plays using a huge bass drum before the snap.)
posted by bardic at 11:09 AM on May 9, 2006


jonmc: The deaf people I know don't consider not being able to hear a handicap, but if anything, a blessing.

I've known my share of deaf people and I've never met a single one who would say that. Quite frankly, I find hearing people's wholesale buying of this to be somewhat patronizing. Not to mention other-fetishizing.


Yes it does—it indicates a lack of ability to be white.


But ultimately that lack is meaningless, scientifically speaking. Whereas deafness is not. Sorry, but there you have it.
posted by jonmc at 11:12 AM on May 9, 2006


A non-deaf president is better because she is able to hear.
posted by I Foody at 11:13 AM on May 9, 2006


Ethereal Bligh writes "indiebass: you don't know what you're talking about..."

Hey, F*ck you. You don't know my experience and you don't have any authority to comment on it. I was relaying a series of events AND telling you what my experience was with this particular school's students at a particular time. Let me ask you about your experience: what is the weather like that far up your own ass? I said these particular students (and i did stress not all of them) were jerks to me and my coworkers. There is nothing factually inaccurate or arguable about that.

I do not appreciate your insinuation, and you are totally in the wrong.
posted by indiebass at 11:15 AM on May 9, 2006


Why are these situations acceptable, but the community at this particular school cannot decide the acceptability of its leadership?

I don't neccessarily have a problem with the accepting that deaf students want a deaf president. I just find it a bit much to discriminate against a person because he or she isn't "deaf enough". This woman seems more than qualified. But I'm a hearing white male... who once again, isn't qualified to understand anything outside of my elite group.
posted by Witty at 11:16 AM on May 9, 2006


Mr. Six, Dr. Jane K. Fernandes is deaf, totally non-hearing. Her only flaw is that she didn't grow up signing, but picked up the language later in life. She's perfectly fluent now, but didn't face the same sort of separation that other, signing-only deaf people faced, since she was able to lip read and speak as a child. It's like a Baptist school not allowing a convert to be president.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:16 AM on May 9, 2006


indiebass: you don't know what you're talking about. You sound exactly like someone complaining about how an ethnic or racial group of people are often jerks "because of their culture".

I don't think that's what he's saying at all. I think he's saying that there are jerks in any subgroup of society, but members of certain subgroups get to use 'culture' as an excuse, whereas everybody else is simply a jerk. That rankles.
posted by jonmc at 11:18 AM on May 9, 2006 [1 favorite]


Scientifically speaking, lynching doesn't make much sense. But in practice, it happened all the time.

And remember the context of age here--these are kids aged 17-25 (a lot of Gallaudet's population is a bit over the average, since they might have been held back in grade school due to an undiagnosed hearing problem). While I hesitate to use the term radical, these are kids and young adults who probably haven't started their careers yet, and since 1988 have felt the need to protest twice as hard in order to get anything done. So yes, they're on the more piss-n-vinegar side of the equation, but why shouldn't they be?

And I'm not fetishizing anything--I've spent time on the campus. It's a friendly environment, but you'll get a knuckle sandwich pretty quick for telling any of these people they'd be better off in the hearing world.
posted by bardic at 11:18 AM on May 9, 2006


(And btw, did any of you read the articles? By objective standards, Fernandes is deaf. Even the student protestors admit this.)
posted by bardic at 11:19 AM on May 9, 2006


The whole "you could NEVER understand what it's like to be black/a woman/deaf/x/y/z and how dare you even try" mentality substitutes self-righteousness for actual attempts to solve the problem of racism/sexism/xism/yism/zism.


The head of the Gay Men's Health Crisis is a woman.
posted by fugitivefromchaingang at 11:19 AM on May 9, 2006


and jonmc says what i'm trying to say better than I can. (many thanks)!
posted by indiebass at 11:19 AM on May 9, 2006


It's a friendly environment, but you'll get a knuckle sandwich pretty quick for telling any of these people they'd be better off in the hearing world.

And they'd be wrong. No blind person argues that being blind is a blessing or would turn down the ability to see. Ditto a crippled person and walking. Sorry but there you go. Lack of hearing is indeed a lack, no matter how one chooses to adapt to it. Dosen't make deaf people lesser beings or anything of the sort, and I'd offer a knuckle sandwich to anyone who said otherwise, but I'm not gonna deny plain old scientific facts.
posted by jonmc at 11:24 AM on May 9, 2006


Mr. Six, Dr. Jane K. Fernandes is deaf, totally non-hearing. Her only flaw is that she didn't grow up signing, but picked up the language later in life. She's perfectly fluent now, but didn't face the same sort of separation that other, signing-only deaf people faced, since she was able to lip read and speak as a child. It's like a Baptist school not allowing a convert to be president.

Without being a member of the deaf community at Gallaudet, I could not comment on whether this analogy is proper or not. I would say, however, that knowing if that analogy is proper or not is very important.

Your analogy may sound indefensible to you, but I suspect that Gallaudet's students and faculty feel very differently about their president — as is their right.

Who are we who do not live in their culture to decide how competent they are or what criteria they should use to decide their own leadership?
posted by Mr. Six at 11:25 AM on May 9, 2006


Who are we who do not live in their culture to decide how competent they are or what criteria they should use to decide their own leadership?

So let's follow that thinking to it's inevitable conclusion and let every group and subgroup in society pick their own representatives and leaders and we'll all split off into little hostile packs.
posted by jonmc at 11:26 AM on May 9, 2006


I didn't criticize their choice, Mr. Six. Just laying out one of the reasons for the protest.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:29 AM on May 9, 2006


"Quite frankly, I find hearing people's wholesale buying of this to be somewhat patronizing. Not to mention other-fetishizing."

You probably aimed that my way. But, as it happens, my aunt is deaf, she's prominent in the deaf community nationwide, and I've been around deaf people my entire life. And I've known many who would, and do, say what you claim none of the deaf people you know would not. You're doing that off-the-cuff-ignorance-but-jonmc-has-an-opinion thing you do that is a great deal more risible than you realize. I've been doing my best to snap at you.

This is one of those things that, to most people, and after a casual evaluation, seems not that terribly complicated and not a matter on which there is a great deal to know. But that's not the case—it is complicated and there is a great deal to know. And if you're even moderately knowledgeable it becomes obvious when someone is not.

On preview: "And they'd be wrong. No blind person argues that being blind..." You're at your most infuriating when you do this. You know, sometimes plain-spoken, commonsensical, straight-shooting talk really is ignorant hillbilly stupidity that fashions itself as "wisdom". You need to develop some sense of when you're straying into the Ozarks.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:29 AM on May 9, 2006


No blind person argues that being blind is a blessing or would turn down the ability to see. Ditto a crippled person and walking. Sorry but there you go. Lack of hearing is indeed a lack, no matter how one chooses to adapt to it.

And I think that's the thing. One does adapt to it, I'm sure. No doubt deaf people gain a certain perspective, a certain sharpening in other areas, a certain added way of looking at the world that I think anyone gets, in one way or another, when s/he is placed on the fringes or outside of a society in a certain way. And this adaptation, for lack of a better word, can really come to help define a person. So yes, it's a lack, but that's probably how deaf people can think of it as, in a strange way, a blessing, too. Because it made them who they are.
posted by fugitivefromchaingang at 11:29 AM on May 9, 2006


So let's follow that thinking to it's inevitable conclusion and let every group and subgroup in society pick their own representatives and leaders and we'll all split off into little hostile packs.

But we do that already, as I mentioned before.

My question is why deaf people are not allowed to decide the leadership of their community, but it is not at all controversial for other communities — again, I refer to religious schools, primarily — to choose their own criteria for their leaders.
posted by Mr. Six at 11:30 AM on May 9, 2006


But, as it happens, my aunt is deaf, she's prominent in the deaf community nationwide, and I've been around deaf people my entire life. And I've known many who would, and do, say what you claim none of the deaf people you know would not. You're doing that off-the-cuff-ignorance-but-jonmc-has-an-opinion thing you do that is a great deal more risible than you realize. I've been doing my best to snap at you.

I was talking to bardic, who implied that I'd be inviting violence for offering a dissenting opinion. As far as the deaf people I've known, all used hearing aids and spoke as well as signed. There's a deaf guy in the office here who speaks better than I do, and he wears a button saying "Lip Reader. Please Speak Slowly." which an accomodation I'm happy to make. You can attack my way of making my points all you want, EB, but this still seems like tribalism and patronage to me. YMMV.
posted by jonmc at 11:34 AM on May 9, 2006 [1 favorite]


But we do that already, as I mentioned before.

Sure, but is it something we want to encourage? I thought not.
posted by jonmc at 11:35 AM on May 9, 2006


My question is why deaf people are not allowed to decide the leadership of their community...

Who is saying they aren't "allowed". Of course they're allowed. What you're trying to say is, "WE aren't allowed to have an opinion on the subject because we're not deaf"... which is to say (and we hear/read this all the time), men can't have opinions or ideas about women's issues, whites about blacks, straights about gays and so on.
posted by Witty at 11:35 AM on May 9, 2006


You're doing that off-the-cuff-ignorance-but-jonmc-has-an-opinion thing you do that is a great deal more risible than you realize... This is one of those things that, to most people, and after a casual evaluation, seems not that terribly complicated and not a matter on which there is a great deal to know. But that's not the case—it is complicated and there is a great deal to know. And if you're even moderately knowledgeable it becomes obvious when someone is not.

It's one thing to be anti-somebody else's opinions. It's another to be so anti-other people having opinions. What is this threshold of intimate knowledge with a community that we must have before we meet your standards for having an opinion?
posted by fugitivefromchaingang at 11:35 AM on May 9, 2006


jonmc: And they'd be wrong. No blind person argues that being blind is a blessing or would turn down the ability to see. Ditto a crippled person and walking. Sorry but there you go.

Sometimes that working-everyman schtick comes uncomfortably close to rank bigotry. Hear, you cross the line, light that line on fire, and pee it out.

Dude, meet some different people.
posted by bardic at 11:37 AM on May 9, 2006


Within the context of a Deaf community, where everyone is a native Signer, being deaf is not a significant disability...while at the same time it means being part of a substantial culture in a way that is not comparable with any other disability. The analogy to the blind or what-have-you is a faulty analogy. Sign is(are) a fully-developed human language(s) at which children become native to as they aquire language as children normally do. Setting aside all the ways in which Deaf culture in a practical sense would inevitably be a distinct "culture", the matter of language influences or even defines cultures to an unparalelled degree and this makes Deaf culture unique.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:39 AM on May 9, 2006


What you're trying to say is, "WE aren't allowed to have an opinion on the subject because we're not deaf"

You're welcome to your opinion, of course, but I am genuinely trying to understand why you have the opinion that deaf folks are not capable of deciding who leads them. Your criteria for competence obviously differs from theirs — but why are your criteria superior to theirs? Is it possible your criteria are wrong, especially since the actions of their leaders have no tangible effect on you personally? Is it possible this community may understand better what they need than you?
posted by Mr. Six at 11:43 AM on May 9, 2006


Dude, meet some different people.

As I said, in my teens and twenties, I worked at several jobs where a large (I'd estimate about 30%) of my co-workers were disables/handicapped in some way. While they certainly all wanted to be treated with respect and dignity, and deserved to be. I never once heard any sentiment like this communicated to me. And I was the shop chatterbox and politically outspoken and leaned left. I'm sorry we didn't come to the same conclusions, but I trust my own experiences more than what somebody preaches to me.

Sometimes that working-everyman schtick comes uncomfortably close to rank bigotry.

You know, you don't like me, that's your prerogative, but I thought personal attacks were supposed to be off limits here, and in any argument people will pull that cliche out of their hat rather than deal with the substance of what I'm trying to say. Cut it out.
posted by jonmc at 11:44 AM on May 9, 2006


jonmc: So let's follow that thinking to it's inevitable conclusion and let every group and subgroup in society pick their own representatives and leaders and we'll all split off into little hostile packs.

Thankfully most of the world doesn't have you do their thinking for them. Again, these are college kids. They pay tuition, and they peacefully protested against a new president whom they perceived as not being as fully committed to earning rights and respect for the deaf community as they are. They're not out in the streets lighting things on fire (at least, they weren't last weekend when I walked past the place). They are, however, mad that they don't feel as if they're being taken seriously by the administration, nor apparetnly, do the faculty. They want to be represented fully. When they leave Gallaudet and go of to start careers and raise families in the hearing world, they won't expect anyone to bend over backwards for them--if anything, they're probably a hell of a lot tougher than you or I could ever be. What they do want is to go through life being affiliated with an institution that won't compromise when it comes to bringing deaf issues to the fore of American culture. Simple as that.

And I wish I could have toned down my previous comment, but I hope you realize what a jerk you sound like telling the blind and the deaf that they're "faulty" goods. If the goal of life is to fit in perfectly with the norm as often as possible, I guess the ugly, the non-white, and the radicals should think of themselve the same way, right?
posted by bardic at 11:44 AM on May 9, 2006


Is it possible this community may understand better what they need than you?

Yes and yes, to all of your questions. Do I still find it odd that a perfectly deaf woman isn't "deaf enough" to represent a deaf university. The answer... YES.

Should we closed the thread now? Everyone here can hear right? Let's shut'er down folks. We're not qualified.
posted by Witty at 11:46 AM on May 9, 2006


I am genuinely trying to understand why you have the opinion that deaf folks are not capable of deciding who leads them.

I think your problem is your phrasing. You are accusing someone of something s/he never said.

Think of it this way: I may disagree with the American people voting Bush into office twice. This does not mean I think the American people are "not capable of deciding who leads them."
posted by fugitivefromchaingang at 11:47 AM on May 9, 2006


I feel sorry for Dr. Fernandes.
posted by ozomatli at 11:48 AM on May 9, 2006


I hope you realize what a jerk you sound like telling the blind and the deaf that they're "faulty" goods. If the goal of life is to fit in perfectly with the norm as often as possible, I guess the ugly, the non-white, and the radicals should think of themselve the same way, right?

Again, I strenuously object to the conflation of deafness with race. You differ. Me disagreeing does not make me a bigot and I resent the implication and the scarlet-letter thinking behind it. (and 'radicals?' weak. poltical radicals are grown people making choices who live with the consequences. Grow up.)
posted by jonmc at 11:49 AM on May 9, 2006


I think your problem is your phrasing.

I think my phrasing is entirely correct. If you disagree with their decision — which you're perfectly entitled to do — you are making a value judgement that you believe your decision is superior in some way to theirs.

I'd simply like to know why. I'm uncertain whether "deaf enough" qualifies, either, since I've yet to come across that odd generalization in their complaints about her.

In fact, the Washington Post article seems quite clear about the scope and detail of their genuine concerns:

"Some said they objected to the selection of Fernandes because they did not think she did a good job as provost at Gallaudet during the past six years, and some said she was not the right person to represent the deaf community. The school is for many the emotional center of deaf culture...

"Since Fernandes was appointed last week, students and others have protested the search process, which they say unfairly eliminated strong candidates and did not include enough emphasis on racial and ethnic diversity. The outcome seemed predetermined, protesters said."


I don't see anything in this piece about insufficient deafness as the criteria used for the vote of no confidence.
posted by Mr. Six at 11:56 AM on May 9, 2006


Can you imagine a man as the president of NOW? Or a white person as the president of the NAACP?

Why yes, I can.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:56 AM on May 9, 2006


And I wish I could have toned down my previous comment, but I hope you realize what a jerk you sound like telling the blind and the deaf that they're "faulty" goods.

He never said that. He said it's a loss. Gay people can't have their own biological children (well, not unless they have money for expensive procedures and, if male, a surrogate, so we'll say poor or middle-class gay people). This is a loss. It doesn't mean that gay people are inferior. But it's a loss. Everybody suffers losses of some kind or another. Sorry for the comparison, for those of you who think any comparisons are beyond the pale. But I don't see what's wrong with stating that deafness is a loss of some kind.
posted by fugitivefromchaingang at 11:59 AM on May 9, 2006


Mr. Six, Dr. Jane K. Fernandes is deaf, totally non-hearing. Her only flaw is that she didn't grow up signing, but picked up the language later in life.

i wonder what the reaction would be if a regular american college decided that their president had to be someone whose first tongue was english ... that, say, a native german speaker wouldn't be considered "american" enough

i realize this is more complicated than that, but it's still a legitimate point ... basically, i see one group of people hinting that a person from a linguistic minority in the community (meaning someone for who asl isn't a native language) isn't qualified, while others question if a racial minority is being passed over deliberately ... all while the minority group of deaf people at large try to figure out their relationship to society

this is the flaw in identity politics ... that taken to its extreme, it can render many issues unsolvable ... and at some point, people need to be considered as individuals and not members of a group

My question is why deaf people are not allowed to decide the leadership of their community, but it is not at all controversial for other communities — again, I refer to religious schools, primarily — to choose their own criteria for their leaders.

but many times, those appointments get mired in controversy ... and it's my impression that the controversy here is within the community

my only other observation is that culture is becoming one of the most abused and ill-defined words in the language
posted by pyramid termite at 12:01 PM on May 9, 2006


Deafness is certainly not a race, nor a choice, but so what? Kids who are different get picked on, and adults who are different get shunned and/or paid less for their work. Nothing new here.

However, telling people to suck it up and deal with their "deformity," be it medical or melanin-based, isn't bigotry necessarily, but it's pretty damn ignorant. And if these kids and professors are, understandably, sick of it, and want to do something about it, albeit in a limited capacity, who are you Mr. Budweiser Buddha, to tell them that what they're doing is ultimately the road to further marginality?

Meanwhile, Dr. Fernandes is caught in the middle, and I have a lot of sympathy for her as well.
posted by bardic at 12:02 PM on May 9, 2006


But I don't see what's wrong with stating that deafness is a loss of some kind.

Exactly. The definition of being deaf is 'unable to hear.' It's a culture, yes, but one defined by something that's missing. Does it make deaf people lesser beings? Of course not. But I can't fathom someone calling the lack of one of the five senses as a gift, or not wanting all of the senses available to them to experience the world. I don't see what's wrong with stating that perception, but if they'd rather get reflexively indignant, hey, knock yourself out Billy Jack.
posted by jonmc at 12:04 PM on May 9, 2006 [1 favorite]


Being deaf is a very isolating experience. As a small-d deaf person, I am unable to fully participate in the hearing world. Because of this, I am slowly migrating to the Deaf world, but I still face language and cultural barriers there too.

jonmc: the deaf people you have known - were they deaf or Deaf?
posted by angrybeaver at 12:06 PM on May 9, 2006


I'd simply like to know why. I'm uncertain whether "deaf enough" qualifies, either, since I've yet to come across that odd generalization in their complaints about her.

In fact, the Washington Post article seems quite clear about the scope and detail of their genuine concerns


Fair enough. The linked article above does seem to say that Dr. Fernandes herself is the one saying that this is about what is "deaf enough," while the students apparently have a number of other reasons to be concerned. Maybe Dr. Fernandes is just trying to manipulate the issue to her advantage. It's hard for me to say.
posted by fugitivefromchaingang at 12:06 PM on May 9, 2006


However, telling people to suck it up and deal with their "deformity," be it medical or melanin-based, isn't bigotry necessarily, but it's pretty damn ignorant.

Don't your knuckles get scraped from shoving words in my mouth? I said nothing of the kind.

Kids who are different get picked on, and adults who are different get shunned and/or paid less for their work.

And I explicitly decried and denounced that.

who are you Mr. Budweiser Buddha, to tell them that what they're doing is ultimately the road to further marginality?

a person living in a free-society with the right to voice an opinion. Who are you Mr. Savior Of The Downtrodden to deny me that?
posted by jonmc at 12:07 PM on May 9, 2006


jonmc: the deaf people you have known - were they deaf or Deaf?

I'm not sure what you mean here.
posted by jonmc at 12:08 PM on May 9, 2006


But I don't see what's wrong with stating that deafness is a loss of some kind.

For many of the deaf themselves, they consider it a gain. Round and round we go, etc. The whole normative ideal against which you can say "not being X leads to a loss of Y" is something which many books have been written about, but I'll leave it at this--nobody wants to go through life thinking of themself as a victim of fate, of God, of a car-crash, what have you. It's, to put it as mildly as I can state it, incredibly rude to just throw out the notion that people with different skill sets, if not obvious disabilities, have to still meet your standard of what normal is.

I dunno, go see Murderball. Different context of course, but actually listen to what people with physical challenges themselves have to say about it.

As for gays, well, I'd hate to derail this any further, but I'll say this--as a straight male, I don't see how having kids is a bonus for anyone. But maybe I'll change my mind about that some day. But there's always adoption as well, so I don't think it's a very strong analogy.
posted by bardic at 12:10 PM on May 9, 2006


Well it's only a loss if you could hear to begin with. Seriously, this is like suggesting that people who only speak Mandarin and not English are at a loss because they can't speak English. You're using your frame of reference to define normal, which is different than defining majority. Sure, the majority of people can hear, but if you can't and never could what kind of comparison is there, what metric is there, for considering that a loss. Sure, there are parts of human culture that are inaccessible to people who cannot hear, but so too are there such parts for people who can't read or won't sit still or who are picky eaters. You seem to be confusing the diversity of human experience with variations not just from a norm but from a Platonic ideal.
posted by OmieWise at 12:13 PM on May 9, 2006


Etheral Bligh is correct about a culture based on language. The debate between ASL purists and cued speech proponents is surely a huge issue at Galludet, as mentioned, a college campus with an aware, active and politically motivated student body.

There ARE both deaf purists and deaf fetishists who maintain that it is a preferable or equal but different state to being hearing.

The strong history of the deaf in the performing arts, exemplified by the National Theater of the Deaf, makes a case for the value of deaf culture.

Let the college go through their own process without patronizing the institution.
posted by rainbaby at 12:13 PM on May 9, 2006


It's, to put it as mildly as I can state it, incredibly rude to just throw out the notion that people with different skill sets, if not obvious disabilities, have to still meet your standard of what normal is.

And I don't see how I'm doing that. And nobody brought up gay people but you. Look when I was in 4th grade, I had a speech defect and was sent to speech therapy. Should I have protested that they were forcing me to live up to some version of normality? Looking back, I'm glad I had it since now when I speak, people hear me and not my 'slushy s.' That's a more accurate analogy than race or sexuality, imo. ymmv.
posted by jonmc at 12:14 PM on May 9, 2006


0.2% of the U.S. population is deaf. So you've already limited your presidential candidates rather severely. Now remove anyone who was wealthy enough to get speech therapy as a child or ever had a little bit of hearing - so you're left with only profoundly deaf people from poor families.

Now let's look at an ideal university president - the President has little to do with academia and everything to do with fund-raising. Her job is to raise money 24/7/365. Being able to speak to the non-deaf (and mostly non-signing) 99.8% of the population is pretty much a job requirement. Coming from a rich family is also a major requirement - you want to be able to make personal connections with rich prospective donors.

There isn't a whole lot of overlap. Pretty obvious why the trustees chose as they did.

Deaf culture is weird. It is not an outlying opinion, but actually pretty mainstream, that deaf people want deaf children and oppose cochlear implants or any type of assisted hearing. They see deafness as an entirely separate culture, and use the ASL signs for "deaf" and "hard of hearing" to mean "part of deaf culture" and "part of hearing culture" respectively, regardless of actual hearing loss. More than a few deaf people have stated they actually want to deafen their children, so the children won't miss out on deaf culture. Here's a couple who sought a deaf child, got one who was nearly deaf, and refused to let the kid have a hearing aid when it might make a difference in teaching him to comprehend spoken language and speak himself. I think it is safe to say that most hearing parents would seek maximal treatment for a nearly-deaf child, so these people are well outside of normal for hearing people. But I don't think they are well outside of normal for deaf people.
posted by jellicle at 12:14 PM on May 9, 2006 [1 favorite]


There is small-d deaf, which generally refers to the lack of hearing, and big-D Deaf which refers to Deaf Culture. Most deaf people who grew up oral are considered deaf or hard-of-hearing, while those who grew up with ASL will consider themselves Deaf.

There is a very significant cultural divide between those two groups and outsiders will generally be unable to grok the difference.
posted by angrybeaver at 12:15 PM on May 9, 2006


Then I suppose they were small-d, I guess. Since beyond occasionally asking me to repeat something, their deafness wasn't an issue as far as we related to eachother.
posted by jonmc at 12:18 PM on May 9, 2006


"From disability to minority: hearing people are always keen to give deaf people the 'gift' of hearing, but who says they need to be 'cured'?"

"We do not view deafness as a sickness or a handicap. We view it as a gift from God, which has led to the creation of a unique language and culture, worthy of respect and affirmation."

'The "pathological" view of Deaf people has also been called the Clinical-Pathological view or the Medical Model. Essentially this view accepts the behaviors and values of people who can hear as "standard" or "the norm" and then focuses on how Deaf people deviate from that norm. This is the perspective that has been traditionally held by a majority of non-deaf professionals who interact with the Deaf Community only on a professional basis. In a sense, this is the "outsider's" view - a view that focuses on how Deaf people are different from non-deaf people and a view that generally perceives those differences negatively. It is also a view that deaf people have something wrong with them, something that can and must be "fixed."' [Emp. mine]

"Deaf Culture 101"
posted by bardic at 12:18 PM on May 9, 2006


This has been on NPR like every day for a week.
posted by thirteenkiller at 12:23 PM on May 9, 2006


It is also a view that deaf people have something wrong with them, something that can and must be "fixed."'

They can't hear. Maybe I'm insane but I cannot fathom how someone given the choice betweeh having all five senses and not would chose to not have one. No music, no hearing your friends voices, not to mention oncoming cars & trains.

Skin color is nothing more than melanin, which does not affect one's ability to do anything. Sexuality is who you want to have sex with, with the results being the same. I think it's a false analogy.

(also, for the record, the only actual deaf person in this thread has been the least hostile to dissenting opinions)
posted by jonmc at 12:23 PM on May 9, 2006 [1 favorite]


jellicle, where do you come up with the 0.2% figure? This webpage from Gallaudet states 8.6% of the population is deaf or hard of hearing (1.8% in the age 3-17 age group to 29.1% of those over age 65).
posted by angrybeaver at 12:24 PM on May 9, 2006


When will American give up this bizzare fixation on identity politics and get some real politics back?

PS
Don't tell anyone, but there's a war on.
posted by A189Nut at 12:26 PM on May 9, 2006


Thanks for the links. I don't know if you're meaning to imply that these links are evidence that not being able to hear cannot possibly be construed as a loss of some kind. Maybe you're not. If you are, I already addressed that back here.
posted by fugitivefromchaingang at 12:28 PM on May 9, 2006


jonmc writes "(also, for the record, the only actual deaf person in this thread has been the least hostile to dissenting opinions)"

I haven't been at all hostile jon, but I still want to know how you think there's a valid basis for comparison here for people who were never able to hear. I'm not even convinced that hearing a little bit would be all that great, I know that when I lived in far Appalachia I didn't watch TV rather than fiddle with crap-ass reception and the constant hassles of fiddling with the aerial.
posted by OmieWise at 12:28 PM on May 9, 2006


Maybe I'm insane but I cannot fathom how someone given the choice betweeh having all five senses and not would chose to not have one.

there are quite a few autistic people who would not choose to be "normal" and are quite offended at the idea of someone claiming to "cure" autism
posted by pyramid termite at 12:29 PM on May 9, 2006


I haven't been at all hostile jon

I know you haven't. You rarely are and that's one of the reasons I like you.

but I still want to know how you think there's a valid basis for comparison here for people who were never able to hear.

I've never been able to flap my arms and fly, but if science offered me the ability to, I'd certainly take it. I recently saw a news story where Stevie Wonder, a man blind since birth, who has accomplished more than most people in his life, was talking about a new radical procedure to give sight to the blind and how he was extremely interested. Now that's just two peoples opinions on the (general) subject, and you can take them or leave them, what got me riled was bardic's insistence that anyone who questioned the ideas behind these protest was somehow the worst sort of bigot.
posted by jonmc at 12:33 PM on May 9, 2006


"From disability to minority: hearing people are always keen to give deaf people the 'gift' of hearing, but who says they need to be 'cured'?"

"We do not view deafness as a sickness or a handicap. We view it as a gift from God, which has led to the creation of a unique language and culture, worthy of respect and affirmation."


For my viewpoint I see a bit of an inconsistency: if hearing is a "gift" (emphasis on the derisive quotations) and wanting to give it to someone is bad, but deafness is a gift from God, a good thing presumably, then it is a good thing from a deaf person's point of view to make hearing people deaf. Or is a "gift", or gift something you don't want to give someone?

If making someone hear is a harmful thing, then taking away hearing must be a helpful thing. If a deaf person caused me to lose my hearing, have they helped me or harmed me? What would he opinion of the Deaf culture be?
posted by ozomatli at 12:34 PM on May 9, 2006


Alright jonmc, I'm sure our sparring amuses no one but us, but I'll leave it at his--

The homosexuality thing was brought up by fugitivefromachaingang who wrote: Gay people can't have their own biological children (well, not unless they have money for expensive procedures and, if male, a surrogate, so we'll say poor or middle-class gay people). This is a loss. It doesn't mean that gay people are inferior. But it's a loss. Everybody suffers losses of some kind or another.

I disagree completely, with both the idea and the assumptions. As mentioned, many deaf people would feel as if they'd lose a hell of a lot if they weren't a part of deaf culture. Many gay (and speaking for myself though I know I'm not alone, many straight) folks don't consider losing the ability to procreate a "loss" at all, but rather a great freedom. And there's always adoption for gays who do want kids (yes, whole can of worms there, but still).

As for being an advocate for the "downtrodden," I guess I'll take that as a compliment, but it's not how I see myself at all--what's inspiring and commendable about the students at Gallaudet is that they're taking it upon themselves to get what they want from their institution using peaceful, reasonably means. (And off the bat, you'd probably accuse me of "fetishizing" their struggle. Well, I'm not--sorry you're so jaded on the possibility that human beings from different walks of life could ever find grounds for solidarity, but it does happen). They're a hell of a lot less "downtrodden" than the majority of "normal" (your attitude) college kids who'd rather not vote and not participate in their given communities in a positive way, if at all.

If you have no patience and/or interest in these people protesting (funny how uninterested you are in issues or how played out they strike you in threads where you attempt to dominate), fine. But don't tell them how they should really, authentically be going about their politics if you don't seem to have the time to even try and meet them half-way, i.e., walk in their mocassins for a few miles. Do you need to buy a T-shirt from them (I have no idea if they've made T-shirts, actually)? Of course not, but why are you so quick to crap upon any nonconformist act that doesn't meet your difficult, somewhat watery standards of protest that doesn't involved too much faux posteuring?
posted by bardic at 12:35 PM on May 9, 2006


Sure, there are parts of human culture that are inaccessible to people who cannot hear, but so too are there such parts for people who can't read or won't sit still or who are picky eaters. You seem to be confusing the diversity of human experience with variations not just from a norm but from a Platonic ideal.

This is a really good point. I guess I feel that, sure, the diversity of human experience is an amazing thing, but that doesn't mean one can't make objective assessments of what might be desirable or not. I think you see this in the two camps about what's, uh, desirable for families--one or two parents. Often, conservatives want to get out the message that two-parent families are preferable because they're more likely to be above the poverty line, what with two adults to bring in incomes, or at least one adult to bring in an income while the other watches the kids, or whatever. But others (liberals?) might say that you shouldn't/can't make that claim, because you will hurt the feelings of kids who are being told their families are less than desirable, or that they are somehow inferior; and then of course there are plenty of cases in which one parent raising kids alone does a great job no one could criticize.

I still think it's a good idea to encourage two-parent families. My opinion.
posted by fugitivefromchaingang at 12:37 PM on May 9, 2006


jonmc writes: Maybe I'm insane but I cannot fathom how someone given the choice between having all five senses and not would chose to not have one. No music, no hearing your friends voices, not to mention oncoming cars & trains.

Again, it's hard not to roll my eyes at this. Spend some time among deaf people. I realize you're in NYC, but walking around the Gallaudet campus, there's plenty of music--especially the loud, obnoxious college-kid type coming from dorms and cars. I'm not making a joke here btw, but again, look at your all-or-nothing logic. It's not that the deaf (again, deafness is not always all-or-nothing in itself, there are plenty of degrees) don't appreciate it, they appreciate it differently, often with a hell of a lot of bass, for obvious reasons! As mentioned, I've seen deaf football and baseball teams play--they don't just ignore sports because they're deaf, they play them differently, but still compete to win.

PS my last links are to four different sources--I should have made that clear.
posted by bardic at 12:43 PM on May 9, 2006


bardic: you really seem to have a distorted picture of what I'm trying to say, both here and in general. It would take pointless hours of defensive arguing to get you to see beyond it, so I won't get into that, save for one thing: you seem to have some idea that I have something against nonconformity, which anyone who knows me could tell you is so far from reality as to be laughable.

sorry you're so jaded on the possibility that human beings from different walks of life could ever find grounds for solidarity, but it does happen

where'd you get this? the main problem I have with identity politics in general is it's tendency to separate people into hostile tribes.

And off the bat, you'd probably accuse me of "fetishizing" their struggle.

No what made me think that was the extremely hostile reaction you had to anyone questioning it, as if the motives behind these protests could only be noble and holy, which is patronizing.

As for being an advocate for the "downtrodden," I guess I'll take that as a compliment

advocating is wonderful, but as someone once said 'be careful who you wish to uplift, for they may just uplift themselves.'

Now, you could find many reasons to differ with me on all these questions, but simply branding anyone who questions your worldview as a bigot is dishonest and and reactionary and unfair.
posted by jonmc at 12:43 PM on May 9, 2006


jonmc, I find your attitude to be downright paternalistic and one of the biggest reasons that Deaf people choose to turn away from the hearing world. Yes, people who are deaf are "not normal" but that does not give you the right to tell them how they should feel and interact with others.

It is not the lack of hearing per se that defines Deaf culture, it is the shared languages and experiences that define the culture.

bardic, thank you for your links. I find the pathological/cultural one to be quite interesting.
posted by angrybeaver at 12:47 PM on May 9, 2006


Yes, people who are deaf are "not normal" but that does not give you the right to tell them how they should feel and interact with others.

Show me where I did that. I merely stated the obvious. And also questioned the efficacy of deaf students protesting a deaf university president for not being deaf enough. I didn't know that deaf people were so delicate that any criticism was de facto bigotry. (that's paternalistic, if you ask me)
posted by jonmc at 12:51 PM on May 9, 2006


"...but one defined by something that's missing"

But it's not. What people like myself are taking offense at, jonmc, is that you flat-out disregard the possibility that some of your assumptions are mistaken. I and others have tried to discuss some different assumptions about what is going on, but you ignore it. Your reasoning is simple: you know that deaf people can't hear, that's a disability, it's like being blind or having some other disability. I've said and suggested in five different ways that there is an entirely different perspective possible on this and, once you see it, changes everything.

Here it is very simply: Deaf culture is not about not being able to hear.

Oliver Sacks's book is a very good introduction to and meditation on this subject. He begins by explaining just how truly ignorant he was of these matters when he was approached to write a popular article about cochlear implants. He begins with an (mis)understanding very like yours but his comprehension changes (and increases) drastically as he learns about the history of deafness and deaf education, learns about how Sign and oral-only interacts with a child's "window" of language aquisition. (The oral-only pedagogy delays language aquisition far past the time when it should have already been achieved, and as a result some language and cognitive skills are damaged. In contrast, children can actually natively aquire Sign slightly before spoken language.

When he was writing that book more than ten years ago, there was a similar controversy then occuring at Gallaudet. He spends a lot of time on these issues. He learns about the Long Island (IIRC) community I previously mentioned where, for decades, almost 100% of the population were native Signers even though only about half were deaf. He visits the town and observes some elderly hearing folks conversing on a porch and combining spoken English and Sign. From this perspective and being personally introduced into the Deaf community he learns that being deaf, in a certain context, is hardly a disability at all.

In an attempt to make this as clear as possible, I'll try to summarize what makes Deaf culture so exceptional with regard to other subcultures and, particularly, other subcultures centered on a disability.

1. Deaf people have an inherent ability to fully compensate for their hearing loss with regards to human communication. In this respect, within their cultural context (an important point) the disability aspect of being deaf is greatly de-emphasized; particularly in comparison to other disabilities that people intuitively find comparable (like being blind).

2. The means they have to compensate is the aquisition of an independent language, Sign. Sign is a native human language, distinct from any spoken languages. (And, by the way, "signed English"—which is what you'll often see intepreters doing—is not American Sign Language. ASL and other signed languages are languages.) Language is intimately related to culture, probably the overwhelmingly important factor. Thus, Deaf people have a distinct shared culture by virtue of their language comparable to how Hispanics or Francophones do. This is how Deaf culture is accurately described and understood as a CULTURE; not as some subculture that's an appendage to a dominant culture and really only mostly about the shared interests related to their disability.

3. While Signed languages are as authentically languages as any other human language, they are qualitatively unique in some important respects. This is most noticable with regards to the barrier between languages—in this context, it's a huge divide. There's a wall between hearing and deaf people. There are far-reaching ramifications of this—deaf people are profoundly alienated from hearing society far beyond the comparable alienation of, say, the blind from the seeing society. The entire dynamic of human interaction is affected. Having a deaf aunt with whom I'm close, and watching her interact with her hearing family has revealed to me a vast range of pathologies and some insight into how profound the alienation of the deaf from the hearing really is. All this that I'm saying amounts to an attempt to explain how uniquely and monumentally screwed-up, practically and emotionally, is the interaction between hearing and deaf society. An implication of this is that deaf people have large amounts of resentment and insecurity regarding the hearing world and thus their own vibrant, enabled Deaf culture is an existence that is far more happy and secure. This is why they are zealous to protect it. This is why in a deep and purely emotional way a well-intentioned hearing world's desire to eliminate medical deafness is seen as an attack on their core selves.

4. As I tried to explain earlier, given the particular social history of deaf people within hearing culture, there is enormous sensitivity to and resentment of patronization by the hearing. Deaf people are widely treated by the hearing as if they were mentally incompetent—there are unconscious, habitual reasons the hearing do this, even when we know better. In this context it becomes very important for deaf people to govern their own affairs and their own lives. You need to consider that it wasn't that long ago that the deaf were left to starve on the streeet or languish in some institution, with no language, no part at all within civilization.

5. Maybe this should have been combined into a previous point, but how the history of deaf education in the US was affected by the oral-only doctrine, and the very real, very cruel consequences for deaf children in oral-only schools...this is a very touchy subject, there is a huge amount of resentment. My grandmother was advised by her doctor in the 40s that my aunt should be left at a oral-only school for the deaf in another state; and my aunt has vivid memories of beatings when caught using Sign. This is still relatively recent history, and there are still oral-only schools in existence.

If you put all these factors together, I think you can begin to form a picture of something that is quite different than, say, "blind culture" or "wheelchair culture". It seems, on first glance, to be pretty much the same sort of thing. But it's not, and that makes all the difference.

Okay, I'm done. Please read the Sacks book or otherwise investigate this. There's a lot to learn, and it's very interesting, to boot.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 12:53 PM on May 9, 2006 [1 favorite]


jellicle: Now let's look at an ideal university president - the President has little to do with academia and everything to do with fund-raising. Her job is to raise money 24/7/365. Being able to speak to the non-deaf (and mostly non-signing) 99.8% of the population is pretty much a job requirement. Coming from a rich family is also a major requirement - you want to be able to make personal connections with rich prospective donors.

I'm not sure if that is the role of the President of Gallaudet University - the president is a symbolic figurehead for Deaf people worldwide. If the University needs fundraisers, then they can hire a hearing person to interact with hearing donors.
posted by angrybeaver at 12:54 PM on May 9, 2006


jonmc, I find your attitude to be downright paternalistic and one of the biggest reasons that Deaf people choose to turn away from the hearing world. Yes, people who are deaf are "not normal" but that does not give you the right to tell them how they should feel and interact with others.

I know jonmc needs no one's help, but I can't help but defend him in this case. Nowhere is he telling other people how thet should feel or interact. I suspect he is like me: an outisder looking in trying to understand. I think there is a huge communication gap trying to be bridged here. I don't know what its like not being able to hear, but I know there are things about hearing that I love and cherish, stuff I consider a gift. I am sure it is the same for deaf people, there are aspects of Sign and the culture that are great and wonderful too. I just don't see what's wrong with both sides trying to share that with other. If I love something I try to share it someone, I have no ulterior motives.
posted by ozomatli at 12:58 PM on May 9, 2006


Can you imagine a man as the president of NOW? Or a white person as the president of the NAACP?


There was a, by all appearances, white man who was the executive secretary of the NAACP: Walter White. He was white skinned, blonde haired, and blue eyed but identified as black because some of his ancestory was.
posted by BackwardsHatClub at 12:59 PM on May 9, 2006


Interesting comment, EB.
posted by sonofsamiam at 12:59 PM on May 9, 2006


In colleges that aren't Gallaudet, deaf students receive various forms of assistance and aid. They have a signing person translating lectures into ASL and their own questions back into spoken English, they get additional time on tests and their writing is graded differently (why? Because a lot of signing kids write in English absolutely atrociously -- ASL has a different grammar structure and if it's the emphasis, written English is often cast aside -- deaf personal web pages and blogs often "sound deaf" because of this).

In other words, they're given a lot of accommodations for a disability.

As adults, many deaf people choose to use SSI as their primary income, or to use Social Security Disability. That's fine, and it's their right if they don't feel they can find a job in their area that can accommodate them reasonably. Others choose to seek jobs with accommodating policies and get ADA accommodations made. Translators are brought to meetings and so forth. Why? Because they have a disability.

As someone who's spent a bit of time around deaf culture myself, I can tell you this much: the fastest way for a deaf activist to say "No, wait, I'm disabled!" is to ask if they'd be okay with their disability accommodations being taken away. They want to say that they just speak a different language and are not disabled, yet we do not consider Spanish speakers disabled and we do not give them translators for work and school. They do not get accommodations at work to help bridge the language barrier. Spanish speakers can't apply for disability income.

It's amazing how many deaf people go from "I'm not hearing impaired, I'm hearing don't-care!" (which is a funny statement because it rhymes and that's a fundamentally hearing thing anyway) to "But I'm DISABLED!" if their accommodations are taken away.
posted by InnocentBystander at 1:00 PM on May 9, 2006


Thanks for the longer comment, EB. It was very thoughtful and I would really like to read the book now.

However, re: this statement:

Here it is very simply: Deaf culture is not about not being able to hear.

I do not see how your comments make the case for this. I just can't get my head around it. I mean, would you say that what it's really about is ASL? It's really about a different language? To which I guess I have to ask: well, why is that language used?

Is it irrelevant why it's used? If so, why?
posted by fugitivefromchaingang at 1:05 PM on May 9, 2006


jonmc writes: Show me where I did that. I merely stated the obvious.

Alright Mr. Mc, I think I'm done dealing with you for a few days.
posted by bardic at 1:06 PM on May 9, 2006


fugitivefromchaingang, Many American deaf communicate with ASL. Not all those who communicate with ASL are deaf.
posted by bardic at 1:07 PM on May 9, 2006


Alright Mr. Mc, I think I'm done dealing with you for a few days.

Translation: you haven't immediately seen the error of your ways and begged me to show you the light, so I will now cast you into the pit of fire, sinner.
posted by jonmc at 1:09 PM on May 9, 2006


OK. I'm talking about capital-D deaf.
posted by fugitivefromchaingang at 1:10 PM on May 9, 2006


I mean, Deaf.
posted by fugitivefromchaingang at 1:11 PM on May 9, 2006


angrybeaver, if you scroll down a little bit in that page you linked, you see that 0.2% of the U.S. population is deaf.

Lots of people, especially older people, have a little trouble hearing.
posted by jellicle at 1:11 PM on May 9, 2006


Naw jon, you're just a bit of a douche.
posted by bardic at 1:11 PM on May 9, 2006


"...they get additional time on tests and their writing is graded differently (why? Because a lot of signing kids write in English absolutely atrociously -- ASL has a different grammar structure and if it's the emphasis, written English is often cast aside..."

Actually, Sacks argues otherwise. (And he's a neurologist.) He argues that the dominance of oral-only education of the deaf through the 20th century, and the associated neurological cost of not aquiring language when the brain is "wired" to do so, is to blame for the written language deficits frequently encountered among contemporary deaf people. To bolster his argument, he looks at what he calls the "golden age" of deaf education—the end of the 19th century—in America where several generations were enthusiastically taught Sign and where Sign was just assumed to be the native language. During this so-called "golden age" there were a bloom of Deaf artists and writers and intellectuals many of whom were breathtakingly articulate and gifted writers.

He may be wrong, and perhaps there's some truth to your theory. But don't be so quick to assume that the reason Deaf people have difficulty with written languages is because of their native language. And I think that were languagehat here, he'd chime in with some linguistics expertise that would challenge that assumption, too.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 1:18 PM on May 9, 2006


Universally, I have seen that ASL deaf people write in close-to-ASL grammar. Directly translated into English, this looks nonsensical. I can actually TRANSLATE "deafese" into English because it's just ASL closely transcribed.
posted by InnocentBystander at 1:20 PM on May 9, 2006


jellicle, that would be people who have a greater than 80db hearing loss in both ears. Even people who have only a 40db hearing loss have extreme difficulty understanding spoken conversation with or without hearing aids.
posted by angrybeaver at 1:21 PM on May 9, 2006


Additionally, relay operators for the deaf are actually taught "deaf grammar," which is ASL grammar, in order to deal with and/or translate deaf people's telephone conversations back and forth. If this was caused by oral education, surely their written communication wouldn't sound like transcribed ASL?

Even conventions of ASL like using "jump jump" to say "jumping" are preserved, as are omitted forms of the verb "to be," which doesn't exist in ASL as such.
posted by InnocentBystander at 1:23 PM on May 9, 2006


indiebass writes "I guess it just shows you that Assholes are everywhere."

Tell me about it. Years ago, when the chair of the Foreign Languages department at UNM was approached by a Deaf professor about starting an ASL program, the response was that it was a languages that monkeys spoke, and that the university didn't need any program for monkey language. This was a PhD saying this, I guess thinking of Koko. The ASL program was eventually formed under the Linguistics department, and it is one of the top in the country.
posted by krinklyfig at 1:38 PM on May 9, 2006


jonmc writes: Show me where I did that. I merely stated the obvious.

here you go:

equate cochlear implants and other procedures that would allow the deaf to hear with some kind of sellout, which is ridiculous.

I find hearing people's wholesale buying of this to be somewhat patronizing. Not to mention other-fetishizing.

posted by angrybeaver at 1:41 PM on May 9, 2006


The second sentence is criticizing many non-deaf peoples resistance to criticism of any deaf culture dogma.

The first is merely me offering an opinion on a medical device. That does not equal telling you how to interact with the hearing world.
posted by jonmc at 1:45 PM on May 9, 2006


"As someone who's spent a bit of time around deaf culture myself, I can tell you this much: the fastest way for a deaf activist to say 'No, wait, I'm disabled!' is to ask if they'd be okay with their disability accommodations being taken away. They want to say that they just speak a different language and are not disabled, yet we do not consider Spanish speakers disabled and we do not give them translators for work and school. They do not get accommodations at work to help bridge the language barrier. Spanish speakers can't apply for disability income."

Well, at the moment, although I'm a hearing person, I'm also the only person other than angrybeaver in this discussion I know who is disabled. And while there's certainly some truth in what (amounts to an accusation) what you're saying; I think it's also the case that a) this is just a typical foible of human nature and certainly the deaf, or even the disabled, have no monopoly on that sort of inconsistency; and b) when you're actually a disabled person you find that it's enormously difficult to be the always rational, always consistent, always clearminded person you might want to be with regard to these issues and one's disability.

Now, I don't claim to be "differently abled" or that I see my disability as a boon; but the psychological and emotional issues involved in thinking of yourself as someone who isn't horribly crippled and, for the most part, able to find ways to do the stuff that are otherwise difficult, to have a sense (and, really, to actually be) of capability; to accept help when it is offered; to ask for help when it is available; to deal with help offered that is often pitying or patronizing; to deal with the sense of alienation and frustration that arises as you are reminded just how different a world you live in than most everyone else; to deal with how deeply abled people misunderstand (or are perhaps willfully ignorant) what your abilities and disabilities really are...

...well, it's really freakin' hard to think the right things and act the right ways. I'm more intellectually rigorous, and more intellectually a hard-worker, than most people and yet on these matters, for me, it's all a big swamp, everything's confusing, it's so often just making it one day at a time. When you criticize these folks being inconsistent, you need to stop and consider what a strange existence it is to lead when one day, or at one task, you can be just as able as anyone else, or, more to the point, not really that less able than most people, but then suddenly there's some random situation in which you're profoundly disabled. It's confusing.

And although it's entirely unreasonable to expect the abled person to know exactly when to let you do things for yourself and when to offer help—you still find yourself angry or annoyed or frustrated that half the time people offer you help you don't need and half the time fail to offer you help that you do. All my major joints are disintegrating, but it's the load bearing joints that are in the worst shape. And, for now anyway, I don't have much in the way of back problems. The consequence of this is that it's murderous for me to walk, or to stand; I have very limited range of motion in my shoulders and hips but at the same time don't have too much trouble lifting and carrying things; but I cannot reach the floor, or my shoelaces, or cut my own toenails, or pick something up from the floor that I've dropped; it's painful and arduous for me to get in and out of cars; carrying anything for any distance hurts my hips...well, the point here is that even my closest friends and even my family will offer to carry something for me (or make a big deal about me carrying something) but it doesn't occur to anyone that getting up from a chair or the couch and getting water from the kitchen is a major effort and very painful for me. People keep wanting to carry things for me but they don't realize that I can't frickin' walk.

Anyway, my point is that nothing is ever right. I don't ever deal with my disability and the world the best way I should; other people don't deal with me the best way they should; etc.

For whatever reasons, I don't at all think in terms of my disability substantially defining me. As a contrast, I know that our genetic illness is right at the core of how my sister understands her life and herself. I don't feel like I've got a whole bunch of emotional issues as a result of this, I almost never feel self-pitying. But as my health gets worse, and I add more to my list of things I can no longer do, occasionally I'm just suddenly overwhelmed and feel alienated from my life and the rest of the world. It's absurd that it's so hard to get in and out of a car. It just makes no sense. I guess that I'm trying to self-evaluate, accurately or not, and say that I think I'm less likely than most people to suffer from these deep confusions, inconsistencies, alternating between being proud and self-pitying...and nevertheless I'm well aware that I do to some degree have these problems. It's hard to be disabled in ways that have nothing directly to do with the physical disablement.

So be a bit more forgiving, okay?
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 1:55 PM on May 9, 2006


hey, I have my fucking limits, pyramid. And I sincerely doubt he'd have the balls to say that to my face, even after I let the 'douche,' remark pass, since it mainly revealed him to be a crybaby who resorts to namecalling when things don't go his way. and I'm already calling myself out into metatalk.
posted by jonmc at 1:56 PM on May 9, 2006


Sure, but all I'm saying is:

I'll be okay with deaf people denying their kids cochlear implants and the ability to speak English (for those who are able -- it largely depends on residual hearing). I'll be just fine with it, on the day when they don't expect their children or themselves to be eligible for disability accommodations paid for by all of us who just don't understand what a gift it is to be without hearing.
posted by InnocentBystander at 2:09 PM on May 9, 2006


just chill, ok?
posted by pyramid termite at 2:11 PM on May 9, 2006


"If this was caused by oral education, surely their written communication wouldn't sound like transcribed ASL"

I think it's probably caused by a limited fluency in a spoken language that is the result of pedagogical failures. You seem to be asserting that a deaf person's difficulty with a spoken language is specifically because of their fluency in Sign. That is an obvious, though naive, assumption but there's lots of reasons to suspect its validity. For one, linguists would tell you that it's necessarily the case that, with regard to fundamental language skills, Sign is no different than any other language. This is the result of the assumption of the "language organ" and that all human language is qualitatively similar. And, putting aside those assumptions, from an analytical point of view the very reason Sign is now acknowledged as a full human language is because it has the basic structures that a human language must have.

Secondly, you'd have to account for what I said right there in my first sentence: are deaf people aquiring written language when, how, and as thoroughly as they ought? Until you can eliminate simple pedagogical incompetence as an explanation it's best to avoid making far-reaching qualitative assertions about this and that human language.

Finally, I think it should be repeated that Sacks seems confident in his theory and he has the professional expertise that neither you nor I posess. You and I could just make shit up off the top of our heads, but our efforts would be more rewarded if we looked to authorities qualified to examine this and to some degree learn what there is to learn.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 2:12 PM on May 9, 2006


pyrmaid termite, actually, my mom died of cancer. Gallaudet was the last place she worked. But thanks for keeping the classiness up and defending a guy who's telling a deaf person whether or not he/she should be offended when he spews multiple levels of ignorance on the issue.

Oh, and go fuck yourself.
posted by bardic at 2:15 PM on May 9, 2006


Oh, actually it was nice-guy and all-around defender of the underdog who called out my dead mom. Yeah jonmc, I've seen your picture--4/5 of Astoria could kick your ass and enjoy it. Go. the. fuck. away. You've made your point.

Think I'll have to go post this all on metachat, to remind them what a nice guy their hero is.
posted by bardic at 2:17 PM on May 9, 2006


bardic, i am sorry to hear about your mother ... although i wonder why you choose to direct that comment at me instead of the person who brought her up

i'm also puzzled as how you think my flaming jonmc and telling him to chill out is defending him

as far as fucking myself is concerned, it's always been my belief that if people could fuck themselves, we'd all be a lot happier

here's to increased happiness to all of us!
posted by pyramid termite at 2:21 PM on May 9, 2006


jonmc, you are offering an opinion on deaf people's views (ridiculous!) of the medical device. Unless, of course you believe that the medical device is itself ridiculous.
posted by angrybeaver at 2:23 PM on May 9, 2006


Can you hear me now?
posted by fourcheesemac at 2:29 PM on May 9, 2006


fourcheesemac flagged as offensive
posted by angrybeaver at 2:32 PM on May 9, 2006


Or funny.
posted by BackwardsHatClub at 2:44 PM on May 9, 2006


I was hoping that the title of this post would be "deafer than thou."

Someone I used to know (who now has a MeFi account, but I forget her account name here, I'm sure she'll come by this thread soon enough) is a sign interpreter and tales of the intricacies of deaf culture were always interesting. I think there was some documentary I watched at some point about the controversy in deaf culture over cochlear implants.

It's struck me, how insular it is -- I guess that makes sense considering how different a deaf person's life experience is compared to a hearing person, but I sometimes wonder if they're not setting themselves much too far apart from mainstream society. I don't know if it's healthy, and I don't know if it's good. It strikes me as culturally adolescent.

But, I guess they have to figure it out for themselves. (Interesting post, thanks.)
posted by blacklite at 3:02 PM on May 9, 2006 [1 favorite]


People do not bemoan their lack of tails, because our lives seem fine, to ourselves. We might lack the extra balance. We can't use them for support.

However, people don't say that their balance is lacking because of their taillessness. And we don't call it a disability.

"A lack of a tail is indeed a lack" is not wholely applicable in this situation, because the tails are not needed. They are not missing. They aren't there, but that doesn't mean they are missing -- because they shouldn't be there.

Most of this argument, I think comes from the fact that the hearing think that hearing is missing in the Deaf, and that the deaf should hear in the same sense that monkeys "should" have tails.

Needless to say, Deaf people, who have a cultural alternative and don't need to hear to live their lives, might this idea offensive. It's implying that their culture and their lives are lacking, because they lack hearing.
posted by adzuki at 3:06 PM on May 9, 2006


My thought was that it's more like speaking Italian. I like Italian. Knowing Italian has allowed me to have a wonderful, eye-opening, life-changing experiences when I travel. Reading novels in their original language! Laughing at movies without needing subtitles! Getting a perspective into another culture that would have been completely impossible without speaking the language! Flirting with well-dressed men in Florentine piazzas!

I can view my non-Italian-speaking friends pityingly, especially when they came to visit me in Venice. How can they live life without having a foreign language! How awful for them!

But I'm guessing that most of my friends don't spend their days bemoaning their inability to speak Italian, wishing that they could just understand all those Fellini movies, sighing over the gibberish on chianti bottles, feeling like they're missing the intricate nuances of The Sopranos. It probably doesn't strike them as much of a handicap, really.

In the same way that deaf culture may not be about not hearing, American culture is not about not speaking Italian. We don't define ourselves as English speakers due to our *lack* of other language ability.
posted by occhiblu at 3:13 PM on May 9, 2006


Angrybeaver, I'll gladly admit that I probably misstated that comment. Probably the closest I came to communicating what I'm trying to get at is my comment about being baffled by considering the loss of a sense a 'gift.' EB and your comments have got me thinking about it more. bardic's, not so much.
posted by jonmc at 3:21 PM on May 9, 2006


M.A.D.D. (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) has a male president.

... Just, uh, throwing that out there...
posted by parilous at 3:56 PM on May 9, 2006


Wow.

just, wow.
posted by seanyboy at 4:03 PM on May 9, 2006


Ethereal Bligh wrote: "You're at your most infuriating when you do this. You know, sometimes plain-spoken, commonsensical, straight-shooting talk really is ignorant hillbilly stupidity that fashions itself as "wisdom". You need to develop some sense of when you're straying into the Ozarks."

HEY!!!

I resent your implication about the Ozarks, buddy.

I know you didn't mean it that way, but seriously, I get tired of that shit. Essentially saying "STUPID=ARKANSAS" or "HICK=OZARKS" is the kind of stupid rhetoric that will undercut your argument, no matter what you're saying.

Oh yeah, and I've met some deaf jerks. But I also work with a woman who is deaf and is one of the sweetest women you'd ever meet. Seriously. This lady is very very nice. And most jerks I've ever met are hearing. So I guess pretty much human nature is human nature.

And don't try to tell me there's no such thing as 'human nature.' There clearly are universal human behaviors that are probably genetically molded by our primate heritage. Being a jerk is just one of them.
posted by geekhorde at 4:10 PM on May 9, 2006


You need to develop some sense of when you're straying into the Ozarks.

geekhorde beat me to it, but I'll re-emphasize it: yeah, cut that shit out. You've been making consistently thoughtful, well-reasoned, empathetic comments that demonstrate your ability to look at things from multiple perspectives and pick the one that is most enlightening in the context to hand... and then you go and say something like that and piss me off. I know I don't need to explain what's wrong with the comment, and I know nobody's perfect, but jeez, with all the bile floating around this trainwreck of a thread, there's no need to add to it. Thanks.
posted by languagehat at 5:36 PM on May 9, 2006


metatalk
posted by angrybeaver at 5:53 PM on May 9, 2006


not to mess up everyone talking about other issues, but did anyone else catch

SHAPIRO: Jordan was 21 when he was in a motorcycle accident and lost his hearing. But because he already spoke before he became deaf, today Jordan can easily use his own voice. During our conversation, an interpreter rapidly signs my questions to him.

? If this is an issue of Deaf Enough, I'd say ever-deaf Fernandes beats campus favorite I King Jordan in the first round.

I'm disappointed we didn't get into the ultraviolent deaf-parents-who-won't-let-their-kid-get-cochlear-implants fistfight, even after it sorta got brought up.
posted by soma lkzx at 5:54 PM on May 9, 2006


jonmc, I don't see the lack of hearing as a gift but I do understand where Deaf people are coming from when they say that. Being isolated in the hearing world (and usually isolated from other deaf people too), finding like souls who share the same language and experiences can be an extremely rewarding experience.
posted by angrybeaver at 5:56 PM on May 9, 2006


soma lkzx, there is a previous metafilter thread about Sound & Fury.

ultra-violent? what do you mean?
posted by angrybeaver at 6:25 PM on May 9, 2006


jonmc, I don't see the lack of hearing as a gift but I do understand where Deaf people are coming from when they say that

me too. Like I said in MeTa, I phrased my initial comment poorly. I'm just trying to comprehend something that's (as someone who treasures his ense of hearing and what it's given him) alien to me.
posted by jonmc at 6:40 PM on May 9, 2006


what i always say is everybody's got some kind of disability--it's just not always obvious what it is...

i don't see how the students here are any different from students on any other campus--there's always some bandwagon to jump on...the push of idealism against realism amongst kids who feel like they know enough about how the world should work...it's what it is, with its good points and its bad points...it's kind of a shame this one seems to rest primarily on claims of authenticity and exclusivity, making me curious about the 'deaf social class' breakdown of the student body and whether such prejudices based on deaf experience/background are tolerated and thrive there, and how that plays out in student politics, preferential treatment, and degree of opportunity...i mean, is it more of a jocks versus geeks kind of thing, or the setup of a distinct preferred class...and i wonder whether concern about such a social system would play some role in this particular choice of candidate for president...and the protest against her as well--are students genuinely concerned that they will lose whatever degree of deaf acceptance/benefit/accommodation because she is president, or are they more afraid of watering down their platinum club membership status?

and i don't know, maybe it's a bit simplistic, but i'd like to think i'd be a little more gracious toward someone who understands the difficulties i face and puts time and genuine effort into trying to help overcome them...
posted by troybob at 6:53 PM on May 9, 2006


angrybeaver : ultraviolent as in, i-am-sure-the-conversation-would-be-[or, i suppose -was-]
posted by soma lkzx at 7:28 PM on May 9, 2006


Thanks for posting this- deaf culture has always fascinated me. I visited Gallaudet for a research project years ago and toured the campus- the site of the beautiful campus in the middle scary DC is so... strange?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:36 PM on May 9, 2006 [1 favorite]


Sorry about my Ozarks swipe. I didn't really mean it—I was just indecently pleased with my own rhetoric and let it get the best of me.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 8:19 PM on May 9, 2006


Shucks, we forgives you, EB. Come to Joplin sometime and we'll share some 'shine and some possum gravy on biscuits.
posted by LarryC at 8:30 PM on May 9, 2006


Ethereal Bligh writes "I was just indecently pleased with my own rhetoric and let it get the best of me"

I don't do the tagline thing. But if I did. You know.
posted by peacay at 9:27 PM on May 9, 2006


Previously on MetaFilter:
Deaf culture has taken an interesting twist. Never mind the issue of lesbian's with kids, which is too emotionally charged anyway. What do we make of people that intend to bring about birth defects? the women cannot be sure whether Gauvin is -- as they hope -- deaf.
posted by NortonDC at 10:30 PM on May 9, 2006


If anyone is interested in reading further about Deaf culture, I recommend The Mask of Benevolence: Disabling the Deaf Community by Harlan Lane.
Late-deafened people who make an effort to speak English and lip-read, to overcome the hurdles of their handicap, are much less discomfiting to hearing people than the members of the Deaf community, with their distinctly different ways and language. What is unforgivable is that members of the Deaf community insist they are fine--for example, two-thirds of deaf adults interviewed in a 1988 survey thought their social life was better than hearing people's--when in fact we can give them a thousand reasons why they can't be. Goffman points out that the stigmatized are expected to keep a bargain: "they should not test the limits of the acceptance shown them, nor make it the basis for still further demands." Thus, the person who is disabled (in our eyes) is expected to be disabled; to accept his role as such and to conform, grosso modo, to our representation of him. In return we will class him not among the bad (prostitutes, drug addicts, delinquents) but among the sick. The sick and the infirm have a claim on our tolerance and, even more, on our "reasonable accomodation," our compassion, our help.
posted by angrybeaver at 10:42 PM on May 9, 2006


after-preview - sure, NortonDC, you know what's best for others. Why don't you run for president of Gallaudet?
posted by angrybeaver at 10:52 PM on May 9, 2006


I was just indecently pleased with my own rhetoric and let it get the best of me.

Oh man, do I know where you're coming from.
posted by languagehat at 4:07 AM on May 10, 2006


Very nicely observed, OmieWise. I'd bet it is an inner ear thing, as you speculate, and I wonder whether you might not have glimpsed a previously unremarked function of the inner ear.

Which has been a persistent underlying theme of this thread: the Deaf, as a mere side effect of their will to get together and make their own rules, offer the rest of us a perspective on ourselves we could otherwise never obtain. All we have to do is get out of their way.

And perhaps we ought not to. If I may try to extend one of jonmc's points a bit, most profoudly deaf couples are very likely to have children with perfectly normal capacity to hear. But if these children do not spend enough of their first few years around people using spoken language, they will very likely never be able to learn to use it fully. When these children come to us in 20 years and ask, in a halting and oddly grating way: "how could you stand by and let them do this to me?" how will we reply?
posted by jamjam at 4:25 PM on May 10, 2006


jamjam, these children are known as CODAs - Children of Deaf Adults. I can't say much about them as I don't know any, but there are many more opportunities for them to interact with the hearing world - through hearing family members, school, than any deaf child with hearing parents could hope to have.

"how could you stand by and let them do this to me?" I don't get where you are coming from. Most deaf parents, like most hearing parents love their children dearly, want the best for them and will do their damndest to provide what is best for them. Is the solution to take hearing children away from their deaf parents? No, it is not.
posted by angrybeaver at 5:48 PM on May 10, 2006


"But if these children do not spend enough of their first few years around people using spoken language, they will very likely never be able to learn to use it fully."

Well, I think you've misunderstood something. The reason that deaf children forced to learn to speak without learning to Sign have language problems is because they've been denied any sort of language during that window of early language aquisition. Children that learn to Sign during that period may have Sign as their native and primary language; but if they learn a spoken language any time when they're relatively young children, they'll probably be native in it, too. Children can aquire nativity in a second language well past the closing of that important language aquisition window. That's why it's a generalized "language" in that sentence, not a specific one.

What's important is to start language aquisition in general early enough.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 7:15 PM on May 10, 2006


I want to add to EB's comment that one of the most amazing things I've seen is my friends' babies communicating "mommy", "daddy", "milk", "poo", "doggie" and other signs long long before they're able to actually speak.
posted by angrybeaver at 7:29 PM on May 10, 2006


angrybeaver: jamjam, these children are known as CODAs - Children of Deaf Adults. I can't say much about them as I don't know any, but there are many more opportunities for them to interact with the hearing world - through hearing family members, school, than any deaf child with hearing parents could hope to have.


(Young) children of immigrants tend to pick up the language of their new country faster than their parents because they tend to spend more time with speakers of their new country's language (eg. at school) than their parents (who are more likely to spend a significant proportion of their time interacting with people who speak the mother country's language). For example my mother's first language was German, but she learned English at age 4 when she started going to school (in Australia). Her parents don't have the same English language ability that she does.

What I'm trying to say, in a round about way, is that children of Deaf parents may not necessarily miss out on learning spoken language skills. At the same time, they get to learn Sign as well.

There's always going to be misunderstanding on some level, though: I'm the deaf (and recently cochlear implanted) daughter of hearing parents. Until I received the implant this year, none of us realised the full effect of our different level of hearing had on our relationship. It was never bad, it just became harder to communicate as I got deafer - and I don't sign. Ultimately, they had no appreciation of what I was going through and that's not through any fault on their part - I've never lacked support or love from my family.
posted by prettypretty at 7:37 PM on May 10, 2006


prettypretty, I have thought about getting the implant but decided against it as I felt I would not fully benefit from it as my hearing loss is pre-lingual. Also even though I do wear hearing aids in both ears fulltime, I tend to rely exclusively on lipreading instead of listening. It sounds like your hearing loss is post-lingual?

And like you, my parents have always been incredibly supportive, even if they are unable to understand how different my world is from theirs. I think my mom got an understanding when she went to Sweden last year with her best friend (who is Swedish), and was totally unable to follow the conversation around the dinner table other than "Skol!". 33 years, and she finally gets it.
posted by angrybeaver at 7:55 PM on May 10, 2006


angrybeaver, should you actually deign to discuss what I wrote, instead discussing how what I wrote makes you think of me, then maybe, just maybe, your comments would merit a real response.

Look for me over here holding my breath.
posted by NortonDC at 9:36 PM on May 10, 2006


NortonDC, I read the linked thread. Our views are so diametrically opposed that I don't think we could possibly have a productive conversation.
posted by angrybeaver at 10:04 PM on May 10, 2006


I'm going to try anyway. From your linked comment:

ND: They are hoping to inflict their own parochialism and inability to meet the majority of the world head-on on their own children. That disgusts me.

Who is to say they have an inability to meet the world head-on? They seem to be surviving just fine.

As for parochialism, yes they have an interest in a deaf baby. But that's not their sole interest in life.

ND: Girls are not defined by a defect.

To them, it is not a defect.

ND: She is flawed, and trying to keep her children flawed in the same way.

Look, ND, people don't like to define themselves by their flaws. They define themselves by their attitudes, perspectives, actions, outlooks on life and so on. To force people to define themselves as flawed is not good for anyone's self-esteem.

Sigh, I'm really not liking this.

ND: Life is tough, and obviously much tougher when your deaf. Her father pushed her to maximize her ability to communicate. He did the right thing. Not the easy thing, not the cushy thing, but the right thing. He fought the fight she is running from.

Her father did what he thought was best for his children, and he tried his hardest. But it was not necessarily the right thing.

I don't consider her to be running from anything. She is in a community where she is much much happier and can actually enjoy life.

quote: It was a positive thing to be deaf at Gallaudet.
ND: Exclusionary thinking at it finest.

She is the one that is excluded from hearing society. Not the other way around.

I'm sorry. I don't want to go any further. I suggest you reread my earlier quote posted at the same time as your post: What is unforgivable is that members of the Deaf community insist they are fine--for example, two-thirds of deaf adults interviewed in a 1988 survey thought their social life was better than hearing people's--when in fact we can give them a thousand reasons why they can't be.
posted by angrybeaver at 10:34 PM on May 10, 2006


angrybeaver: yes, I'm post-lingual. And I like your mother's story.

(On the off chance you have any implant questions, my email's in my profile. )
posted by prettypretty at 11:44 PM on May 10, 2006


My aunt's stuck somewhat between the hearing and Deaf worlds because with hearing aids she can hear a little bit—I'm not sure how much exclusion she faces; we've never talked about it. I think it must be complicated for her because she's so prominent in the deaf community for various reasons but, like I said, not solidly on the inside of the Deaf culture.

She couldn't hear at all and there were no aids available when she was young—she first was sent to an oral school in Oklahoma that was horrifying. Later my grandmother got a clue and brought her home and then sent her to the NM School for the Deaf which taught Sign. At some point she got hearing aids. And it may or may not be true that she was the first deaf woman to get an MBA. She just retired from working at the Sandia Labs for forty years.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:54 AM on May 11, 2006


This was an interesting thread.

1) I think Metafilter Metatalk internet discussions would be a lot better if people worked harder to avoid "I'm offended by your opinion"/"I'm offended by your offense" hall-of-mirrors-type flamewars by a) recognizing the difference between their own opinions and established fact and b) employing the latter to bolster and/or recalibrate the former. But that's just my opinion.

2) I wanted to second EB's recommendation of Seeing Voices. I only read that book because an earlier Metafilter thread praising Sacks led me to seek out his work. It really is eye-opening for anyone looking for a starting point into this subject.

3)
Isn't that what we're shooting for?
Yes, Witty, it is. The question I now put to you is this: are we there yet?

I hadn't really compared the Deaf culture situation to that of racial minorities before, but after reading this thread I can see some definite parallels. Again, a post of EB's highlighted some of the real-world paradoxes for me.

One of the things I find most irksome in the anti-affirmative action crowd (aside from the whole "either enforce it in all things or abandon it entirely!" false dichotomy that ignores the real-world messiness that EB mentions) is the utter logical disconnect involved. Here we have a group which has been massively discriminated against in the past (again, the Sacks book does a nice job of giving the reader a thumbnail sketch of that) and we're going to solve the problem by... ignoring it? What, are we on the verge of a massive societal sea change that I am unaware of? I see that way of thinking as more about people washing their hands of a particular problem they don't want to be concerned with. I can understand that sentiment, but it's still entirely selfish. What was it that flourishes when good men do nothing? Because I forget.

All I'm saying is that when a previously marginalized subgroup has qualms about something that has a direct impact on their status and well-being, maybe we could give them the benefit of the doubt.

4) I have a niece who had her hearing wiped out as a newborn. The stories I'm told about her travails in the public school system, and the inexorable way in which she and her nonhearing classmates are being left further and further behind... well, maybe I'm biased, but I think that any grievances that these students have should be considered valid until proven otherwise.

It was a decent read. Let's just try to be less flamey next time, okay?
posted by tyro urge at 3:50 PM on May 11, 2006


angrybeaver...

parochialism: narrowly restricted in scope or outlook; provincial. Your response suggests you did not interpret the word as I did.

Who is to say they have an inability to meet the world head-on?

Who did? The author of the credulous Post article the old thread is about did. "If they are deaf and have a hearing child, that child will move in a world where the women cannot fully follow."

To them, it is not a defect.

Then they are deluding themselves into thinking a major sensory defect is not just that, a defect. I do not share such a delusion.

Look, ND, people don't like to define themselves by their flaws. To force people to define themselves as flawed is not good for anyone's self-esteem.

Excuse me, are you speaking of the "Deaf" population here? If so, then those that label themselves such disprove your assertion. And reality not supporting someone's self esteem doesn't change reality.

"I don't consider her to be running from anything."

Once again: "If they are deaf and have a hearing child, that child will move in a world where the women cannot fully follow."

But really, that's all much more about the old thread than this one.
posted by NortonDC at 8:35 PM on May 11, 2006


parochialism: narrowly restricted in scope or outlook; provincial. Your response suggests you did not interpret the word as I did.

You see it as parochial, I see it as a small part of their being.

Who did? The author of the credulous Post article the old thread is about did. "If they are deaf and have a hearing child, that child will move in a world where the women cannot fully follow."

So what? I'm an engineer. My mom doesn't know a crankshaft from a piston. That doesn't mean my mother can't be a major part of my world. You are refusing to see anything more beyond their deafness.

Then they are deluding themselves into thinking a major sensory defect is not just that, a defect. I do not share such a delusion.

Ok let me rephrase. They are not under any delusion that they cannot hear. They refuse to define themselves by their disability; they define themselves as part of a community.

Excuse me, are you speaking of the "Deaf" population here? If so, then those that label themselves such disprove your assertion. And reality not supporting someone's self esteem doesn't change reality.

I'm speaking of everybody. Let's say you wear glasses. Do you define yourselves entirely by your near-sightedness? No. The word Deaf has an entirely different meaning from the word deaf even though both may be spelled the same.

Btw, putting "Deaf" in quotes is not necessary.
posted by angrybeaver at 9:59 PM on May 11, 2006


EB, I've ordered the book you recommended from my local bookstore - I'm looking forward to reading it.

Let me ask you a difficult question. Suppose your aunt never went to the oral school in Oklahoma. Would she have been able to get the MBA or the job at Sarnia Labs without the benefit of an oral education?

That is an issue I struggle with myself - without an oral education, would I be where I am today?
posted by angrybeaver at 10:14 PM on May 11, 2006


That's a good question. I can't answer it because I don't know exactly how long she was there and how much she learned. Obviously, at the point at which they found that she could hear to some degree with hearing aids, then speech becomes easier. I don't know at what point her proficiency with speech came about. You also use hearing aids, don't you? Or do I misremeber?

As you well understand, the fact that she does hear, some, with aids and she does speech, she's to some degree not wholly in the Deaf community. She's gregarious, though, and very active in volunteer causes, especially those involving deafness, that I think it'd be hard for her not to be on good terms with and accepted to some degree in the Deaf community.

As you also may understand, I have limited direct experience with Deaf culture as these two sides of her life are seperate. I think that had I learned Sign when I was young then I'd be the one person most likely among her family to really get to know her capital-D Deaf side of her life. But I didn't and as much as I love her, I frankly am not that motivated to do so now. My sister, who's ten years younger than me (I'm 41), and her husband are supposedly pretty serious about becoming fluent in Sign and I hope that's the case.

No one but the youngest sister of three—my aunt Judy who I'm discussing is the oldest, my mother second, and a third sister as the youngest—ever learned Sign. My mom and Judy are only a couple years apart and they were pretty close as kids; and Mom did learn to fingerspell very young and she's what I can only call "fluent" at fingerspelling. Her and Judy can fingerspell at scarily frightening rates. The other sister, the youngest, is 12 years younger than my mom, so although all three are close (close enough to do "sister's vacation trip" every year), the youngest aunt was pretty young when the older sisters moved out of home. But the youngest did learn Sign. She's not as fluent as she once was, though.

Judy was always resentful that her mother didn't learn Sign, not even to fingerspell. Their relationship was difficult. Judy has the resentment about being sent off to that school in the first place. My grandmother, deceased a few years ago and who I adored, was a highly intelligent and independent woman who didn't have much patience. They had a reconciliation of sorts in the last few years of my grandmother's life because she had Alzheimer's and my aunt really took care of her and that satified a kind of need my aunt had regarding her relationship with her mother. Anyway, that's a big digression, huh, and personal.

I have an intuition that this sort of thing is the case very often with deaf people and their hearing families, but our relationship with Judy is often rocky, she's complicated, there's a lot about her we don't know and that she resents that we don't know. But she's played a role in that herself. So I don't feel that I know enough to provide an accurate assessment of who she is and who she might have been without the oral school. She has a lot of energy. She's smart. She's gregarious. I think those things would have always been true and they play powerful roles in the ways in which a person with those qualities would succeed.

Personally, even if it is the case that the speech she got at that school helped her in an important way, I still think the price was too high. Not just in the way I discuss above, abstractly—the damage to language aquisition. I'm not really in a position to evaluate that in my aunt's case, really. But the emotional damage it did was tremendous. It was too high a price to pay. If I could make history different, I would. My aunt's a happy and successful woman who is well-loved by her friends and family. But there are ways in which she's painfully unhappy, too, and I think much of that goes back to her childhood and the ways in which her deafness influenced the progression of her childhood so dramatically.

By the way, I can't really answer the question about her job at Sandia because for the most part I have no idea what it was. No one in our family does; she had a Q security clearance. She was a computer programmer, among other things.

I should also mention, just because I love her and I'm grateful, that's she helped me out quite a bit since I've moved back here to Albuquerque. She just retired this year, so she has time to do a lot of things. And she does. But some of those things are picking things up at stores for me, stuff like that. She'd do a lot more if I let her. But I'm not that comfortable with anyone doing anything for me at all, so I keep it at a minimum.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:00 PM on May 11, 2006


"If they are deaf and have a hearing child, that child will move in a world where the women cannot fully follow."

>>parochialism: narrowly restricted in scope or outlook;
>>provincial. Your response suggests you did not interpret the
>>word as I did.
>
>You see it as parochial, I see it as a small part of their being.

I can't make any sense out of what you've written in that sentence. Assume "it" (the decision to selectively breed to maximize the odds a child will be born with a major sensory defect so that the child does not have the option of moving beyond their subset of the world) is a small part of their being. Is that "small part of their world" parochial or not? Is that "small part of their world" unavailable for discussion?

You are refusing to see anything more beyond their deafness.

False and unsupported. But hey, thanks for espousing unflattering assumptions about me!
posted by NortonDC at 10:54 PM on May 12, 2006


"'I was just indecently pleased with my own rhetoric and let it get the best of me.'

Oh man, do I know where you're coming from."

languagehat, responding to Ethereal Bligh.

Yeah, that happens to me too. Sorry about getting on your case so hard.
posted by geekhorde at 7:29 PM on May 18, 2006


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