A student approached me the day I returned to school, having been sick. He said in a combination of sign and speech, sometimes unintelligible, trying to fingerspell a long word I had taught him once in the previous week. He said (to this effect).
The sub teacher was ethno…ethno… you know the word, on the board there. He points to the board now completely blank, having been wiped down.
What do you mean, I prod him.
Well, she was trying to teach “Joe” math and didn’t know sign language. She tried to teach Joe by making him lipread her. He had no idea what she was saying. Then she asked me to teach her the signs so that she could explain to him what “natural numbers” meant. I told her, he is just learning ASL. He just came from another country. He doesn’t have the language for that yet. She kept talking to him and he tried so hard to listen to her. He doesn’t have a hearing aid. Then she looked at him as if he were stupid. She couldn’t get inside his head. That’s ethno.. ethno…
Ethnocentricism. I gently supply him with the world. And it is a whole lot of other things too. By now, the other students gather around me, nodding their heads. She had no idea. One student said. And Joe felt bad, another student offered. These Deaf Crows stood around me, in mourning. As if another one of their murder was actually murdered. I suddenly realize Joe is not at school today.
I’m preparing to write my dissertation and something keeps plucking at my sleeve. Most of this research you are reading is colonized. These deeply serious articles about why deaf high school students graduate with a grade four reading level. The search for the answers to the puzzling conundrum as to what prevents them from reading and writing. It’s really boring stuff. And it all goes around and around in circles. Wait, someone found phonology to be an issue. Wait, it is pragmatics or wait! It is the lack of early childhood language acquisition for sure! For sure? Or is it something else?
I am finding the work of deaf academics around the world really exciting. They’ve got a very different lens, one that is much more empowering. They are working steadily at decolonizing the research on deaf education and language acquisition. The work of Snoddon, Hibbard, Kusters, Ladd, Murray, Valente, O’Brien, Emery, de Meulder, Simms are all worth following. I’m sure I’ve left out many other deaf academics worthy of my time. I will start to pick up more of these unsung heroes in this blog at another date.
But the point is, if a seriously language deprived student can partially remember a word introduced once and accurately apply it to a situation he observed concerning another Deaf Crow, what does that tell us about his intelligence, his ability to learn, and his ability to move forward with insight that is embedded in his heart and daily experience? Deaf Crows are way smarter than you think.
Colonized research creates colonized teachers in the vineyard of deaf children and youth. Teachers are colonized workers in service of normalcy that is to be imposed at all costs according to the dictates of white dead European males. Colonization has a long reach, right into the education of an often forgotten population: deaf education.