Let’s go and look at that one more time. Decide if we really need it or want it. Murray and I are probably the most exasperating tire kickers. Any car salesperson would cringe at the sight of Murray and I because they can’t cinch the deal with us in an hour or two. We might take months to decide. We work hard at getting it out of our system.
Yesterday, I wondered why it takes so long to recognize that a deaf kid is not going to be an oral deaf kid. How many years of being stuck at grade 2 reading level, how many years of speech that doesn’t improve, how many years of being a social misfit, how many years of increasingly inappropriate behaviours such as bullying, clowning, and depression. How many years does it take to recognize that a problem has grow up right underneath our noses?
Probably five, six, seven or eight years. Sooner if the teacher of the deaf is sharp enough and is able to communicate to others who in denial. But her understanding is often easily trumped by the wishful thinking of administrators, parents, and other teachers. Upon reaching adolescence, the deaf kid is often given up for lost, abandoned to his or her devices, and blamed (or his parents are blamed) for why he or she is such a mess. Denial is over. Anger at the parents, teacher or the student has been simmering for a long time. Depression has sunk in. Everyone feels like a failure after recognizing that the deaf student is not thriving.
I am often surprised at how little resistance anyone has by then, to my suggestion that the now teenaged deaf student learn sign language, become a part of a congregated setting, and to participate in the Deaf community. There is virtually no resistance because by then, most people have thrown up their hands. They have finally got it out of their system. The deaf kid before them is not going to be oral, is not going to participate much in family, social circles or society. In fact, the deaf kid is going to live in the basement along with other family pets.
My impatience needs to be tempered with grief. While I am literally vibrating with anger inside over the wasted, lost years for the deaf kid who isn’t going to be oral, I need to sit Shiva with those people who are trying to get it out of their system that a deaf kid under their care or watch isn’t going to become hearing. I as a deaf person have plenty of grief of my own. I am always grieving over the lack of audiocentric privilege because I like to be powerful. Being constantly stripped of power every time the phone rings, an announcement made over the intercom or when someone turns their face away, or being denied an ASL interpreter isn’t cool.
But nothing has prepared me for the grief that parents, teachers, and administrators go through concerning the deaf kid who isn’t going to be oral. One more time, one more year, one more lesson, and give him to me, I can fix him. Or worse, that teacher, parent, or educational assistant is incompetent, we just have to find someone better for the deaf kid.
So how does the thinking get to be so old, so stinking, so rancid while the deaf student who isn’t going to be oral flounders beneath our noses. While I have some ideas as to why this is so, I’m asking you. I don’t get it. My experience does not help here. I did ask my parents once, what would have you done if you saw that I wasn’t going to be oral. My parents simply said, “learn sign language”. Knowing them, I know that they are not like Murray and I. They act swiftly. As teachers themselves,they were faced with hordes of students throughout the years and knew already, that not every deaf child can be spat out of a factory model school to be hearing and upstanding citizens of the hearing world.
A hearing student asked me a few weeks ago: would your life be anything different if you weren’t deaf? I promptly said no. I am with the man I love, I have two beautiful daughters, I have a wonderful job, I travel, I am studying, writing, and learning. But more importantly, I belong to a community that works for each other, that help each other, that mourns and fights for deaf children and their rights.
The shackles of denial concerning a deaf kid who isn’t going to be oral finally drops away in adolescence. It shouldn’t have to take so long. But it does, and I continue to grieve with everyone but not about not being able to hear or speak. Rather, I rage against the dying of the light in the deaf child’s eyes while he sits out the grieving of his parents, teachers, educational assistants, and administrators.
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Dylan Thomas, Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night