Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Dousing myths ignited by ouster of Gallaudet president-to-be

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle in Speaking Out Essay section A By Karen Christie, Patti Durr and Barbara DiGiovanni, Guest essayists (November 14, 2006) — As members of the Rochester deaf community, we wish to clarify issues surrounding the "Unity for Gallaudet" protest that resulted in the termination of Jane Fernandes as the school's president-to-be. Media have perpetuated the erroneous idea that the protest related to Fernandes not being "deaf enough." In response, Fernandes branded the protesters anarchists and terrorists. Such terms have been alarmist and distract from a complex set of objections to the way the administration has managed Gallaudet and the unfairness of the search that resulted in Fernandes being chosen. Fact: Six years ago, Fernandes was named Gallaudet provost without any search process or faculty input. In the latest poll, most faculty proclaimed no confidence in Fernandes, Gallaudet's current president, I. King Jordan, or the trustees. (Note: the majority of the faculty are hearing.) Fact: The search committee failed to include a highly qualified African-American deaf person in the finalist pool. Fact: The protesters demanded that Fernandes resign and the search process be reopened. They did not demand appointment of one of the other two finalists, both of whom are deaf, use American Sign Language fluently, have deaf family members and are members of deaf culture. Myth: "Deaf culture" is a misnomer. Jack Slutzky, who retired after teaching at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at the Rochester Institute of Technology, called ASL a street language that has no place in the classroom (Speaking Out essay, Feb. 4, 1997). He recently denied the existence of deaf culture (Speaking Out essay, Nov. 3) based on a dictionary definition of culture. In anthropology, culture is defined as a way of life for a group of people who share traditions, language, values, behaviors and artifacts. Many scholarly books and articles have been published on deaf culture. Any questioning of the definition, existence, validity or rights of deaf culture is detrimental fallout from the Gallaudet protest. Myth: Advocates for deaf culture and ASL want to establish an exclusive community. Ousted president-designate Fernandes' comments relating to the trepidations of deaf people concerning cochlear implants have reinforced the myth that deaf people reject people with cochlear implants. In truth, becoming a member of deaf culture does not require shutting out the hearing world but instead it requires becoming involved with two languages, ASL and English, and two cultures, deaf and hearing. The either-or stance is ironic because it was the classic approach taken by oral-only educational programs for deaf children which forbade the use of sign language, denied the existence of deaf culture and encouraged students to reject peers who signed. Focusing on oral skill development was done at the expense of the educational development of many children. In contrast, deaf culture has always been inclusive and a bilingual education has always embraced the use of ASL instruction (as it is the most accessible and natural language for deaf people) with an equal emphasis on the importance of English. Myth: Gallaudet's recent "ineffective" rating by the government is a result of ASL/deaf culture militancy on campus.The U.S. Office of Management and Budget noted: "Gallaudet graduates who find employment commensurate with their education declined from 90 percent in 2001 to 69 percent in 2005." This decline occurred during Fernandes' tenure as Gallaudet provost. Somehow, Mr. Slutzky attributes this to rampant use of ASL whereas most Gallaudet professors use spoken English and simultaneous signing. We thank Mr. Slutzky in advance for refraining from proclaiming himself spokesperson for the rights of deaf people. We clearly can do so ourselves. Christie and Durr teach at NTID; DiGiovanni teaches at the Rochester School for the Deaf and is the mother of deaf children. This essay also was signed by 25 other members of the local deaf community. E-mail Christie at klcnce@rit.edu. (feel free to leave your comments here as well) For those of you who need background information on what Jack Slutsky had mentioned in his essay, see essay below: Gallaudet is isolating its deaf students By Jack Slutzky (November 3, 2006) — I am totally dismayed and more than a little angry over the events at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. The trustees voted late last month to terminate the appointment of incoming president Jane Fernandes, the subject of months of protests. These feelings have been aroused in me by phrases being bandied around: "not deaf enough," "not my kind of deaf," "deaf culture," "not adequately committed to American Sign Language" and "Gallaudet, the leading college for the deaf." I taught at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology for more than 27 years. My son, who was born profoundly deaf, is an assistant professor at an upstate university teaching hearing students. I have worked with and for people across the country who are deaf or hard of hearing for more than 40 years. I mention these facts to give credibility to my words. Gallaudet University is not the leading university for the deaf. It might be the oldest, but it is far from the best. Judging by the success of Gallaudet students in the classroom and workplace, Gallaudet is not even a close second to NTID. To say that Fernandes is "not deaf enough" or doesn't "use the right kind of communication" is as insulting as it is bigoted. I worked at NTID with a dedicated faculty and staff, deaf and hearing, to enable students who are deaf to reach their potential and become full-fledged members of society. And they have! To have shut themselves in a small enclave a few radicals call "deaf culture" would have insulted the vast numbers of people who are deaf, people who are as heterogeneous as any group in this country. The dictionary defines culture as the development of intellectual and moral abilities; enlightenment acquired by the study of the fine arts, humanities and the sciences; and the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief and behavior that depends on the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations. Ergo, "deaf culture" is a misnomer! American Sign Language does not make a culture. When Fernandes spoke in January of expanding Gallaudet to embrace all forms of deafness, and all modes of communication deaf people use to communicate, she ruffled the feathers of a few defensive hermits afraid of sharing, of growing, of becoming. Most Americans who are deaf or hearing impaired do not embrace American Sign Language as their language of choice. Most parents of deaf children do not embrace ASL as their language of choice. Most employers and educators of deaf people do not embrace ASL as their language of choice. I have told my son and hundreds of students I have worked with: I care not how you communicate, but that you communicate. I care not what you choose to study, but that you can and do choose. I care not what you choose to do with your life, but that you have choice in life. Embracing a biased, bigoted misnomer called "deaf culture" and an absolute adherence to ASL will only inhibit your participation in society. Shame on you, Gallaudet trustees, for caving in to threat and for failing to defend the rights of people across this country who are deaf.Slutzky, of Le Roy, has been a writer since he retired from RIT 10 years ago. E-mail him at jsocsai@gmail.com. (Note that we had written "Shame on you, Jack" but it was deleted by D and C, oh well)

No comments: