The following article is very special. I do not remember ever seeing, in any forum discussing deaf education, feedback from classmates of a mainstreamed deaf student.
Keren was one of my classmates at high school (and our high school boasts two Nobel Prize winners and a President of Israel among its graduates), and now she lives and works in Norway. She obliged me by providing the following observations.
Keren’s points of view
First a little background for why I support teaching deaf children sign language.
My point of view is that language has one major goal, which is communication. Forcing deaf children into a first language learning process that they may not succeed in, will leave them frustrated and without communication. Learning sign language is their key to communication and learning audio-verbal language. My other point of view is that we all need more than one channel of communication, and limiting deaf children to either sign language or aural-verbal language is no better than saying that children in Norway only need to learn Norwegian, you don’t get very far with that in the world today.
And to the background for my thoughts – my great aunt (my grandmother’s sister) was deaf, and neither she nor her nearest family learned sign language. She lived her whole life together with her sister (my grandma) and had to rely on her relatives for everything. She was not an idiot, she was not an invalid, but nobody prepared her to be able to manage on her own in society. That is sad, and such a waste. She was very accomplished in handiwork, knitting and crochet, and her work was widely distributed in the extended family. I still have two blankets that she produced. If she had been given the right tools she could have run a successsful handiwork business, but she was never given that opportunity.
Then to you as a classmate. I think everybody in our class was very impressed by your integration and ability to communicate, and yet, I certainly experienced that you were frustrated and aggressive when you saw “groups” of classmates speaking together, nearly as if you thought that if we were not speaking to you, then we were saying something about you. You would break into a “circle” tap us on the shoulder and say “what did you say, what did you say?”. In hindsight I think it was actually a pity that one didn’t require that we classmates must also learn sign language, so that it could be a two-way responsibility to try to communicate. I do not know if it is true, but I felt that you were often very frustrated and alone in the class. I am a bit unsure if this can be seen as a postive or negative experience for or against integration, and I did not even know then if you understood sign language because I understood that you had been mainstreamed during all of your school years.