Signs of Resistance: Peer Learning of Sign Languages Within ‘Oral’ Schools for the Deaf

Abstract

This article explores the role of the Deaf child as peer educator. In schools where sign languages were banned, Deaf children became the educators of their Deaf peers in a number of contexts worldwide. This paper analyses how this peer education of sign language worked in context by drawing on two examples from boarding schools for the deaf in Nicaragua and Thailand. The argument is advanced that these practices constituted a child-led oppositional pedagogy. A connection is drawn to Freire’s (1972) theory of critical pedagogy. Deaf children’s actions as peer educators are framed as an act of resistance towards the oppression of their language and culture. A contrast is drawn between oralist pedagogy that is historically associated with punitive practices and didactic methods and the experiential and dialogic interaction that characterised peer learning of sign languages. The argument is made that the peer teaching and learning processes enabled the self-actualisation of the Deaf children whereas the oralist methods were based on a deficit model that focused on modifying deaf children according to the norms of hearing society. The implications of this for current policy and practice are inferred to be about access to sign languages and the importance of Deaf communities in deaf children’s education. The argument is made that space needs to be created for deaf children to engage in peer learning.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Since the 1970s, the upper case ‘D’ in Deaf has been used in academic discourse to signal the cultural identity of a community of people united by sign languages and to highlight the socially constructed nature of deafness (Woodward 1972; Wrigley 1996; Monaghan 2003). In this convention ‘Deaf’ is distinguished from ‘deaf’ with a lower case ‘d’, which is used to refer to the audiological understanding of hearing loss. Monaghan and Schmaling (2003) cite the contested nature of this formulation, particularly when referring to the education of children and young people, as it presumes identification with Deaf culture that not all children with hearing loss will experience. Brueggemann (1999) argues that it is necessary to address how such terms are being used in each instance. The children who engaged in the peer education processes described in this article are therefore referred to as ‘Deaf’ rather than ‘deaf’ due to their use of sign language and role in the Deaf communities within their schools. However, when deaf children more broadly are referred to, as in the wider discussion of educational policy and practice, I have opted to follow Myers and Fernandes (2010), Wilson et al. (2008) and Deaf Child Worldwide (2008), who use the lower case ‘deaf’ to refer to a ‘broader and more diverse group of people who exemplify the various ways of living that are other than the ways of Deaf culture’ (Myers and Fernandes 2010: 43). So, for example, I refer to ‘schools for the deaf’ and ‘deaf education’ as terms that incorporate a wider group of young people, such as those who consider themselves to be hearing impaired or who do not identify with Deaf culture. There are implications in this argument about the nature of identity (whether it is fixed or fluid) and when it emerges in childhood, which unfortunately there is not scope to explore fully here. For more on this issue see: Brueggemann (2009).

  2. 2.

    I am conceptualising Sign as writing here. As the Deaf children named their world through Sign, they engaged in a process of re-writing by inscribing meanings in time and space through signed dialogue. For more on sign languages as writing see Anglin-Jaffe (2011).

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Correspondence to Hannah Anglin-Jaffe.

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Anglin-Jaffe, H. Signs of Resistance: Peer Learning of Sign Languages Within ‘Oral’ Schools for the Deaf. Stud Philos Educ 32, 261–271 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11217-012-9350-3

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Keywords

  • Deaf
  • Sign language
  • Peer learning