12: Reflecting on Sameness and Difference
I'm lucky. As a teacher in a school with both deaf and hearing children in a bilingual environment, I get to begin my career with a damned clear picture of what 'problems' are really Deaf peoples'-and what problems are visible in ALL children.
Case in point. I'm now co-teaching a 'special-ed' class, a self-contained classroom of Deaf kids who've been put there because of either behavior or academic problems. I'm not sure I agree with this placement. It seems to me that the school's made a commitment to integration and special classes like these should either include hearing kids (they don't) or be restructured into the general population. When I gave these opinions to the teachers in question, they were adamant that the kids couldn't function in a regular classroom. It's true their English skills are far below grade level. But... They CAN read and write, and so many of my 'regular' students are CODAs or ELL's. The writing these 'special' students produce is arguably comparable in some cases to the hearing kids.
I showed examples of this writing to the teachers. They were astounded. Separated from the general population, they weren't able to make this comparison. I got the feeling they'd developed this view of Deaf students as inferior to the hearing, and saw every mistake as confirmation of the fact. Whereas I came into it with, honestly, very little idea of what to expect.
Perhaps my 'dangerous idea' has more to it than even I suspected. Maybe we need integrated classrooms to help get rid of these ingrained prejudices. But, given that these prejudices exist, how do you separate those who really need help-from those laboring under the limits of false expectations? And is this even harder than usual, in a bilingual environment?
Teaching raises far more questions than it answers.