Thursday, August 9, 2012

What really makes a Deaf kid "wake up?"

Suppose I were to say to you that all this obsession over hearing technology and signing, in some ways, was beside the point. You might look at me as if I were crazy, but I saw a quote today that made me see, momentarily, a totally different picture of accountability in American Deaf education, something that we see throughout history and has a measure of evidence to support it.

What if we stopped looking at the picture as if it were an achievement gap? What if we started looking at the picture as if there were an opportunity gap, the kind very realistically experienced by other minorities and even women and gays and lesbians in this country? Does the picture make any more sense this way? And who becomes responsible for Deaf education and the achievement of Deaf children as a result of this opportunity gap?

I think about opportunity and achievement a lot, with my students.

They are achieving more now. A lot of this has to do with my pushing to make sure they have more and more opportunities to learn. I worked to get them textbooks, information, photos, iPad apps. They had context, and they had someone open a door and yell at them to come through (which is, I think, a more realistic description of teaching than anything I've read anywhere else.)

Once I'm gone, though, what happens? When nobody's holding the door open, will they go to it, find it, and go through?

To do so requires a book, or a tool with which to access a book-like experience (film will do it. A great conversation will do it.)  This kind of experience forces an individual to live in a world outside of their own, for a limited a time. In public schools, we rarely give children textbooks to take home any longer.

To do so requires a supportive family. If the family is not educated, if they do not see the value in education, they will not impart this value at home.

To do so requires a safe home environment. I have a couple of girls in my summer school who have missed class in the past because of fear for their safety (students must walk to the metro and take the public subways, which are sometimes safe and sometimes more than a little crazy.)

I get to teach these amazing kids for 45 minutes. For the other 23 hours and 15 minutes in a day, they are subject to market forces like you wouldn't believe.

For me, one of the reasons I worked so hard in school? I was afraid of being thrown out and sent back home–but growing up, I had a safe environment, I had several books, I had textbooks I could take home, and I had a family who chased me around if I dared to get anything less than a B. Safety and materials and support equals opportunity.

What if the achievement gap in the Deaf community is an opportunity gap?

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