Friday, May 29, 2009

What I Learned in Freshman English

It's been a few *cough* years since I was a college freshman, but I've never forgotten the first year of English classes. I love to write about my own life experiences or short stories about my views of the world around me. Even though I was great at procrastinating, I could usually throw an English paper together two hours before class during the fall semester and still make a decent grade. I'd write the final draft first, off the top of my head, at lunch before class. Then I would write a quick "rough draft" version a little more shabbily and toss it in the pile and turn it all in for the week's work.

I don't think my teacher's expectations were too high for any of us, but my roommate, who would spend a week polishing off her paper to the last perfectly typed detail, would mockingly pout when we'd bring home the same grade. (Mind you, this was the one class the I could bluff my way through so easily. The rest of college? A rude awakening. :)

During the spring semester English became something a whole lot tougher to fake (and my roommate's diligence started to pay off.) All of a sudden papers had to be researched, referenced, doubled-spaced, and typed. (Ahhh... the pre-computer boom era... lots of careful pecking on a clacking electric typewriter with nothing more than prayer and liquid paper for those 911 typo emergencies.) Looking up information through microfiche files and the card catalog system was tedious and boring in the days before the internet. Once I finally had the information I needed for a subject, I started enjoying the assignment a tad bit more. We also began to receive much more specific assignments for writing that required a little more thought than some fluff written over dessert in the university cafeteria.

One freshmen English assignment ended up being a life lesson that still comes to play in my life today. I had to write a persuasive paper on a subject that articulated my thoughts and opinions in a mature, well thought out manner. The next week? I had to be equally mature and persuasive and write the opposite opinion on the same subject. What the heck? That was just crazy talk because I'd already proved my point and shown the validity of my argument! What did she mean she wanted to hear me argue the other side of the debate? Oh, the blasphemy!

I don't even remember on what subject I wrote flip sides of persuasion to convince readers of my passionate points of view. I only remember learning through the process that, well, maybe, just maybe, there's more than one side to a debate that's relevant and fair and deserving. Also, in the search for information to support an argument, it seems to be a great skill to be able to also look for information that supports the other side of the debate as well. Isn't this a valuable skill that allows a truly talented lawyer to shine in a courtroom after all?

Often the lesson I've learned is that no one side is "right", but that there is more than one way to view a situation, especially when the different sides involved have substantial facts, information and history that supports their beliefs. There are often valid arguments for opposing sides, and sometimes the best resolution is finding a middle ground, a compromise, and when all else fails, all parties trying to find a way to respect each other enough to agree to disagree.

I've spent the last few months closely observing this deaf blogosphere I've recently entered. I've read many heartfelt blog posts and watched quite a few equally ardent vlog posts. I've been fascinated by the wide range of viewpoints on various subjects by a blogging community that includes hearing and deaf parents of deaf children in oral deaf education, bi-bi programs, mainstreamed classes, and deaf schools. Other bloggers include the deaf adults of those hearing parents and deaf adults of deaf parents, as well as educators, active members of the Deaf community, and adults deafened later in life. Of course the modes of communication used in this community are just as diverse as the group itself. A few that come to mind quite readily include ASL, total communication, cued speech, Signed English, and spoken English.

There are the blogs of lifelong d(D)eaf adults who grew up educated and living in an environment that supported one type of communication, but as adults chose to use an entirely different mode of communication based on preference or needs. There are blogs by adults who have been deafened later in life by an illness or accident that have never had any type of prior exposure to the deaf community or sign language. There are those deaf who have grown up dabbling in one world or the other, yet not quite feeling a complete identity with either.

As a deaf mom and a former deaf education teacher, the blogs that touch me the most are those of the parents of deaf children seeking the path their children should go. Many parents stand at the crossroads trying to figure out where they are going next. The signs point in different directions and the roads are many. All look equally important, but only one can be chosen. The billboards promise that their road is the surest way to reach the desired destination successfully. So many decisions, so little time, what to do, what is right, what is best, what is fair, which way to go, will there be regrets, will there be dead ends, will there be bumps in the road, do we head this way full throttle, but oh... that sign over there... look what it promises!!!... what if this road is wrong... what if that road is right?? Oh what to do... see here... see here... my child grew an inch just last night in his sleep... time is flying.. there's no time to waste... I must pick a path... I must go without haste for my child awaits.

No matter which path these parents take, the one thing most of us would likely agree upon is that these parents have their hearts in the right place. As loving parents anywhere would feel, they only want what is best for their children and their future. Likely there will be second guessing and "what-if" moments, but isn't that a rite of passage of parenthood for all of us regardless what of what challenges we face? In the end isn't it the loving, involved parents armed with information and positive support from the community around them that will thrive most confidently? Aren't those the parents with the most successful children, no matter which road they chose?

The most divisive issues that have really come to play in this world front and center seems to be the preservation of the Deaf community and the rights of the parents to choose the path they feel would best serve their children's success in the "real" world. At this center of this storm today? The cochlear implant. Is the cochlear implant the only issue? No, of course not. It is, however, the common denominator in many of these blogs. The opinions are many. Stands have been made. Each side feels right. It's a battle; it's a war. Lines have been drawn in the sand, and the ones who stand to lose the most are our children.

The landscape of the Deaf community and culture is changing. The progress in technology is moving forward. Each side has an equally strong and impassioned case. Each side has excellent points. Our children's future success being deaf in a hearing world and their right to inherit an intact, strong, and supportive Deaf community is at stake. It's not an either/or issue, but maybe, if we all stopped and put our heads together, we could give them "all of the above". Our children deserve to have every chance for success and every bit of support that is rightfully and historically theirs.

It's up to all of us, and we all have something unique to put on the table that will provide our children support, confidence, and pride long after we are gone. Perhaps if we, as adults, could suspend our personal beliefs for a moment and listen to what the other side has to offer to our children, we might find a common ground upon which we can give our Deaf children a truly wonderful tomorrow.


  1. Wow- this is a great post, Michelle! This could easily be in the newsletter of any deaf ed. program. I think this is so spot on and would probably resound in the hearts of many parents out there.

    ...and liquid paper, I can't remember the last time I used that stuff! :)

  2. Thank you, Melissa. That means a lot. I wasn't sure if the reception to my post would be to touch someone's heart or to touch nerves(and I still have no clue), but I really felt compelled to write this. Our (somehow now all grown up) students are never far from my mind, and I only wish the world for them. I know you feel the same. That's not too much to ask, is it? :)

  3. After reading this post I want to sing...well...I'm proud to be an American!!! AND proud to call you are inspirational! I mean that!!!

  4. Oh, Shelly.... will you be singing that or signing??? Give a girl a head's up, will ya? Totally kidding...Thanks, girl friend!.... you know I feel the same about you times ten, as does the little man! xoxo