Provides a history of deaf people in the U.S., looking at the ways in which they have been seen and treated in the past and their ongoing struggle for acceptance; examines Sign, the visual language of the deaf; and discusses the uniquely human gift of language.
There were several things here that struck me. I picked up the book as sign language has always interested me, more so after working my last job, where some of the children were not able to hear, and some unable to speak in other ways. This book was interesting and informative and a very quick read.
There was mention early on how one young man, who had lost his hearing after seven years. He would hear the voice of his mother in his head even after his hearing was gone. This made me think of how I and possibly you, do this with books. I hear the voices of well known and loved characters in my head as I read. This was defined by the author as an "illusory" type of hearing.
This book explores the options given to the patents of non hearing children as far as signing and lip reading are concerned. There is mention of how som who live in the deaf community choose to Live without trying any extreme measures to give them at least some hearing. I think this is a perfectly good choice for an adult to make.
For an adult to make it for a child, at least as far as not exposing them to different learning settings and options, is in my opinion a mistake. All of us have ways of learning that suit us better than others, and when it comes to parents of a child who faces difficulty from the outset, the choices must be quite stressful. Finding what works best for your child can be difficult without any added obstacles.
We have all heard the horror stories from the past where of children grew to adulthood having been labeled as "slow" or "feeble minded" or worse, when their only issue was lack of hearing, and thus lack of ability to communicate. I have no reason to believe that things have changed enough over the years to keep this from happening now.
My reason for reading this book is that there was a girl I will call V in the classroom where I worked. She was brought in as a 4 year old who had not had any prior intervention, aside from the implantation of a cochlear implant. There was little training for her after the initial few weeks, as she didn't seem to like having the magnet near her head. I believe that if she had been sent to an appropriate school where profoundly deaf children were top priority and the the staff was trained and equipped for that particular challenge, her chances of acieving some learning would have been much better.
At one point she was taken out of school for three years, with no intervention or teaching at all, and then sent back to the same place. By that time she was an adolescent trapped in a world of silence and low vision. I read this book because of her and because I always believed that she would have been capable of so much more, were she given the chance. What I read affirmed that belief for me.
Interesting but pretty basic. Good for me since I haven’t read much on the topic at all and it references other material (David Wright’s autobiography, for example) and gives enough of a basic history to give a casual reader a basic understanding. I’m quite sorry to have listened to the audio version since it skips most of the footnotes, which are the most interesting part of the book for me! It’s a short-book in any case (64.000 words) and Sacks is a very readable writer.
The pathos is a bit too obvious, although undoubtedly the situation was (and sometimes is) quite dire for deaf people and it made me all teary eyed anyway. Still, it might well be that old cochlear implants were pretty much useless to make a deaf person into a hearing one, unlike current ones. See my review of Sound and Fury for more on that.
Another criticism to be made is that Sacks, like all Usian writers, is pretty USA-centric. Although there are appropriate comparisons to other countries and some history of the French tradition from which the Usian tradition originated with Clerc and Gallaudet and in the footnotes I did read interesting references to the very advanced organization of education for the deaf in countries like Venezuela and Uruguay (check the quotes) so it is possible that there is more about other countries in the ones I have not read but the bibliography is pretty much all Usian (I’m including it here, too).
I find it a bit confusing how there’s proof that every sign language is a separate language and the level of intelligibility is so high that two random signers of any language will get by with each other and be able to have conversations in a couple weeks.
There is also some interesting stuff on accommodation and mainstreaming which parallels more recent educational efforts demanded by people with autism. I really wish there had been some sort of update, though, because the book was published in 1989. Fortunately, the Internets were able to bring me up-to-date.