Gallaudet's First Deaf President Not Invited to Anniversary Celebrations

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This week marks the 20th anniversary of the "Deaf President Now" (DPN) protest which led to the selection of the first deaf president at Gallaudet University. Now, 20 years after the first major protest, and two years after the Unity for Gallaudet (UFG) protest at Gallaudet, members of the Deaf community and educators are making bold strides in calling for greater reform in Deaf education. Another anniversary gathering is scheduled for noon, Monday, March 10 in the Student Academic Center (SAC) on the Gallaudet campus in Washington, DC.

This celebration is not about Jordan and he is NOT going to speak. It's not even up for consideration.

Members of the American Deaf community may have set their clocks to "spring forward" during the second weekend in March 2008, but they are experiencing other milestones as well which mark the dawn of a new day in the forward advance of Deaf politics. Deaf leaders and educators of the deaf are now taking bold new strides in the advancement of Deaf education and Deaf culture generally, says Gallyprotest.org.

Saturday evening marked a watershed event, with I. King Jordan (who was chosen to be the first deaf president of Gallaudet University in 1988) not being invited to speak at the 20th anniversary banquet that took place on the Gallaudet campus in Washington, DC. Dr. Angel Ramos, the event organizer, stated going into the event that he and the prominent student leaders of the 1988 protest scheduled to speak "agree unanimously," having continued: "This celebration is not about Jordan and he is NOT going to speak. It's not even up for consideration."

With core members of the Deaf intelligentsia and Deaf political leaders in attendance at the banquet, including leaders of the Unity for Gallaudet protest of 2006, the Deaf community sent a clear message that the type of abuse of administrative and political power perpetrated under the former administration at Gallaudet University will no longer be tolerated. Gallaudet University is the world's only university for and of the Deaf. Jordan, though he was selected in 1988 to be Gallaudet's first deaf president, attempted to institute drastic changes in Gallaudet's strategic plan toward the end of his administration which, if adopted, would have placed Gallaudet's continuance in jeopardy, says Gallyprotest.org.

On Friday evening, at an educational conference on the other side of the country in San Ramon, California, Dr. Henry Klopping, the longtime superintendent of the California School for the Deaf, Fremont (CSD Fremont), said: "I am here because I believe in deaf people." In strongly worded remarks which were frequently interrupted by visual applause and enthusiastic cheers, Dr. Klopping spoke as part of a panel of community leaders, explaining that, of the deaf students who acquired American Sign Language from birth on or very early in life who attended CSD Fremont from an early age, virtually 100% of those students so far have passed the California High School Exit Exam. That, contrasted with the dismal 8% exit-exam pass rate of deaf students overall in California, which includes the large majority of deaf students who are mainstreamed in classes in public schools along with non-deaf, hearing children. Klopping lamented that many of his fellow educational leaders have become "blinded" and are unable to see the reality of the value and effectiveness of American Sign Language in Deaf education, and (as Dr. Klopping was implying) the value of deaf students attending separate schools and/or educational programs for the deaf. Klopping, who hears, made his remarks using ASL, allowing an interpreter to translate his remarks simultaneously into English, in a strong show of solidarity with the predominately Deaf audience.

Mal Grossinger, the deaf superintendent of California's other school for the deaf in Riverside, was also at the conference, and stated using ASL: "It is wrong to give deaf children the idea that speaking and listening skills are the most important aspects of their education. This severely damages their self-esteem and disrupts the educational process," also stating: "What is important is having complete, 100% access to communication, and this can only be achieved by using American Sign Language with deaf children. They should be exposed to ASL at a very early age in order to develop a strong foundation in language. Later on, separate from ASL, they might properly be able to utilize some speaking and listening skills."

Bridgetta Bourne-Firl, who is the Coordinator of Outreach Programs at the California School for the Deaf in Fremont, CA, was a student leader in the 1988 protest at Gallaudet. She appeared at the 20th anniversary banquet at Gallaudet in Washington, DC on Saturday, saying that she hoped that possibly a major court case in the near future would have the effect of eliminating oppressive practices and policies which have hindered the spread of educational reform and have prevented deaf children from being exposed to American Sign Language and acquiring it as a first language. She expressed hope that a case on the scale of the famous Brown v. Board of Education case would enable such improvements, and she made reference to current legal efforts being made.

The Brown v. Board of Education case has led to the amelioration of improper, racist practices within the public schools, but the underlying meaning and corollary social implications of the case have tended to be misapplied to the area of deaf education, with many Americans taking the naive view that increased integration of deaf and hearing children in the public schools is a not-to-be-questioned primary goal, i.e., an alleged virtue in and of itself. This misguided view has had very harmful, and even devastating effects in deaf children's upbringing and education, because scattering deaf students and spreading them out among the general population of hearing children and providing them with interpreters only leads to unnecessary effects of isolation, with their physical bodies being present in the classrooms, but their minds being prohibited from experiencing the beneficial effects of the free and 100% open communication available at separate deaf schools and programs. This forced, so-called "inclusion" in the public schools only leads to illusory, not real integration, says Gallyprotest.org. Only a proper focus on the mind, cognitive skills and language enables deaf students' participation as moral equals and fully capable citizens within American society as a whole.

As the current President of Gallaudet, Robert R. Davila, stated in a speech to members of the National Association of the Deaf in 1992 on the topic of PL 94-142: "What is determined an appropriate education for a deaf child is too often driven by the location of the placement, rather than by education and related services specific to the child's particular needs. We are more convinced than ever that this is wrong. You and I know it, and we want to do something about it before we lose a generation of deaf children."

Dr. Davila, in his role as Assistant Secretary at the US Department of Education, was able to stem the tide of the improper placement of deaf children in mainstreamed settings, with the 80-20 mainstreamed/separate-school placement ratio which existed in 1989 having only changed by a few percentage points in the nearly 20 years' time since then, after he was able to lead the Department of Education in adopting new placement rules and guidelines.

I. King Jordan, on the other hand, who was President of Gallaudet from 1988 to the end of 2006, played an obstructionist role in efforts to improve and reform deaf education. Rather than instituting pro-ASL language policies and championing Gallaudet's traditional role as being the flagship institution within the historic federal-state partnership of residential schools for and of the deaf, Jordan instead continually attempted to re-frame the understanding of Gallaudet's role. Then, when he was challenged about his false framing of the issues, says Gallyprotest.org, he disingenuously accused the accusers of attempting to re-define terms, when actually it was he was who attempting the re-definitions all along.

Cochlear implants are far from being a panacea, with only a small minority of deaf children implanted being able to experience any substantial benefit from them, and even those children would be much better off if they would be allowed to acquire American Sign Language from birth on. Jordan, rather than being able to take the long-term view, and rather than carefully considering the context of current findings of linguistic and cognitive research, instead attempted to implement short-sighted policy changes at Gallaudet in deference to the transitory and dubious research-for-hire-type findings put out by groups such as the Deafness Research Foundation, who have been attempting to push the widespread use of cochlear implants since March of 1999.

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BRIAN RILEY

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