Two Worlds, Two Cultures

Manila Bulletin, May 13, 2007 | Go to article overview

Two Worlds, Two Cultures


Byline: Corazon V. Balarbar Associate Professorial Lecturer De La Salle University - Manila

THE world of sound vs. the world of silence, the visual versus the verbal - two worlds where the deaf and the hearing exist. Is there a way to relate the two despite the barriers of communication?

My curiosity was first piqued by this other world where I do not belong when I heard over the radio that deaf students were going to perform and actually recite and sing. I had always thought that this type of people were both deaf and dumb. I was proven wrong and since then, I discovered a wealth of knowledge about them.

My constricted world was opened to a whole new perspective when I decided to embark on a study of the deaf and deaf education. The study would take me 10 long years and my interest in this field has not flagged. It has resulted in new experiences, new friends and an entirely different outlook on people.

From an expert, I learned that "deaf" can be spelled with a small d when referring to a disability or lack of hearing. But it can also be spelled with a capital D when referring to a different culture and means of communication. This intrinsic difference would also define the two divergent philosophies in Deaf Education - the pathological versus the cultural.

My first study was done in a school that adopts the pathological view of deafness and teaches deaf students through the oral method. I sat in their classes where the deaf are taught to talk - a process that is laborious and painstaking and includes several techniques like breath and tongue exercises. This is the school where children who are given a cochlear implant go to after a very expensive operation. I was privy to how the students struggled to pronounce words correctly despite their inability to hear their own voices. They seemed to be eager to talk and there was no resentment as they repeated over and over again the lines from the poem "I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree..."

Some students were articulate enough to communicate orally; others could not and resorted to a combination of oral and sign language. Some graduates were mainstreamed in regular classes in schools for the hearing; others came back because they felt they did not belong.

After this initial study, I decided to venture to the other side of the fence - where the philosophy of Deaf Education is based on the cultural view that looks at the Deaf as different from the hearing not because they lacked the auditory sense but because they used a different means of communication - Sign Language.

In a popular institution that subscribes to this view, I was allowed to sit in and videotape the English classes where teachers and students communicated through signs and gestures in the classrooms. I even went as far as to enroll in Sign Language classes to be able to communicate better with them. There, I made new friends with my Sign Language teachers who were Deaf but eager to teach me their language. I created strong bonds with my "buddies," bonds that would last up to the present. …

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