Asher Woodman-Worrell: Deaf Studies is a valuable vehicle for Deaf stories and legends to be passed down to the next generation

Posted on August 14, 2013

Once upon a time, there was a policeman who was on his patrol. On his route, he regularly passed a large group of people stood under a lamppost late at night. However, this occurrence always happened at same day of the week. Eventually the curiosity got better of the policeman and he decided to approach the group.

As he got closer, he saw that everyone in the group waved their arms around frequently and it was at this point that he learnt all of the group were Deaf.

He then learnt from the group that they met at same time every week to exchange news and to catch up. Some members would even walk for miles and miles just to attend. As the night drew nearer, the group will would move under a lamppost so they were able to see each other.

Feeling sorry for the group, the policeman decided to arrange to hire a room where the group could meet at and to be protected from the unpredictable British weather! Thus the concept of the Deaf club was born!

I am sure that you all will agree with me that this is a heart-warming yet an important part of Deaf history. Some of you may even wonder where I heard about the story. Well, I learnt about it in a Deaf Studies class during my school years.

Deaf Studies is the study of Deaf history and Deaf culture. It is also a valuable vehicle for deaf stories and legends to be passed down to generations to generations. It also allowed learners to develop and debate their beliefs on history, religion, laws, human rights, discriminatory attitudes and practices. Some of the work was even touching on A-levels standard and beyond.

So if the benefits are fruitful then why has it disappeared out of the curriculum in recent times? I asked my friends who attended the following schools – Mary Hare, Doncaster, St. John, Elmfield, Heathlands and Hamilton Lodge whether if their schools taught the subject and also for their thoughts on Deaf Studies.

Three out of these six deaf schools taught the subject though – along with my own school, Royal School for the Deaf Derby – one of these schools had dropped the subject while one of my correspondents was still there. It is unknown whether the two remaining schools still teach the subject. It is also unknown whether Deaf Studies has found itself back in the curriculum now but it is clear that from early 2000s onwards, the teaching of Deaf Studies was in decline.

A former student of a Deaf school in the south said that her class never took Deaf Studies seriously compared to other subjects, due to a weak teacher and the fact she found it pointless. This view is also shared by an ex pupil of other well-known Deaf school in south. She claimed that the subject was dropped due to a lack of interest.

It is clear that there is a lack of interest in the subject. This also corresponds to my personal experience. Though I loved the subject, this was mainly due to the fact I had an excellent Deaf teacher who was very passionate and loved telling stories. She also encouraged us to think critically and to debate our opinions.

Deep down inside of me, I also knew that the subject wasn’t essential to my academic future compared to Maths and English which I studied for my GCSES. So when my teacher left to be replaced by another teacher, my interest in the subject waned rapidly.

However, with the fall in the number of Deaf clubs and improvements in technology allowing young Deaf people to meet independently outside of deaf clubs, there is not much interaction between the generations and this results in less opportunities pass down legends and stories through the generations.

With that conclusion in mind, is the teaching of Deaf Studies an opportunity to educate young Deaf people in their culture, Deafhood and history? Should Deaf Studies return to the national curriculum armed with a recognised qualification that is equivalent to a GCSE – following the example of BSL Level 2 which used to be equivalent of a GCSE grade B – or should we seek other ways to pass on stories and legends?

What do you think? Leave your comment below.

Asher is now a university graduate, yet he is strangely going back to university to do another degree. He volunteers for UKDSU and the BDA’s Youth board in his spare time – however, sadly, he hasn’t got over his obsession with Leicester City and PlayStation 3 – to his girlfriend’s everlasting suffering.  Follow him on Twitter: @AsherWW

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