John Walker: 10 things deaf children learn at mainstream school

Posted on April 14, 2014

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John Walker when he was 16 years old

Did you go to a mainstream school? I did. This type of education is called ‘inclusive education’, and it is anything but.

Here are 10 things I really learnt, when I went to mainstream secondary school from 1983 to 1990.

1. I’m different

I am told that I went to a ‘normal school,’ but when I got there, I didn’t feel that ‘normal’ at all. I was automatically described as the ‘deaf kid’, who was different.

What was ‘normal’ about that? What about a proper name like Mouth or Data or Chunk from the Goonies? By the way, did anyone remember my real name?

2. I get the blame

Sometimes, it was difficult for me to follow the teacher. And when I put my hand up for a ‘repeat’, the other kids started to moan and groan.

I would get accused of slowing down the class and affecting other students’ grades.

So I got the impression I was not only deaf, but also a liability.

John Walker when he was 16 years old

John Walker when he was 16 years old

3. The hot/cold treatment

When I tried to strike up a conversation, a bit of banter, with the hearing kids; they tended to go hot and cold on me.

Some just ignored me to death, as if I didn’t exist. Others got all curious and asked me about the “funny signing thing”.

I shared what I knew and became as glamorous as E.T.

What was weird was that the very same people turned cold again the next day.

4. Don’t talk to the d-d-d-d-deaf

Sometimes I plucked up the courage to ‘make contact with the Others’, the d-d-d-d-deaf children. Then I felt naughty. I wasnot really supposed to talk to them, or any other deaf person for that matter.

The teachers didn’t want me to be influenced by ‘the Deaf world’ (cue twilight zone theme tune). I didn’t tell anyone, but I had been to the ‘dark side of the force’… and I quite liked it.

John Walker today

John Walker today

5. I’m “quiet”

I got labelled as the ‘quiet one’.

When you call me by my name and I don’t reply, it doesn’t mean that I am ‘quiet’ – it means I can’t hear you.

I am not ‘quiet’ by choice, I am this way because this type of education is not made for me. I am actually a really social guy, but how does one be social when other people use a language I can’t follow?

What do you think I am, a Ghostbuster?

6. I’m naïve

Yep, this is true. I had never heard how other children talk about stuff: their banter, jokes and how they wind each other up.

So, I couldn’t hear the change of intonation and as a result, fell into their traps – “George Michael from Wham is gay.” “Really?” “No. You’re gullible!” [Year 2014: well, actually…].

My street cred is taking a nosedive here.

7. Don’t do well

If I did badly in my tests, it was because I’m deaf. But if I did well, it was because I had extra support.

It was never possible to do well and actually get credit for it.

BUT, if I did do well without extra support – then I had to hide. Hearing kids don’t like feeling that they are not only poor students, but also worse than the deaf kid too.

They turn into Gremlins. And that’s when the fists come…

8. Forget the top class

I loved maths. It came easy to me. It was the one subject I could access because it was always written down. I did well in my tests in the 4th year (year 9 for the rest of you) and opted for advanced maths – and got turned down.

So, I stayed in the easy ‘middle group’, which had the maximum grade of ‘c’.

And what did I get for my GCSE? The easy bloody ‘c’.

9. Escape

It is pretty crazy in a mainstream school. Lips left, right and centre … and no one seems to be able to speak clearly.

I found my escape in books – one was “Ender’s Game” [Year 2014: now in the cinema] about a geeky kid who became a leader. I created a world where everyone can understand everyone.

In these stories, I am the fully functioning hearing person my parents and teachers would dream me to be.

Only to later realise it is their dream, more than mine.

10. Inclusive education is anything but

I feel excluded when I am included [A D.A.R.Y.L. brain fuzz]. I then realise that inclusive education is not about ME being included in the hearing school – it is more about hearing people wanting to see deaf people in their classrooms, because it is a “good idea”.

Don’t tell me otherwise because if they really wanted me to be included, they would have done something about it.

“Na-nu na-nu from Ork.”

As if written by John Walker, age 16 (in 1988).

Disclaimer: this is an ethnographic piece of creative work, which has therapeutic rewards for the author.

If you liked this, read John Walker’s article for us, My Journey to ‘Capital Deaf’

John Walker is a senior research fellow at University of Brighton. Deaf, and sign language user by informed choice. He writes a blog on topics related to the Bourdieusian principle, by the title “Deaf Capital” . It is concerned with the ‘value’ that people place on the Deaf community or the cultural elements of deaf lives that can be askew or misconstrued. Follow him on twitter as @chereme

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