According to Charlotte Allen’s brilliant piece in the Weekly Standard, Gallaudet, the nation’s most famous school for the deaf, has become a hotbed of anger and warmed over radicalism from the 1960s:
“Deaf activists have followed in the footsteps of racial activists, redefining themselves not as people with auditory handicaps but as members of a linguistic minority that had been oppressed and marginalized by the speaking majority because they used sign language to communicate instead of speech. Just as black activists a generation ago began calling themselves Black with a capital B, deaf activists began calling themselves Deaf with a capital D. The National Association of the Deaf, a leading deaf-rights advocacy group based in Washington, sternly reprimands those hapless souls who use the genteel term “hearing-impaired” to refer to the deaf:
‘Deaf and hard of hearing people believe that there is nothing wrong with them, and that their culture, language, and community are just as fulfilling as the ones experienced by the mainstream society.’
“In 1994 deaf activist M.J. Bienvenu, a onetime administrator at Gallaudet, told New York Times magazine writer Andrew Solomon that deafness was ‘no more a disability than being Japanese would be.’ Deaf activists are not unique in their efforts to redefine themselves as merely different from–and victimized by–the mainstream. Over the past few years, advocates for the autistic and even the chronically obese have argued that society ought to regard them as members of discriminated-against minority groups rather than as people with physiological problems.
“It is understandable that deaf people who are competent in every way except for their inability to hear would not care to be defined as defective and thus, as they suggest, somehow less than fully human. It is also uncontestable that deaf people have been, and continue to be, subject to overt and subtle discrimination by a misunderstanding mainstream. The fact remains, however, that the mammalian brain is structured to perceive sound via the auditory nerve, and that people who cannot hear speech–or music or the honking of horns or the chirping of birds–lack something useful that most other people possess. Furthermore, although the National Association of the Deaf strenuously argues that deafness is not a disability, the organization at the same time pushes for maximum enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act with respect to its members.
“The result is a strange irony in which it is politically impermissible for deaf people to wish that they could hear. In 2002, reporter Liza Mundy wrote an article for the Washington Post magazine about two deaf lesbians, both with degrees from Gallaudet, who had sought out a congenitally deaf sperm donor for the two children they were raising. A deaf employee of the National Association of the Deaf made the mistake of telling Mundy, ‘I felt, just for a fleeting second, bad that my children were deaf.’ Although the employee, Nancy Rarus, had emphasized that she was merely expressing her own personal opinion, the organization rushed out a press release dissociating itself from any ‘misperceptions’ she might have fostered concerning deaf people’s view of themselves.”
Gallaudet derives the lion’s share of its funding from taxpayers. Maybe it’s time to be stingy. As Charlotte notes:
“‘academically talented deaf students have many other options besides Gallaudet these days; they can go to Harvard, or to a good state school, many of which offer programs geared specifically to the deaf. Advances in medical technology, chiefly cochlear implants, have enabled the brains of many deaf young people to process sounds more easily, and they thus have an easier time in mainstream education. Another part of the problem, though, is the peculiar campus culture that flourishes at Gallaudet, a culture fostered by radical students and faculty members that has bred those 1960s-style confrontations and that–as both enrollment and application numbers at Gallaudet clearly show–turns off many young people who want only to obtain good educations and prepare for careers.”