Senseless Remarks on Deaf Students

Lance Izumi: 

This week in an op-ed for The New York Times, I argued that parents of children with special needs, such as those with hearing impairments, should be empowered to choose the school, public or private, that best fits the needs of their children.  I then cited recently enacted laws in North Carolina and Ohio that give tuition tax credits and vouchers to parents of disabled children, including deaf students, which they can use at private schools. I also gave the example of a specific parent of a child with deafness who strongly supported the North Carolina law.

In response, I received a shocking e-mail from a California advocate for the deaf. The full letter is below.

“Basically your article could be compared to having Caucasians writing what they think is best for African American children.  It is also like having the Nazis to write that they think is best for Jewish children,” wrote Julie Rems-Smario, the executive director of the Oakland-based DeafHope, a non-profit organization seeking to end domestic and sexual violence against deaf women and children.

Really?  Because I have hearing, my writing that parents of deaf children should be empowered to choose the best type of schooling for their children is actually like a Nazi telling Jewish parents what’s best for their children?

Not only is such an accusation offensive beyond belief, it also demeans deaf children and their parents.  Does Ms. Rems-Smario believe that parents of deaf children are incapable of making intelligent educational choices?  If so, with friends like these, the deaf community does not need enemies.

AUGUST 4, 2011

Here’s the full letter, verbatim:

Dear Lance Izumi, 

I encourage you to visit the California School for the Deaf to see what is really happening with our deaf students.   The reason why so many of those children are not doing well is because they were sent to us (California School for the Deaf, Fremont and California School for the Deaf, Riverside)  from public schools who had FAILED them by denying them their native language, American Sign Language (ASL), during their formative years.   They havebeen given a second chance at our schools, but it is very difficult to make up what they missed during pre-school and elementary school.  The successful children at our Deaf schools are those who grew up with signed language and ASL since birth just like any hearing children growing up with verbal language since birth.  Their languages are not taught…rather the languages are acquired from being in an accessible language-rich environment. 

The long-term affects show it is more expensive to put our children in public schools without signed language. They will forever need our rehabilitation funds paid for with everyone’s tax dollars.  Give a Deaf child signed language from birth, role models, social opportunities 24/7, and accessible education, this child will contribute to society as a whole human being with the ability to pay taxes just like anyone else. 

Basically your article could be compared to having  Caucasions writing what they think is best for African American children.  It  is also like having the Nazis to write that they think is best for  Jewish children. I don’t think you intended the arrogance that came across in the writing in your blog because people often overlook Deaf people as a cultural and linguistic entity.    It is time for our hearing allies to INVOLVE Deaf people from the heart of the Deaf  before writing about us.  Let’s meet soon so I can give you the Deaf perspective about this. 

Who am I?  I am a semi-lingual Deaf woman who graduated from a public school in California .  I was often used as a poster child of Deaf oral education to recruit hearing parents with Deaf children.  Thus, I have the first-hand experience of public school Deaf programs run by hearing teachers; Looking back, I can now say that that I would not wish this on ANY Deaf child.  With my “PhD” in life experience, I know more than the doctors do, I know more than the hearing teachers do, and I also know more than the audiologists do.  Thus,  I ask you to please work with the Deaf community to find out what is really the best for the Deaf babies.  Those Deaf babies you are writing about will grow up and tell you in 20 years the same thing I am trying to tell you now . Please help me break this vicious cycle! 

Julie Rems-Smario

Tags assigned to this article:
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Swaim is founding publisher of the OCWeekly and former publisher of LA CityBeat.

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