A Dangerous Idea: Autonomy in Deaf Education | Joseph Santini | TEDxGallaudet

Translator: Maurício Kakuei Tanaka
Reviewer: Rhonda Jacobs [The interpretation
provided for this presentation is live and unrehearsed. Interpreter(s) assigned
may or may not have had materials in advance for preparation. Inaccuracies related
to the content of the material may be due to imperfections
in the interpreting process. This interpretation has not been
reviewed by the presenter.] Good morning. Thank you once again. Thank you for that kind introduction. I’m a doctoral student
here at Gallaudet University pursuing an education degree. And I’d like to talk about a concept
that I call learning autonomy. And I am using a particular sign
to represent autonomy, because this concept – is actually mentioned by Henri Holec, and it looks at
the potential for a student to take control and ownership
of their own education, following their interests. And so I have used this particular sign
to represent autonomy because in my experience as a teacher,
working in high schools, I’ve seen that some high schools
are more successful at providing student autonomy. So we see some instances where students will struggle
with their work to the point at which
they will be offered help by others and will often state to those others
coming to do for them that they would like to do it alone. And so that’s why I’m using
this particular sign to represent autonomy. Now I’d like to talk now
about a perspective on autonomy. When we look at schooling and education, I think this notion of autonomy
might help us to transform both our schools for the deaf
and mainstream programs. So I’m going to use a few examples
from my own experience, and I’m going to use one in particular
from my teaching experience and from a study I’ve been engaged in for some time. I’ll share a few anecdotes
with you to that end. So I remember going into my own
mainstreamed sixth grade classroom for a mathematics class. And the teacher saw me
enter in with the interpreter and just told us to go outside,
go out of the room, you know, and so, I guess deaf people aren’t supposed
to take advanced mathematics course. This [was] back in 1994. And I was told that I couldn’t participate
in a number of things, such as theater, sports. I was some 12 years old at that time and I decided to leave
the mainstream environment, and my parents fortunately supported me in entering into the Model
Secondary School for the Deaf here on Gallaudet’s campus. You know, and if the school
isn’t going to be able to help me, then I shall take care
of that autonomously. And so I’ve done so for many years now. And if we fast forward
to the present day, you know, I recently graduated college and went into a teaching program, where I was teaching
in a mainstream high school. And I looked at what had changed for deaf
and hard-of-hearing mainstream students, and I sadly found not much. Very often, those students are pulled out
from class for reasons they don’t know. They’re all primed and ready
for the topic of the day and yet they’re pulled out. So it’s certainly not fair to them and the expectations that are placed
on them for that coursework. So I’d like to talk about some concrete examples
of student autonomy and take it from abstraction to concrete examples
from my own experience. I first taught at a mainstream high school teaching English. And we had 26 hearing students
and one deaf student there. So, the very first day of class,
the deaf student came to me and said that, you know – we arranged to be able to sit together – set up what the arrangement would be
for the classroom that would be ideal. Coming from a mainstream environment, I know that it can be
quite complex to accommodate both hearing and deaf norms. So, the typical row and column setup
was already in place in the classroom that we’ve almost always seen. This was a student
who didn’t sign at the time, used a cochlear implant,
but still wanted visual access. And he asked if he could sit
[at] the far end of the class so that he could see both the instructor
and the other students. He wanted to be able
to observe all of that interchange, which was a great idea, great thinking. He autonomously came up
with this vision of an ideal arrangement. But … one of the problems we experienced
almost right off the bat was the audiologist coming into the room
and seeing the student sit way over there and saying that we had to halt the class, that student wasn’t allowed
to sit there in their place of preference. This audiologist was assuming that the best environment
for the deaf student would be at the very front. So, engaging in a dialogue
with the audiologist, we wanted to look at the student’s view
and their preference, where the audiologist
was not attuned to that at all. We were looking at
least restrictive environment. So what then truly is
that least restrictive environment? It’s one that accommodates
their needs the best. And so I see this as a prime example
of learning autonomy, of student autonomy. I’d like to share another anecdote
with you that speaks to this. And this is the story
of another student I had that was brilliant –
brilliant deaf student, but also one who struggled with reading
and had struggled for many years. So, this student actually thought
that, you know – a correction in the interpretation – this student was continuing school
past 18 up to the age of 21. And so the student asked
if we could meet one on one, and I was delighted to do so
as I always am with students. And so we were working
for some time over this, and the student was struggling
to explain their own view, something they inherently knew,
but struggled to express. Finally, they said, you know, “If you walk to the library
and look in the library, where are the books that relate
to black deaf students like me?” This was a deaf black student teenager
who’s living in the inner city and had never seen any text
that reflected them and other deaf people like them. This is striking. It really started me thinking
about our own classroom libraries, what kind of influence
that can have on student autonomy. And so, beyond the abstraction, there are many lessons to be learned about how student autonomy can improve
the education of our students. That student really improved because I started bringing books and texts that talked about their heritage,
the heritage of black deaf students. And, you know, “Audism Unveiled” was another film
that I brought to the class, which increased student motivation
for those students. Now, sadly though, I never found a book that particularly related
to that student’s identity. So, strides have been made, but we have more to do
to connect these students with reading. Another student said, you know,
about one of their own readings – they bring questions to me, right? This is a literate process;
it develops our literacy. To motivate them, we need literature
that speaks to them. So, the selection of our books,
the curriculum that we design can influence the potential
for student autonomy. It’s not just about the student
being a deaf child. It’s really multifaceted. They have intersecting identities
that have to be recognized. We have to look at gender,
we have to look at race, we have to look at socioeconomic status. All of these things come together
to form their identities. So there are a number
of examples that we can cite where students do not have the freedom to make personal choices
about their school environment. Academic staff and faculty
are often unaware of the effect they have
on student autonomy. So we can see autonomy
reflected in so many areas, that of what texts are available
for student reading, what kind of information we cover, teacher evaluation of student behaviors. And we know this standardized testing has been one
that has frequently cited deaf people as having lower literacy levels. If we look at the median
deaf reading level, that’s often cited as being
at the fourth grade level, but I think that those test scores
actually indicate that there is a problem, in fact, but the problem is also environmental. It’s not measuring
what it should be measuring. And so if we look at
standardized test measurement, they’re doing these measurements
from a specific perspective. In fact, last week,
there was an article showing that high school seniors
graduating in the average public school are graduating with
a fifth grade reading level. So that’s the typical hearing student
upon graduation from high school. So the autonomy of these deaf students
are also limited by a double standard that is ingrained in standardized testing. And so, in some ways, these attitudes make it
nearly impossible to understand what deaf students already know
and what they really need to be taught as compared with hearing students. So, this learning autonomy,
this student autonomy, shows us that, as students
take control of their own learning, Holec, in his writing and research,
has really been expansive on the topic, as has been Paulo Freire. He is another one who’s spoken about the importance
of listening from the students their own experiences
to aid in their education. And so, these are new and emerging ideas. Freire suggests that we have to work with the knowledge base
that students have. And Gee, another author,
has spoken to the need for society to establish opportunities for dialogue
in our educational environments. In the classrooms, this can have a great effect
on student learning. And we’ve talked about the notion that deaf students
have a fourth grade reading level. That notion has had a profound impact
on how we teach deaf students and how we organize our schools. Another famous researcher, Vygotsky, who is often cited
in discussions of student autonomy, speaks to how student autonomy has to move from reliance
on external environmental factors to internal reliance, where students are guiding
their own learning. So research has clearly shown things
that need to be changed in our schools to increase student autonomy because as students are able
to establish their own goals, reflect upon their own learning and then turn that into
real world application, we see unlimited potential for success
and development of the students. And this topic is vital. Without going on about what has been done in terms of research
on the academic environment, we haven’t yet really examined
these notions of autonomy. Kahn, in 2013, in his own research, says that we need to look at how these students
are entering into college – and I’m speaking specifically
of deaf students – without the knowledge
of how to ask questions, how to make this a dialogic process, because their experience has been one where the education
has simply gone in one way, and this is due to the lack
of student autonomy prior to that. So there’s a recognized need
to increase these abilities before entering into college. Throughout the United States, we see the experience of student autonomy
being greatly constrained because we haven’t had research
that’s been directly speaking to that. We have some that has been
indirectly speaking to this, like [Joe Valente] has looked
at the distinction between capital “D” Deaf experience
and lower case “d,” and how that’s represented. Students are often told
that they can’t take a specific class. And Claire Ramsey, in her own writing, has spoken about deaf students
in public schools facing an environment that very rarely
allows for student autonomy. And when student autonomy is allowed for
that learning increases greatly. So if we look at the potential
for young deaf people to meet adult – correction – There was one deaf student I remember who asked an adult in their school
whether, at 18 years old, they would die because they’d never seen a deaf adult. And this story was one I heard from Texas, but that student never met a deaf adult
throughout their whole life. And so, you know,
I also had a similar experience in first meeting
another deaf adult at age 12. We need to enable deaf students
to visualize the future, to see a vision
of what their future can be, so they can establish goals and know that it is possible
to reach those, establish processes for doing that. So, faculty and educational communities
have to include deaf adults in their communities. Very often, we establish
goals and curriculum without thinking about
what these deaf students really could do. This deaf student
that I spoke of a moment ago wondered whether, when 18, they would die or live alone
the only deaf person in their world. Or become hearing? This is because we haven’t allowed
for that autonomy. We have to embed this in the curriculum
to suit the needs of these deaf students, but we’re under all kinds
of economic pressures and curriculum design. You may remember, School 4201,
in New York, actually had protests because of the ways that the economic situation
and the government [were] affecting the school for the deaf. So these students have fought
for their autonomy in their education in the schools that they’re attending. And so we have lessons to learn from this
about student autonomy. So we have not yet gotten to the point where we do more than just recognize
that the problem exists. We have to really assess these schools
with an emphasis on student autonomy, because there’s great potential
to radically change our systems to fill in those gaps. And we have to take those next steps. You may remember the story I said,
I mentioned a bit ago, about the student being unable
to find any texts that reflected
their identity and experience. We need to do so. We can do so by recognizing deaf artists,
by recognizing deaf literature. Schools need to expand their own ways of thinking about and considering
student autonomy. And maybe this means we have to rethink
our school choices as well. Instead of us saying that one school
is better than the other in the way that we always have, maybe we need to be sure that parents and students
can visit all of the schools and autonomously determine
which they’ll go to. I have to wonder what kind of profound effect
that would have on their education. Student autonomy is one thing
that we must emphasize in our graduate education programs. We become licensed
in a number of different fields, and it’s important for the people
that do become licensed to be visible to those deaf students
so that they can see their futures, both in mainstream schools
and residential schools for the deaf. Learning autonomy, student autonomy, requires that we recognize
and incorporate diverse deaf peoples in their lives and curriculum. The school’s diversity should reflect
the diversity present in the students, but they rarely do. This has an effect on student autonomy, their own perception
of their day-to-day lives. And we cannot do so on a one-shot basis. They have to truly see this to have a cumulative building effect
on their own notions of their autonomy. Yes, oppression affects
these deaf students, but they have to see
ways of dealing with this. If we look at, you know, a female student, she’s not merely female, but she also has race
and socioeconomic status. All of this has to be reflected
in their own curriculum. We have to be open and willing to explore these different kinds
of connections to students and how we can increase student autonomy, what the impact
and implications of this is, when we see students take control of and power over
their own educations. Thank you.

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5 Responses

  1. ridor9th says:

    This was very crap.  Joe's signs are not clear nor smooth.  I stopped after 4 minutes.  This is #epicfail.

  2. Jacqueline Gee says:

    This TED talk is exceptional, and he has a great deal to offer educators of the Deaf and lends the Deaf perspective. He is a clear native signer. What you are missing is that he is left-handed, and you have receptively framed all sign language production to look right handed. Don't focus on that but what he offers regarding the Deaf learner's perspective and given intersectionalities.

  3. JekyllendHyde says:

    lots of comments about his sign, from my experience as an interpreter, Deaf people often code switch for us, especially in formal presentation settings. They are usually bilingual and know what words they want the interpreter to use. To make it easy on us they will use more English syntax and initialized signs etc.
    anyway great presenter and great content!

  4. Soutthpaw says:

    When I taught DHH elementary school in South Central LA, I met a student who was completely shocked that I was Deaf. He believed he would become hearing as an adult because he had NEVER met a deaf adult in his life and he was in 4th or 5th grade at the time. later, I met his father, the father asked me what brand of hearing aid I used. When I asked why he wanted to know that, he said i had really good speech and thought if he got his son the same hearing aid I had, that his son would also have good speech!

  5. Quincy Taylor says:

    As a high school teacher, I think that taking in ALL perspectives of how students learn, is essential. A lot of perspective that is if the Deaf experience can be applied to those students that are categorized as 'other', when it comes to the mainstream perspective of learning. I am a French teacher however, I also know ASL at a conversationally fluent level. By understanding the Deaf perspective, I've been able to facilitate for ALL of my students. Facilitating students means allowing and encouraging autonomy in learning. It is said that the earmark of a good teacher is that one is able to 'duplicate' themselves, so that the student, in fact, also becomes a teacher: first to themselves and then to others. This TED talk is invaluable for educators, and I say thank you!

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