To Listen or Not to Listen

“The problem is not that students do not hear. The problem is that the hearing world does not listen.” – Reverend Jesse Jackson, 1988 Deaf President Now*

I have been waiting for a time to talk about listening in today’s society. The majority of the people consider “listening” to be synonymous to “hearing”. What I mean by “hearing” is the physical action of hearing something in the environment.

Merriam-Webster defines listen as: verb 1. (archaic): to give ear to. 2: to pay attention to sound 3: to hearing something with thoughtful attention, give consideration. 4: to be alert to catch an expected sound.

Yes they all rely on the concept of sound. Now let’s not take ‘listen’ literally here. Dame Evelyn Glennie, a percussionist who is deaf, introduces the concept of ‘listen’ with her music. She did a performance/presentation (link at end) for TED that shows how you can listen, even when you can’t hear. Music is more than just sound, it includes the vibrations that create sound. Sound is the production of vibration. Without vibration, there would be no sound.

There is a way to listen even if you cannot or do not want to ‘hear’. Let’s use our eyes. For those who cannot hear, our eyes become acute, not necessary better; just enhanced in the ways of listening to information. Lipreading (or speechreading) is one skill; yet, in any spoken language, the capacity to speechread can be maxed out at 40% of the spoken language due to homonyms and speech production apparatus (tongue, lip movements) that can or cannot be seen. The rest is guesswork if you don’t know the topic.

One can listen to the weather, action of the environment, or any thing essentially visual. You can also listen through taste, touch and smell. Deaf-blind individuals are acutely tactile, because they have the loss or reduced of visual and hearing senses.

Try standing in the middle of a field and listen with everything. Even if a person who cannot hear or smell, can feel the wind blowing, the grass/rocks crinkling under his/her feet and see the colors move in the air (blades of grass, birds, flowers, etc) and wax poetry from it.

Reverend Jackson stated at the Deaf President Now (DPN) 1988 that the problem is that the world at large is not listening to the students, or essentially the deaf population at large. Oppression of language, identity, and educational opportunities have gone too far. The students wanted someone who was in their shoes, had the experience and the attitude to promote Gallaudet as a premier university for students who are deaf and hard of hearing.

Listening is the action of receiving information, one can ‘hear’ information in different ways. As a bilingual person, using American Sign Language (ASL) and written/spoken English, I can listen in various ways.  I find it sad that children who are deaf and hard of hearing are not given the option to ‘listen’ in two languages. If children who can hear are encouraged to take up ASL, why cannot those deaf and hard of hearing children do the same? Oh no, they must be able to listen with their ears (period!).

Sorry to say, reality doesn’t work that way. There are people who learn through listening to sound (deaf and hearing alike) and people who learn through listening to tactile or visual information (deaf and hearing alike). So why place emphasis on sound as a mandatory life skill? There’s a resource site where you can answer questions to find  your learning style. Love this one, took it twice!  VARK – Guide to learning styles (link below), you’d be surprised to find out what your learning style is.  You will find it also amazing that direct listening skills development are also being abandoned for the bilingual approach for a wholesome successful child.

The majority is not ‘listening’, they are not ‘hearing’ the issues today. Our major issue now days despite economical difficulties is the discrimination – silent discrimination – of deaf people in employment. The same goes for quality education for deaf and hard of hearing children in the K-12 system (check out New York and Utah school systems).

*Deaf President Now History: in 1988, when President Lee retired, a search of presidents resulted in 3 applicants – 2 are deaf and 1 is hearing. All of them were qualified for the position of presidency. The hearing person did not know sign language (but was willing to do so). The students erupted and shut down Gallaudet for a week in March to protest the choosing of a hearing president (it was not personal) by the trustees. The result was the choosing of I. King Jordan as Gallaudet’s first deaf president. (link below)

Links: (Deaf President Now History)


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