Sound and Silence
and socialized together and were surrounded by a language they could understand and access. American Deaf culture grew out of this rich and insular environment. As described in the book Through Deaf Eyes, by Douglas Baynton et al., "American Deaf culture over time generated the creative outpouring typical of human communities everywhere—folklore, poetry, storytelling, theater, and oratory; as well as games, jokes, naming customs, rituals of romance, and rules of etiquette and proper conduct—all enacted in a language of gesture and suited to a visual people."
However, not all deaf educators embraced the growth of ASL and Deaf culture. Again, from Through Deaf Eyes: "In the decades following the Civil War, educational reformers waged a campaign to eliminate manualism—the use of sign language in the classroom—and to replace it with oralism, the exclusive use of lipreading and speech." It's estimated that by 1920, 80 percent of deaf students were taught without sign language. Among the most influential oralists was Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone. Bell even warned of the "formation of a Deaf variety of the human race" if deaf people continued to marry and Deaf culture continued to flourish.
But Bell and other oralists failed to eliminate sign language. ASL persisted, and the civil rights movement infused new energy into Deaf culture and its language. Today, sign language and oralism exist more as peers—each recognized as having different strengths. However, the rise in popularity of cochlear implants means that fewer and fewer deaf children are learning how to sign and are being exposed to Deaf culture. Cochlear implants—whether people like to admit it or not—are making ASL an increasingly rare language and may well once again redefine Deaf culture.
So what are hearing parents of a deaf child to do? I love languages, and learning new ones comes easily to me. Yet I knew it would take me at least a few years to become a fluent signer. The learning curve would be steeper and longer for my husband, since he has continued to work full-time and languages don't come as easily to him.
Research shows that hearing children of hearing parents and deaf children of deaf parents have comparable language skills. But deaf children of hearing parents, on average, have much more limited language skills.
Even Tami, a great lover of ASL, admits that it took her about seven years to feel fluent. I knew Geneva would be starved for language if we depended only on signing. Research shows that hearing children of hearing parents and deaf children of deaf parents have comparable language skills. But deaf children of hearing parents, on average, have much more limited language development and fall behind their peers as early as 18 months. I wanted (and still want) for Geneva and me to be fluent in ASL, but I knew that my best shot at offering her a rich and complete facility with language was through a cochlear implant. So we decided Geneva would get the implant.
But it wasn't until we met a preteen with a
cochlear implant that I really began to imagine Geneva with an implant. Meeting Kaily, who lived in a nearby town, was like setting down a new anchor. Our wonderful, caring primary-care doctor had put us in touch with Kaily and her mom. My husband and I showed up at her house one muddy afternoon in late spring. When we got out of the car, we heard a