Seeing Voices

| | Comments (4)
I'm currently reading the book 'Seeing Voices' by Oliver Sacks and came across a passage that I just had to share. The book is about the incredible world of the Deaf. How deafness was once perceived by society, what we've since learned (and still need to learn), different education approaches, how deafness affects learning, the beauty and complexity of sign language, and much, much more.

The book is very eye-opening and directly contradicts a lot of the assumptions I had made about the limitations of deafness. What I wanted to share though was some passages from Chapter 3 where Oliver Sacks describes his experiences while witnessing the student strike at Gallaudet University, a school for the advanced education of the deaf, during the week of March 9th, 1988. The strike was in protest of the election of a hearing President to lead the school. In the 124 years the school had existed, it had never had a Deaf President.
On Sunday, March 6, choosing between three finalists, one hearing, two deaf, the board chose Elisabeth Ann Zinser, Vice-Chancellor for Academic Affars at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro -- the hearing candidate.


The next day, a thousand students marched to the hotel where the board was cloistered, then the six blocks to the White House, and on to the Capitol. The following day, March 8, the students closed the university and barricaded the campus.


Thursday morning, March 10: A taxi deposits me on Fifth Street opposite the college. The gates have been blocked off for forty-eight hours; my first sight is of a huge, excited, but cheerful and friendly crowd of hundreds barring the entrance to the campus, carrying banners and placards, and signing to one another with great animation.


The crowd itself is both strangely silent and noisy: the signing, the Sign speeches, are utterly silent; but they are punctuated by curious applause -- an excited shaking of the hands above the head, accompanied by high-pitched vocalizations and screams. As I watch, one of the students leaps up on a pillar and starts signing with much expression and beauty. I can understand nothing of what he says, but I feel the signing is pure and impassioned -- his whole body, all his feelings, seem to flow into the signing. I head a murmured name -- Tim Rarus -- and realize that this is one of the student leaders, one of the Four. His audience visibly hangs on eveyr sign, rapt, bursting at intervals into tumultuous applause.


I edge past the barricades, the speeches, the signs, and stroll onto the large and beautifully green campus, with its great Victorian buildings setting off a most un-Victorian scene. The campus is buzzing, visibly, with conversation -- everywhere there are pairs or small groups signing. There is conversing everywhere, and I can understand none of it; I feel like the deaf, the voiceless one today -- the handicapped one, the minority, in this great signing community.


A great many dogs are on the campus -- there must be fifty or sixty on the great greensward out front. Regulations on owning and keeping dogs here are loose; some are "hearing ear" dogs, but most are just -- dogs. I see one girl signing to her dog; the dog, obediently, turns over, begs, gives a paw. This dog itself bears a white cloth sign on each side: "I UNDERSTAND SIGN BETTER THAN SPILMAN."
A fascinating read.


Hey, welcome back, you've been AWOL for quite some time now.

Sachs is great, isn't he? I've read "The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat", and the other one, can't remember the name, both were great. I'll have to read this one soon.

It's true, it's true. The blogging thing comes and goes for me. Really depends on what's happening in the rest of my life. Also an attitude change. Hope you are doing well Stuart. Good to hear from you.

what is the chapter on deaf world about

I'm afraid I don't understand what you are asking. You are inquiring about a single chapter?

Leave a comment

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dylan published on March 1, 2004 1:16 AM.

Corrupted Movable Type Database was the previous entry in this blog.

NASA's master sniffer is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.