The Mask of Benevolence

Harlan Lane, author of WHEN THE MIND HEARS, is that rarity that the deaf community appreciates: a hearing person who listens to what the deaf say. Lane’s eloquent arguments take into account the deaf community’s views as well as his own observations.

Hearing people currently make the major decisions on deaf education. Many schools thus ban the use of manual sign language, insisting that the deaf must cope in the hearing world and should learn by lipreading. The forced closing of deaf schools and the mainstreaming of the deaf in public schools often deprives the deaf of socialization (through inadequate communication skills), history of deaf culture, and the ability to achieve advanced education.

The Bilingual Education Act of 1968 guarantees that cultural minorities will be taught English as a second language in our schools while being taught difficult studies in their native, or first, language. Currently the deaf are considered disabled, rather than a cultural minority, so the bilingual education they deserve is not available. Lacking understanding of the majority (spoken) language, the deaf often obtain only a rudimentary education.

Lane substantiates many other ways that the hearing oppress the deaf while intending the opposite. Medical science, for example, has opened unexpected avenues for harm with the new cochlear implant, while clearly intending to do good.

The Gallaudet Revolution in 1988, demanding a deaf president for the deaf university, was only the beginning of the deaf taking charge of their own affairs. THE MASK OF BENEVOLENCE should be an eye-opener and an instrument of change for hearing and deaf alike.