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Deaf Education at Schools – Amarillo, Texas

Deaf Education at Amarillo Schools (this is very long) (Amarillo-for parents of deaf children)

September 25, 2014

By: No name (see source below)

This is directed toward anyone who has just found out their child is deaf or hard of hearing who knows nothing about deafness, American Sign Language, etc. (this is rather long):

Deafness runs in both my family and my wife’s family, and we have a 4 year old daughter who along with both sets of our parents and my two older sisters and one of my younger brothers all happen to be Deaf, and we moved here this summer from Mississippi for a great job opportunity for my wife (she just finished medical school).

Since Claudia is starting kindergarten in a year, my wife and I started looking at what kind of opportunities were available to her with Amarillo Schools because before deciding to move here, we were pleased to find out that AISD has a regional program for the Deaf, and that to live in Texas we woudn’t have to live in Austin which is rather expensive and is also where Texas School for the Deaf is located (for anyone who doesn’t have student loans, for a medical student they’re exhorbitant). We talked not on many but a few occasions before moving with staff at Amarillo Schools just to be sure there really was a deaf program here, however a rather important, but seemingly unneeded question was never asked.

I apologize for this post’s length, but the background information which forms such a large part of this, as well as the second part is necessary, and thank you for your patience: I wrote quite a few drafts of this and even then at the last minute thought of not posting it, however my conscience as a father, a man, and a Christian wouldn’t permit me not to post this.

I grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, which is where Mississippi School for the Deaf is located, because my parents who were originally from other parts of Mississippi met there and got married, and my wife’s family is all from the Hartford area in Connecticut, and her parents both went to American School for the Deaf in Hartford.

So I’m a contractor, my wife’s a new doctor, and we found a place that has a great job opportunity for her, we found a house which we can also afford along with my wife’s student loans, and the thing that delighted us the most was when we found out that Amarillo had a regional school for the deaf. Everything seemed to be really coming together.

Keep in mind this is directed to “new parents” of deaf children, so forgive me if it sounds like a sort of condescending information overload.

Deaf people acquire language just like hearing people do, and like in other parts of the world, you would learn the local langage, so people in Spain learn Spanish as they grow up, people in Japan learn Japanese growing up, and people in Germany learn German growing up, etc. It’s the same with Deaf people (the reason I asked for a ‘forgiveness if this sounds condescending’ is the following:)…

When I was growing up my friends at school were always curious about my parents’ deafness and one of the things I would hear, not so much questioned about, was basically the assumption taht if someone is deaf they automatically know how to Sign. But Sign has to be acquired by the deaf child growing up just like the hearing child (and in French speaking parts of Canada, deaf children learn Quebec Sign Langauge, English deaf children learn British Sign Language, etc.)

So after visiting with a few Deaf people in the area after moving here, I noticed something strange, and keep in mind that even though I’m hearing, my parents are Deaf and so my first language was American Sign Language. The same goes for my wife and other hearing children of deaf parents.

But the thing that I noticed that was strange was this: all the deaf people who’d moved here from other parts of the country or other parts of Texas could have awesome, fluid, conversations with my wife and I. And all the deaf people who grew up here both my wife and I had difficulty at times understanding them and vice versa. So I asked a new Deaf friend who lives here now if it was local colloquialisms, or idioms, or was it a thick regional sign accent that made it hard for my wife and I to understand them, and I was told no, and that simply put Amarillo Schools don’t use American Sign Language. I found that odd and to be blunt didn’t believe what I was hearing, and so we paid a visit to the main offices of Amarillo Schools in person.

And sadly, (sadly for quite a few reasons for us), it’s true. They use not a “language” with the deaf kids here, but instead use something called Morphemic Sign System.

And after we were informed of that by Amarillo Schools we were told all the “benefits” of using MSS was that it helped deaf children “learn to read better.” (and upcoming is part of the reason why my wife and I struggled with whether or not we would post anything anywhere about this, and ethically we decided we had an obligation to, though, honestly, it may hurt some feelings, but it needs to be said and the warning to new parents of deaf children need to hear this.)

We were also told that in general it helped them to become “better English speakers.” And on that comment, let me just say one thing: both my parents are stone deaf, meaning, absolutely 100% deaf, and don’t use their voices for spoken English (at least with strangers they don’t, just us kids they did) just for the simple fact that it’s simply impossible for them to do so because it’s physically impossible for either of them to hear their own voices. My parents can say certain words in spoken English, but only after much practice, and to someone not familiar with “the deaf voice,” they would have no idea what they were saying. My father can say my daughter’s name, Claudia, but for lack of a better explanation, is for him pronounced “aw ee aw.”

The reason I included the paragraph immediately preceding this concerning how my dad says my daughter’s name is this: There almost seemed to be a perspective by Amarillo schools that my deaf daughter and other deaf children have a “disease” and that they have a “cure.” And that “cure” is what this entire post is about. But also this: it’s IMPOSSIBLE for my father to speak English in the verbal sense, just as no matter how much I wanted to in high school, I would never, physically, be able to play basketball like Michael Jordan. No matter how much I practiced, I’d never be able to play like Michael Jordan because God didn’t bless me with either height (I’m only 5’8″), or a long reach, or even the large hands Michael Jordan has. And so me trying to be Michael Jordan would’ve been an exercise in futility, just as speech lessons were for my Dad.

And also from a language standpoint, there’s a language they spoke in Africa when I went there to do mission work with my church when I was in high school that involves a series of ‘clicks’ made with different parts of the mouth, and no matter how much I tried, I could never, and never will, be able to say the clicks right because its impossible to do so without growing up with that particular African language.

And before I go into this, let me preface it by saying that one of my sisters is a graduate of Gallaudet and also has a law degree from Tulane, and my one deaf brother just started his first semester at Auburn University. And my sisters and my one brother also all attended Mississippi School for the Deaf just like our parents did. My sister practices law in Alabama with her partner who is also her business partner, and they practice divorce and family law, and my brother’s goal is to coach football. I’m giving this particular information to show that there’s nothing very “special” about any of my Deaf siblings other than the fact that they are Deaf. My sister who’s a lawyer always beats me at trivia games, my other deaf sister is a stay at home mom, and my deaf brother, god love him, is pretty much a “typical jock.” (he started body building when he was 12 and I lovingly call him “MeatHead.” but I think he likes the validation). And besides the deafness my brother is pretty much the typical run of the mill college jock. What I’m saying here is that there’s nothing extraordinary about the inteligence of my siblings (save for my sister the lawyer who is unbelievably intelligent), and the only thing that may be special is that our parents encouraged ALL of us, my hearing and my deaf siblings, to read as much as we could growing up, which we all, except for my younger brother, would do religiously.

So (and heres’ where feelings may be hurt, apologies if they are, but it must be noted) not only were the deaf transplants to Amarillo easier to understand, but the conversations on average “ran deeper” than those, especailly the young ones, who graduated from the deaf program at Amarillo Schools. And also, of the transplants almost all of them attended a state school for the deaf just like my parents and my inlaws did. And a large number of them had or were i the process of getting their college degrees and, heres’ the most salient point, those who were presently attending college were taking upper level English courses; Shakespeare, Literature of the Far East, British Lit, etc. (again apologies here), however those who were between teh ages of around 18 to about 35 who attended deaf program at Amarillo Schools, so they told me, all but two of them were not only taking or had taken remedial English, but for an astonishing number of them, remedial English had been taken several times, one in particular told me he was currently making his SIXTH attempt at REMEDIAL English at Amarillo Community College.

The difference: those taking remedial English for the 3rd, 4th, etc. time attended Amarillo schools and learned this “MSS” rather than American Sign Language, those who had graduated from university or currently attending grew up with and were taught in American Sign Language. And I learned all THIS after the fine folks at the main offices of Amarillo Schools told me how “beneficial” MSS is for teaching deaf children how to read.

And this is the most insidious and sad part (and I do wonder how Amarillo schools is gathering this research to be able to, with a straight face, claim “success” (the word that was used with us when we visited with them) after knowing all that, so, either all these deaf people are lying to me, OR the alternative, meaning, some other entity is either intentionally lying to my wife and I and counless others, or are horribly misguided and ignorant to the nature of their students. And also I was shocked to learn that the Principal of the deaf education program at Amarillo Schools is new to the job, and also DOES NOT know American Sign Language, nor, according to what I was told, doesn’t even know this seemingly invented by Amarillo Schools “thing” (It cannot be referred to as a language, it’s more of a code, and a bad one at that, while American Sign Language is an actual language), but I was informed that the recently retired Principal was quite gifted in her American Sign Language skills.

And here’s the sad part just from personal observation: I watched as a young kid who grew up with MSS not only struggled to communicate with another Deaf person (because the other was using American Sign Language and the kid was using MSS), but struggled to the point of they had to use the services of a young hearing student of interpreting facilitate this awkward conversation between those two deaf people, but also, the look of frustration on the “MSS kid’s” face and body language was apparent, and also this: after that awkward conversation (the conversation was about something extremely basic, they were discussing a cooking show and favorite foods), after this conversation the “MSS kid” was left alone: I was witnessing a physical manifestation of social isolation. However when another “MSS kid” showed up to the function, the two could communicate, but only on a very basic level. the conversations they were having were (again, apologies) of the type people ten years younger than their actual ages would have, and the “ASL people” were having complex and interesting and thought provoking conversations that were either age appropriate, or “beyond their years,” involving subjects like politics, the Hunger Games books, and whether or not it was ethnical for the agricultural corporations to have monopolies of vegetable seeds in Africa. The “MSS kids” were talking about match box cars, Candy Crush, and Miley Cyrus’ boobs… at great length. (I understand teen boys talk about boobs, I did it too when I was a kid, but couldn’t talk about it for two hours) and at some points I could see the “MSS kids” not even understanding each other because they would, when not understanding each other, would text to each other instead.

And this is what breaks my heart as someone from a very large family (my Dad’s side of the family are all Roman Catholic) with many Deaf relatives: those two MSS kids will be having the same conversations with the same people for many years to come, because (this makes me nauseated even thinking about this), because MSS is used NOWHERE ELSE on the face of the planet. So their social circle, unless they learn American Sign Language, will always and only be other deaf people who also went to Amarillo Schools. As far as what I was hearing, there’s not even any interpreters suited for these MSS kids available at the college level save for two women who have both since retired recently.

I find myself so incredibly angry now. Before my wife took the job at Baptist Hospital, we called Amarillo Schools after finding out they had a deaf ed program and were so excited. It never dawned on us to ask “Are classes taught in American Sign Language?” It didnt‘ dawn on us because that would be as ridiculous as calling up Princeton to ask them if their classes are taught in English. And I’m angry that whoever we originally talked to from teh district neglected to tell us this fact.

And just to give one an idea of how Morphemic Signed System works, the very words used to name it are just plain wrong. (you learn a lot about language studies and linguistics growing up with deaf parents and having a deaf child). A “morpheme” is the smallest unit of language that has meaning and retains that meaning. So, the word “understanding” has two morphemes: “understand” and “ing.” Understand means to comprehend, thats’ the concept being conveyed when using that word, and “ing” is a gerund, a suffix on teh end of a word to denote a verb being used as a noun.

However in Morphemic Signed System, these are what would be considered “morphemes” of the word “understanding.” “Under,” “stand,” “ing.” Under meaning to be below something, stand meaning to be up on your feet, and ing meaning the same as before, turning a verb into a noun.

In American Sign Language the sign for understanding is made by making the letter s, placing it to your forehead, and then popping up the index finger with the palm facing the head.

In Morphemic Signed System the sign for understand is to take two fingers and make a v on your palm denoting someone standing and then turning it upside town, and then spelling out the letters “I N G.”. Conceptually in ASL, it literally means “person with feet stuck to flat surface and hanging upside down like a vampire from that surface.”. If this were made up, it would be funny, but in reality it’s sick and cruel.

I’ve since learned that also in MSS, understanding could be signed by doing the ASL sign for “below,” and then the ASL sign for “standing on your feet”, and then making a quick turn of the wrist while making the letter I. EITHER WAY, to call “under” and “stand” ‘morphemes’ of the word understand would be laughable if it weren’t actually being used. In REALITY, the actual morphemeand there is JUST ONE for the word for “understand” is “understand,” because that’s the concept of “comprehension” being conveyed.

It’s almost like the inventors (I’m sure well intentioned, but ya know what they say about the road to hell being paved with good intentions) read a couple paragraphs about the word “morpheme,” and confused it. Just because “under” and “stand” HAPPEN to also be words that stand alone, doesn’t mean they mean the same thing. The same idea is used for words like “butterfly” (literally saying “butter” and “plane”), “almost” (literally saying “all” and “most”), and I even saw “sunset” signed by instead of doing the ASL sign for “dusk,” saw it signed “son” (yes with an o, as in boy child) and “establish,” and I’ve seen “mean” as in “dont‘ be mean” to me signed as “stand for” (as in ‘what does this word mean’), as well as seeing “right” meaning “Americans have the right to vote” signed as “right” meaning “i had surgery on my right hand.”

Now, claiming it helps kids learn to read English better, how would actual comprehension be made of the sentence “What do you mean you didn’t mean to be mean to me?” In ASL it would be signed “Stand for what, you didn’t intend be rude to me?” In MSS it would be signed “What do you stand for you didn’t stand for to be stand for to me?”

I struggled for twelve weeks on whether or not to let people who have deaf children know that this is how the deaf ed is here, and then I struggled for two weeks on how to do it once I realized it had to be done, and when I got to that point I went through at least a dozen drafts for another two week period. I do apologize for the length, apologize more to those whose feeligns may be hurt, but mostly I want to apologize to my wife for never asking a question that I never thougth needed to be asked of Amarillo Schools.

Needless to say, we will not send our precious little Claudia to school here. Even if we don’t sell our house, we’lll find a cheaper place after we move, and my wife let her new bosses at BSA know the situation and they’ve been fantastically udnerstanding about letting her out of her contract with no repercussions, and we’ll be moving before the start of the next school year back in Jackson and she’ll be attending Mississippi School for the Deaf. I say this not to be dramatic, I’m being quite serious, my wife and I, knowing what we know, but choosing to send our daughter to Amarillo Schools anyway, to be nothing less than child abuse, and, if not “dooming” her, would most certainly limit her in her potential at a fulfilling and happy life.

So, this comes from teh heart, and a place of shock and disgust: I am speaking to those who are either new parents of deaf infants or those who have school age children who are deaf, and I say this firmly and gravely: you do not want your deaf children attending school at Amarillo Schools deaf ed program. And through my conversations with various people at Amarillo Schools, pun not intended, my shock, our questions, have either fallen on deaf ears, or have, for lack of a better term, been given the run around on whetehr or not ASL would even be available if we demanded it. ‘yes, you can demand ASL, it’s your right as parents” we were told, however my daughter would be surrounded by children who DONT use ASL and that would socially isolate her here, so we’re pulling up stakes no matter the financial burden.

The saddest part of all: in talking with other parents of other young deaf children, these hearing parents are believing “the experts” which is the school district, they’ve been fed lies, and they’re brainwashed through no fault of their own, as they put their faith in the school district.

And from an ethical standpoint, I simply don’t understand the arrogance of Amarillo Schools to be using this “thing.” No OTHER school in the WORLD uses this MSS, and any website for any state deaf school will talk about the benefits of American Sign Language and why, and they are literally damaging and/or ruining people’s lives, and it seems to be because of a sense of stubbornness, like a bratty child having a tantrum and (again apologies for this pun, not intended) covering their ears and saying “na na na na I can’t hear you.”

I really love this town, we fell in love with it immediately after moving here, but staying would mean literally damning Claudia to a very very limited existence in several ways.

If any of this is a shock to parents of deaf children in the area, I apologize for the shock, but to use an analogy from my wife’s profession, if I had cancer but either was never told I had it (and then couldn’t make an informed decision about a course of treatment for myself), or worse, refused to listen to my diagnosis of cancer out of either pride or fear, then any sane person would either think I was a fool or suicidal or both.

And MSS is a cancer. Instead, however, of eating away at and destroying bone, blood and tissue, it’s a cancer that’s eating away the souls of many who had it thrust upon them without proper informed consent or by simply being lied to.

For the sake of your children, please consider this, I have no “angle” or “political reasons” for saying all this. Granted my parents and three of my siblings are Deaf, however I gain nothing either way, and the only “political” problem I currently have in the world is how much I believe Obamacare will be detrimental for our society.

Please, think of your children and their needs.

Thank you for your time, apologies for the length, but everything I just wrote had to be said.

And please know where this is coming from: I write this as not only a father, but also as a Christian, and a Christian who takes the expression “What Would Jesus Do?” to heart.

Whether or not those of you who are reading this are Believers or not, I hope and pray with my heart that all can come to learn the truth about what I’ve just spent so much time, energy, and prayer composing.

I pray you can see this truth about this, and never have I felt so strongly about something that would compel me to post something on this forum, but I don’t think I could face my Lord Christ someday when reaching my time of judgment and Him asking me why I never warned anyone having the knowledge I have.

I hope the Blessings of our Lord Jesus Christ greet you all well, and that He can guide you in any decisions that need to be made. And personally I will pray for you all who read this whom it’s concerning that you can see truth, and have great faith it will.

A final thought: AISD seems to view deafness as a tragedy. The only tragedy about deafness in Amarillo is that a deaf kid here will grow up to be functionally illiterate and socially isolated and literally languageless because of MSS. That same deaf kid who learns ASL, however, would simply be a child without the ability to hear and who uses a language other than English and who has a language community of millions to talk to. Then kid learning MSS has their tragedy further exacerbated by the fact of having a community of less than a few hundred people to talk to. I don’t know about you, but I intend on giving my daughter the world, not simply Potter County, Texas.

What Amarillo Schools is doing is teaching MSS while at the same time cruelly telling them they can graduate high school and get a degree at Gallaudet, where that MSS ‘educated’ student would have nobody to talk to, wouldn’t understand a single lecture, and would maybe only pass basic math. It would be just like if my parents and teachers told me my entire life that regardless of my short height and small hands that I could play for the NBA with me believing every word only to have my heart broken when reality sets in. Or more so, it would be like telling me all through childhood that I could attend culinary school in Paris, but not only never teaching me French, but also telling me that my English classes would fully prepare me to participate at the school in Paris, and furthermore, telling me that all my English classes were preparing me to speak, read, and write perfect French but without taking a single semester of French until after graduation. The cruelty of this truth is what nags at me in sadness and empathy for these kids force fed MSS.

I love Amarillo, and really love Texas, and love the house we bought, but none of this equals my love for my daughter,and so, the deaf ed here has us moving back to Mississippi where she can get an education, acquire literacy and language, and give her all the choices in life the Lord gave her. To let her learn MSS and not ASL would be robbing her of her life.

Thank you for your time, and may the Blessings of Our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.



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