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A Dangerous Idea: Autonomy in Deaf Education | Joseph Santini | TEDxGallaudet


Good morning. Thank you once again. Thank you for that
kind introduction. I’m a doctoral student
here at Gallaudet University pursuing
an education degree. And I would like to talk
about a concept that I call learning autonomy. And I’m using a particular
sign to represent autonomy, because this concept
is mentioned by Henri Holec. And it looks at a student’s
potential to take control and ownership
of their own education, following their interests. I use this particular sign
to represent autonomy. Because in my experience
as a teacher, working in high schools, I see
that some high schools are more successful in providing
student autonomy. We see some instances
where students will struggle with their work
where they will be offered help by others. And will often state to
others who are coming to do work for them that they would like to do
it alone. That’s why I’m using
this particular sign to represent autonomy. I would like to talk now about the perspective
on autonomy. When we look at schooling
and education, I think this notion of autonomy
will help us transform the schools for the deaf and
mainstream programs. I’m going
to use a few examples from my own experience and I’m
going to use one in particular from my teaching
experience and a study that I’ve been engaged
in for some time. I’ll share a few anecdotes
with you to that end. I remember going into my
own mainstreamed 6th grade classroom for
a mathematics class. And my teacher saw me enter in
with an interpreter and told us to go outside,
go out of the room. I guess deaf people aren’t
supposed to take advanced mathematics course. This was back in 1994. I was told I couldn’t
participate in a number of things. Theater, sports. I was 12 years
old at that time. And I decided to leave the
mainstream environment. And my parents supported
me in entering into the Model Secondary School
for the Deaf here on Gallaudet’s campus. If the school isn’t going
to help me, I’ll take care
of that autonomously. I’ve done that for
many years now. Fast forward to the
present day, I recently graduated college and went
into the teaching program where I was teaching
in a mainstream high school. And I looked at what had
changed for deaf and hard of hearing mainstream
students, and unfortunately not much. They’re pulled out from classes for reasons they don’t know. They’re ready for the
topic of the day and yet they’re pulled out. It’s not fair to them and
the expectations for them for that course work. I would like to talk about
some concrete examples of student autonomy and
take it from abstraction to concrete examples of my own experience. I first taught in a
mainstream high school teaching English. We had 26 hearing students and one deaf student. The very first day
of class the deaf student came to me and we arranged to set up the classroom in an ideal way. Coming from a mainstream
environment, I know it can be complex to accommodate hearing
and deaf norms. The typical row and
column set up was in the classroom. This was a student who
didn’t sign at the time, used a cochlear implant
but wanted visual access. And he wanted to sit at the far end of class to see both the instructor and the other students. He wanted to observe everything, which was a great idea. He autonomously came up
with this vision of an ideal arrangement. But one of the problems
that we experienced almost right off the bat was the
audiologist coming in the room and seeing the
student sitting way over there. And saying the student
wasn’t allowed to sit there in their place of preference. This audiologist was assuming
that the best environment would be for
the deaf student to be at the very front. Engaging in a dialogue
with the audiologist, we wanted to look at this
student’s view and their preference, where the audiologist
was not attuned to that all. We were looking at least
restrictive environment. What is the least
restrictive environment? It’s the one that
accommodates their needs the best. I see this as a prime
example of learning autonomy. Student autonomy. I would like to share
another anecdote that speaks to this. This is another story of
a brilliant deaf student, but also one who struggled
with reading and had struggled for
many years. So this student actually
thought that, you know, correction to the
interpretation, this student was continuing
school past 18 up to the age of 21. And so the student asked
if we could meet one on one. And I was delighted to do so as I always am with students. And we were working for
some time over this and the student was struggling
to explain their own view. Finally they said if you
walk to the library and look in the library,
where are the books that relate to black deaf
students like me? This was a deaf black teen
living in an inner city and never seen any texts
that reflected them and other deaf
people like them. This was striking. It really got me thinking about our own classroom
libraries. What influence that could
have on student autonomy. Beyond the abstractions,
there are many lessons to be learned how about
student autonomy can improve student education. That student really improved, because I started bringing books
and texts that talked about the heritage of black
deaf students. “Audism Unveiled” was another film that I brought to the class that increased motivation for those students. Now sadly though I never
found a book that particularly related to
that student’s identity. So strides have been made,
but we have more to do to connect these students
with reading. Another student said, you
know, about one of their own readings, they
bring questions to me. Right? This is a
literate process. It develops our literacy. But to motivate them, we need literature
that speaks to them. The selection of our
books, the curriculum that we design can influence
the potential for student autonomy. It’s not just about the
student being a deaf child. But it’s multi-faceted. They have intersected
identities that we have to recognize. Gender, race,
socioeconomic status. All of these things come
together to form their identities. There are a number of
examples that we can cite where students don’t
have the ability to make autonomous decisions
about their environment. Academic staff and faculty are
often unaware of the effect they have on
student autonomy. We can see
autonomy reflected in so many different areas. What texts are available
for student reading. What kind of
information we cover. Teacher evaluation of student
behaviors. And we know standardized
testing is one that frequently
cites deaf people as having lower literacy levels. But if we look at the
median deaf reading level, that’s often cited at
being at the 4th grade level. But I think those test
scores indicate that there is a problem in fact, but the problem is also
environmental, it’s not measuring what it should be measuring. So if we look at
standardized test measurement, doing these
measurements from a specific perspective. Last week there was an article
saying high school seniors graduating
in the average public school are graduating with a
fifth-grade reading level. That’s the average
hearing student upon graduation from high school So the autonomy of deaf students are limited
by a double standard. In some ways, these
attitudes make it nearly impossible to understand
what deaf students already know and
what they really need to be taught as compared
with hearing students. So this learning autonomy,
this student autonomy shows us that as students
take control of their own learning, Holec in
his reading and writing and research has really been
expansive on the topic, as has been Paulo Freire. He is another one who is
important in listening to the students to aid
in their education. These are new and
emerging ideas. Freire suggests we need to
work with the knowledge base that students have. And Gee has said we need
to establish opportunities for dialogue in
the educational environment. In the classrooms, this can have a great effect on student learning. And we’ve talked about the
notion that deaf students have a fourth-grade
reading level. That notion has had a profound
impact on how we
teach deaf students and how we organize our schools. Another famous researcher,
Vygotsky who is often cited in discussions of
student autonomy speaks to how student autonomy has
to move from reliance on external environmental
factors to internal reliance where students are guiding
their own learning. So research has clearly
shown things that need to be changed in our schools to increase student autonomy. As students are able to
establish their own goals and reflect on their own
learning and turn that into real-world
application, we see unlimited
potential for success and development of the students. This topic is vital. Without going on about
what has been done in terms of research on the
academic environment, we haven’t yet
really examined these notions of autonomy. In 2013, in his own
research said we need to see how these individuals
enter into college, and I’m speaking specifically
of deaf students, without the knowledge
of how to ask questions and make
this a dialogic process. Because their experience
has been one where the education
has gone in one way and this is due to the lack
of student autonomy. So there is a recognized need to increase these abilities before entering into college. Throughout the United
States we see the experience of student autonomy being
greatly constrained. Because we haven’t
had research directly speaking to that. We’ve had some that has been indirectly
speaking to this. Harvez has looked at the
distinction between capital “D” Deaf
experience and lower case “d,” and how that’s represented. Students are often told they can’t take
a specific class. And Claire Ramsy and her
own writing has written about deaf students
in public schools facing an environment that rarely allows student autonomy. And when student autonomy
is allowed for, learning increasing greatly. When we look
at — correction — there was one deaf student, who asked an adult in school
if when they became 18, they would die. They had never met a deaf adult. That story I heard in Texas. That student never met
a deaf adult in their life. I had a similar experience
when first meeting another deaf adult at age 12. We need to enable deaf students
to visualize the future. See a vision of what the
future can be, so they can establish goals and that it’s possible
to reach those. Establish processes
for doing that. So faculty and educational
communities have to include deaf adults
in their communities. Very often we establish
goals and curriculum without thinking about
what these deaf students really could do. This deaf student that
I spoke of a moment ago wondered when 18 they
could die or live alone, the only deaf person
in their world? Or become hearing? This is because we haven’t
allowed for their autonomy. We have to embed this in
the curriculum to suit the needs of these
deaf students. But we’re under all kinds
of economic pressures and curriculum design. School 4201 in New York
had protests because of the ways the economic
situation and the government was affecting
the school for the deaf. These students have fought
for their autonomy and education in the schools
that they’re attending. And so we have lessons
to learn from this about student autonomy. So we have not yet gotten
to the point where we do more than just recognize
that the problem exists. We have to really assess
these schools with an emphasis on
student autonomy because there’s great potential
to radically change our system to fill
in those gaps. And we have to take
those next steps. You may remember
the story I said. I mentioned a bit ago
about the student being unable to find anywhere texts reflecting their identity and
experience. We can do so by
recognizing deaf artists and recognizing
deaf literature. Schools need to expand
their own ways of thinking about and considering
student autonomy. Maybe this means we have
to re-think our school choices as well. Instead of us saying
one school is better than the other in the way
that we always have. Maybe we have to be sure
that parents and students can visit all the schools and decide which
one they want to go to. I have to wonder what kind
of profound effect that would have on
their education. Student autonomy is
something we must emphasize in our graduate
education programs. We become licensed in
a number of different fields. And it’s important those
who do become licensed should be
visible to students so they
can envision their future both in mainstream schools and residential
schools for the deaf. Learning autonomy requires that we incorporate diverse deaf people who reflect the diversity
present in the students, but they rarely do. This has an effect on
student autonomy, their own perception of their
day-to-day lives. We cannot do so on a
one-shot basis. They have to truly
see this to have an accumulative
building effect on their notions of their autonomy. Yes, oppression affects
these deaf students. But they have to see ways
of dealing with this. If we look at a female
student, she’s not only female, but she has race
and socioeconomic status. All of these things need
to be reflected in the curriculum. We have to be willing to explore these different kinds of
connections to students and how we can increase student autonomy. What the impact and
implications of this is. When we see students take
control of and power over their own educations. Thank you.

5 Replies to “A Dangerous Idea: Autonomy in Deaf Education | Joseph Santini | TEDxGallaudet”

  • This was very crap.  Joe's signs are not clear nor smooth.  I stopped after 4 minutes.  This is #epicfail.

  • This TED talk is exceptional, and he has a great deal to offer educators of the Deaf and lends the Deaf perspective. He is a clear native signer. What you are missing is that he is left-handed, and you have receptively framed all sign language production to look right handed. Don't focus on that but what he offers regarding the Deaf learner's perspective and given intersectionalities.

  • lots of comments about his sign, from my experience as an interpreter, Deaf people often code switch for us, especially in formal presentation settings. They are usually bilingual and know what words they want the interpreter to use. To make it easy on us they will use more English syntax and initialized signs etc.
    anyway great presenter and great content!

  • When I taught DHH elementary school in South Central LA, I met a student who was completely shocked that I was Deaf. He believed he would become hearing as an adult because he had NEVER met a deaf adult in his life and he was in 4th or 5th grade at the time. later, I met his father, the father asked me what brand of hearing aid I used. When I asked why he wanted to know that, he said i had really good speech and thought if he got his son the same hearing aid I had, that his son would also have good speech!

  • As a high school teacher, I think that taking in ALL perspectives of how students learn, is essential. A lot of perspective that is if the Deaf experience can be applied to those students that are categorized as 'other', when it comes to the mainstream perspective of learning. I am a French teacher however, I also know ASL at a conversationally fluent level. By understanding the Deaf perspective, I've been able to facilitate for ALL of my students. Facilitating students means allowing and encouraging autonomy in learning. It is said that the earmark of a good teacher is that one is able to 'duplicate' themselves, so that the student, in fact, also becomes a teacher: first to themselves and then to others. This TED talk is invaluable for educators, and I say thank you!

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