Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Deaf Eye Satisfy

Deaf Eye Satisfy

by Chip Green


This is clearly a heartfelt and sincere work, and a unique perspective into Deaf culture. But as literature, it has some major flaws.

The narrator, Skip Verde, is clearly a stand-in for author Chip Green, and many of the scenes have the authenticity of lived experience. Skip is an English teacher in a high school for the deaf. He doesn't have a degree in Deaf education, although he is fluent in ASL, so he's something of a maverick. At first, he bonds more easily with the Hard of Hearing kids who have a better grasp of English, but he soon chafes at the curriculum which emphasizes English grammar only. He wants to help the students express their inner selves through literature, so he conceives of the idea of having them act out short scenes from poetry, plays, or literature in ASL, to help them get in touch with their artistic, creative sides. The principal and school counselor get involved, and suddenly everyone has a stake in the project, even as the kids start to get really into it. Meanwhile, Skip finds himself starting to understand the "deep Deaf" kids better, ie, the native ASL speakers. But the project is polarizing both among the other teachers who each have their own ideas about Deaf education and the parents who care only about getting their kids' grammar good enough for college.

The story illuminates many aspects of Deaf culture: the differences between ASL and English, discrimination, especially in the past and how it still affects Deaf adults, the divide between Deaf and HOH, and between Deaf and hearing, hearing parents who don't communicate with their kids, the problems of a shrinking residential school as more kids are mainstreamed, as well as past abuses at residential schools. I really liked how the author rendered ASL literally, rather than translating it into idiomatic English. It really gives a sense of how ASL works and how it's different from English.

However, the writing is problematic. This book desperately needs an editor. There are a ton of typos, at least one on every page. Even worse, there are many diction errors, and a lot of places where the writing is so convoluted it's impossible to tell what is happening or who is talking--kind of horrifying if the author is himself an English teacher. And like your annoying high school English teacher, he is forever pedantically belaboring his points in mini vocabulary lessons.

 But there are bigger thematic problems too. Skip wants desperately to be accepted by his Deaf colleagues and students, and to understand them better. But the author's allegiance to Skip's POV takes the story in some unfortunate directions. There's the militant Deaf teacher who's painted as a complete villain, no nuance at all. Skip also has nothing but scorn for the hearing people who are starting to learn ASL but are not yet fluent-they are annoying and shown having wrong motivations (unlike Skip, of course). It reminded me of Americans who live abroad in non-English speaking countries and try to prove how down they are with the local culture by shunning all contact with fellow Americans, like they are the only ones cool enough to hang with the locals. The thing that disturbed me the most was after Skip decides his former respect for the HOH students was misguided because it was based only on their superior grasp of English, he starts to actively hate them. So it's ok for him as a teacher to just hate the HOH kids? He spends all his time trying to reach a few of the Deaf kids, but the ones who are less connected to Deaf culture he just stops caring about.

Since it's from the teacher's POV there isn't any devvy romance angle. But if you want to know more about Deaf culture, it's worth reading.

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