|trouble (trouble) wrote,|
@ 2010-10-10 02:45 pm UTC
|Entry tags:||academic stuff, academic stuff: ask me about my thesis, disability, grad school, history, history: blind history snippets, history: deaf history snippets|
[Random fact: I've got "I need you now", [YouTube] which was a power ballad in the 80s, stuck in my head because of the line "It's still haaaaaaaaard at 6 o'clock in the morning... to dream without you". As it
I've had a couple of great instances lately to talk about my thesis in a non-academic setting, which reminded me how much I do love what I'm doing and how interesting it all is. Seriously, putting aside politics and big fancy academic ways of saying "other" and all that jazz, my thesis is about some really nifty people doing some really nifty things, and I love it to pieces. [I think I've talked about almost all of this before, but it's fun.]
If you wanted to write a book about the history of residential schools for children with disabilities in Halifax (hereafter referred to as simply "residential schools", which is a term usually used in Canada to refer to the system of residential schools for First Nations children set up in Canada and still in use until 1996, which had different causes, different effects, and entirely different aims), you could do worse than focus your writing entirely on the lives of two men: J. Scott Hutton, and C. F. Fraser. Both men were hired by the residential schools I study very early on in their foundation.
Hutton was hired in the first year that the School for the Deaf & Dumb was officially funded by the Nova Scotia Legislature, and his fingerprints are all over the School for the first 50 years: even the Sign Language taught at the school was different than that of other schools in North America because Hutton came from the UK. (American Sign Language came from France.) He was an Evangelical Protestant, and thus very concerned about the souls of the students: every single Annual Report included not only a detailed list of religious classes the school had, but also a collection of writings from the students about their growing knowledge of Christian religious instruction. He also wrote the textbooks used by the school, pushed very very hard to keep Sign Language as the primary language of instruction (as opposed to lip reading), and helped his father, another hearing instructor of the Deaf, to write the first Sign Language dictionary. (You have no idea how much I covet a copy of this, and I have been unable to get my hands on one anywhere. It was incomplete, but surely someone had a copy.)
Note that Hutton was a hearing educator of the Deaf. Fraser, the other important person, was educated at a school for the Blind, and approached the Halifax school for the Blind in part because he was both local (from Windsor, NS) and had been thoroughly educated at a Blind institution in the US. How blind Fraser actually was is unclear to me: after the first few years his blindness is conspicuously not mentioned in the literature of the school, and images of him always show him wearing clear-lensed glasses rather than the black lenses (much like sunglasses) that blind people were often shown wearing. (In earlier years blind women were often shown wearing ribbons across their eyes. One blind boy was so traumatized by the "omg we don't want to see the eyes of the blind!" that he went around with a bag over his head.) (Blind people were also often depicted with their eyes closed.) At one point he became the secretary of the Board of Directors, but I haven't actually gotten to that point in my research of the Board's minutes, so I don't know if he took them himself, and if so, if he uses a typewriter to do so. I mention the typewriter because a lot of his correspondence still exists, and it's all typed, much like Helen Keller's correspondence was all typed. So, my personal jury is still out. If I were to speculate on the evidence that I have so far, I suspect he was extremely near-sighted in a way that could be partially corrected by glasses, but not fully.
One of the things I note is that, in Hutton's Annual Reports, there's a lot of talk about the Deaf living in silence and oh, but they can never hear a mother say "I love you" or know the sound of birds or blah blah blah, you know the rhetoric. But with Fraser's school, there's very little of that sort of "blind will never see a sunset" rhetoric of pity. In fact, most of Fraser's stuff is rejecting the pity-model, although not outright. (When you're asking people to donate to your institution, it's a bit harder to say "Pity is for losers, not us!") In fact, the big thing that Fraser pushes in his school, and especially in his annual reports, is employability of students.
This leads to a fascinating difference between the two schools: The Deaf school occasionally hired graduates as teachers, but it was very uncommon, and they never lasted for long. For the Blind school, it was pretty much the opposite: almost all of the teachers were former graduates of the school, and it was the few sighted teachers that seemed to last only a few years at most. Fraser taught there all of his life, the man who taught the bulk of willow-weaving for most of his life was a former graduate of the school, the longest lasting of the music teachers was a former graduate of the school, the teachers brought in to teach new trades were often former graduates of the school, etc. Basically, students were taught, and parents and the general public exposed to, living examples of blind people working, and I suspect this had a huge influence on public perceptions.
For the blind school, everything changes in World War I. That's when funding dries up, and newspapers start writing "Well, supporting blind people is nice and all, but don't you know there's a war going on? Support the troops!" And that's when we start getting pity-rhetoric.
Ta dum! Give me an MA, I'm awesome.