Brandon L. wrote this reaction paper about John F. Egbert’s presentation at University of Minnesota.
I had read his book, MindField and did not know what to expect. His writing was clear and concise, far better than the 7th grade level I was told the average Deaf person writes at. Shirley had mentioned in class that he spoke, but would I be able to understand him? Would he speak like he wrote, and if he signed would the interpreter be able to do his translation in the style he writes? I just did not know.
John Egbert walked in innocently a few minutes before he was due to go on. He sat quietly and watched his wife finish lecturing on Deaf culture. He looked at ease, not very nervous, certainly not as nervous as I would be before presenting in public. It did not take long after he began for me to understand why he appeared so comfortable, and why his book was so well written.
John Egbert described himself as the Michael Jordan of the oralist method. I am inclined to agree with that analogy. he spoke as if he was a hearing man, with proper inflections, accents, and tones. He had emotion in his voice, and he was extremely easy to understand. Charismatic and comfortable, we all watch him intently, and we were entertained.
It is rare that I pay such close attention to a person’s speech patterns. I normally notice when a person uses incorrect grammar, or pronounces something incorrectly, but never do look for it. I could not help but find myself searching for those things with John Egbert. However, I found almost none, I was so impressed with his speech that it was difficult for me to believe that he learned it all as a Deaf child. He spoke well, better than some hearing people. I could not have known he was a deaf man, if he had not told us.
Perhaps even more impressive than how he spoke was what he spoke about. John started his presentation in a style typical of a member of the Deaf community. First he introduced himself, and described where he came from. He spoke of what school he went to, and how he knows various people in the Deaf community. He told us about his family, and other people in his life, including our professor, Shirley. He then went on to tell us some stories about his childhood. Extremely entertaining, he spoke of how his deafness affected his experiences and a young man. Getting into trouble with cherry bombs and snakes, and playing practical jokes on friends and neighbors, John no doubt had a spirited and enjoyable childhood. We laughed at his stories and were captivated by his experiences in the far south. He seemed to be a very interesting man.
His childhood was not all fun however, and his stories made that clear to us. The most moving part of his presentation was when John spoke of the difficulties that he faced as a Deaf young man. Clearly emotional, his voice cracked as he paused to take a moment to reflect on the struggles he, and other deaf people experienced in their youth. “Sure I can speak here, but what about my mind?” he repeated more than once, describing how the oralist method ignores the education of the mind and only focuses on the education of the voice. He described being pulled around to the public showings, and being forced to speak in order to advertise for the oralist tradition. I could not help but envision some sort of forced entertainment, like a circus or a street performer, and it saddened me that his Deafness was turned into a spectacle, instead of embraced as a part of him. I developed a dislike for his oralist education, and the proponents of this method.
The final portion of John’s presentation had to do with this group, the Deaf Bilingual Coalition. He told us about the group, and he stressed a few times that he truly hoped that it only needed to exist for a few years. Of course, he acknowledged, it may be a tougher struggle than that. The DBC is a group dedicated to serving the Deaf and hard of hearing community to fight for the adaptation of early use of ASL. He told us about the various obstacles he has faced, including the very ill informed hotel manager who only served to help his cause in the long run. He made impressive arguments about how hearing babies are now learning some basic ASL signs to communicate with their parents early, but how Deaf babies are still forbidden to use it. It made no sense to me, and of course that was the point.
John’s presentation lasted for about an hour, but it felt like much less. He spoke clearly, fluidly, and powerfully about issues facing the Deaf community, and he spoke of them from a very strong perspective. it was not difficult to understand his points, because he spoke in such plain English about his struggles. I often felt while I was listening to him as if I were experiencing what he had gone through. This caused me to be able to empathize, to agree, and to want to help. I was unaware of many of the issues he presented on before he spoke, and now that I am aware of them, it is even harder for me to believe that they even exist at all. why would you not want to teach Deaf children ASL? Why should surgery be forced on a child? How can a Deaf child be forced to speak? It makes no sense to me and I think that was John’s Point.