January 18, 2005

Turning a Deaf Ear to American Sign Language?

by Armen

This is not law related per se, but I'll try to tie it in below. The LA Times has the following story on students taking American Sign Language (ASL) to satisfy foreign language requirements. (For you Lexis afficionados, Stuart Silverstein, "Wary of Taking Spanish or French? Raise Hands" Jan. 18, 2005).

Apparently, while some schools enthusastically offer credits toward foreign language requirements for those who take ASL, others are not so eager. Silverstein writes, "Although the list of colleges approving ASL for foreign-language entrance or graduation requirements keeps growing, some prominent schools, including such California campuses as USC and Pomona College, are holdouts. They contend that ASL � unlike, say, French � doesn't open a window into another country's culture." This position is refined by Boston University, College of Arts and Sciences Dean, Jeffery Henderson, who argues that the traditional approach "doesn't aim only for students to achieve a certain competence in a language but also [to learn] a language that provides access to the culture of another society. That's what's under debate, because ASL is a North American language."

For sanity's sake I will assume that U$C and Pomona do not mean to imply that if I took Kurdish or Basque they would not count as a foreign language since they don't open a window to a particular country's culture. What is a country's culture anyway? I dare anyone to tell a Barcelonian that he shares his culture with a Castillian. [Do this at your own risk and only if you enjoy fireworks of the metaphorical sort.] Now granted, by studying ASL, you're being exposed to an American sub-culture. But I hardly think this is grounds for objecting. I think the vast majority of people who take Spanish (including your courageous author who could not tell you what the subjunctive is on penalty of death) do so for practical reasons WITHIN the United States. So the North American objection is meritless.

I think exposure to deaf (and on a larger scale, disabled) culture is a wonderful thing. [Tie-in to law school] In one of my classes there is a deaf student who must watch signers intently during lecture while morons like me play solitaire instead of paying attention. Maybe it's a moment of my conscience feeling guilty for having all 5 senses, but I certainly wish I had taken ASL instead of Spanish. At least my hands would have been put to better use than dragging and dropping the Ace of Spades.

[In the interest of full disclosure and some personal ranting, I went to North Hollywood High School in Los Angeles, home of the Highly Gifted Magnet, from which a student is quoted in the story quite laudingly. Six years ago, I wrote a letter (lexis required) to the LA Times criticising their coverage of the magnet. I guess some things just don't change. Again, nothing against the magnet and the kid quoted, but honestly, when you put the best and the brightest of LA together, yeah no shit they're going to do amazing things]

January 18, 2005 3:56 AM | TrackBack

I am a collage student at LACC , no one has been able to help me on getting information about american sign language and brail. I don't know if you can help me get information ,if you can I will really aprecciated. I am not deaf or blind but it is my dream to work with kids that are blind or deaf.

Posted by: Kendy Barrios at December 21, 2006 7:22 PM
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