Dr Eugene Mindel discusses the book "They Grow in Silence: The Deaf Child and His Family"
BROADCAST: 1970 | DURATION: 01:03:20
Dr. Eugene Mindel, child psychologist and author, discusses his book, "They Grow in Silence: The Deaf Child and His Family,". Dr. Mindel and Studs talk about deaf children and how they learn to communicate without the ability to hear or speak. Studs reads an excerpt from the book about a deaf person feeling locked into themselves. Studs and Dr. Mindel talk about the the book "In this sign" by Joanne Greenberg a novel that portrays the isolation and loneliness of the deaf couple and the struggle of their hearing daughter. They end the interview talking of advancements for deaf persons.
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Studs Terkel At this moment I'm talking into the radio, you hear me. You are a member of the hearing-class people. There are, we'll find how many there are roughly in the country who do not hear me or the sound of any human voice. Dr. Eugene Mindel is my guest, child psychiatrist, but who has spent a good deal of his time with deaf children and deaf adults, and the book he and his colleague, Dr. McCay Vernon, have written, perhaps written, have lived really, it's called "They Grow in Silence". It's a book published by the National Association of the Deaf. I was just thinking, in reading this book and being overwhelmed by it, as well as a novel that Dr. Mindel very graciously gave me, called "In This Sign", Joanne Greenberg wrote it. She was called Hannah Green when she wrote "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden". And Joanna Greenberg talks about communications, of course, in "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden", about what is sanity and what is insanity and what is reality and what is fantasy. We're talking about deaf people. Before the conversation with Dr. Mindel, with Gene here, I was thinking, if I shut up this moment, you know, and I counted ten, silence, how long it would seem to the hearing, those hearing this moment. In my impatience, I didn't even wait for the count of ten. I think this is the life, then, of how many millions forever.
Eugene Mindel Well, the broadest statistic is that there are about 10 million people who have some kind of hearing loss and that, of course, includes those who, with progression in years, begin to lose their hearing, which is known as presbycusis. As far as the profoundly deaf, it's estimated that there are 250,000 deaf adults, profoundly deaf adults, and currently there are something in excess of 40,000 profoundly deaf school children.
Studs Terkel You and Dr. Vernon, there's a point you're making throughout the book, several, one is that it's not simply not hearing, it amounts to a wholly different life, doesn't it, become almost a part of another culture?
Eugene Mindel Well, the problem in the more basic terms of art, as I have seen it, is a problem of isolation and alienation from the majority culture. The fact that a child does not tune in and become part of the linguistic aspects of his culture from birth already sets him apart. But it does not become an obvious difference until the child has advanced a few years.
Studs Terkel I was thinking we'll just keep this open conversation concerning people you've met, children and adults who are deaf. There is a smile, very often there is a smile, a fixed smile on the face of a deaf person does not hear you. That smile means more than a smile, doesn't it?
Eugene Mindel Joanne Greenberg calls that "the false fine." I think she uses it in a couple senses, it's like you ask somebody who has a lot of troubles, "How are you?" and they say "Fine," indicating that they really don't want to talk about it much anymore. But also it may be fine in another sense, and that is a fine that they pay, their toll, so to speak, for being deaf. But as I have observed it, many deaf people are trying to make hearing people comfortable by smiling and nodding and indicating that they understand a lot, when in fact, because most of them have been raised under the oralist tradition, that is, which says that reading lips is the most important way in which they should communicate, they really aren't understanding very much of what is being said, so it's an allaying and soothing or assuaging procedure that they are going through.
Studs Terkel You know, throughout reading your book, yours and Dr. Vernon's and then reading most of the novel last night of Joanne Greenberg that has overwhelmed me, "In This Sign" it's called, Holt Rinehart Winston publishers of that, National Association of Deaf Publishers of your book, for me this--the life of the deaf person is really the metaphor for the life of all those outside a major culture. Could be Black. They could be Chicano. They could be the very aged. They could be those put down by a majority culture.
Eugene Mindel That says I have seen it, and one of the reasons it was of considerable interest to me to be able to have such a group of people who by constitution have been set off and are definable, easily definable, one can then begin to see the social forces that are at work around them creating various influences in their development. My co-author co-authored another paper which was called "Deafness and Minority Group Dynamics". It appeared in a publication of deaf people known as "The Deaf American". And actually created quite a stir, because it really spelled out in no uncertain terms the paternalistic attitudes which the hearing culture has taken toward deaf people, assuming that they do not enjoy the same human qualities as hearing people and, therefore, really have been steamrolled insofar as their rights are concerned.
Studs Terkel Let's go right into it, Gene, Dr. Mindel. You were with the clinic at Michael Reese, too, the whole matter of, this concerns education now, where we hear the great deal of, you know, discontent and justifiably with the way schools are today, we hear about alternative schools, free schools, now talking about deaf and those called the hearing. And there's a big battle going on now, and somebody determines how deaf people are going to communicate to the hearing or to themselves. You mentioned the word "the oralists." Who are the oralists?
Eugene Mindel Well, this is a group of people, rather well-organized and united by the idea that there is one way to teach a deaf child to overcome his handicap, which is the isolation from the hearing world, and that is to teach the deaf child to speak and lip read. The idea is that if the deaf child cannot communicate in the mode of the majority culture, then he automatically will be isolated. But the emphasis has been on speech performance. The linguists make a differentiation between speech performance and speech competence, competence referring to the internal linguistic codes which program what comes out in the way that one has been taught language or the performance of the language. About a hundred years ago, there was a convention of educators of the deaf, and at that time they decided that the use of sign language was not accomplishing the educational goals that they had sought to accomplish, and, therefore, that the thing to do would be to teach all of the deaf children to speak, in order to, and this is, perhaps, the most often quoted cliché, "Get along in the hearing world." And now, many years later, there is one research study after another which is demonstrating that the deaf child is educationally inferior and accomplishes just the opposite result, which is to come out rather low on the totem pole, so to speak, in the hearing world and that isn't because he doesn't speak well, but because the entire development of his linguistic system and therefore his access to the culture, to the literature of his culture is also limited. I see that as the greater crime. I would just as soon not see if one is trading off alternatives and I'm not proposing this, but if one were hypothetically trading off alternatives, I would rather a deaf person not learn to speak at all than not be able to read, and this is the more, this is the greater crime, is the inability to read. The statistics are that the majority of deaf people do not achieve a fifth-grade reading level. It's more around the third grade, and it's very hard to really comprehend some of the subtleties of language, or rather of one's culture, at that--
Studs Terkel Is this because the oralists, or those who run things, generally, have been able to put down, to denigrate sign language--we'll talk about this, too--now, if the deaf child were free, were encouraged to use sign language as well. You're not saying one or the other--
Eugene Mindel Right.
Eugene Mindel Right.
Eugene Mindel Right. The people who are most active in what we in the book call combined system but is now called total communication, have supported an approach wherein all modalities of communication are regarded as acceptable. In my own experience, I have found that it is really easier for me as a hearing person to understand a deaf person if they use both modalities. I'm not completely fluent in sign language--
Eugene Mindel Right. That language is an extremely complex human production and involves many different facets of behavior. So if I can get cues as to what a person means because I'm able to read their lips or understand something that they have articulated, then that immediately enriches, you know, the communication. So I'm most comfortable in communicating with deaf people who are able to provide both. Now, certain congenitally deaf people whose educational attainment is not that great, I personally have a very difficult time communicating with because I learned sign language rather late, and don't regard myself as fluent, I would say maybe 50 percent fluency or something better than that, but it's very hard to understand just depending upon sign language without some additional.
Studs Terkel But you know something else involved here throughout reading your book and Joan (sic) Greenberg's novel, "In This Sign" I'm just thrown because I didn't realize it's more than just deaf people, it's about us, everybody. The putting down of the possibilities in all people, like we're told as kids, "Don't use your hands when you talk." Why not? Mahalia Jackson once said when she sings a gospel song, she calls it "demonstrates," she demonstrates, she, not just her voice alone, the voice alone is only part of it, she [unintelligible] walks down the aisle, uses everybody, shakes hands with you, as we're encouraged not to use our hands, as I'm doing at this very moment, you see. Well, the hell with them! Why not use every part of the body?
Eugene Mindel Well, that's been my feeling, but I know several years ago when we were involved actively in the research project, Dr. Grinker, as the chief investigator, would frequently make the point that it seems that those of us who were involved were more inclined to use our hands in talking than other people, he noticed, and I think that that's so, I know I have noticed that about myself, that I'm constantly gesticulating to make particular point, so I'm comfortable with that idea of using hands. I see it as an enrichment and an addition to what I'm trying to get across, but there is no question that there are some people who have been trained to sit on their hands, so to speak, and reveal as little about themselves as possible as they are talking. It's, I guess, kind of dirty, to use your sound.
Studs Terkel Hey, you just said it. Dr. Mindel is my guest. "To reveal as little about themselves as possible." We think of political figures who were taught by their teachers, their television teachers, how to behave. The voice, the modulation in the voice, nothing about the body or the hands because they might reveal something. The more you are involved, the more excited you get. I don't--because this--continuously, so the child is taught. And, so, we come to the deaf person, whom the hand, the very human hand, that remarkable whatever it is, work of art, the human hand, work of God the theologian would say, but this thing to the deaf person is all, isn't it?
Eugene Mindel Well, that plus the face, the face becomes, and well, the entire body become the auxiliary modalities to get across information. The more illiterate a deaf person is, the more he must depend on this. And occasionally there is snobbery even among deaf people, some of the more literate deaf people have put down the less literate deaf people because of this kind of overuse of gestural communication that is the face to give what we put in speech by inflections and so on, they have been put down for this, it's like clowning or worse.
Studs Terkel The deaf child--well, you even have, we'll talk about the self put down, too, that you have the cases profoundly deaf 10-year-old boy ashamed of being [unintelligible] and they asked if he knew sign language. And he says, "No, that's for deaf mutes."
Eugene Mindel Well, this was, yeah, I was very enchanted by that remark or fascinated because what it demonstrated, really, I thought, was a delusion that this particular child had, that he was in fact not a deaf child but rather a hearing person who was temporarily out of order. I think this has been one of the thrusts of the oralist movement, to create this delusion that there is something that will actually obliterate, ameliorate, or change in some as yet undiscovered way, the fact that the child is deaf, that he will come to be a hearing child.
Eugene Mindel Yes.
Eugene Mindel Oh, yes. There's a very, very gratifying change that is taking place now all over the country where parents very early are coming to realize that the old methods haven't worked very well and then there's the disillusionment of parents with older children and, of course, the recognition that when deaf people who have been trained under this tradition get to be adults, they use sign language very freely and openly. If they didn't, then they would be not only isolated from the majority culture but isolated from the minority culture or their own culture, also.
Studs Terkel There's something else involved here, too, isn't it, that kids are taught, many, to be ashamed, really, of being deaf in a way. The use of the sign language, the fixed smile is there. You can pass, as a Black person can pass, you see. But whereas if you sign language, you see people on the bus, you sign--others look at them--
Eugene Mindel Right.
Eugene Mindel Yes.
Eugene Mindel There's like gawking, but I--what has struck me is I've occasionally--as a matter of fact, I used to office in a building on the same floor where there was a hearing aid dealer. And occasionally I would see parents in the elevator with their hearing children--excuse me, with their deaf children--and these were people who were obviously being trained under the oral system and they would go through what I would consider an extremely embarrassing experience, and that is, they would have to talk loud and very obviously, they would make very obvious lip movements so their child could hear, so they had been--Their private life is actually put into the public arena, whereas sign language is a very private language. You can, without saying a word, communicate to someone else in a very quiet and dignified way what is of interest to you.
Eugene Mindel Well, I think that's one of the nicest things that has happened in recent years, I think, is the development of the National Theatre of the Deaf, which gives a showcase to demonstrate just this point. One of the deaf actresses with the National Theatre of the Deaf, Little Theatre of the Deaf, a woman by the name of Frieda--Freda Norman, makes a point in one of their sketches which is called "Biography" about sign language. She says, "With sign language, I can be myself. I feel very constrained when I have to speak, but deafness is me. Deafness is part of me. And with this language I can totally communicate what is me. I can be me."
Eugene Mindel I think that's why deaf people are, and not only deaf people, but I think people with all sorts of disabilities are now beginning to get the recognition which they merit because people are being allowed to be themselves so they don't have to be so ashamed that they have a disability. Their disability can show, so to speak, and they can therefore become what they are within the confines of their own handicap.
Studs Terkel We're also talking about a prison of the spirit. We'll come to that. You know, if one is ashamed, you know, one is taught to be by a majority culture, culture with a very, very small "c" not to put parentheses, quotes about that word, too. On page six of your book, talking to Dr. Eugene Mindel, whose book is called, "They Grow in Silence: The Deaf Child and His Family". The National Association of the Deaf the publishers, and in conjunction with this program he also gave me a copy of "In This Sign", that very beautiful novel by Joanne Greenberg who, under the name of Hannah Green wrote "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden", but this passage in your book, Gene, "Most of us, everybody, were cramped into a classroom niche in a desk and chair bolted to the floor. This unnatural cage that we all so early allowed ourselves to be thrust into, symbolize unnatural limits imposed on our minds' pursuits. To get up and explore the surroundings or spontaneously communicate with one's neighbor was regarded as a threat to the prevailing order. In such stuffy classrooms seeds of ideas dry up for want of fertile fields. A little sun gets through here and there, but mostly we are trained to become trivia's yeoman."
Eugene Mindel Well, that's, that really reflected back to my own elementary school experiences where I have always felt that to get up and--well, my problem, to be more specific about it, was I used to talk too much in school. I was always put down for talking. And, yet, I later discovered that this was a way in which I learn. When I'm able to engage in a dialogue with someone, some seeds of thoughts that were there I can then open up and begin to exchange with someone, and when I saw an extreme example of this among the deaf children that I watched, it reflected back to this experience and really cut at me very deeply. In going around to the various schools now, there's such a difference, you see the open classrooms where it's not a sin for children to talk, and those where the major focus is to control the children, keep them behind that desk, keep them doing the work. And I see it as really a very broad pressure against the free expression of the child's creativity.
Studs Terkel You know, it occurs to me as you're talking now, Gene, Dr. Eugene Mindel, child psychiatrist who has been working with deaf children and deaf adults, that the oralists and those were put down those who are different are really afraid of a certain burst of life. Now just [unintelligible] of the enthusiastic child. Don't be too enthusiastic. John Holt, that marvelous educator has a word they use for the overly, overly enthusiastic child, and they kind of put him down, I think at that word, but it's putting them down, so the deaf child or the deaf person who uses hands beautifully or enthusiastically is also, wait a minute, is a threat here, is he not, a threat to some sort of dead way of not life, dead way of living death.
Eugene Mindel Well, there is in deaf children and disabled children a novelty in the way that they seek to communicate or to express themselves or to learn because they have by constitution something which has changed their equipment, so to speak, to get along in the culture. They have to devise new ways, new coping techniques. But this is immediately regarded as a threat to the prevailing order. And, so, the majority culture comes in and says, "No, you can't do it that way. You have to do it our way," and immediately their creativity is undercut and it's particularly well-exemplified, I feel, by the deaf people where the disability is pretty well-known and the coping technique which the deaf have generated, that is, sign language, is immediately squelched and, yet, it is when allowed to flower and one participates in it, a very beautiful and exciting kind of language.
Eugene Mindel That's my understanding of it, that the legislature passed a law which said that they could not teach sign language in the schools. Now, Massachusetts has one of the so-called bastions of oralism, one of the high-prestige schools for teaching deaf children, and I suppose I don't know by direct information, but I suppose that's part of what has gone on.
Studs Terkel You know, that could be like putting down the code language of slaves. [Unintelligible] in a way, you know, in the pre-Civil War days. This is a--more and more this thing spreads out. Now we have to come to something, don't we, now, that you've discovered in your experiences that parents of a deaf child, discovery there is a sense of, now we come to it, don't we, sin or guilt or where have I done wrong? We come to that, don't we?
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Eugene Mindel Yeah. Well, this happens again with any child who is born with an aberrance, who is in some way different. It's a very natural tendency for the mother, particularly, and the father to feel that they have done something wrong along the way. There are many possibilities to choose from these days; either they took a drug that they shouldn't have taken, or they were too vigorous at doing something. The sky's the limit, but the natural tendency seems to be a certain sense of guilt that sets in when they discover that they have had such a child.
Studs Terkel But there is that guilt as there is in so many of the cases. What happens? Now something happens in the relationship, does it not, through you point this out in some of the chapters, you and Dr. Vernon, the ambivalence that is here, to both the over, over affection, the same time, the fury, in fact, the physical punishment.
Eugene Mindel There are a whole range of emotions that get developed and at times the deaf child is scapegoated for the feelings that he generates. The deaf child is, of course, very frustrated in his efforts to be able to communicate. He does not have a modality and, so, he has to resort to a very primitive form of communication before he is given a language system and that is to shove a parent when he wants the attention or pull the parent or cry or have a temper tantrum or whatever to get attention.
Eugene Mindel Right. Right. But what has happened is that the use of the body has not been allowed to be developed into a legitimate form of communication. It is illegitimate. It is forbidden and the child in many instances is actively put down in his attempts to develop that into a legitimate system. Now this is not to say that parents of deaf children don't do it, they have to do it by necessity. Otherwise there would be nothing, they have to beckon to a child to come over or they generate other kinds of signs like shrugging their shoulders meaning that they don't know, or, you know, where is something. There's a universal, almost universal sign for that, or just pointing at various parts of the body or place, going places and then the deaf child will himself autonomously generate signs like pretending he's driving to indicate that he wants to go in a car and so on, but as soon as many of these children have gotten into educational systems that discourage this, then the parent is told, "Don't let the child use his hands. Force him to use his voice. Force him to read your lips in order to get his needs across."
Studs Terkel We come to that, we'll come in a moment, we'll take a slight break, a moment of forcing the child, the question now of the involvement of persons, the child's own involvement in the learning process. You point of force him to look at your face whether he wants to or not, and often that face also betrays what the person does not want him to betray, we'll come to that, too, don't we? Dr. Eugene Mindel is my guest. His book is, "They Grow in Silence: The Deaf Child and His Family" is really about us and his colleague in writing is Dr. McCay Vernon, and during the second half I'll ask you about Joanne Greenberg's book and how deaf people are used in this society, too. In a moment. This will involve work and jobs, too, and changes. There was that silence that is perpetual for a profoundly deaf person. We return to Dr. Eugene Mindel, my guest and deafness and the child. So the child, by the oralists, who for so long, I think, have run things pretty much when it comes to education [unintelligible].
Eugene Mindel Yes, and still do, as a matter of fact. It's a slow procedure to get change. It goes all the way from the local school levels all the way up to government councils that are responsible for funding various educational programs. And as I understand it, most of these people have been drawn from the faculties and administrations of the private schools for the deaf. I was just reading over some statistics a few days ago, and in private institutions there are about 3000 deaf children. That includes residential schools, private day schools, and so on, as opposed to about 39,000 children who go into the public programs. And yet, the people who are making decisions have been drawn from these private institutions. Well, one of the major disadvantages of that is that these programs, which have a stake in their own preservation, screen the deaf children very carefully. They screen them as to intelligence and capacity to adapt to the system which they're teaching. I don't want to create the idea that oralism always fails, but one finds some deaf children who have, indeed, done rather well under the system. I know a young man locally who was raised in the public school systems under this tradition and is now doing graduate work in psychology, communicates pretty well. But I see this not as a testament to the success of the oral system, but rather a tribute to his own intelligence and perseverance. I think that this is the overriding factor when somebody has an extraordinarily high level of intelligence they are able to overcome some of the most severe handicaps. You're probably familiar with, I can't remember the full name of this fellow, but I think his name is Christy, this rather deformed man in England.
Eugene Mindel Yes. Who's a very unfortunately deformed fellow, speaks very poorly, is not ambulatory and so on, and yet, and grew up in a slum virtually neglected except by one of his siblings, and, yet, turned out to be an extraordinarily gifted writer. Well, how does one account for that sort of thing? It has to be that he is singularly endowed with a very high level of intelligence and creativity which overcame these handicaps.
Eugene Mindel Helen Keller is a very special example, and I've been learning much more about that. I also have in the last year or so been working with multiply handicapped blind children, and I have heard some blind people talk about Helen Keller. She, the differences with Helen Keller are number one, she was not congenitally deaf, she was deafened when she was about 18 months old and also blinded. Secondly, she had a very, very vigorous tutorial experience with Annie Sullivan. Third, she was a very intelligent woman. But fourth, there was a certain aspect of Helen Keller's training which I was not aware of, and that is that her language was apparently specifically designed to sound more like the hearing--excuse me, like the sighted person, if you read some of her stuff it's rich in visual metaphors. She'll talk about fields full of flowers of this hue and that hue, and yet you say to yourself, "How does she know that?" Well, in fact, she doesn't. She didn't know that, except maybe there were some vestiges of seeing that when she was a very young girl. But this was her training, and there was a psychologist who was writing, wrote in 1930 a book on blind people, a fellow by name of Cutsforth, who specifically talks about this problem and says, "Helen Keller did not really know her world. She was not allowed to really explore her world," and he gives an example of another woman, unfortunately I can't recall her name at the moment, where there was an opposite experience. In her training she was allowed to explore her own world, and when you read her material she talks about how she discovered her world, what she used, the way in which she used her sense of smell and her sense of touch and her extraordinary intelligence to discover what she was not able to discover through--
Eugene Mindel and blind and deaf. She was used to help normal people. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to have hearing and speech. She was used to help us not feel so bad about her. And that's a lot of what goes on, and we talked about that earlier, what Joanne Greenberg calls "the false fine," that is the deaf person is very nice. He helps us not feel so bad about his condition.
Studs Terkel But it does not explore the experience, that inner experience of the person who is deaf. Since you mentioned blindness, here again the differences, I suppose the non-sight as against the non-hearing. Is there a deeper isolation by the deaf person than there is by the blind person?
Eugene Mindel It's hard to talk about it exactly in that comparative way. What happens to the blind person is that certain semantic aspects of the visual world are not available to them. For example, I have been told that many blind people think of a square as four sharp corners rather than a square itself as we would think of a square as a total configuration, but blind people learn language on schedule. Just a fact drawn from linguistics, and that is that the average person is totally competent in the syntax of their culture's language by the age of four. That is, they can put together constructions which conform to the culture of their language by that age. There are certain refinements that take place in the ensuing years. That is, they learn how to pluralize and use certain irregular verbs and so on in the years after that. The blind person does this on schedule. The deaf person, because of his handicap, cannot do this and my co-author Dr. Vernon is--frequently has stated that there are many deaf children who by the age of six or seven do not know their own names, do not have a concept that people are differentiated by names. So the blind person is able to do this and because there has been a system of Braille developed, they can explore literature and they also have the so-called "talking books" now.
Eugene Mindel Right.
Eugene Mindel Yes. The sound and all the information that that conveys. The early language learning that that provides, the foundation for the linguistic code of their language which then allows them later to explore on their own, the blind person can sit at home and read something in Braille or listen to something on a tape recorder to explore beyond the level at which they are now functioning, whereas the deaf person, because the majority of deaf people read at less than a fifth grade level, more often around a third grade level, cannot explore the richness of the world's literature.
Studs Terkel I'm thinking of Joanne Greenberg's novel "In This Sign", the young couple starts out, it's basically as you just put it, the developments of a century as seen through the eyes, eyes, not heard but seen through the eyes of a deaf couple, Janice and Abel and their children, and what throws me about the book is the manner in which deaf people are used, looked upon by the hearing and how that, how the advantage is taken of them in matter of jobs. The work.
Eugene Mindel Well, they have--deaf people have had to settle for what they could get. In other words, the crumbs in the vocational area. Printing has been the savior, so to speak, of deaf people. They have been able to learn this skill and this is what stood Abel in good stead. It may not continue to do so. The Abels are being automated out. Many deaf people, for instance, have been teletype--not teletype--linotype operators, and more and more newspapers are being typeset by computers. And, so, they're being automated out there. But Joanne's book leaves off somewhere in the '60s when this process was just getting underway. Janice, his wife, was a seamstress, and she began, really in the sweatshop days, and was able to make it because she worked and worked and worked. This became her, her whole life. This became her consuming interest, but gradually with the growth of the union movement, she became anathema to the--
Eugene Mindel Yes.
Eugene Mindel Right.
Eugene Mindel Yes. Well, eventually there's a very, later on in the book a very tragic episode described where Janice was given a party for her 30 years or 35 years of service, I forget which it was, and she really didn't understand what was going on. Gradually she came to understand that the party was for her. But what it was, really, was a way of gracefully getting her out. Now, when the labor movement had at last established the rights of the workers they had to some, in some way, there was enough compassion for her that they wanted to get her out. And, yet, the reality of what was happening to her was not known by her. The person who knew it best was Janice's son. Janice's daughter was Margaret.
Eugene Mindel Yes. Margaret is hearing and Margaret was the liaison for her parents to the hearing world. This is the position of many hearing children of deaf parents. But what she does is to share the philosophy of her parents halfway and the philosophy of the hearing world halfway so she's immediately cast into an ambivalent position. And she was not able to see her parents' position realistically' but then Janice--excuse me, Margaret.
Eugene Mindel Yes. Got married to an efficiency expert whose job was to come in and revolutionize manufacturing. And they had a son. And this brings us into the '50s, and this son grew up in a movement when these children were becoming much more aware of what their individual rights should be and reaching out to oppressed minorities and learning the psychology of the oppressive culture. And he saw what was going on in his grandparents' life. He was the one who was able to develop a feeling of compassion for his grandparents' life and pointed out to his mother what was going on. Ultimately there was a resolution in the retirement years of Abel and Janice, there was finally an understanding all around and a bridging of the generation gap, so to speak, in these people.
Studs Terkel It's interesting. Things are happening at this moment. This involves deaf people. And you, in your own work, Eugene Mindel. Now just as Dee Brown wrote a book called "Broken (sic) Heart at Wounded Knee", America's seeing the viewpoint of the Indian. And, so, here's the society as generations develop and seeing the viewpoint of a deaf person.
Eugene Mindel Yes. And all of the, what is so hard about this, Joanne's book, is the embarrassment, the awkwardness, all of the things that we would hate to happen to ourselves. For example, the book starts out with Janice and Abel coming into a city leaving a school for the deaf. They got married against the wishes of their parents and so on, had some dollars in their pocket and walked around the city, were dazzled by all of the glittering things that they saw, and one of the things they saw was a very expensive car. Went in and gave what money they had for that car, and only much later realized, not too much later, that all they had done was to make a down payment and they were obligated for many years at high interest rates to make that. Eventually the car was repossessed. The case was taken to court and for the next 20 years of his life Abel had to take his money and pay off that debt. That became his consuming interest and also the way in which he was able to organize his identity as a man who could pay off a debt. He never told this shameful incident to Margaret, Margaret always knew that there was something--
Studs Terkel There are several things involved in Joanne Greenberg's book, that's this sense of shame and further isolation. One close to you, too, and how they're being had, and also Comstock, who was the interpreter in court, who could use sign language and could talk, his complete contempt, too.
Eugene Mindel Yes.
Eugene Mindel I think the child of deaf parents, and he knew enough of the subtleties of sign language so that he could make it painful. It wasn't like a person like myself who came into this rather late and I communicate by, I get by often by finger spelling where I don't know sign language, but I don't know that, those subtleties where you can hurt people or send them soaring by knowing the thing that really makes them the happiest. This fellow was able to cut deeply with his hands.
Eugene Mindel Yes.
Eugene Mindel I think that still goes on, that part of the problem I don't, I think will continue to go on for a while, until the deaf people are really regarded as having equal rights or equal status or whatever. And that, having to do with other groups of disabled people or disadvantaged people all enjoying an equal share, and that is, will come from the majority culture recognizing that they have to make accommodations to this. It sounds funny to say majority culture because when you begin to talk to enough people, you recognize that in some way, everybody has been affected or will be affected by a certain kind of disability, either they will become far-sighted as they get older or they will begin to lose their hearing or they'll get arthritic or something will happen that will set them apart, and then will the majority culture attend to their needs. You can think of, for example, Medicare and how hard it was to get Medicare to acknowledge that the most elderly citizens were really getting a bum rap when it came to providing adequate welfare services for them.
Studs Terkel And they may be part of what they think is a majority group but that minority hurt, for want of a better phrase at the moment, is something which they hide to fight for or ashamed of, you see.
Eugene Mindel Yes.
Eugene Mindel I think that this is why it has been so hard for people to give the attention that is needed to disadvantaged people. As long as you've got it, you're going to enjoy it to the hilt, and people don't want to be reminded of their own potential infirmity until it strikes, and then when it strikes, then, of course, you can no longer get away with that delusion. The delusion is invulnerability or immortality or whatever and I think deafness particularly brings this out because deafness is an isolating experience, and it's not--the aspect of isolation which refers to what you get from hearing is not immediately changeable, it's not remedial, it's got to stay that way. And that's a very dreadful experience, too, for people to contemplate. And, yet, when you begin to contemplate it, I think it does contribute to one's maturity, to recognize that well, it's going to happen to me and sooner or later I'm going to have to think it out. And I see the sooner the better, because then no one can grow old with grace, so to speak.
Eugene Mindel Yes.
Studs Terkel We're talking about also that, using the deaf person as the key figure here to do that someone says, "Well, I'll overcome this. You know, I will not be that," or a little boy said, "I was just temporarily infirm."
Studs Terkel Temporarily out of order, like a telephone is out of order. We'll come to that matter of the telephone in a minute and Alexander Graham Bell. But and so, you're really talking about some day and the feeling of, "I'm not going to die."
Eugene Mindel Yes.
Eugene Mindel Right.
Eugene Mindel Well, Alexander Graham Bell was originally a teacher of the deaf in England and I think this was a tradition in his family, but I think, and I really am a bit weak on my history here, I think that he was looking for a way of helping deaf people to overcome the handicap, and then he got involved, of course, in the development of the telephone, but Alexander Graham Bell, as has been demonstrated in a recent doctoral dissertation on his personality, had a very peculiar idea about deaf people. He didn't want them to reproduce in great numbers because he felt that this genetic strain was going to weaken the strain of the entire culture, and if let loose would lead to a complete demise or undercutting of the strength of the culture. He wanted to keep down deaf people in general.
Eugene Mindel Yes.
Studs Terkel Way you were talking about paradoxes, didn't you mention a genetic, weakening the genetic strains, causes of deafness are varied. You mentioned the two prime sources, though, genetics and rubella.
Eugene Mindel Rubella is German measles, which is a mild disease when contracted by adults, but it is a very deadly virus when it is passed across the placental barrier to the fetus, especially in the first three months of life. And what it does is to cause an alteration in the development from that point on, the major handicaps are deafness, congenital cataracts, heart disease, and sometimes mental retardation. I think it's estimated that there were about 17,000 children that were deafened in this way. And right now what is being evaluated is the extent to which the vaccine which has been given to children will prevent another epidemic which was supposed to occur during 1971. So the results of that are not really known. There was some difficulty in getting that fully financed and some debate as to whether or not children or adults should be vaccinated--
Eugene Mindel Yes. But with the rubella epidemic, of course, those proportions changed, because of, there were so many more. Then one of the other major contributing causes has been Rh blood incompatibility. There is some, there has been some progress in that direction, so that if parents right after birth, mothers right after birth, are given a certain kind of serum, then the anti-Rh factor can be removed, so--
Studs Terkel A question, though, comes up, this is parenthetical. Not a digression. I'm thinking about, we'll come back to the question of oralism in sign language again the key, but with electronic instruments, electrified instruments and rock today, and the young audiences, have there been sort of a--is there a, something happening to the hearing of the young as a result of the continuous volume, you know, the sound they're hearing?
Eugene Mindel I don't, I can't really speak on that with much authority. I, of course, in the past--there's, of course, now a lot of that has been written about noise pollution, and some people believe that the tremendous level of noise that we always are up against in urban environments--
Eugene Mindel Sam [Rubin? Ruben? Reuben?], who recently-- Yes, and then Ted Berland, who is at Michael Reese Hospital also published a book on noise pollution. But it's felt that this leads to, this is why adults, so many adults begin to have diminished hearing later in life. I think the effects of the loud music of a rock culture will not really be known immediately. There's a lot of reserve that we have in hearing. One can lose a fair amount of hearing and still make it to some extent. In other words, one's hearing can be down by 20 decibel units and they can still get along okay. As it goes up beyond that, then, of course, there's a progressive difficulty in being able to--
Studs Terkel I wonder if there wouldn't be some sort of an adaptive process, if someone born now or the young kids who were brought up on rock through older sisters or older brothers, you know, and hearing it whether some sort of protective aspect doesn't occur where they're affected without--
Eugene Mindel Yes.
Eugene Mindel Yes.
Eugene Mindel Yes. Yes. Well, sign language is, when one watches it operating is a very creative language. You can, when you don't know a sign, you can use pantomime and also depend upon context to help you understand or help you make yourself understandable in many situations. Whereas when one is limited to speech, and the deaf person who only speaks, speaks in a very restricted way, he's only getting across words and in order to add meaning he will often have to use some emotional expressions to fill it in. So I discussed this in preparing one of my chapters on language development and social development. I discussed this with a friend of mine who is doing work in linguistics, psycholinguistics. The point that she made to me was that when a child learns language, it's a playful experience, not play in the sense of frivolity, but it's serious play. Just as children play seriously, he enjoys the experimentation, the creativity that is available to him in language, and we feel, and have seen demonstrated, that one can do the very same thing [inside? in Sign?]. It's a very dramatic and beautiful experience--
Studs Terkel Gene, a crazy thought occurred to me. I was just thinking something. It's true. In Mediterranean cultures or in south of the equator cultures, are deaf people regarded the same way as they are in our society?
Eugene Mindel Yes.
Eugene Mindel Right.
Eugene Mindel Right. Right. And I think and in the book I also likened abroad in this analogy people who have a very hard time in accepting the more vivacious, you know, enthusiastic use of language, sign language is a difficult thing to them. But in these countries they have either not have had enough left over to give to the deaf people, they have enough struggles with other disadvantaged groups, or they have inherited this oralist tradition, assuming that this is the right way to do things so deaf people get it on both sides.
Studs Terkel Where are we left now, because we're come back to the double, then the belief of you and of your colleagues is that language, you know, it's both, oralism, total communication you call it. Sign language by all means.
Eugene Mindel Speaking--
Eugene Mindel The gesture. And gesturing, writing, pantomiming, drawing, whatever you can do to express yourself, whatever way you can reflect outside of yourself the richness of human imagination should be available and speech at the performance level does not allow that kind of richness to occur.
Eugene Mindel Yes.
Studs Terkel [Unintelligible] things, yeah. So, my guest is Dr. Eugene D. Mindel, who is the co-author with McKay Vernon, the foreword by Roy Brinker, "They Grow in Silence: The Deaf Child and his Family", National Association of the Deaf the publishers, and the other book goes right along with it, Joanne Greenberg's beautiful novel, "In This Sign", Holt Rinehart Winston the publishers. Any thought comes to you now before we say goodbye? Nothing and that's about it.