Over the last 4 months, we’ve had to make many decisions. One of these, was what kind of school to send the girls to. Main stream? Remedial that tries to accommodate deaf and hard of hearing children with the goal of them mainstreaming later? Or a school for the deaf which practices bilingualism (spoken English and South African Sign Language)? I’ll take you through the process of making our decision for now, at a later stage. Right now, I’d like to tell you about a morning last week – “prize giving” at the school for the deaf where the twins have been attending preschool for the past 2 months.
Firstly, this experience needs the context of my experiences of prize giving (which we called “speech day”) at school. I attended a private girls-only school. I felt a lot of emphasis on achievement. Our “speech days” looked a little something like this….firstly, they would be practiced the day before. Not just a “you sit there and you stand there” practice, but every tiny detail, from the way we shook hands to the way our names were pronounced. Just so that everything would be perfect the next day. Then, if you were a prize winner, you’d get a “special” seat in the front near the teachers and VIPs of the day. If you weren’t you’d sit in the gallery, or at least toward the back, as an attempt to make things a bit more organized. And then there was lots of music and special songs (one even in Latin that we sang every single year) and these had always been practiced a million times.
Last week’s experience of prize giving in this deaf school was very different. I was late, and snuck in the back door and found a chair. The hall was a mix of students and parents, and the students were seated from the preschool right in the front, to the grade twelve’s at the back . The prize winners were all seated mixed with the non-winners. I spotted my little Hadassah in the front, and suddenly pictured her sitting in the gallery at my old school. She would have been feeling very left out and obliged to sit perfectly still and quiet. Instead, she was in the front! The whole, preschool was sitting in the front right near all the action. Can you imagine the understated chaos? They were being recognized as part of the school family; valued enough to get the “good seats” in spite of no achievement at all. “Dassie” has only been at this school for two months, and yet, both she and Tahlita had received a prize… a little certificate for “settling into the school routine.” Then, I was there for a musical piece, a song that a group of students signed to. I was amazed at how expressive the signing was. It wasn’t over practiced, but rather it was beautifully sincere and that tugged on my emotional strings. Hiding behind my loose hair, I brushed away a good few tears as my overwhelming feeling was that of love and acceptance. The teachers evidently loved those children and the children obviously regarded their teachers as family. There was a strong message encouraging the students to be THEIR best. This is very different to the pressure of being THE best. A mammoth difference. Every child there had a sense of belonging and acceptance for just being themselves. No unrealistic expectations, no major pomp and ceremony, no pressure to be something that they aren’t. No striving for perfection (whatever that is anyway) but rather and ironically, a peaceful acknowledgement of what is real. I realize that that the way things were organized that morning, may be unique to this particular school, but it did serve as reassurance that this was a good place; a safe place. A non-threatening and loving environment for learning.
I also sat there wondering how many of the school graduates would have the opportunity to be their best. How many walls would they come up against in my country as a result of them being deaf? How many of them would fight for their rights, and would some accept the erroneous label of “disabled”? Would they be able to access sign language interpreters if they chose to study further, or would this be a limiting factor to them following their dreams? (I had read a newspaper article earlier that week where this was the case). That made me feel quite heart-sore. In the ideal world, the “world would be their oyster”, just like any hard working hearing child. But in reality things are often not so ideal. I sat there thinking, that I have quite a job before me. To raise my girls with the knowledge that they are perfect and capable in every way, fighting the “striving to be better than everyone else” culture that I find myself in and nurture a healthy desire for them to follow their dreams and aim to be their best. You hear about those moms who are supernaturally able to lift heavy cars off their trapped babies…. I feel a bit like that with my girls. Reject them in any way because of their hearing loss, and I just may have to demonstrate some supernatural determination and strength.