Deaf Education as Intercultural Communication: Different Discourses About Deaf Education
The traditions, the development, and the objectives of deaf education in Norway and Russia are different. One of the main differences is whether deaf education is in itself seen as intercultural communication, meaning to what degrees the sign language communities are treated as linguistic and cultural minorities or simply as disabled. Neither the Russian nor the Norwegian practice is internationally unique, but the two become recognizable in light of each other, and internationally, they represent two common ways of dealing with education for the deaf today.
This article will discuss what are some of the differences and similarities in deaf education between Norway and Russia related to the status of the two countries’ signed languages and whether the deaf populations are viewed either as disabled or as a linguistic minority. The discussion is based on some historical occurrences leading to the current situations in the two countries. Two different discourses, a disability discourse and a minority discourse, will be presented. The disability discourse generally seems to be the most intuitive one among adult newcomers to this field, while the minority discourse more often needs a fair bit of elaboration. Therefore, more space will be devoted to the minority discourse in this article. Furthermore, the description of the differences and similarities in deaf education will draw on the writings of the Russian scholar Lev Vygotsky on (Russian) deaf education and look at what Joseph Stalin wrote about deaf people and language. I shall argue that Vygotsky’s suggestions seem to have had more impact in Norway than in Russia, while Stalin’s writings seemingly had a great impact on the view on Russian Sign Language (RSL1) and the practice and objectives of the Russian schools for the deaf.
I will argue that a hundred years of experience of attempting to make the spoken majority language the first language of deaf children should lead to a change in direction.