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Call for Resignation: Dr.Janice Smith-Warshaw

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American Sign Language (ASL) is a visual language that responds to the natural need of children who are Deaf to understand and organize their world, their families and their lives. It is the language needed to comprehend and ask questions about events and items in their daily environment. Deaf people view life and its occurrences visually through ASL and Deaf culture, and they translate and interpret for themselves.

In a true learning environment, students at Illinois School for the Deaf (ISD) would utilize ASL as a means of learning, communicating and later incorporating English reading and writing; both as part of the curriculum and their own need as growing members of society. In order to fully review information and, through a critical discourse, participate in actions and events, they need immediate access to language, vocabulary and tools for critical thinking. At the Illinois School for the Deaf, this will only be possible when they do have access to ASL. Cued speech can be an affective tool for some children; especially those with cochlear implants (CI's), those whose parents are extremely involved in their ongoing daily activities and education, and those who have a great deal of residual hearing. For the “average” Deaf student, Cued Speech absolutely does not incorporate the ‘birth to senior years’ daily need for language acquisition, expression or understanding. Cued Speech is not provided by the majority of trained/certified ASL interpreters, who will serve most Deaf people in educational settings (including college), employment settings, videophone and video-relay communications, or interactions with other deaf people.

The superintendent of ISD, Dr. Janice Smith-Warshaw, has demonstrated extreme lack of understanding of the needs of Deaf children by excluding ASL from standard classroom utilization and consideration. By using Cued Speech as a generic tool for classroom education, and employing to engage in fancy rhetorical footwork to justify this choice, - she actually confounds students in their educational and personal quests to transition from “unknown-to-known”, Only when the classroom environment includes ASL as a standard tool will many students not only acquire language, but also be able to use ASL to get the facts, participate in analyses, and follow up with possibilities and solutions. By using ASL as the language of initial communication, English can later be introduced with its specific syntax, vocabulary, idioms and common usage.

Today the term, “Cued Speech” is being misused in what might be called ‘language bigotry’ that falls under the terms of “Oralism” or “Audism”. Cued Speech is known to be imperfect in its inability to represent typical daily and educational language needs; even more imperfect it its inability in translating and interpreting ASL. Cued Speech is rarely used between Deaf people, and it can create separations within peer groups that are critical to growth and leaning. Deaf students at ISD therefore are suffering from this type of language bigotry.

In 1690, John Locke asked, “Let us then suppose the mind to be, as we say, a white paper, void of characters, without any ideas; how comes it to be furnished?” He also said “Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours.” Our point is that for the “average Deaf child”, ASL is the key to language, which is the path to thinking. Without these critical steps, it is too easy for Deaf children to fail to acquire and utilize a language in its full capacity.

Language bigotry must stop. ASL exists because it serves the need for language acquisition, development of vocabulary and critical thinking, and communication.. What kind of message is sent to the Deaf students and their families who struggle against discrimination and prejudice on a daily basis? What about the self-esteem of these Deaf students already demoralized by extensive Audism (or, focus on the audible and the capacities of those who can hear as a means of interacting with Deaf people)? To add salt to the wound, their money via student activity fees is financing ISD and the Cued Speech curriculum. Dr. Janice Smith-Warshaw and Angela Kuhn, elementary and junior high school principal can practice language bigotry elsewhere, but to practice this on ISD campus sends a very negative message to the esteem of Deaf students and Deaf parents. There is no getting around this message.

We believe that Superintendent Dr. Janice Smith-Warshaw and Angela Kuhn should resign her positioning response to the points below:

We the undersigned demand hereby that Illinois School for the Deaf develop and facilitate the resignation of Dr. Janice Smith-Warshaw, the Superintendent of the School, because she has failed within a broad field of academic and interdisciplinary inquiry to focus on the following four objectives:

1. Janice Smith-Warshaw fails to aim to fully examine the best options in terms of the language and culture of the Deaf.

2. Janice Smith-Warshaw fails to analyze the social, political, and economical context of standardizing the use of Cued Speech in ISD classrooms. She has apparently discarded ASL without regard for the fact that it is the language of best acquisition, most fluent understanding, and most prevalent use by Deaf people in America.

3. Janice Smith-Warshaw fails to provide an intellectual, cultural and academic environment in which Deaf students can learn comfortably and in a manner that will serve their needs as they become adults and community members.

4. Janice Smith-Warshaw fails to demonstrate and reconcile the available knowledge regarding language acquisition in Deaf children in her efforts to serve Illinois School for the Deaf. She does not articulate the connection between development of intuitive knowledge based on ASL and objective (universal) knowledge that would establish a common ground between the knower and the known, between the observer and what is being observed, and between the researcher and what is being researched.



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