A critical (auto) ethnographic study of deaf people's experience of education and culture in Ireland.
O'Connell, Noel P.
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At the heart of this thesis is the methodological and theoretical framework in which to conduct a study of deaf people’s experience of education and culture in Ireland. Methodologically, the research design is critical auto-ethnography which allows this researcher to self-reflexively engage in the research process to explore key issues and themes in deaf education arising from the narratives of the research participants’ educational experiences. The postmodern theoretical framework is located in the study to portray a diversity of perspectives including that of the researched and the researcher. Since the 1950s many deaf people in Ireland faced barriers to education. They also faced internal and external pressure to change their ways of knowing and understanding of the world to become ‘normal’ and more acceptable to non-deaf people. To date, the majority of the literature devoted to deaf education has been written from the dominant non-deaf perspective detailing the education system and discussing teaching methodology. While understanding these issues is important, it does not closely reflect the experiences of deaf people with the way they define their own culture. Traditionally, they have not been adequately included as subjects in educational research. In particular, it has been charged that deaf people are frequently excluded from studies concerning education and where they are included in such studies they tend to be under-represented. To begin filling that void, twenty deaf people and the auto-ethnographic researcher participated in a qualitative study of the experience of education and culture. Engaging in critical auto-ethnography is a postmodern construct and a useful form of inquiry in which I study and write about lived experience. In the process I become the observer and observed, the narrator and narrated, insider and outsider. The study sought to answer questions articulated in the literature on deaf education: what are the key issues that remain a bone of contention to deaf people? What have deaf people to say about their educational experiences? In presenting their narratives, this research represents an epistemological shift in the way deaf people are commonly understood by society and educators. It is a shift that calls into question the dominant notions about them that engender marginalisation and exclusion. The study offers a space for reconsidering the views of deaf people differently and therefore re-thinking deaf education. Its purpose is three-fold: (1) to confront common assumptions about deaf people and their culture; (2) to locate a counter-narrative that provides a framework for sociological and cultural understanding of deaf people; and (3) to offer alternative perspectives of deaf education that have historically been excluded. Deaf education in Ireland has become an increasingly polarized field: one where a divide exists between the diverse perspectives on how deaf children should be taught in school. Recent research has intensified the importance of Irish Sign Language in education and school curriculum drawing attention to the educational shortfall in deaf school-leavers. This cultural polarization in the Cabra schools for deaf children provides a rich site for exploring pedagogical practices that might inform policy and improve educational achievement for all deaf children. Findings reveal that Irish Sign Language represents a key cultural resource for ‘unlocking the curriculum’ that created barriers to education.