I have mentioned my interest on ASL from the beginning of the blog. Then I started taking the class. It is almost coming to an end. I have now completed one of the biggest assignments for this class, which was a reaction paper to the movie. I also mentioned the movie here on the blog, that caused a little bit of controversy. I will now post my paper and feel free to comment on my opinions, but please inform you in the subject before making any harsh remarks. This time they will not be tolerated.
For a Deaf Son
The second session of my ASL class consisted of us watching a movie. I was later informed that we had to write a paper for the class and that it could be done as an opinion paper on the movie For a Deaf Son. The movie depicts The life of four-year-old Thomas Tranchin, born deaf to a hearing family, and the struggle of the producer/director to unlock Thomas’ speech capacities is documented through home video of therapy sessions, classrooms, and workshops. Their struggle in the decision of whether to educate Thomas in sign language versus strictly verbal speech is also documented. Therapists and other families with deaf children are also interviewed.
I have to admit that it was a very difficult movie to watch. I am very sensitive when it comes to kids and it was heart wrenching to see Tommy struggle to communicate with his parents. I could see the frustration in his eyes. There were even moments during the movie where Tommy expressed anger and it just made me sick to my stomach.
I think the documentary was very educational in a lot of ways. It opens a little door into deaf culture but not enough to really understand or form a true opinion. It was always in the back of my mind when trying to make up my point of view about how to react to the movie. Would it be important for Tommy to be accepted as part of the Deaf community?
The movie gave me the impression that oralism (advocacy or use of the oral method of teaching the deaf) in a lot of sense overrides deaf culture and it is not accepted by it. Almost like it’s a choice that has to be made if you choose oralism the deaf community says good-bye to you. I felt that for Tommy to be accepted into the deaf community, he would have to learn ASL. To me the best option is both, but the way the choices are presented in the movie illustrate that the ultimate decision makes everything seem mutually exclusive.
While gathering my thoughts on the subject and trying to come up with a reaction paper I started researching the topic. The first thing that came to mind to me was, where is Tommy now, where can I find more information about what happened after the documentary? I felt that I lacked the information to make a judgment. Then I found out about the sad news. Tommy Tranchin was no longer with us. Just this past December he committed suicide. Come to think of it, in a couple of weeks it will be the first anniversary of his death.
I posted on my personal blog (web-log) about Tommy’s death. I could not bring myself to present my opinions regarding the situation, as I still did not know enough information. Some people were quick to respond and blame the parents, which I thought was wrong, but I let the comments go for the sake of free speech. Some people thought that Tommy’s parent’s indecision was the ultimate cause of his decision to end his life. I did not agree with this statement at all. It also brought a lot of positive feedback and eventually some more information about Tommy after the documentary.
For those of you who have amazingly diagnosed his suicide as one cause by his parent’s indecision, I say shame on you. I knew Tommy well, and his parents were ordinary people put in an extraordinary position…and when it came to his happiness and education, they came out on top. Tommy’s death was caused by nothing more than an argument over television watching which began a series of events that led a happy, life loving fifteen year old to accidentally take a scare tactic too far and end up dead. If any of you are attributing this to his deafness and his fight to communicate, I understand why you’d make those connections, but I’m sorry to say that you are wrong. Not to take away from the seriousness of the issues facing parents with a deaf child, but in this case, you’re way off. (Comment by Matthew)
I later received an e-mail from Matthew directly and even thought I cannot confirm nor deny the story, it really made more sense to me that the assumptions that Tommy had just taken his life due to his frustration with communication. Receiving that e-mail gave me some closure, I had been feeling frustrated by the amount of information I was able to obtain.
With a lot more information than what I started with, and more ASL classes under my belt, and after visiting communities for the deaf such as Alldeaf dot com I have finally made up my opinion about the movie.
I feel sorry for Tommy’s parents, who lost their son. Suicide is not an easy thing to deal with because it always leaves many questions unanswered. I dealt with a friend taking his life right before senior year. I remember the feeling of helplessness towards that situation.
I feel the movie is outdated and it really does not present the situation like it should. It is centered on the producer’s point of view and it really does not show all angles. Maybe because the understanding of a subculture is a difficult thing to grasp, but to me the implications of Tommy being accepted by other deaf people or the oral community in general has more importance in the film than the true issue of him not being able to communicate effectively.
I also found it extremely the people pushing the oralism narrow minded. Their opinions that it was a mistake to learn ASL, and that it would hinder any other development for his oral development are incorrect in my opinion. My question, regarding that is this, What if Tommy does not learn to talk- then what? He would spend the next couple of years frustrated by not being able to communicate his needs.
I was very disappointed with the progress from some of the kids that had chosen oralism. I speak English, but just because I do it with an accent I am looked at differently. Just because of the color of my skin people in the past have yelled “What?” before I even speak a word. I feel that when you try to fit into a society by turning your back on your community you lose your stronger allies. In a quest to be accepted by the populous you are losing the community that is so ready to accept you for who you are.
If you are looking for a place to watch the movie, I have found this place. You do have to get an account, but I believe you can stream the movie for free.