A Day of Lessons in Stereotypes – Some Examples From Teaching Communication

Today has been an interesting lesson in stereotypes.

Lesson one:

A guest speaker from Deaf Services in BR come to the Interpersonal Communication class. He was dynamic and interesting, and the students loved him. The capital D is important to people in the Deaf community, by the way.

Deaf culture is fascinating, particularly as it illustrates major concepts from communication studies. I’ve been fascinated about it ever since a friend of mine demonstrated the way that sign language is not a literal interpretation, but a more poetic one.  She did this by signing a song.

Audre Lorde once said that it’s good to educate yourself about others who are culturally different from you rather than to expect them to translate for you. The expectation comes from a feeling of entitlement and privilege. Lorde described this particularly in regard to white women and women of color. She said that white women expect women of color to “stretch across the gap of ignorance.”

People in the Deaf community have political disagreements over “oralism” and “manualism,” or the privileging of lip reading versus sign language. One blogger called oralism a form of torture. Surprisingly, our textbook author, Joe Devito, addresses communicating with Deaf people from an oralist orientation. He places the discussion of deafness in the listening chapter under problems with hearing, even though he distinctly separates listening from hearing. The frame of his discussion on communicating with the Deaf is clearly that the lack of hearing is a noise problem rather than a cultural difference.

Lesson Two:

The Dewey Reflective Thinking model for group problem solving is a staple in communication classes. Ultimately, using that model as the basis for a group project doesn’t cultivate a state of interdependence in the students. Instead, they work alone on their various tasks, and then present together in a panel format. To change that problem this semester, I assigned a video scavenger hunt, part of which requires all the students to appear in certain recorded scenes. This forces interdependence because students have to coordinate and work together. One of my scavenger hunt “items” was to give a cop a donut. Basically, I just copied a list of items from somewhere on the web without much reflection.

So today I learned from an offended campus police officer that donuts are called “cop killers.” Well, that’s embarrassing. Obviously, next semester I will change that portion of the assignment.

Lesson Three:

I have a non-native English speaking friend who I met through the “Conversation Partners” program at school. We have been meeting regularly since early last semester, and I’m enjoying her company and learning a great deal about her culture. I’m endeared and amused by some of her language mistakes. After a moment of chuckling over an email, I then wondered if I was being paternalistic in finding this humorous. I don’t really know the answer. White guilt for the win!

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