Thursday, May 22, 2014

Train Go Sorry

Train Go Sorry by Leah Hager Cohen (1994)

Leah Hager Cohen grew up on the campus of the Lexington School for the Deaf in New York, where her father was superintendent. Part memoir, part journalistic look at deaf education and culture, Cohen's book takes us inside a world that hearing people don't usually get to experience.

Deafness is uniquely isolating, and we see this through a couple of Lexington students that Cohen follows. Sofia and James both have lives at school that are completely separate and different from their family lives. School is where their community is, and where they can be themselves and speak their own language. Both of these students had very interesting lives that I enjoyed reading about, but Sofia's experience as a Russian immigrant really emphasized some of the struggles of deaf people. Imagine how difficult it must be to move to a new country and have to learn a new language. Now imagine you have to learn two new languages. Sofia did - English and American Sign Language (ASL), which has its own grammar and isn't just a signed version of English. The hurdles that these students had to overcome every day in their lives were difficult, and yet they remained undaunted.

Cohen examined controversial issues in deaf culture and education, such as cochlear implants, and mainstreaming in schools. Of particular relevance to Lexington was what language or languages should be included in the curriculum. Traditionally, ASL wasn't even taught and students were forced to learn only English and required to take speech classes. Later ASL was more welcomed, but students still had to learn English and many students protested. I felt sympathetic to both sides of this issue because while I can understand not wanting to be forced to learn a language that isn't yours, it's really, really, really hard to navigate the world if your only language is ASL. The deaf population has unemployment rates much higher than the general population because of these communication barriers. It's a really complex issue.

Train Go Sorry has been on my radar for years, probably since it first came out and a couple of people in my family recommended it. I have a nephew who is deaf, so I knew a tiny bit about some of issues and about deaf education, but not very much. There were things that never even occurred to me, like how much of what we learn is from overhearing conversations and deaf people consequently miss a lot of information that way. It's really fascinating.

I also still have residual interest in this sort of thing from reading Far From the Tree, but what really spurred me to pick this book up is that Leah Hager Cohen will be coming to the library soon. I picked Train Go Sorry for a book group to drum up more interest for her visit, and I'm glad that I did. If you're at all interested in disabilities, other cultures, or just people who are somehow different from you (assuming you're not deaf), I would recommend trying this book.

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