• Destiny Yarbro

Deaf Oppression: Social Conflict Theory

Cite: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/deaf-discrimination-the-f_b_7790204

The sociological theory that resonated with me the most this week was the social conflict theory. This theory doesn’t align with my own philosophy of education, per se, because it is addressing the ills in education that I want to fix in my non-profit work. It feels like a reactive theory rather than a proactive philosophy like social reconstructivism. But, my educational philosophy was honed because I explored social conflict theory for my first time (along with the excellent readings last week from Paulo Freire and The Pedagogy of the Oppressed).

Hidden Curriculum Reinforces Social Strafing

Social conflict theory states that in our efforts to fulfill society’s needs, our students’ education is adversely affected; allowing for (and even actively supporting) social inequality “through the use of tracking and standardized testing and the impact of its ‘hidden curriculum.’ [Which] leads to learning disparities that reinforce” social strafing (Theoretical Perspectives on Education, 2010, Table 16.1). Conflict theorists focus most especially on the disparities caused by economic affluence or poverty and testing. This theory’s underlying point that education maintains and promotes social inequality is particularly applicable to my education context.

Deaf Children "Tracked" From Birth

As I was reading, I was reminded again that Deaf children are “tracked” from birth. After they “fail” their first hearing test (usually done when they are days or months old), they are labeled with a “communication disorder” and pigeon-holed into special education. (A blatantly incorrect label as anyone who has been in the center of a Deaf social gathering can attest; there is no disorder in the communication whatsoever when Deaf grow up in linguistically nurturing environments and allowed to use their natural language.)

Vast Majority of Deaf Schools Taught by Hearing

In my non-profit work with Deaf students, I am consistently amazed at the tracking (read: classifying, strafing, benching) done by teachers in Deaf schools worldwide. Like the point made in a Crash Course (2018) video on social conflict theory which pointed out that the majority of teachers and administration are white, even in schools with high numbers of minority students, the vast majority of Deaf schools are managed and taught by hearing professionals. (With some countries having no trained Deaf teachers at all.)

Why Teach When Deaf Students Will "Leave School to Beg?"

When Deaf students have never been admitted into college, then there are no Deaf teachers to inspire the Deaf students to go to college and to change the entrenched hearing perspectives. As one hearing Ghanaian teacher dismissively said to me, why teach anything to Deaf students at all “if they will only leave school to beg?” The cycle is propagated with each succeeding generation believing that Deaf students are incapable of higher education and meaningful employment; that “mad people do not study to graduate,” as one of person told our Deaf student on his college graduation day in Uganda (Pamungu, 2020, para. 3).

Entrenched Assumption that Deafness = Incapability

Thus, I have learned that one of the social inequalities maintained in educational settings is the idea that hearing people lead and teach at Deaf schools. Another inequality, the assumption that deafness = incapability, is heavily influenced by educational tracking systems cultivated by educational systems and teachers (and medical professionals before that). This assumption is ingrained in most societies, unfortunately, including the United States. As someone who resonates with the social reconstructionist philosophy, the social conflict theory resonates with me as well for these unfortunate reasons.


Crash Course. (2018, January 22). Schools & Social Inequality: Crash Course sociology #41. [video] Retrieved October 1, 2020, from https://youtu.be/hYMk3Bk08NA

Pamungu, J. (2020, June, 12). Jerry’s Letter of Gratitude. Retrieved October 1, 3030, from https://www.thedeafdream.org/post/jerry-letter-of-gratitude

Theoretical Perspectives on Education. (2010). In University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing (Ed.), Sociology: Understanding and changing the social world. Retrieved October 1, 2020, from http://open.lib.umn.edu/sociology/chapter/16-2-sociological-perspectives-on-education/

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