130 years ago, on October 9, 1888—the Washington Monument finally built after 40 years of battles. It was also a battle for Deaf people during that time from 1848-1888.
Imagine in 1848, Deaf people would have struggle with learning enhancements in higher education and hungry for Deaf education, and it was a battle for sure. National Deaf-Mute College (now Gallaudet University) did not built until 1864. Between 1848 and 1865, the politics were heavy invested, standing up for America’s values while dealing with Civil War must have been mind-boggling on Deaf non-students and Deaf students.
The Washington Monument was built in honor of first American president; it was also world’s tallest stone structure and tallest obelisk, it stands 555 feet high. Imagine Deaf students from Columbia Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb went down there and took the courage to walk all the way to the top and see the view of Washington, D.C. including the sighting of world’s first college for Deaf students. What were their thoughts when they grabbed the opportunity to see the beacon of higher education?
At the same time, think about pain and struggles what Deaf people had gone through. One year before the Washington Monument was opened to the public, Alexander Graham Bell founded Volta Bureau, the center to teach Deaf to erase their identity by controlling their lives for profits. Eight years before the Monument, Oralism spread the fires and banned sign languages around the world, and what would it look like when it happened during the days of Columbia Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb in 1880.
Picture this. The Oralism Monument: 555 feet high—the dominance of Deaf people’s lives. College Hall: The elevation is 75 feet. 75 feet x 7.4=555 feet.
It would take 7.4 ‘College Halls’ to overcome the power and influence over Deaf people to make Alexander Graham Bell happy. During that time, president of the college, Edward Miner Gallaudet stood fiercely strong against Alexander Graham Bell’s push for Oralism.
The Edward Miner Gallaudet Residence, which now as House One where Gallaudet University presidents live there, imagine what EMG was sitting there on a chair thinking how to make now Gallaudet University an ASL-centered more than ever. The biggest question, did EMG ever visit the Washington Monument and grabbed the view at the top of 555 feet and understood the higher education and protect ASL for Deaf students today and tomorrow? Which place would be first thing for EMG to look for on the top of world’s tallest building? Or was Washington, DC filled with trees that cannot see the view of now Gallaudet University?
It must have been high road for Deaf students to walk all the way to the top of Washington Monument to defy odds and show the world that Deaf people can do anything. It was all about unleashing the hidden power of language bigotry and hegemony.
One more thing, the reason behind Washington Monument came together in our neighborhoods, universities, workplaces, and communities to keep the dreams open for Deaf students of understanding, personal interactions that will make them better educators and share their life experiences to build higher education and human connections in any shape.
The tallest university obelisk goes to Laurent Clerc who inspired Deaf America today and tomorrow. Can it ever be funded?
Copyright © 2018 Jason Tozier
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