Saturday, September 21, 2013

AFA Letter to Dr. Hurwitz of Gallaudet: Promoting BELL!

21 September 2013

Dr. T. Alan Hurwitz, President

Gallaudet University

800 Florida Ave NE

Washington, DC 20002

Dear Dr. Hurwitz,

We are contacting you because it has come to our attention that the National Geographic Society’s play, BELL! has been promoted by Gallaudet University and students have been informed of discounted tickets for this event. Perhaps in celebrating Gallaudet’s sesquicentennial there has been a lapse in institutional memory.

In 1891 during a Congressional committee hearing concerning appropriation for a request to establish a teacher training program at your college, AG Bell said:  “The employment of deaf teachers is absolutely detrimental to oral instruction, and the training school proposed by President Gallaudet should therefore not be supported by the United States….we cannot trust it to train teachers…” 

When AG Bell addressed the Literary Society at the college he said, “…I am sure there is no one among the deaf who desires to have his affliction handed down to his children.”  These words of such an influential person certainly impacted how Deaf college students and organizations viewed their own future and community.

The world of the play BELL! ignores these and other grave injustices that Alexander Graham Bell has fostered upon Deaf people.  It ignores his systematic attempts to deny Deaf children sign language and efforts to “teach” Deaf people “to forget they are Deaf.”  It ignores his work to abolish Deaf publications, organizations, conventions and schools.   It is a tragic legacy of the father of audism which still “shapes the world we live in today” and which many of your students still experience.

It is appalling to imagine that Deaf college students today are expected to passively accept the sanitized version of “AG Bell the genius inventor” (and what of the plagiarism and forgery charges?) celebrated by the play, BELL!  This appears to be a shameless attempt to eradicate the true history of AG Bell and to minimize the detrimental role he has played in the education of Deaf people.

As an educational institution of higher learning, it is your responsibility to educate your students. Promoting the play without first hosting a forum to educate students about AG Bell sends the wrong message—both to your students and people beyond Gallaudet. 

Unfortunately, the deadlock between your venerable President of 50 years, Dr. Edward Miner Gallaudet and AG Bell did not end with their fight over the establishment of a teacher-training program.  It simply went national, and reverberates even today as your students sit and watch BELL! ignorant of how this man impacted their college, their history, and their lives. 

Let freedom roll!

Ruthie Jordan, Patti Durr and Karen Christie for Audism Free America


Genie Gertz, PhD, Dean

College of Arts and Sciences

Catherine Murphy

Stephanie Johnston