Atherton on Malone, 'A Constant Struggle: Deaf Education in New South Wales since World War II'

Naomi Malone
Martin Atherton

Naomi Malone. A Constant Struggle: Deaf Education in New South Wales since World War II. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 2019. 240 pp. $39.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-944838-49-2

Reviewed by Martin Atherton (Independent scholar) Published on H-Disability (June, 2020) Commissioned by Iain C. Hutchison (University of Glasgow)

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Naomi Malone provides a detailed outline of the development of deaf education in New South Wales, Australia, in the years since the end of the Second World War and sets this within a broader historical context of both deaf education and the social status of deaf people. Her historical chapters are sufficiently detailed to provide insight into both the variety of ways deaf people have been treated and portrayed and the different approaches that have emerged in the education provided to deaf students. These provide a wider contextualization for her case study of her native New South Wales.

In addition, the chapters of this book cover oralism, integration, mainstreaming, Australian sign language (Auslan), the politics of deaf life in Australia, and the tensions between supporters of different educational approaches and the hopes and aspirations of deaf people. In considering these issues, Malone uses “deaf” in its broader audiological meaning, while considering the ways in which deaf and Deaf people may identify themselves as distinct groups with differing political aims and objectives, both in education and beyond. While detailed in its coverage of each topic and making some limited use of personal testimony and experience from deaf people who have been through the deaf education system in this area of Australia, the text is largely narrative. Consideration is given to the multitude of educational philosophies and the tensions that can arise for parents in determining (when such a choice is available) which approach is most suitable for their deaf child. However, there is little in the way of discussion or analysis of how such decisions might be reached or on what basis. Examples are given of deaf parents choosing an oral approach and of both supporters and opponents of cochlear implantation changing their positions, but the reasons behind these changes are never fully explored. In essence, readers are presented a cross-section of views, opinions, and attitudes from which to draw their own conclusions on the various issues raised.

One aspect of this history that is missing is any personalization of the story from the perspective of the author, and this seems like a missed opportunity. The book is not intended to offer a personal history of the author’s educational journey. However, Malone’s opening sentence in the preface is “I am deaf” (p. xi). Given what follows on the debate between social and cultural models of deafness and disability and the different labels (deaf/Deaf/hard of hearing/hearing impaired) ascribed to and adopted by deaf people, this places her at the very heart of many of the issues that arise in postwar deaf education in Australia generally and particularly New South Wales. Therefore, it would have been interesting to learn how Malone’s journey through the deaf education system in her home country has influenced her self-identity and illustrates some of the generic issues raised throughout the book. She outlines her educational achievements as an orally educated deaf person and goes on to mention her comparatively recent qualifications in Auslan as she sought to learn more about the deaf community and its culture, hinting at her gradual awareness of an alternative deaf identity if nothing else. Given her academic successes, which include gaining a doctorate and two BA degrees, there is possibly more that could have been made of these to illustrate the dilemma faced by parents of deaf children and her potential influence on deaf education policymakers. In many respects, Malone is a shining example of the predominantly oral system that she describes, but none of this comes through in the book. Indeed, this might be seen to undermine the title of this publication; without wishing in any way to play down the hard work and effort Malone must have had to put in to reach her current status, it does not come across as “a constant struggle.” Admittedly, this book is not intended as an autobiography, but there does seem to be a clear distinction between her own experiences and those of Deaf people in New South Wales who have not been able to benefit from the education provided for them.

None of this is to downplay the merits of this book. As Malone states, there has been no previous history of deaf education in New South Wales written by a deaf person. The detail is thorough and extensive and so students of deaf education more generally have a useful case study on which to base comparisons and appraise attitudes and approaches. Malone highlights both the advances made in terms of integration, more positive attitudes to deafness and deaf people, and the increasing recognition of Auslan as both a language and a teaching tool. She also identifies the struggles that still remain to be overcome and the continuing and persuasive influence of historical approaches and attitudes. Key among these is the lack of any meaningful involvement of deaf people in their education, together with the political tensions that underpin generic deaf organizations on the one hand and Deaf political activists on the other. The chapters on these particular issues illustrate the underlying paternalistic attitudes that can still be found in contemporary educational and political discourses, with Deaf people facing as much opposition from deaf (non-signing) people as they do from the hearing world. Malone argues that until all deaf people can present a united front in arguing for their common rights, no matter what their preferred method of communication, then progress will be slow and “a constant struggle” will continue to be the norm for all deaf people. By doing so, this book serves as an insight into the reality of deaf life for people far beyond the geopolitical confines of New South Wales.

Citation: Martin Atherton. Review of Malone, Naomi, A Constant Struggle: Deaf Education in New South Wales since World War II. H-Disability, H-Net Reviews. June, 2020. URL:

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