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Teaching ASL: Politics

Sample situation: 
An ASL 1 teacher shows her students a version of the sign for dog that "slaps the thigh and then snaps the fingers."   The student moves on to ASL 2 where the new teacher shows the "DG" finger snap version and says that the other version, the "slap/snap" method is wrong.  The student feels confused and feels like their beloved former teacher is being criticized and a "scene" takes place where the student tries to question the ASL 2 teacher and defend the ASL 1 teacher. 
News gets back to the ASL 1 teacher about the incident and the ASL 1 teacher feels she has been criticized and asks a friend their opinion about the sign and how to handle such criticism. The discussion gets bandied about via a few emails and makes its way to the ASL 2 teacher.  The ASL 2 teacher then feels like she is being gossiped about and becomes defensive and starts defending her preferred sign for "dog."


The real topic here, as you know, has little to do with "dogs" or cats, or any one sign. 

It has more to do with collegiality, communication, respect, and "benefit of the doubt."  For discussion purposes I'm going to go with the definition of "giving the benefit of the doubt" as meaning "to believe something good about someone, rather than something bad, when you have the possibility of doing either." (
Words and labels are powerful.  When we attach a label to an idea, that label literally becomes a container that shapes the idea.  If the label is a negative word it influences the perception of the idea by those who are discussing the idea.
For example let's look at the basic "idea" in this situation.

Situation or idea:  Mary got her feelings hurt by John.  Mary told Sally about the situation and asked for advice.

Label 1:  Gossip
Label 2: Counseling
Label 3: Discussing
The label "gossip" is a much more negative and powerful word than the words "discuss" or "seeking counsel." 

If I choose to label "Mary" as gossiping about me I will approach her and the situation differently than I will if I choose to think that "I have hurt Mary's feelings or bruised Mary's ego and she is seeking counsel.  Mary has an unclear picture of what really happened."
Literally, even if Mary really is gossiping about me, if I approach the situation with label number 2 "seeking counsel" and choose to send out love and concern rather than defensiveness there is a greater chance that Mary will eventually think, "Gee, this person really cares about me and has my best interests at heart - okay, I'll listen to what this person has to say."
Training directors will not offer us contracts and support us for promotions based on how well we argue for the "rightness" of our signs.
Keeping the "big picture" in mind, 20 years from now, or even 1 year from now, our colleagues and students are not going to be thinking, "Wow! I really respect John and enjoy working with him because his sign for DOG is the most right!"

-- Bill Vicars


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