train go sorry summary

Train Go Sorry: Inside a Deaf World” is a compelling and nuanced memoir by Leah Hager Cohen, chronicling her intimate relationship with deaf culture and exploring the complexities of a world often misunderstood by hearing people.

A Life Intertwined with Deafness:

The book opens with Cohen reflecting on her unique upbringing on the Lexington School for the Deaf campus. Though hearing herself, her life was interwoven with deafness: her paternal grandparents were deaf, her father worked at the school, and she was immersed in the deaf community from infancy. Lexington, with its bustling hallways and lively social events, was her “red-brick castle, her seven-acre kingdom,” where the distinction between “deaf” and “hearing” was unremarkable.

Two Worlds, Two Languages:

Cohen highlights the distinct cultural divide fostered by contrasting communication methods. While Lexington, during her childhood, adhered to oralism (emphasizing speech and lipreading), she witnessed the richness of American Sign Language (ASL) thriving outside the classroom.

Cohen’s own fascination with sign language and her longing to belong to the deaf community is poignantly portrayed. As a child, she envied her deaf classmates, feeling excluded during their group listening activities. Later, she used sign language as a tool for personal expression and connection to a world she cherished.

Exploring Deaf Identity:

The narrative follows three central characters:

  • Sofia Normatov: A young Russian Jewish immigrant striving to master English and ASL while reconciling her family’s expectations with her burgeoning deaf identity. Sofia’s journey reveals the challenges of learning a new language and adapting to a new culture while coming to terms with deafness.
  • James Taylor: A senior navigating the complexities of being a Black, deaf student in a society fraught with prejudices and limited opportunities. Despite his struggles with truancy and behavior issues, James eventually thrives in Lexington’s supportive environment, excelling academically and gaining acceptance to college. His story exposes the social injustices and the remarkable resilience of many deaf individuals.
  • Oscar Cohen: Sofia and James’ superintendent, and Cohen’s own father. A hearing man fluent in ASL and deeply rooted in the deaf community, he faces the challenging task of leading a school navigating a changing educational landscape. Oscar strives to reconcile opposing ideologies in deaf education, advocating for a nuanced approach that respects both ASL and oral skills while facing criticism from both deaf activists and traditionalists.

The Dynamics of Language and Power:

Through these interconnected stories, Cohen expertly delves into the political and social dynamics surrounding deafness. The book traces the history of deaf education, exposing the prejudices and misconceptions that fueled the suppression of sign language and the forced assimilation of deaf people into the hearing world.

The rise of ASL as a recognized language and the deaf civil rights movement are highlighted. Cohen describes the Deaf President Now (DPN) protest at Gallaudet University, its powerful impact on the deaf community, and the ripple effects across schools and institutions for the deaf.

The Complexity of Mainstreaming:

The book critically examines the popular practice of mainstreaming deaf students into public schools. While acknowledging the intent of inclusion and the dismantling of segregational practices, Cohen questions whether mainstreaming, in its current form, truly benefits many deaf children. She poignantly illustrates how deaf students, often deprived of adequate communication access and visual learning environments, face isolation and frustration, hindering their social and academic growth.

The Impact of Cochlear Implants:

“Train Go Sorry” also grapples with the controversial issue of cochlear implants, a technology that offers potential for hearing restoration but is met with resistance from many in the deaf community. The debate revolves around ethical considerations, questioning the medical establishment’s drive to “cure” deafness and the denial of deaf identity, culture, and language that implants represent.

The Longing for Connection:

Throughout the book, Cohen emphasizes the importance of community, belonging, and shared experience. For deaf people, schools like Lexington serve as the vital hub of their cultural identity, providing access to a vibrant network of social events, activities, and support systems often absent in the predominantly hearing world.

A Universal Struggle:

Cohen’s personal journey is also a key part of the narrative. She reflects on her evolving relationship with deafness, grappling with the limitations of her hearing status, her own aspirations to be an interpreter, and the ethical complexities of positioning oneself between languages and cultures.

Ultimately, “Train Go Sorry” transcends the specific topic of deafness to reveal a universal human struggle – the yearning for connection, the complexities of identity, and the pursuit of self-determination. Cohen’s beautifully written and meticulously observed account challenges readers to examine their own perceptions of difference and to appreciate the beauty and resilience of a culture often marginalized and misunderstood.

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