Review: The School of Life and Deaf


When I first watched this documentary I wasn’t completely sure what I thought of the whole thing. It’s been a few weeks now and I’m still not any closer to having a solid grasp on it.

The documentary follows three teenagers who attend the Mary Hare School. I have since learnt that this particular school has a controversial history. Even with just viewing this documentary it was clear the school has a strong oralist approach to teaching. I was sat in complete shock as I realised that none of the school staff were signing during the clips of the lessons. When the head teacher went on to explain that this was day-to-day practice at Mary Hare and that students were expected to speak and use their residual hearing in lessons I was utterly confused. Some further research online found accounts from adults who attended Mary Hare years ago who reported that they used to be punished for signing even outside of lessons!

With that shock out of the way, onto the actual documentary. The documentary follows Lewis, Fae, and Andrew in their school year. Lewis is arguably focused on slightly more than the other two and is definitely more of “the face” of the episode. Lewis’s journey involves his decision to have a cochlear implant fitted and how he adjusts to this. Fae is coming to terms with the fact that she will be leaving Mary Hare and attending a different university to her twin sister, who she admits that she sometimes relies on. Andrew is bidding for a position as Head Boy, somewhat hampered by the fact that he is quite isolated from his classmates – not least because he cannot sign at all.

In some ways it is a bit odd to look at the little of extraordinary teens because the best thing about this episode is that they’re not extraordinary. They’re teenagers struggling with changes, emotions, and decisions that need to be made as they head towards adulthood. Using the term extraordinary, in my opinion, only continues the othering that far too often takes place when discussing D/deaf people or even people with disabilities/conditions in general.

Lewis is a teenage boy who can be stroppy, emotional and (in his own words) a bit naughty sometimes – he’s got no desire to be perfect and boring. He is an excellent narrator for the episode with a brilliant sense of humour. Fae is a nervous and amicable teenage girl who is about to face life without the constant companionship and support of her twin, it’s understandable that she’s nervous. Andrew is trying his best to find his place in a world and make up for mistakes he made in the past, appreciating that he hasn’t always been likeable or friendly with his peers. They embody between them a multitude of concerns that thousands of teenagers throughout the world experience every single day. Throughout the episode, the viewer watches them grow and make their way through their individual obstacles and concerns and the very teenage ordinariness of it is what makes it best of all. It doesn’t end in sparkles and everyone getting exactly what they want all the time but that only serves to make it all the more realistic.

Despite the uncertainty I still feel about the purely oralist approach and what it means – especially when considering how Andrew’s isolation from his peers was in part because he never learnt to sign – this episode was worth watching because of the three young people it focused on.

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