Blind people – a special case for nurture to win over group socialization?
Last night, I was watching a short clip made by the Department of Expansion about the Blind Children’s Center, a non-profit organization that is providing support to blind and partially sighted children in forms of early education, therapeutic services, etc.
The center provides and inclusive environment that consists of about 50% blind and 50% sighted children, providing unique opportunity for both kinds of children to socialize with the idea of blindness as something natural and acceptable. According to the people working at the center, this gives the blind kids an ability to attend traditional schools later in their lives and live successful lives without getting their disability limit their opportunities down to a handful of jobs which are traditionally available to blind people.
I have to admit that my knowledge of how the blind kids get education and are immersed into the daily live is very limited. As a student, while struggling to survive my freshman year financially I had an opportunity to lodge an inexpensive accommodation for one semester in the barracks of the School for visually impaired children – Dimitar Vlahov, Skopje, Macedonia.
What I remember from that period were the invisible walls that surrounded us, the sighted University students, from them, the blind kids struggling to get a chance for a normal live at a time and a country where people with disabilities already had very rough life. Granted, part of the reason for those walls was the school administration implementing separate entries into the barracks for us to enter without having to invade into the space for the blind kids, but I believe the blame was largely ours too, as we didn’t want to identify with those kids and felt only sorry for their condition — it took some “growing up” for me to be able to realize and admit this I guess.
The clip I watched last night and my reflection on my limited encounter with blind people set me into an inquiring mode to see if there’s been some research that looks closer into what I thought of “blind culture”, i.e. more precisely into the impact to the personality development for kids staying at home with their parents vs. those struggling to enter something like typical education with their sighted peers vs. the experience of those attending school in centers like that in Los Angeles or that in Skopje.
Being greatly interested into the nature vs. nurture debate and writing about it myself, it struck me that blind people offer a significant way — if not the only! — to try to falsify the group socialization theory put forward by Judith Rich Harris in her monumental book The Nurture Assumption. Studying blind kids at home and the various educational environments in which they interact with their peers should give Harris’ critics and today’s parental advisors a perfect chance to prove once and for all that the parental care matters past the moment of conception — especially if cases of twins or siblings can be identified, offering a chance to estimate the influence from the genes.
To my surprise, I couldn’t find any research of this kind. Granted, I am far from being able to conclusively claim this, but the few discussions I did found online suggest that the problem has been recognized by some people, but for some reason, if any significant results are found, they’re not easily accessible — my own search using sites like scholar.google.com for publications past 1998 revealed very few relevant articles. I would also trust that if there was any significant research, Harris would’ve found it and mention it in The Nurture Assumption or at least the follow-up No Two Alike, which was published not too long ago in 2006.
Harris along with authors like Pinker look in the cases of deaf children developing their own language and even culture when having access to peers with the same disability, using this as a proof that it is the group and not the parents that shape the kids. I recently read a great book on this very topic, Talking Hands in which the author, Margalit Fox, describes her experience in a remote Bedouin village in Israel with great incidence of deafness as a companion to a group of researchers studying what looks like a unique sign language not found anywhere else on Earth.
From accounts like above we know that deaf children socialize with their peers in the same way as all other children and Harris’s group socialization theory can explain the appearance of the Bedouin sign pidgin described in Talking Hands in the same way it can explain the ability of immigrant kids to acquire the language of the environment their parents brought them up instead of the language of their parents. The theory can also explain what many regard as “deaf culture”, which seems to be considered as distinct from the culture prevalent in the country in which a particular group of deaf people with particular deaf culture live.
The question that bothered me was: Is there a similar “blind culture”? The answer I found was from the President of the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio: No such thing as blind culture!
If one thinks deeper, this is probably to be expected. The deaf children learn their own language (e.g. ASL or NSL) which is distinct from the other languages in their country, a huge factor for identifying deaf as a separate group from the rest of the population. The blind kids learn Braille, but Braille is not a language, it’s a way to describe any other language, thus this is not a motivation on its own for the blind kids to identify themselves as a separate group. Being blind, on the other hand, must lead to such kids looking themselves as different from the rest of their peers, right? — or not?
One big question is how does the theory of mind develop in blind kids vs. deaf ones. Humanity is largely visual — this is how we develop empathy and our mirror neurons enable us to detect the emotions in others and react to them. With blind people, the mirror neurons sensory input is limited primarily to sound and touch, which may have an impact on the relationship building capabilities of such people — a central skill in my model for personality development based on Harris’ group socialization theory. On the other hand, stimulating environments like the Blind Children’s Center in LA may be offering ample opportunities for developing the mirror neuron capacity through the non-visual sensors and overcoming the limitations imposed by the disability itself.
I can’t help but wonder if something like a blind culture is developing in such centers, but is not yet discovered? And even if evidence of a blind culture may never be found, I can imagine that there must be at least some difference in the way the personality of those kids being exposed to specialized centers, especially with mixed peers, is developed compared to those kids that struggle with the typical education system or a left out of the system altogether!
It is time for paying greater attention to people with disabilities like blindness. It will not only offer an ability to better understand the impact the specialized centers taking care of them have on their lives and potentially attract better funding for the programs that work, but it will likely offer us a better understanding in the human personality and the factors that shape it from early age to adulthood!
Any taker for taking the to torch on this?