Book review

Jill Duncan (Faculty of Education and Arts, University of Newcastle, Australia)

History of Education Review

ISSN: 0819-8691

Article publication date: 26 November 2020

Issue publication date: 1 December 2020



Duncan, J. (2020), "Book review", History of Education Review, Vol. 49 No. 2, pp. 266-267.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited

A constant struggle: deaf education in New South Wales since World War II

Edited by Naomi Malone

Gallaudet University Press

Washington, DC


x + 241 pp.,

p-ISBN: 978 194 483 8492

Review DOI

This book will be of interest to practitioners serving people who are deaf or hard of hearing in New South Wales (NSW) and historians more broadly. It is well worth reading. The book makes meaning of the historical puzzle that is ‘deaf education’ in NSW. The author is a highly qualified academic who is deaf; her deafness adds insight not always available to readers of this topic.

‘A Constant Struggle’ are facts curated, in part, with ‘inside information’ not easily obtained via other sources; e.g., the author uses her own research notes, interview data, and personal perspective. This book is thoroughly referenced, easy to read and logically progresses chronologically. Each chapter is easily digestible in themes that are engaging and illuminating.

The first chapter presents a brief, early historical context of deaf education beginning as early as 360 BC, offering a necessary foundation for the remainder of the book. Chapter two discusses in detail the trials and tribulations associated with ‘oralism’, the pedagogical practice of teaching children who are deaf to speak rather than to use sign language, in the 1940s through to the 1960s with extraordinary factual detail and a small dose of subjective opinion that the reader would not identify unless an expert in the subject matter. Chapter 3 takes the reader from the educational segregation of children who are deaf or hard of hearing to integration. Chapter 4 follows on with the concept of mainstreaming, educating children who are deaf in local neighbourhood schools, and the Australian Government's commitment to children who are deaf or hard of hearing. It further describes the progression of Australian sign language – Auslan. Chapter 5 highlights the 1990s and Australian non-discrimination legislation, associated regulations and the underpinning philosophy and practice of inclusive education. In this chapter, many other constructs are explored including identity politics – the display of disability as a positive identity; and bilingualism – the pedagogical practice of teaching both signed language and written English to children who are deaf. Chapter 6 focuses on diversity and deaf education, highlighting the changing nature of deaf education due to the implementation of universal newborn hearing screening in NSW. The 7th and final chapter considers disability activism and the role of service providers. The author concludes by highlighting the internal fragmentation of deaf education throughout the decades.

This book is a by-product of the author's doctoral dissertation, and although mostly well-written, often reads like a thesis. While the historical overview is most interesting, sometimes the text presents as a series of facts with less than optimal cohesion. The comprehensive endnotes were, at times, more interesting than the text itself. The author is a consulting historian for The Shepherd Centre in Sydney, Australia; a centre that embraces auditory-verbal philosophy and pedagogical practices, which explains the surplus of text attributed to that centre.

This is essential work with helpful facts; however, at times, an element of subjectivity surfaces. For example, the author writes, “The success of the early intervention centres can be seen in First Voice's report in early 2017, which states that 95 per cent of respondents to its survey attended a mainstream high school with 86 per cent completing it” (p. 188). There are a few concerns about this statement, one of which is that the outcomes reflect centres outside of NSW. Another matter is that the author is aligned with First Voice via her relationship with the Shepherd Centre. First Voice is an affiliated organisation that provide listening and spoken language services for children who are deaf or hard of hearing; the Shepherd Centre is a member of First Voice. This author–agency relationship raising questions of bias as to why other illustrations of ‘success’ were not promoted more in the book.

My perspective is that the education of children who are deaf or hard of hearing in NSW is not one characterised by fragmentation as suggested by the author (p. 89) but evolving as the sector learns to respect individual rights and choice and as behavioural science and hearing science continue to confirm evidence-based practice.

This book will make an excellent gift for educators of children who are deaf and historians. Subject matter experts are encouraged to read Dr Malone's (2017) doctoral thesis because it has dozens of reports cited, most which delve deep into this complex topic.


Malone, N. (2017), “A constant struggle: a history of deaf education in New South Wales since World War II”, available at:

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