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College of Education > News and Publications > News: Jan. - March 2011 > Valente’s New Book Portrays His Life as a “Deaf Kid” and “Superhero”

Valente’s New Book Portrays His Life as a “Deaf Kid” and “Superhero”

"d/Deaf and d/Dumb: A Portrait of a Deaf Kid as a Young Superhero" chronicles the conflicts, challenges, and successes of a College of Education faculty member who, as an oral deaf child, was mainstreamed in public school.

Valente_Book_Image.jpgby Joe Savrock (February 2011)

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – A newly released book chronicles the conflicts, challenges, and successes of a College of Education faculty member who, as an oral deaf child, was mainstreamed in public school.

Joseph Michael Valente, assistant professor of early childhood education, is author of d/Deaf and d/Dumb: A Portrait of a Deaf Kid as a Young Superhero (2011, Peter Lang Publishers). The book’s cover was illustrated by Jarod Rosello, a graduate student in Penn State’s College of Education.

The book’s title, d/Deaf and d/Dumb, cleverly hints at the distinction between two populations within the deaf community. Those persons who use spoken language to communicate are referred to as “deaf” (lower-case “d”). People who use sign language are known to be “Deaf” (upper-case "D"); these individuals are recognized as part of the Deaf culture.

Valente wrote d/Deaf and d/Dumb in a mixture of genres—or, as he puts it, “part autobiography, part autobiographical novel, and part autoethnography.” The text, written from Valente’s standpoint as both an adult and young child, personifies the author as a caped superhero who tries to somehow fit into a world that has two very different philosophical viewpoints on deafness—the pathological view and the cultural view.

Joe ValenteIn the pathological view, explains Valente, people regard deafness as a physical disability that must be “fixed” by any means—through the use of hearing aids or cochlear implants, for example. The cultural view supports sign language as Deaf people’s natural language and does not consider deafness to be a disability; rather, it focuses on deafness as an integral part of human diversity.

While Valente now advocates the cultural view, it was the traditional pathological view that was forced upon him as a school child by teachers and administrators. He was mainstreamed into regular classrooms and underwent intense speech therapy during his school years. Consequently he never fully learned American Sign Language or had much opportunity to participate in what Valente has since learned is a vibrant Deaf cultural community.

Valente’s experience with mainstreaming and special education was anything but easy; he was often bullied by classmates and was frequently cut off from the spoken language around him. “Then one day, during a conversation with my favorite teacher and speech therapist, Mrs. Kapell, I discovered my gift for fighting against a world that had a narrow and limited definition of what it means to be normal: storytelling,” says Valente.

“Words are power. Words are superpowers,” he relates in his book. “I start grasping how words can help me. I can defend myself when I’m in trouble, and I can come up with comebacks when kids tease me.”

Valente calls his book a “multilayered research novel,” which blends ethnographic research on Deaf culture and special education with a storyline of a deaf boy who, in his mind, becomes a young superhero. d/Deaf and d/Dumb illustrates the young superhero’s fight against the forces who are bent on “fixing” him.

The book is part of the prominent Peter Lang book series on Disability Studies in Education, edited by Susan Gabel and Scot Danforth. “This is an important series on the scholarship of education for those with disabilities,” notes Valente. “Disability studies in education is a field that has really exploded because of its multidisciplinary approach—folks in this field mix together the social sciences, humanities, arts, and much more. It’s an exciting place to be as a scholar and storyteller.”

Valente, who also is an affiliate faculty member in Penn State’s Disability Studies and Comparative & International Education programs, is currently heading a research project funded by the Spencer Foundation on kindergartens for the deaf in Japan, France, and the United States. He explains, “Our project is the first to propose to study the enculturation practices of early schooling for the deaf from a cross-cultural, comparative, ethnographic perspective.” He adds that the international study also looks at “Deaf cultures within the larger cultures and sociopolitical contexts in which these Deaf cultures are embedded.”

Last October, Valente’s team, which includes Joe Tobin from Arizona State University and Thomas Horejes from Gallaudet University, filmed at Meisei Gakuen, a Tokyo school for the deaf and the lone sign-only school in Japan. The researchers are now setting out to film at the Maryland School for the Deaf this spring and in France thereafter.

Valente says of the project, “Doing this study has been both a personal and professional journey for me. Since I was mainstreamed as a child, I never had the chance to be a part of the ‘Deaf-world.’ But now I have the privilege of experiencing what it is like to be in a school for the deaf and around Deaf people. It’s a homecoming of sorts for me.”

More information about Valente’s work is available at his Web site,