Kenneth Walter Hodgson & “The Problems of the Deaf” (1953)
By H Dominic W Stiles, on 9 December 2016
Author of the famous book, The Deaf and Their Problems (1953), Kenneth Walter Hodgson is opaque in the records, with very little seeming to be found about him as a person other than records of the book. The little to be found I discovered from a half page typescript of old library notes presumably from the 1970s, combined with the registration of his death. As a few people have asked about him over the years, and we have been able to say nothing about him, I thought I would share what we do have.
He was born in West London on the 10th of June 1914, son of Walter Graham Hodgson, an electrical engineer from Birkenhead, and his wife, Emily Nott. The information I have (from our very old library enquiry folder) tells us that he was educated at Sloane School, then Selwyn College, Cambridge as an Open Exhibitor in History, and then in King’s College, London. He then taught for a few years in Liverpool slum schools until 1941, when he was called up. That same year he married Dora Craven, and they had a son William Graham Hodgson, in 1942.*
Kenneth Hodgson went into the R.A.F. but suffered from poor health, and from 1944 he was teaching again. He worked mainly with “handicapped and deprived children in poor districts.” He then worked in a school for deaf children, but we are not told which one, unless he mentions it in the body of the text of The Deaf and Their Problems. This work revealed to him a lack of literature available in England for candidates for the Diploma in Deaf Education.
The Deaf and Their Problems was intended to go some way toward meeting this lack in the “pure oralist” tradition, then unquestioned by teachers of the deaf in England. But the accumulation of evidence changed the book into an argument for experiment on much broader lines, including manual language.
The Deaf and Their Problems has an introduction by Sir Richard Paget. A review in The Teacher of the Deaf for December 1953 (p.189-90), by Thomas J. Watson (1912-84), a teacher at Henderson Row and later at Manchester University as a lecturer, writing as ‘T.J.W.’, criticized the book:
In a book with such a title, one would expect to find a full discussion of the problems – educational, social and emotional – of deaf children and adults. The title, however, is rather misleading, and one finds that two-thirds of the book are devoted to a history of the education of the deaf, and that only the first fifty-five and last sixty-seven pages discuss deafness and its problems.[…]
Mr Hodgson does present what appears to be some new material. He is not, however, always careful about the accuracy of some of his statements. […]
How far it is justifiable to mix fact with comment is a matter of opinion, but it would be helpful if references were given for some of the statements made. […]
One cannot in fairness end a review of this book without saying that if the reader preserves an open mind, then both the history and the discussion of problems should be read and considered carefully. The former will help towards a broader view of the present situation, and the latter will provoke thought. (ibid)
The note we have says that some pure oralists tried to prevent publication of the book, though it typically and frustratingly offers no source for that statement, something which leads me to wonder if the note is based on information supplied by Hodgson. The typescript page continues,
professional ostracism made continuance of work with the deaf impossible, and necessitated a return to the “hearing” world of education until a severe heart attack compelled retirement in 1969. Since then, concerned with the teaching of spiritual philosophy and, with the founding of AMICI (Friends), to assist young people with drug problems.
He died in Surrey in 1983. I did find a letter by him from 1957 in New Scientist, in which he says “our children remain handicapped and stunted by the arbitrary limitation of their teaching to speech as the only form of language.”
UPDATE: 27/10/2017 *The reference to him said he was a rowing international, and thanks to the comment by his son W. Graham Hodgson below we can now correct that as it was he who was the international rower. Also thanks to David Reading for the interesting comment on Hodgson’s work in counselling.
If you knew him or have anything to add, please comment.
1911 Census – Class: RG14; Piece: 277