British toddlers banned from making their own gestures as they sing Twinkle Twinkle 'in case it offends deaf people'
By JR on Sunday, December 18, 2011
Generations of children have grown up singing along and performing actions to the nursery rhyme favourite Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. But one toddler group has been told not to make the twinkling ‘star’ sign with their hands for fear it could offend the deaf.
Parents were told that the sign – which resembles a diamond shape when made with forefingers and thumbs – is used in official sign language to represent female genitalia.
The decision was made after staff attended a sign language course and were made aware that the one they were using had potential to cause offence. However there are currently no deaf children or parents who attend the Sure Start toddler group, in Acomb, North Yorkshire.
Yesterday mothers criticised the ‘politically correct’ decision. One said: ‘These are innocent little children just making a sign to show a star. No one would give it a second thought.’
Another added: ‘It is good that kids are aware of other people’s methods of communication but has anyone actually asked a deaf person if they take offence to it?’
John Midgley, co-founder of the Campaign Against Political Correctness, said the teachers needed to ‘grow up’. He added: ‘This is a ridiculous example of political correctness where adults are trying to put their views into the minds of children who would not have known there was anything wrong with what they are doing.’
Jill Hodges, assistant director of education, children and young people’s services at the City of York Council, which runs the group, insisted it was ‘a sensible decision taken to prevent deaf children or deaf parents being offended’.
She said it was made after staff at the Sure Start group returned from a course on children’s sign language, Makaton, at which they were told the ‘star’ gesture they had been using was similar to the sign used for female genitalia in British Sign Language.
As a consequence, Mrs Hodges said, staff realised the issue was sensitive and decided to ask parents to start using the Makaton symbol for a twinkling star – the opening and closing of a fist – instead. ‘Parents have not been banned from using the other sign and City of York Council does not have a policy over this matter,’ she added.
The sign for female genitalia is an inverted diamond held in front of the crotch. During the rhyme, children hold their hands high in an upright diamond. Signing experts said those who use Makaton or British Sign Language would not misinterpret the meaning because it depended on context.
Lynn Delfosse, of the charity Action on Hearing Loss, said: ‘The signs alone can have more than one meaning, as with any language, and need to be contextualised in terms of grammar and of the situation in which they are used.’