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The dominant view of deafness in our society, which has been labeled the “pathological” view, defines deafness as a condition which is medical in nature and characterized by an auditory deficiency (Amatzia). Such a perspective naturally leads to efforts trying to reduce the effects of the deficiency. This view of deafness is based on the idea that deaf people are not different from hearing people. Moreover, they are considered to be inferior to hearing people because the last can hear, while deaf people cannot.
A pathological view of deafness eventually leads to efforts aiming to help a deaf individual feel as much free and comfortable as a hearing person does. This is exactly what is done when the process of teaching focuses on speech and reading of the lips. In addition, there has been a great emphasis on using the hearing aids in order to enable a person who has little hearing capacity or capability to be able to hear.
This approach further seeks to identify medical solutions to people with deafness (Friend). This paper seeks to analyze the historical debate among educators of the deaf with respect to whether or not signing of any sort should be used in deaf education. It also evaluates the role that the curriculum developers play with regard to deaf education. Introduction
American Sign Language is a visual language where one utilizes the gestures in order to convey a point or communicate. It is a natural language, meaning that it has developed naturally over time by its users, deaf people (Friend). ASL has all of the features of any language.
It has rules which are governed by a system using symbols to represent meaning. In ASL, the symbols are specific hand movements and configurations that are modified by facial expressions to bring a specific meaning home to the others. These gestures are called signs (Gargiulo).
Contrary to the common belief, ASL is not derived from any spoken language, nor is it a visual code representing English (Amatzia; Lucas, Robert and Clayton). It is a unique language which does not depend on speech or sound. ASL has its own grammar, sentence structure, natural usage, slang, style, and regional variations; these are the characteristics that define any language.
ASL is a shared language that unites deaf people into what is known as the Deaf community. Deaf with a capital ‘D’ is used in publications to recognize the cultural and linguistic associations of Deaf people who are the members of the Deaf community, whereas deaf with a lower case ‘d’ is used to refer to deaf people who do not embrace ASL or involve themselves in the values, organizations, and events that are brought forth by signing Deaf people (Lucas, Robert and Clayton).
The Deaf community is not bound by geographic borders, but rather comprised of those people who are elected to become members by using ASL as their preferred mode of communication and by accepting the cultural identity of Deaf People.
It is difficult to give an accurate number of how many people are in the Deaf community because census takers typically lump together all the people who have a hearing loss (Amatzia). Many researchers believe that approximately 10 % of the total population has some degree of hearing loss and approximately 1 % of that number represents Deaf people, it is about half a million people in the Deaf community (Tennant and Marianne).
The people most likely to be natural users of ASL are those who have Deaf parents. People, who lose their hearing before they begin to speak when they are children, may become native signers if they are exposed to ASL at an early age. These people, who are unable to hear English and learn it naturally, must be taught English through formal means (Lucas, Robert and Clayton).
Hearing children of Deaf parents also acquire ASL as the first language. However, this process tends to cross the cultures of the Deaf and hearing worlds. These children, like their Deaf counterparts, are often referred to as bicultural and bilingual (Tennant and Marianne).
Continuing low educational achievement of deaf children
One of the most frequently noted facts about deaf students is their persistent achievement far below the levels of age mates without hearing impairments. Language deprivation alongside social and emotional handicapping is recognized as the root cause of a low achievement as compared to children who are not deaf (Amatzia).
However, for teachers who daily work with children with the purpose of helping them become academically equipped to take their places in a career world that is geared to high educational achievement, the situation of low achievement becomes frustrating, discouraging, and depressing (Meadow-Orlans). It is my belief that this low achievement level can lead to “professional depression”.
This is a condition when teachers feel limited and discouraged in their efforts to impart knowledge in the deaf children. In addition, for teachers and for environment where the change is less welcomed as so many things have been tried, it seems that there has been minimal success. Thus, there is circular effect, according to which low achievement leads to low expectations that lead to lowered acceptance of new ideas.
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In spite of this negative evaluation, I feel that many recent developments begin breaking this negative cycle (Meadow-Orlans). Movements towards community action led by deaf persons, increasing opportunities for such people in high status positions, attract greater attention of federal agencies to the deaf communities, and all these turn deaf education into a new and more promising direction.
Mainstreaming for deaf children: The pros and cons
Mainstreaming, which means the inclusion of deaf children (and children with other handicapping conditions) in classrooms with non – handicapped peers, has been called the most important issue in deaf education today (Friend).
The passage of Public Law 94 – 142 has brought much attention to it recently, but in deaf education, the issue was raised a long time ago, and today’s arguments have been discussed in relation to day schools versus residential schools and “separated settings” versus “inclusive settings.” There are many versions of mainstreaming policies, and it is important to separate them considering advantages and disadvantages of the issue (Meadow-Orlans).
There are two extremes in contrasting educational settings. One consists of full time placement in a residential school for deaf children where all the students are deaf, and where a deaf child lives in a dormitory and attends classes with other deaf students, seeing hearing family members and peers more frequently than during weekend visits home (Friend).
Another extreme is full time placement in the neighborhood school closest to the deaf child’s home, where he or she may be the only child with a hearing impairment in his or her classroom, or indeed, in the entire school.
Some differences of this arrangement might include visits from traveling specialists for tutoring or speech therapy, and provision of a full time interpreter if the deaf child depends on Total Communication. An older alternative of “integration” for children is the provision of a trained teacher of the deaf for a small group of deaf children in a special classroom within an ordinary school. This “day class” arrangement is a model that has been present for many years (Lucas, Robert and Clayton).
Deaf children would often participate with taunting and heckling peers in non-academic classes, such as home economics, physical education, and art. They would have opportunities to interact with hearing students at lunchtime and during class recess. Small class size and individualized attention would be possible as well. However, the age range in these classrooms, as well as the range ability or academic achievement level, is often very wide (Meadow-Orlans).
This can mean that the deaf child has no true peers against whom to measure and pit his skills or look for intellectual stimulation and companionship. In the larger age pools of day schools or residential schools, it is possible to group students on the basis of age, ability, or both, thus using teaching time and student self help models more successfully than in settings where a number of deaf students are very small.
There is still another kind of educational recommendation available to some deaf children. It is based on experience of a deaf child who is put in a maintain stream system and appears to be the only handicapped child in his/her neighborhood or school.
For some parents and educators, this model is ideal because the goal of such an early education and training is aimed at fast development. It is true that this situation is the closest to achieving normalization. A deaf child can live at home rather than travel to a residential school, where he/she must live in a dormitory rather instead of growing up in a full – time family setting.
He does not have to endure a tiring experience of traveling long distances on a school bus in order to get to a special school (Amatzia). Classmates live nearby; they are not scattered throughout urban or metropolitan areas. This means that after school, playmates are more readily at hand. Neighborhood children of the same age are known through the classroom and supposedly are more available for afterschool play. A deaf child has a positive experience of sharing school and teachers with older and younger siblings.
Parents can devote all their energies to one school rather than dividing time and effort to the schools which their deaf and hearing children attend (Meadow-Orlans). A deaf child is not singled out for special treatment and made feel alienated from neighborhood friends and siblings. These are some of the advantages of mainstreaming or integration if it works in the ideal manner envisaged by its proponents. Unfortunately, however, reality is frequently very different from ideal.
In real situation, a deaf child is often overwhelmed in a large group of classmates. For many years, educators of deaf children have been working to reduce the size of classes in which youngsters with hearing problems are taught. A class size of ten was once considered to be a goal toward which to work; then seven became the norm in most states.
Now, even five deaf children are considered to be the best number of pupils that a special education teacher can handle comfortably (Lucas, Robert and Clayton). A mainstreamed deaf child is deposited in a classroom with 25 or 30 other children with hearing handicaps, the teacher in the mainstreamed child’s classroom may never have seen a deaf child before, and may have had absolutely no idea what to expect or how to respond. Integration of any kind requires communication.
Acceptance is based on more than good will, it comes from comfortable interaction. Too often, this easy interaction between a deaf child and hearing classmates is a difficult and, perhaps, unrealized dream (Amatzia). For younger deaf children, this interaction may come more easily, especially if a deaf child is outgoing. The games and activities of younger children are less dependent on language.
As children become older, their activities are less physical, and deaf children have more difficulties trying to participate in those games. Interaction becomes more and more forced, communication more and more strained (Meadow-Orlans). The difficulties that deaf children feel in a situation where there is only one child who is “different” because he wears a hearing aid can create extreme difficulties of self-esteem and social development.
The push towards mainstreaming has come primarily from the effort to provide mentally retarded children with need opportunities for placement in regular classes. This thrust, in turn, comes to some extent from people who are concerned with the large numbers of ethnic racial minority children who are labeled retarded because they are culturally different and, as a result, receive low scores on intelligence tests that are designed for children from the middle class majority culture (Reynolds and Elaine).
The efforts to encourage greater opportunities for these children should not have the unintended consequences of forcing deaf children into classrooms where they cannot get a special help they need from teachers who have been trained in special methods to help them overcome their handicap (Lucas, Robert and Clayton).
It should not be assumed automatically that the classroom in the neighborhood school with a single handicapped youngster is the “least restrictive environment.” For some handicapped children, this is in fact the “most restrictive environment.”
Some forgotten sub groups of deaf children
The language and educational problems of the majority of deaf children are so great and have remained unsolved for so long that there is a tendency among those involved with deaf education and rehabilitation to be less concerned with more difficult subgroups than might need the help most of all (Gargiulo).
Another reason for lack of concern is the small total number of children involved. When the total number of deaf children is only 1% of the school population, providing specialized services for smaller numbers of special groups within the total deaf group becomes even more difficult.
I am concerned of deaf children who come from homes where the language spoken is Spanish, Chinese, or some other one, not English. I am worried about deaf children who have some other physical handicaps such as blindness or cerebral palsy, in addition to their auditory difficulty or who are mentally retarded or emotionally disturbed.
I am thinking of children whose families do not belong to the majority white middle class culture, or who come from isolated rural areas, or families whose resources are extremely limited (Meadow-Orlans). It is these families who are most likely to be excluded from the advantages of adequate medical care, and their children are least likely to be diagnosed for congenital handicapping conditions.
Thus, the first and the most helpful program for these children would be a truly effective “child find” to identify babies with auditory handicaps in the first months of life. Public Law 94 – 142 was primarily aimed at these kinds of children, and I hope that they will begin to get additional attention they require as a result of its provision.
Another group of deaf children that is neglected consists of gifted children. The gifted are those who perform at or above the level of their hearing peers. They may be capable of these elevated performances because of superior intelligence, or because they were exposed to language very early (Friend).
At the present time, these children are so few in numbers that they do not fit into the existing programs for hearing handicapped children. Thus, another discouraging and frustrating experience that parents have is trying to find an appropriate school program for their deaf child. Hopefully, we will begin seeing new ways of dealing with these kinds of sub groups in the future (Meadow-Orlans).
The status of deaf education in 1985 was characterized by a great energy and a large diversity, although the opposition between methods has decreased. The oral manual controversy is not as bitter as it was before with most people on each side recognizing the merits of the alternative now (Lucas, Robert and Clayton).
The question is not of a choice between exclusively oral and combined oral manual methods, but of deciding for whom, when and how much each modality should be used. General agreements are of top importance for early detection, assessment, and intervention, including proper hearing aid fitting and maintenance.
The role of parents as the first educators of their deaf children is widely recognized. Their full participation is essential for the success of any method. Parents should, therefore, be thoroughly informed about different programs available so that they can make their own choices (Meadow-Orlans). The fact that more than 90% of the deaf children’s parents are normally hearing must be taken into account in any decision about education policy.
Whichever method is adopted, and whether priority is given to speech or sign, all the educators of today should have common goals. These goals include enabling deaf children to acquire the mastery of language needed to assert their personalities and attain full accomplishment; bringing deaf children to compete literacy, through which they would be able to reach the degree of academic achievement corresponding to their intellectual capacities and personal motivation.
In addition, the education sector has faced challenges for both the mainstream and separate programs that include deaf students. Programs often have to hire teachers when they are working on their training or certification or have an area of specialization different from the one in which they are expected to teach. Despite this shortage, the deaf training programs around the United States are closing because there are few classrooms dedicated to deaf children, and a small number of graduate students are applying to those programs.
In difficult economic times, mobile teachers are given larger caseloads, and this often drives them from the field, resulting in a greater shortage. In difficult economic times, teachers have been given larger classes to meet the demand. However, as rewarding as deaf education can be, without the right tools and with students who have so many challenges, teachers of the deaf are even more appreciated and required than teachers of hearing children.
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Gargiulo, Richard M. Special Education in Contemporary Society:An Introduction to Exceptionality. California: SAGE, 2010. Print.
Lucas, Ceil, et al. Sociolinguistic variation in American sign language. New York: Gallaudet University Press, 2001. Print.
Meadow-Orlans, Kathryn P. Deafness and child development. California: University of California Press, 1980. Print.
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Tennant, Richard and Brown Marianne Gluszak. The American Sign Language handshape dictionary. New York: Gallaudet University Press, 1998. Print.