Gjerdingen: 40 Years of Advancing Oral Deaf Education

Article excerpt

When you ask Dennis Gjerdingen to reflect on his 40 years working in the field of oral education, it's tough to get an answer. He always is looking ahead, a quality that has served him well as a leader of the Clarke School for the Deaf Center for Oral Education in Northampton, Mass.

"The role of the president is strategic thinker," said Gjerdingen. "You always have to think - where do we want to be tomorrow?"

The "tomorrow" for 67-year-old Gjerdingen will be a well-deserved retirement. During his 26 years as Clarke's sixth president, Gjerdingen has worked to help deaf children in all aspects of their lives from infancy through college. He also has been dedicated to training teachers and other professionals who help the children along the way.

Gjerdingen created a center for oral education at the school and has expanded Clarke's work to four new schools in Boston, New York City, Philadelphia and Jacksonville, Fla., which together serve over 500 families. Today Clarke touches the lives of more than 10,000 children and adults each year through its research, curriculum development and professional training. Gjerdingen also served as president of AG Bell from 1986-1988. A leader in the field, he was appointed in 1987 to the Commission on the Education of the Deaf that produced major legislation.

Gjerdingen's peers credit him for working tirelessly to help parents and professionals understand that deaf children can learn to listen, talk and succeed on par with their hearing peers. "The common belief has prevailed in this country that if you can't give information to the ear, you give it to the eye," Gjerdingen said of the use of sign language. "It is a valid approach. But what we know now is that we can teach deaf children to listen - you don't hear with your ears, but with your brain. With today's technology, you can get sound to reach the brain."

Gjerdingen was drawn to the profession when trying to help his son, Eric, who was born deaf. When Gjerdingen and his wife, Karen, went to Central Institute for the Deaf (CID) in St. …