Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

In Search of a New, Linguistically and Culturally Sensitive Paradigm in Deaf Education

Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

In Search of a New, Linguistically and Culturally Sensitive Paradigm in Deaf Education

Article excerpt

FOR MORE THAN A CENTURY, educators have recognized the low academic achievement of deaf children in America. Teacher training programs in deaf education historically have emphasized medical-pathological views of deaf people and deaf education rather than appropriate pedagogies that draw upon and build on deaf students' linguistic and cultural knowledge. A recent and growing interest in educating deaf children bilingually acknowledges the value of American Sign Language and English in the classroom. The authors address the dire need for prospective teachers and teacher educators to rethink their views of deaf people and, in doing so, rethink the teaching methodologies in deaf education.

Times change. We can't blame educators or administrators for not having known all along that ASL is a full-fledged language, before the fact was discovered and confirmed in recent years. But we can blame any who rigidly adhere to old and unsuccessful practices now that the evidence is in and scholars, educators, and community leaders alike are calling for change.

-Harlan Lane,

The Mask of Benevolence,

1992, pp. 169-170

Throughout the history of deaf education in America, researchers have produced a staggering amount of information regarding its "failure." Although many reasons for this failure have been reported, we suggest that school systems and ultimately college and university teacher training programs have not fully addressed issues related to the teaching of prekindergarten through grade 12 (P-12) deaf and hard of hearing students who are visual learners. Because deaf people account for only about 1% of the U.S. population, low achievement by students who are deaf or hard of hearing has not received a great deal of investigation in the general education research (Livingston 1997; Schein & DeIk, 1974). Hence, we address the dire need for prospective teachers and teacher educators to rethink their views of deaf people and, in so doing, rethink the theoretical underpinnings of the teaching methodologies in teacher education programs and schools.

The "failure" of deaf education has been demonstrated through studies that have reported low levels of achievement in reading (Allen 1994; Mayer & Akamatsu, 2003; Traxler, 2000) and mathematics, difficulties with oral language (Seyfried & Kricos, 1989), and low employment and earning rates (Jones, 2004; MacLeod, 1983, 1984, 1985). These ongoing issues regarding the low academic performance of deaf people are of particular concern to the members of the Deaf community.1

One of the long-standing goals of the Deaf community is improved academic success. Over the years, there have been many initiatives to increase the academic success of deaf children, yet all have been the result of people outside the Deaf community (e.g., educators, doctors, and legislators) trying to change either the method of instruction, the mode of communication, or deaf children themselves. These approaches have continued to result in low academic achievement. It is our contention in the present article, and that of the program we describe, that to be effective and long lasting, change must be initiated by a grassroots movement within the Deaf community.

Given our own situated realities as fluent American Sign Language (ASL) users, one an African American deaf woman and one a hearing woman whose parents are Deaf, we, and other members of the Gallaudet University Department of Education, have integrated this history into our work on program development for the teacher education programs at Gallaudet. As faculty in the Gallaudet teacher preparation programs, we have observed a serious disconnect between the educational reform happening in schools for the deaf and the university programs designed to prepare future teachers of deaf children (Gallimore, 1992; Mover & Andrews, 1998; Vernon & Daigle, 1994).

The struggle to strengthen deaf education reflects the Deaf community-a community that is interdisciplinary and diverse, demands social and educational change, starts from personal experience, and connects its members and the people studied to the outcome. …

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