Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Deaf Education and Bridging Social Capital: A Theoretical Approach

Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Deaf Education and Bridging Social Capital: A Theoretical Approach

Article excerpt

THE AUTHORS use elements of social capital theory to explore the rapidly changing landscape of deaf education in America. They suggest that the formation of relationships, and networks of relationships, between deaf students and adults has a value that often goes undetected or underappreciated in deaf education. The authors point out that social capital theory, as applied to deaf education, generates a number of potentially productive areas for improving outcomes among deaf students, and for future research in the field. The article includes discussion of a number of positive steps to promote bridging social capital among deaf students.

One story widely shared within the American Deaf community probably apocryphal, is that of a little boy whose parents find him crying inconsolably one day after school. They ask him why he is crying, and he replies that he is afraid to die. His mother, unsettled and a little apprehensive, asks him why in the world he is afraid, since after all - he's a little boy and has a long and happy life ahead of him. The boy replies that he is positive that he will die before he grows up because he is deaf, and he has never met any deaf adults. Another version of this story has the boy convinced that, instead of dying, he will become hearing as he grows up (Mindel & Vernon, 1987).

In either version, the story illustrates the sort of misunderstanding of deafness, and the social isolation of deaf children, that the Deaf community fears will predominate if its children are brought up in completely hearing-oriented worlds. The deaf child who does not know any deaf adults is a tragic figure, one who has no roots and no chance of developing a positive Deaf identity. This child is all too likely in the minds of some, to accept the hearing world's judgment and condemnation of the Deaf as medical anomalies rather than people - who are lacking or incomplete.

Deaf children have always been at risk of social isolation from their hearing peers, and from the hearing adult world around them. So, too, have deaf children often been at risk of getting a substandard education. Outcomes for deaf students, broadly considered, have persistently lagged behind those of their hearing peers. As a result, reformers and educators have been tinkering with their approaches for as long as schools for the deaf have existed - a period now approaching two centuries in the United States (Baynton, Gannon, & Bergey 2007).

In the present article, we use elements of social capital theory to explore the rapidly changing landscape of deaf education in America, and to suggest what we believe are positive steps that could be taken to improve education for deaf students in the United States. We believe that the social capital framework we present here helps to illuminate and clarify some of the more complex features of educational reform for deaf students, and as well generates a number of productive areas for future research in the field. Social capital theory posits that human relationships, and networks of relationships, have a value that often goes undetected or underappreciated in education. Human relationships rely at their most basic and profound levels, on communication - which, for deaf students, is of overriding concern.

Deaf Education and Relational Networks

Communication has been at the heart of deaf education from the beginning, since by it students connect with the world and form the sorts of social networks that are essential for acquiring access to information, gaining employment, and finding satisfaction in community life. Yet debates over communication with deaf children have never been ruled by empiricism alone; power, ideology and politics have tangled over what sort of approaches "should" be used with deaf children, and what sorts of eventual outcomes the field ought to seek. Excellent historical reviews of the communication debates can be found in Baynton (1998), Branson and Miller (2002), and Lane (1992). …

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