Academic journal article The Volta Review

Highlights in the History of Oral Teacher Preparation in America

Academic journal article The Volta Review

Highlights in the History of Oral Teacher Preparation in America

Article excerpt

The history of oral teacher preparation in America is both significant and diverse. There are numerous individuals and events that shifted and defined the professional practices of individuals who promote the listening and spoken language development of children with hearing loss. This article provides an overview of this rich history and offers a background to the current state of teacher preparation for listening and spoken language practitioners.


A single chapter does not permit me to honor all the dedicated professionals who have enriched the development of listening and spoken language professionals since auditory-based education was established in America. Ultimately, I was guided by this statement attributed to Galileo Galilei: "All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them" (Quotations, 2007). I looked for the acknowledged visionaries whose groundbreaking efforts influenced listening and spoken language professional preparation in America, changed the lives of children with hearing loss, and led the way for those of us who followed.

To understand the influences on the preparation of listening and spoken language professionals, one must be acquainted with the origins of education for deaf children in America. Although this manuscript cannot offer a comprehensive history, those interested in such details may consult two classic texts: Ruth Bender's Conquest of Deafness (1981) and Edward Scouten's Turning Points in the Education of Deaf People (1984). However, I hope that the brief chronology provided, which I have extracted from their outstanding research and my own doctoral studies, will be of some help.

Significant Historic Events

Prior to the 19th century, most, if not all, of the advances in deaf education occurred in Western Europe. Although references to deafness and societal rights can be traced to the pre-Christian era, the feasibility of educating children who are deaf or hard of hearing was not considered until the 16th century when the Italian physician and mathematician, Girolamo Cardano, read about a young man who was "deaf from the cradle," but had learned to read and write. This led to speculation that the minds of individuals with hearing loss might be intact and that deafness simply blocked their access to auditory information. If one could find a way to circumvent this barrier, learning might be possible. Cardano never tested his theory, which at the time was quite revolutionary.

The first recognized schooling of children who were deaf or hard of hearing began prior to 1550 at the Mission of San Salvador in Madrid, Spain, under the tutelage of Pedro Ponce de Leon, a Benedictine monk. His goal was to save the souls of these children by acquainting them with the word of God. He employed what would become known as "oral" methods, teaching them to read Ups and to develop spoken language and literacy, apparently with considerable success.

As the word of his accomplishments spread across Europe, others engaged in this endeavor, some emulating Ponce de Leon's methods, others employing manual signs and finger spelling inspired by military and ecclesiastic communications, the so-called "manual" methods. By the end of the 18th century, schools for children with hearing loss were being opened throughout Western Europe. Those that had the greatest influence on American education were located in France, Germany, and Britain.

In 1760 a French Catholic priest, Abbé Charles Michel de l'Épée, established a program for the deaf in Paris. By 1790 it would become France's first statesupported school, the Institut National des Sourds-Muets. From its inception, the school welcomed even the poorest children. Although he had read about methods of oral teaching, de l'Épée adopted and refined a system of manual communication for instruction.

In Germany and Great Britain, Samuel Heinicke and Thomas Braidwood also established schools; their curricula focused on oral methods. …

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