Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Hmong Immigrants' Views on the Education of Their Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children

Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Hmong Immigrants' Views on the Education of Their Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children

Article excerpt

The study investigated the attitudes, perceptions, and feelings of parents of 7 Hmong families that included a deaf or hard of hearing child attending a U.S. public school. The findings indicate that many Hmong parents value education and want to be involved in their deaf or hard of hearing child's learning. However, the parents in the study did not know how to become involved, and needed the support of the school. Although they accepted their deaf or hard of hearing children unconditionally, they had lower academic expectations of that child than of their hearing children. Most of the parents reported limited knowledge of the policies, procedures, practices, and organizational structures of special education, and all cited communication barriers as impediments to involvement in their child's education. Most of the parents expressed strong satisfaction with their child's educational program. The findings suggest several areas for further research.

With the demographics of the United States in flux, public schools, particularly those in large urban systems, are serving a more ethnically and linguistically diverse student population. Many students now come from lower-income families that have recently migrated to the United States. Many of these recent newcomers are from Southeast Asia. Of the Southeast Asian groups, the Hmong of Laos constitute the largest ethnic minority in America (Koumarn, 1986). Heavy concentrations of Hmong can be found in California, Wisconsin, and especially Minnesota, with 40% of those in the United States living in St. Paul (Lao Family Community of Minnesota, 1997).

Hmong began immigrating to the United States around 1980, displaced by the Vietnam War and other conflicts that had ravaged Laos and the rest of Indochina since the end of World War II. In Laos, Hmong society is characterized by subsistence farming, poverty, and isolation, so as the Hmong have arrived in America they have been particularly challenged by the task of acculturation. For instance, many of them lack the basic skills necessary for employment in the United States, and more than most immigrant groups they generally find themselves in environments where the language and customs of the dominant culture are almost entirely alien (I. Chan, 1981). For most Hmong families the public school system is one of these alien environments, and yet they are expected to become involved in the education of their children. This expectation is especially problematic for Hmong families that include a child with a disability.

Parents' role in their children's education has received considerable attention from educators. The literature is unanimous in describing parental involvement as a necessary part of all children's schooling (Volk, 1994). In programs with a strong component of parental involvement, students are consistently better achievers than in otherwise identical programs with less such involvement (Comer, 1988). Sensitivity to the relationship between parental influence and academic performance is especially important in understanding the school performance of minority students with disabilities (Comer, 1988; Delgado-Gaitan, 1990; Liebouitz, 1977; Lightfoot, 1978).

Children whose home lives and social networks are consistent with the expectations of American public schools have a distinct scholastic advantage over children from less acculturated backgrounds (Comer, 1988). Since the expectations and teaching styles of U.S. public schools are based on white, middle-class values, immigrant children suffer definite disadvantages. While most parents from minority backgrounds value education, many of them are not actively involved in their children's schooling (Bermudez & Padron, 1990; McNall, Dunnigan, & Mortimer, 1994; Metropolitan Life Survey of the American Teachers, 1987).

Many factors, including the role of parents in their children's education, have been associated with the poor performance of deaf and hard of hearing learners (Anderson & Bowe, 1972; Bowe, 1971; Cohen, Fischgrund, & Redding, 1990; McNiel, 1990). …

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