Deaf Education: A Cultural ApproachAuthor: Aldene Fredenburg
Years ago, deaf educators used a fairly rigid approach to teaching the deaf to communicate. Sign language was discouraged, even punished at times, and deaf people were expected to learn to lip-read and to speak. Unfortunately, for those born deaf, who had no experience of ever hearing human speech, it was difficult and sometimes impossible to develop intelligible speech.
Deaf education has changed, thanks to a more evolved and compassionate understanding of the needs and capabilities of deaf individuals and to the advocacy of deaf activists. Sign language—American Sign Language (ASL) in particular—is being recognized as a distinct, legitimate language with its own structure, syntax, and idioms, and the deaf community is coming into its own as a rich culture, with its own viewpoint as well as a growing body of literature and theatre.
McDaniel College, a small private college in Maryland, includes Deaf Studies as one of its major fields, and looks at the program as bilingual and bi-cultural. (The two languages are English and ASL.) All classes are taught in ASL, with voice interpreters often available, and the program includes a semester at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC, and internships in various programs around the country. McDaniel's also has a graduate program in Deaf Studies leading to a Master of Science degree in Deaf Education, which prepares its students to become highly skilled, respectful teachers of deaf individuals.
The college is representative of a new view of deaf individuals, not as people who are seen or who see themselves as handicapped, but who are part of a rich cultural heritage with major contributions to offer to their own community and to the larger world. McDaniel's educational approach to future teachers of deaf students arms these teachers with the understanding of deaf culture, the skills, and the respect needed to guide their students into fulfilling lives where they can make these contributions.
Aldene Fredenburg is a freelance writer living in southwestern New Hampshire. She has written numerous articles for local and regional newspapers and for a number of Internet websites, including Tips and Topics.