Ask a Deafie

Ask a deafie: Educational mainstreaming for the Deaf

Harmful inclusion?

A stand of the Deaf community on placing children in mainstream settings within education is mostly negative.  Deaf students obviously have a set of very different needs than hearing counterparts. They need sign language, period. They often feel lost and left out in a big sea of hearing students. They often don’t feel proud to be “Deaf” because they are constantly being reminded that they are different than the rest of the students. For the sake of such students’ well-being, there has to be a balance between hearing and deaf educational settings.

The downside is that in academic settings, educating a deaf student in a school for hearing is often much more expensive than a deaf student attending a deaf school.  The added cost is expenditure on interpreters. School districts have to pay significant amounts of money for interpreters and other needs.  Deaf schools are like a bulk price: put all of the students together and educate them in sign language. Simple solutions like that save a lot of money. (See other money-saving ASL translation options).

Deaf segregation as protection.

Deaf/HoH-focused political agenda usually supports opening more schools for community members exclusively.  Those schools are supposed to be a safe space for non-hearing children to use their native language, which is sign language.  It is always a challenge to convince hearing parents to place their children in dedicated schools instead of mainstreamed settings. Most hearing parents want to make their kids are “hearing,” which is almost never possible.

90% of deaf children have hearing parents, who as a rule choose methods in their interest instead of a child's interest. Deaf schools are mentally, physically, emotionally, and psychologically more empowering and beneficial for deaf children.  It's great that more and more regular schools promote inclusion by teaching sign language to hearing children. I am very supportive of the idea! It is important to raise awareness about sign language. This policy promotes inclusion. It's great to know the basics, regardless of hearing status. Still, ASL friendliness of regular schools is not the same as dedicated schools.

A recent development in education.

I observe that the number of charter schools established for deaf children increases with time. Many deaf students go to hearing schools to take vocational classes like cooking, carpentry, computers, horticulture, etc. Often in charter schools, deaf students are grouped for morning classes; while in the afternoon they join general classes to mingle and learn things together with hearing students.  I see this structure as an optimal solution. It balances the situation in which deaf schools are sometimes too isolated and disconnected from the rest of society. Still, deaf students should learn more academic-based subjects at deaf schools (ideally taught in ASL) like English, social studies, math, history, etc.

Infact, Most Deaf people are automatically bilingual (English and ASL) while mosthearing Americans are monolingual.  Studies show that bilingual childrenare more intelligent than monolinguals. So, maybe the mainstream culture has alot to learn from our community.

Expert: Jesada Pua, culturally Deaf and native ASL speaker.

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