Education of the Deaf

The best approach to education for deaf children is bilingualism in ASL as their first language and English as their another language. A bilingual school for the deaf is much like a hearing child going to a bilingual school (e.g. French School, bilingual German school, and so on).

Studies and observations show that the results are highly positive when deaf children have access to full-fledged ASL language, bilingual education (ASL and English). Their high self-esteem and identity are the healthiest.

Mainstream School vs Bilingual Deaf School

Mainstreaming has its pros and cons. It doesn't necessarily work for everyone nor everything. One has to carefully consider factors. In general, many deaf children prefer bilingual deaf schools to mainstream schools for full access from language to socializing.

Let's look at some experiences of Deaf children in ASL-English bilingual schools and mainstream schools.

What is truly the "Least Restrictive Environment" (LRE)?

Mainstreaming is believed to be the least restrictive environment which was the aim for the mainstream-school movement in the 1980s. Unfortunately, mainstreaming isn't always the case, especially for many deaf children.

Art by Kim Anderson
Image ("Solitary Confinement") courtesy of Kim Anderson.

American Deaf artist Kim Anderson, who is a voracious reader, in her statement on her watercolor art "Solitary Confinement" describes her experience that is very common with other deaf children who have often experienced isolation:

"I came from the most restrictive environment in public schools in Kansas, from 1st grade through 12th grade. I experienced acute isolation, which I call solitary confinement. I was the only Deaf student in the schools I attended. I had no Deaf peers like me. I had no Deaf adult role models. I played alone at recess, I sat alone at lunch time. I had no access to either a spoken or signed language. This solitary environment created barriers, shackled me to where I could not even participate in group conversations or socialize naturally for intellectual stimulation and/or to pick up social cues of interacting with people. As this solitary confinement experience was prolonged, it had a significant impact on my intellectual and social emotional well-being. It affected my self-worth and self-confidence. I started having suicidal ideations. The single vibrant rose represents me as a Deaf child with the rose as my brain. The petals represent my intelligence, some falling to waste and missed intellectual opportunities. As I was confined, I was nurtured with bare necessities of water, to stay alive and conform within the vase of audistic expectations."

E. Lynn Jacobowitz twisted the abbreviation in her FB post (January 2020) "LRE = most devastating law for Deaf people. We should have MRE - Most Rich Environment. Or, Language Rich Environment."

Like many deaf children, what Kim Anderson truly desired was, "The best educational environment for a Deaf child is one that has administrators, educators, counselors, therapists, etc. who are bilingually fluent in BOTH ASL & English, provide direct instruction, direct peer interaction, role models and hearing allies for academic and social emotional growth. Public schools do not provide that, hence they are the most restrictive environments (MRE). Schools for the Deaf provide it, hence they are the LEAST restrictive environment (LRE)."

Unlike deaf children attending mainsteam schools while they were forbidden from using sign language or where they were not provided English-ASL interpreters, some Deaf children of Deaf families have attended mainstream schools with interpreters, plus these bilinguals have the foundation of langauge (ASL), they have access to social life at home (Deaf family members and Deaf relatives) and in Deaf community, 3) they have full access to communication and support at home where language is fully accessible. As a result, some of them have friends and some still feel isolated at mainstream schools.

Bilingualism in Deaf Education

The Deaf children in the video below, whose first language is ASL, are much like many children of any languages whether spoken or signed. E.g. "That's my favorite!" Pretty much typical.

Imagine a deaf child in a mainstream school. She/he may not have the same kind of equal socialization as seen in this video. Many deaf children experience isolation in mainstream schools. Teen years can be the hardest. Kids at schools can be tough.

Deaf children are very much happier in their own bilingual schools where everyone can socialize and talk in their own full-fledged language through eye -- sign language and full accessibility. Bilingual schools for deaf children are truly the least restrictive environment.

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