For "Children Who Vary..."

Chapter Four continued...
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While recognizing the value of speechreading and speaking, combinists insisted that signing could serve not only as a valuable means of communication and instruction but also as a unifying and distinguishing feature of a valid and honorable deaf culture. Proponents of oralism believed that the combined method, with its heavy emphasis on a sign language mysterious to all but a few, worked only to segregate, ostracize, and stigmatize deaf individuals within mainstream society. Taking the view that deafness was an undesirable disability to be overcome rather than a cultural feature to be celebrated, Bell and other oralists maintained that deaf people needed to demonstrate their capacity to communicate with hearing persons as an important step toward participating as fully as possible within the hearing world. While Edward Miner Gallaudet (son of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet) and Bell led their respective movements, virtually everyone involved in deaf education or associated with deaf individuals accepted one view or the other in this highly polarized debate. Professional journals, associations, and conferences provided the forums for intense, often heated discussions. Especially strong for several decades after 1880, the controversy over whether a combined approach or oralism represents the best way in which deaf students should learn continues to this day as a defining issue in deaf education.

During the nineteenth century, the controversy over methods of instruction and communication effectively underscored the by-then accepted view that deaf individuals were not only entitled to an education but also fully capable of acquiring a sophisticated and extensive one. All issues regarding deaf education were widely discussed through periodicals such as the American Annals of the Deaf and the Little Paper Family, a collection of publications from many of the institutions for the deaf, as well as through regional and national organizations such as the New England Gallaudet Association, various state organizations, and the National Association of the Deaf. To punctuate these developments, the National Deaf-Mute College (later Gallaudet University) was established in 1864 to educate a leadership elite that could advance the interests and position of the deaf community in American society. By 1900 any doubts regarding the advisability or plausibility of providing high-quality education to deaf individuals of all ages had been dramatically reduced.

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