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2. Deaf students who do not use ASL as a primary means of communication should be exposed to ASL and culturally Deaf experiences as a part of their education.
Many deaf and hard of hearing children either themselves choose not to sign and be involved in the Deaf world, or their parents have decided that they do not need to be exposed to, or included in, the Deaf world. Whatever the reason, they do not use ASL or consider themselves to be part of the Deaf community, so exposure to ASL and Deaf cultural values will at least give the deaf children the tools needed to cope in whatever educational setting they find themselves. Indeed, knowledge of all possibilities, opportunities, and experiences will empower d/Deaf children so that they can make decisions rather than have decisions made for them. Gina Oliva (2004) captures the power that this d/Deaf child would have in the following interview with a mainstreamed deaf student. The student/informant says,
I can envision an ideal life: Parents know sign language and are educated about Deaf culture. . . . They expose the deaf child to EVERYTHING: speech therapy, interpreters in school, a deaf school, hearing aids. They take the child to special deaf social events. . . . Just so that the deaf child will not be deprived of meeting others who are exactly like herself. I wish I had this ideal life. I’d be getting a perfect balance of deaf and hearing culture. And I can guarantee that . . . trying all these choices would definitely help me later in life to find what’s comfortable for me. I would be choosing what works for me and what doesn’t. And I’d be well rounded and happy. (86)3. Deaf individuals should be schooled in settings in which they are part of a “critical mass” of Deaf students.
Although some may argue that social and cultural components of schooling are secondary to the direct instruction that a child receives, for the Deaf child, the social and cultural benefits of being a part of a Deaf community have a significant impact on academic success. When Deaf children have others with the same linguistic and cultural needs available to them within the school setting, they are less likely to be and feel isolated and are more likely to learn and use the language with which they are most comfortable—ASL. Of course, the more students who share the same Deaf cultural values and language, the better access and opportunity there is for all.
When Deaf children are schooled with other Deaf children, they have more opportunities to collaborate on projects and learn from peers. Students take in others’ opinions and thus shape and form their own perspectives. One person whom we interviewed said that he very much valued the opportunity to interact and collaborate with other Deaf students for formal assignments and group projects. When in a self-contained class, he was able to access 100 percent of the information all the time. However, because there were very few mainstreamed classes that he shared with one or more of his Deaf peers, the opportunity to collaborate was very limited. He stated that there was no interaction on projects and very little communication or socialization with his hearing peers in his mainstreamed classes.
This same person had gone through almost the entire LRE continuum in his K–12 educational career. He started in an all-Deaf day school and then moved to a residential school in another state. He stayed there for eight years and then spent two of his high school years in another residential school. In his sophomore year, he decided he had had “enough” of being away from home and enrolled in the magnet school for Deaf students in his county. Interestingly, he came from a Deaf family; his parents sent him to the residential schools because they felt it would be the best educational option for him. The following is his opinion on what he would choose if he had the opportunity to redo his educational experience:
For me, I would choose the mainstream [magnet program] experience. But, that is because I have a Deaf family and have had ample opportunity to interact with and learn the language and culture of the Deaf-World. I feel mainstreaming is for Deaf kids with Deaf families who already have Deaf culture and ASL exposure. For Deaf kids with hearing families, I feel they should go to all-Deaf day schools. They need that exposure to and knowledge of being Deaf that they don’t get at home. (name withheld, personal communication, March 10, 2006)One large magnet program for Deaf people in Orange County, California, has enjoyed the luxury of having the critical mass to provide its Deaf students with an exceptional academic and social experience. University High School’s program has had at least 125 Deaf students for a number of years. Their numbers peaked at 150 students in 1993. Their Web site boasts of their strong sports teams, their Deaf-centered clubs, and their West region second-place finish in Gallaudet’s Academic Bowl, a competition to promote the academic excellence of Deaf and hard of hearing students across the United States (University High School n.d.). Indeed, this school is evidence that with large numbers, Deaf students do thrive academically and socially in a mainstream setting.
Unfortunately, though, University High School is an exception, not the norm. Most magnet mainstream programs require the use of interpreters for most, if not all, of the school day. In theory, interpreters could capture a good portion of what is said during class. The reality, though, is that even the best interpreter cannot capture everything that is said; there are