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American Annals of the Deaf

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Deaf Learners: Developments in Curriculum and Instruction

Donald F. Moores and David S. Martin, Editors

Part One: The Context

Overview: Curriculum and Instruction in General Education
and in Education of Deaf Learners

Donald F. Moores and David S. Martin

The field of education of deaf children and youth has undergone major changes that have significant implications for curriculum and instruction. Traditionally, educators of deaf students have struggled with three important questions (Moores, 1991): (a) Where should deaf children be taught? (b) How should they be taught? (c) What should they be taught? Although many educators have addressed the questions separately, they are not discrete issues. In fact, they are complexly interrelated and decisions in one area have significant implications for the other two. There are no final answers, but there are definite trends that must be considered. Some of them have been developing over decades, even generations.

We should consider briefly some of the major changes in the three areas and their implications. First is the question of where to educate deaf children. Most readers are aware that the trend in recent years has been toward academic placement contiguous to hearing peers to the greatest extent possible, and the literature is full of terms such as least restrictive environment, mainstreaming, integration, and inclusion that in different ways reflect this orientation. Most readers, however, are not aware that the trend began more than half a century ago, shortly after the end of World War II (Moores, 2001). At that time most deaf children attended residential schools for the deaf or separate day schools for the deaf in large cities. The postwar baby boom produced an enormous increase in the number of children and, by extension, the number of deaf children. State legislators were reluctant to build additional separate facilities for an increase in the number of deaf children that was thought to be temporary, so there was a push for establishment of separate classes for deaf children within public schools serving predominantly hearing children. This movement was intensified by the rubella epidemic of the mid-1960s, which doubled the number of deaf children born during a short period of time, a time when the American school-age population was declining and classroom space was available. When Public Law 94-142—the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975—was enacted, enrollment in residential schools and day schools for the deaf had already dropped to less than half of the deaf school-age population. The impetus away from separate academic placement for deaf children continues to this day. Although there are differences of opinion about the benefits of this trend, it is a reality.

The question of how to teach deaf children in essence involves the centuries-old oral-manual “methods war.” Some professionals advocate the use of oral-only instruction, with emphasis on speech, speechreading, and use of residual hearing. Others advocate the use of an American Sign Language (ASL) and English bilingual approach. There are numerous gradations between the two. The use of an English-based sign system—differentiated from ASL—either alone or in combination with speech, is common, as is an approach incorporating oral communication, English-based signing, and ASL depending on situational variables and child needs.

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