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Educating Deaf Students: Global Perspectives|
There has also been a growing appreciation of the role of the critical period in language learning (Krashen, 1973) and for the plasticity of the nervous system during early development. Studies have shown that the human brain can develop knowledge of one or more languages and that being bilingual or multilingual is not necessarily a detriment (Hakuta, 1986; Grosjean, 1982). The research of scholars like Schlesinger and Meadow (1972) convinced many early childhood educators that effective communication between deaf infants and their mothers was essential and was possible using sign language.
The work of Stokoe and his colleagues and other researchers (Stokoe, Casterline, & Croneberg, 1965; Klima & Bellugi, 1979; Padden & Humphries, 1988; Fischer, 1998; Parasnis, 1996, 1997) has documented the authenticity of American Sign Language (and other deaf communities’ native sign languages) and fostered the development of pedagogical strategies to teach spoken and written language to deaf children as a second language (Johnston, Liddell, & Erting, 1989). Some American schools are now engaged in bicultural/bilingual programming, although the debate on its effectiveness continues (Strong, 1995).
The media are also giving visibility to sign language, promoting deaf awareness in the process. In recent years, two deaf actresses, performing roles using sign language, have won both an Academy Award for the best performance in a motion picture and a Tony Award for the best performance in a Broadway production. Furthermore, the study of American Sign Language is rapidly increasing in popularity in American college and university programs (Prime Numbers, 1999).
The Traditional System Faces New Challenges
Inclusion Takes a Foothold and Becomes an International Movement
Two important developments took place in America and other developed nations following World War II: urbanization and the evolution of new technologies. First, urbanization created the possibility of educating deaf children closer to home. This materialized in the form of national legislation aimed at inclusion and a diminution in the role of the residential school. Second, universal higher education was established through government support of the GI Bill of Rights for returning veterans. This, in turn, fueled scientific activity and its resulting technologies nationwide. At the same time, manufacturing was joined by service as primary employment opportunities. Hence the need for literacy and technical training became paramount to the future lives of deaf children and youth. That is why the National Technical Institute for the Deaf in Rochester, New York, was created: as a model for access to higher education with the goal of inclusion of deaf people in the economic sector in ways not previously attainable.
The monopoly of residential schools ended when U.S. Public Law 94-142, the Education of All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, was enacted. The law provided that, to the fullest extent possible, children with disabilities were to be educated in inclusive settings with their nondisabled peers. Educators of deaf students and the deaf leadership of the United States fiercely fought this mandate. Few saw any redeeming value in this public policy and feared it would result in the dismantling of the traditional residential school-based system.
Today, the good news is that the worst fears of many have not materialized. But neither have the expectations of the framers of this legislation been realized. For the majority of children with disabilities, the goal of integration with nondisabled children has been met. However, if we accept the axiom that a person in society cannot be truly independent unless he or she is self-sufficient, then we need to realize that mere access to an educational environment is insufficient. Though some deaf children are thriving in mainstreamed programs, unfortunately, others are floundering. In general, however, there is no evidence that deaf and hard of hearing children are worse off now than before the inclusion movement took hold. Seventy percent of all deaf and hard of hearing children are now being educated in inclusive settings in the United States (Moores, 1996). However, we may have to wait another generation to determine the long-term effects of such education.