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American Annals of the Deaf

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Partners in Education: Issues and Trends from the 21st International Congress on the Education of the Deaf

Donald F. Moores, Editor

Part Two: Congress Strands and Keynote Addresses

Strand 1. Educational Environments

The Bedrock of Deaf Education in North America
Center Schools
James E. Tucker

The story of Deaf education in North America is close to 200 years old and is still unfolding. Many center schools for deaf students continue to serve both as the bedrock of Deaf education and as a wellspring for communities of deaf and hard of hearing learners that share a language and a culture.

Around the world, although schools for the deaf likely exhibit commonalities, I devote much of my attention to schools for the deaf and hard of hearing in the United States. As a recent past president of the Conference of Educational Administrators of Schools and Programs for the Deaf, I am intimately involved with the current state of schools and programs for the deaf and hard of hearing students in North America.

From the 1817 opening of what is now the American School for the Deaf in Hartford, Connecticut, center schools for the Deaf have been major contributors to the educational, social, and cultural lives of Deaf individuals in North America. These schools have both shaped the lives of deaf individuals and been shaped by them. Arguably the most influential early American educator of deaf students was Laurent Clerc, a graduate of the Paris Institution for the Deaf and the first teacher of the Deaf in America. An educator who taught for more than forty years in the United States, Clerc modified the French Methodical Sign System to reflect English and adapted a curriculum and a model for teaching English grammar. He trained most of the first administrators of schools for the deaf, as well as many of the first teachers, who later passed on his techniques (Moores, 2010).

Although Clerc was the most widely known, other Deaf leaders were also pioneers in the field. Gannon (1981) has reported that deaf professionals have founded twenty-four schools for the deaf in the United States. Such initiatives were not limited to the United States. For example, a Deaf man from Scotland, a Deaf man from England, and a Deaf nun from Ireland each established a school for the deaf in Australia, the first three such institutions in that country (Power, 2009), and a Deaf man from China established the first school for the deaf in Singapore (Mangrubang, 2009). Perhaps the greatest achievement in the history of the education of the deaf was that of Dr. Andrew Foster, a Deaf African American missionary who established thirtyone schools for the deaf in Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, and South Africa (Kiyaga & Moores, 2009).

When American schools were segregated during the 1800s and the first half of the 1900s, schools for the deaf were also unfortunately segregated. For almost 100 years, black deaf children attended classes on separate campuses or in separate buildings on the same campus as the school for the deaf white students. When schools for the deaf became integrated, these separate buildings and campuses were either closed or incorporated into the rest of the school. Although the Supreme Courtís Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawed segregation in 1954, many schools for white deaf students were slow to integrate black students. In 1978, the Louisiana School for the Deaf was perhaps the last school for white deaf students to integrate black students.

The early schools for the deaf were leaders in educational innovation and concentrated to a great extent on preparing students for the world of work. Perhaps because American industrialization occurred in the early 19th century in New England, especially in Connecticut and Massachusetts, the American School for the Deaf, almost from its beginning and along with some public schools for hearing children, was one of the first schools in the United States to provide vocational training.

Deaf communities developed around center schools, which consisted of teachers, administrators, dormitory supervisors, and maintenance workers from the school, joined by school graduates and other Deaf individuals employed outside of the school. By 1870 Deaf teachers accounted for 42.5% of the teaching staff at center schools for the deaf (Jones, 1918). The situation began to change shortly after that, when the percentage of deaf teachers declined rapidly. This was partly due to an increasing emphasis on oral-only instruction, as emphasized by the 1880 conference of Milan, which favored pure oral instruction and the suppression of sign language.

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