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Special Education in the 21st Century:
Issues of Inclusion and Reform

Margret A. Winzer and Kas Mazurek, Editors

Chapter Eleven: Bilingual/Bicultural Education for Deaf Students

by Margery S. Miller and Donald F. Moores

Throughout most of the twentieth century in North America, those in the education field were consistently prejudiced against Deaf children using any kind of manual communication and maintained an especially intense opposition to the use of American Sign Language. Sometimes, the opposition has consisted of a large majority of educators of Deaf children and sometimes a minority, but it has always been a factor. American Sign Language has been denigrated as being too concrete, as representing mere a system of gestures, as alienating Deaf people from the hearing world, and as being animalistic. Part of this perspective, this Weltanschauung, is rooted in a perversion of the concept of normality, a perspective that dichotomizes the world into good and bad, black and white, normal and abnormal, a deaf world and a hearing world rather than addresses the infinite diversity of human existence.

Historically, proponents of such a view, almost all of whom are hearing, forget that there is only one world and that it includes both deaf and hearing members. Those who see the world in this narrow way proclaim that their mission is to cure or prevent deafness. Failing those goals, Deaf children must be “normalized”; that is, they must learn to speak. The major criterion for success is held to be intelligible speech. Erroneously believing that signs inhibit the development of speech, proponents of this oralism have dedicated themselves to the eradication of American Sign Language (fortunately, without success). In the late nineteenth century, educators argued that Deaf children could be taught to speak and speechread, thereby learning English, making unnecessary. In the first half of the twentieth century, the spreading use of hearing aids was seen as bringing speech to the Deaf child, so signs were not necessary. Similar claims have been made with the introduction of early education, increasingly powerful hearing aids, cochlear implants, and genetic engineering.

The prototypical oralist was Alexander Graham Bell, who devoted much of his career to the prevention, cure, and denial of deafness. Bell was the founder and financial supporter of the American Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf (Moores 1996). In 1883, Bell published Memoir Upon the Foundation of a Deaf Variety of the Human Race, and in 1884, he published "Fallacies Concerning the Deaf." He was troubled by what he saw as an increase of marriages among Deaf people and concluded, "The production of a defective race of human beings would be a tragedy" (1884, 41, emphasis added). Bell proposed that residential schools for the Deaf should be closed, Deaf teachers should be eliminated, and the “gesture language” should be discontinued. Bell later turned over data that he had gathered to E. A. Fay for analysis. Fay (1898) reached the following conclusions:

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