Promises Made, Promises Broken

By Joanne Greenberg

Part of the problem of Deaf low reading levels is due to insufficient education. Why should this be? The problem of low reading levels among the Deaf was supposed to have been solved 30 years ago, when mainstreaming was instituted to give Deaf kids an equal classroom experience, among their hearing neighbors at the local school. Why weren’t Deaf children, many of whom were supplied with interpreters, not following the trail of the “normal” kids in their classes?

Promises were made that couldn’t be kept.

For Deaf students with Deaf parents, the understructure of ordinary information was present. Most Deaf children have hearing – non-signing – parents. Even those who do sign are not as linguistically proficient as a bilingual family would normally be.

Schools don’t do remedial work during summers. They tend to pass low functioning students on, until they drop out of High school, unequipped, even for High school – and with Grade school reading levels.

Recently there has been a resurgence of interest in special schools for the Deaf, bucking the trend of fake normalization. We are reinventing the wheel.

Joanne Greenberg was born in 1932, in Brooklyn, NY. She was educated at American University and received and honorary Doctorate from Gallaudet University – the world’s only college for the Deaf. She has written 2 books on the subject and has spent decades working with state mental hospitals for appropriate care for the mentally ill Deaf.

11 thoughts on “Promises Made, Promises Broken

  1. I agree with Joanne’s evaluation of the “reading problem in the deaf community.” Inclusion has been a big “delusion” for many deaf children. The reading problem is actually a language problem. One reading technique that has gathered substantive evidence in the past 20 years in education is called Shared Reading. Deaf children can be involved in group reading where the teacher and the students “talk or sign” about the ideas in the storybooks, so it becomes a social event that is enjoyable and children on different reading levels can support each other in the conversations about books. And through these conversations about story ideas and books, children can begin to look at the structure of English and figure it out. Conventional reading instruction spends too much time in matching activities…matching fingerspelling to letters…or matching signs to pictures to sight words or matching phonemes to graphemes. This is not reading, it is matching! What reading scholars’ work has shown us is that children–deaf and hearing–need whole stories to understand and enjoy rather than be taught and drilled single words. For instance, color words have been overtaught.


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