Dumbing Down Deaf Education

By Jean F. Andrews

Bush signing "No Child Left Standing" Law Image Credit: Weld for Birmingham
Bush signing “No Child Left Standing” Law
Image Credit: Weld for Birmingham

Following the NCLB mandates for achievement testing, linking teacher salaries to student test scores, the National reading Panel, the Common Core Standards and other expert panels–what is next to further dumb down deaf education?

Where are graphic arts? Painting and sculpture? Reader’s theater? The dramatic arts including dancing? What about ASL literature, ASL poetry and ASL storytelling? Quality English children’s literature translated to ASL? Deaf history? Math, science and social studies curriculum that is accessible in two languages—ASL and English?

Instant Mannequin by ADNA
Instant Mannequin by ADNA

Today, we are narrowly focusing our vision in deaf education to fit a non-existent cardboard deaf child who has a high-test score on a standardized test primarily in English. Our tax dollars pour into institutions that continue to deprive and delay deaf children’s early acquisition of both ASL and English. Public education for deaf children is fragmented. Our deaf children are Deaf culturally illiterate. Instead of capitalizing on deaf children’s visual learning strengths we sabotage their success by focusing on what they can’t do—hear like hearing children.

We also obstruct our own desires as teachers for success in the classroom by providing deaf children with a curriculum that does not teach, motivate or provide enjoyment of learning, but instead focuses on teaching to a state test. We fail to motivate children by our knee-jerk response to every “expert panel” and law that comes down the pike. Such misguided educational efforts are “shooting ourselves in the foot.” They simply don’t work. Blaming the “deafness” is an easy answer instead of looking critically at our educational institutions stale with convention and lacking in innovation.

Image Credit: Author Joyce Oroz
Image Credit: Author Joyce Oroz

Seldom, do we ask the critical questions–are these laws and panel recommendations necessary to teaching deaf children how to think, to express themselves in ASL and English, to feel at home in “Deaf” and hearing worlds? Do they motivate deaf children to want to enjoy life long independent learning? Do they motivate deaf students to go back into the Deaf community as leaders to solve the English literacy and other educational challenges that hearing professionals have been unable to solve?

While we are skilled in obtaining grant monies from the government for projects, many project managers fail to include culturally Deaf researchers who may very well assist in solving these challenges of underachievement and illiteracy.

Priorities in deaf education need shifting to include both languages–ASL and English– from early childhood to postsecondary and professional training.  Indeed, we need earlier and continuous bilingual and bicultural education to provide full access to both the languages and cultures across all levels of schooling.

We need to include more culturally Deaf researchers are part of our research teams. To not to include Deaf professionals at all levels of research and training is negligent. Inclusive strategies as these may very well stop the rising tides of the dumbing down of deaf education.

[Editor’s Note: We thank Jean for this excellent post. Another area in which we are involved, and one which you can help, is the #Keep ASL in Schools campaign. A video is currently in production, and I have been chosen to handle the editing chores. Click on the link to learn more, and to join the campaign. — BitcoDavid]

Jean F. Andrews is a Reading Specialist and Professor of Deaf Studies/Deaf Education at Lamar University.

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