Thursday, May 15, 2008

15: Models and Finals

End of the year is approaching. As a NYC Teaching Fellow I'm going to college as well as teaching during the day, so things are fairly busy.

Still, practical theory finds time to be part of my life. Right now we're discussing what models, if any, work for a bilingual Deaf school. And some of this discussion is cutting me to the quick.

Before I go on with the why, let me ask you this question: Are Deaf people disabled?

You'll get thousands of different answers, from people all over the world, from the people who view Deaf people, yes, as totally disabled, to those who see us as a discrete cultural and social group, to those who see us just as... defective.

But I don't have time for opinions. I'm teaching students. I need to figure out a model for education. My studies have led me this far. I'm confident that a dual-population, dual-language school is the only place where bilingual education can truly work for deaf and hearing students. The problem is that we, as a school, are pioneering. We don't have a specific model to work with yet. There aren't many desegregated deaf schools. What model do we work with for education? How do we structure our school?

Other bilingual schools have it easy. They identify specific classes as either English or Spanish, or what have you. They post signs outside the door. Today we have class in Spanish. Today we have class in French. All I can think of with such a model is "what about the Deaf students?" How do we include Deaf students and still say: "Today class is in English?" How do we involve them without ASL interpreters? And without the ability to figure out how to get the Deaf students involved in English only classes, we're not providing truly bilingual education. And if there is NO way, then we're admitting, yes, Deaf people are functionally disabled.

Some studies suggest segregating populations for a few years, teaching Pop 1 with ASL as a foreign language, Pop 2 with English Language Learners. Problem is - I've really come to believe, in the case of Deaf students, that separate is never equal. Cut off teachers from other teachers - cut off students from other student populations - and you may have a Deaf school, but you also have a school increasingly deficient in terms of changing standards and models. One of my favorite Deaf-school teachers was successful, I believe, because she made a conscious effort to be part of a science-teacher community around the world. She maintained very high standards and her students achieved. This is unusual. Most of the time when Deaf people are segregated, they receive substandard educations. We put up with it because of all the other things we can get through segregation - autonomy, independence, the development of an inquiring mind.

Perhaps some integrated classes? Some segregated?

In our school this wouldn't be very practical. The Deaf student population has dwindled, was dwindling before we accepted hearing students. In large part this was because of, ironically, higher standards at our school - a local Deaf-only school attracts far more Deaf students, but only provides IEP high school diplomas, which are essentially worthless in terms of getting a job. (Our school is a NYC Public School, and we provide a full diploma.) Right now maybe 10-15% of our population is Deaf. But that segregation-isn't-equal thing is really visible all over. We have students in special education whose only claim for being there is their need for ASL. And we have hearing students in the mainstream whose only claim for being there is the fact that the special education classes have been identified for Deaf students.

Complicating the matter is that we get Deaf students without former ASL knowledge or instruction who simply don't have the skills to survive in such a segregated class. What do we do, put them in the hearing classes with an interpreter which they can't use? Jesus.

Teaching is crazy.

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