Sunday, February 22, 2009

26: Why Bother Saving Deaf Schools?

One of the questions buzzing around on blogs recently is this: why bother saving Deaf schools? To me the answers have become obvious after two years of working in the public school system, and many years as a mainstreamed student in the public school system. I ask people to please consider these reasons. They are drawn from personal experience.

1. Deaf children in mainstreamed programs are not - cannot - be given full access through an A.S.L. interpreter, except in lucky circumstances. Even NYC public schools, which have their own interpreting organization, cannot fill all available jobs. Should students want to join many extracurricular activities the problem would be far worse but I believe they are jaded and do not try. Parents! If your child becomes mainstreamed, find them programs they can be involved in. Better: find programs which have some Deaf children and maybe one or two Deaf adults. Give your child role models and don't let them feel alone as they grow!

2. Interpreters in education systems have a different role than regular interpreters which is highly important, often ignored and still not fully understood, especially when it comes to language development. The R.I.D., an organization which certifies interpreters and has done a magnificent job of raising standards, only began exploring this rich field a few years ago.

3. More confusingly, Deaf students need education in A.S.L. to develop their command of that language, especially if they are to use it to learn other languages!

4. Mainstreamed programs rarely have many other Deaf children, Deaf adults, or Deaf staff/faculty/administrator. This is important because students need models in how to communicate with each other. Not every student winds up with Invisibility Disease - some students are happy in mainstreamed programs (girls tend to do better than boys, possibly fitting more easily into gender roles. Boys tend to develop symptoms of frustration, especially if not given an outlet.)

5. This is also important because you have nobody checking that a) your child has appropriate access b) your child is being given appropriate expectations and c) your child has a good environmental setup that aids them in learning and even d) that your child's teachers have access to resources and materials to make all this happen on a regular basis. All of these things happen naturally in a Deaf school. An aggressive student in a mainstreamed program can force these things to become accessible, but the fight is draining and discouraging- especially without a Deaf adult in the school to stand by you and say yes, he's not exaggerating, he can't just teach another kid fingerspelling and have them walk with him all day every day at school! (Principals have actually suggested this before.)

6. This is also important because not having Deaf adults at the school your child goes to means that standards and challenges may not be as high for your child as it would be for "normal" children. Teachers have attitudes about Deafness as do other people.

Just some thoughts. I realize these may be difficult for people to accept but wanted to offer some observations.


Anonymous said...

I think you forgot one of the major depends how much involvement that the parents have with their children, to be an advocate for them, and how early the deafness is caught, as well as early intervention.

JR said...

The question on the table is "why save deaf schools."

None of those points have anything to do with anything.

No matter how much parents advocate for their children, they are limited by not having gone through the same experiences. Because their child can't express information about experiences they are still struggling themselves to understand, parents often have to guess what the right course of action is.

Ideally the Deaf community would have resources for such parents but this country is lacking in that regard.

mishkazena said...

Hi, JR. A good and thoughtful post. Socialization is of utter importance for children, especially teenagers. This is where mainstreamed programs often fail the Deaf students unless they are fortunate enough to attend a large mainstreamed program.

Anon, parents cannot take the place of the peers.

grantlairdjr said...

"Click Gary Olsen on FYE" - he explained that both mainstream and deaf schools are good. Just both pro and con.

Good info there!!