Education for the Deaf Research Paper Starter

Education for the Deaf

(Research Starters)

Four educational methods are used to teach deaf students to communicate: cued speech, the oral method, signed English, and the bilingual approach. With the varying degrees of disability within the deaf community, there are multiple classifications of deafness and educators have long debated the methods used to teach and communicate with deaf students. Each method has its advocates and opponents and no single method has emerged as the most effective. Advocates of sign language, also known as "deafhood enthusiasts" and detractors of sign language, the "oral methodologists," have been in conflict over deaf education since the late 19th Century. Though many advances have been made, a conclusive decision concerning a definitive educational model for the deaf and the role of sign language in their education has not been definitively determined.

Keywords American Sign Language (ASL); Bilingual Approach; Cochlea; Cochlear Implants; Cued Speech; Cues; Deaf; Deafhood Enthusiasts; Gallaudet University; Hard of Hearing; Native Tongue; Oral Method; Sign Linguists; Signed English


Only recently have there emerged methods of instructing the deaf that have not only allowed for their collective enrichment, but also have contributed to their assimilation into the hearing society. In past years, deaf children were offered two choices in education. One option was the education of the deaf person strictly among other deaf people. The other choice was the integration of the deaf person among hearing students. Though both choices had positive and negative aspects, the deaf, their families, and concerned pedagogues were not satisfied with the limited nature of these choices.

Traditionally in the 19th century, deaf children were educated primarily in sign language. Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone and the husband of a deaf woman helped champion the oral method. Other backers of this approach argued that sign language was "a form of savagery that kept its users isolated from the rest of humanity." (Bollag, 2006, p. 34). Proponents of this approach battled so furiously for the advocacy of oral speech in deaf education, that oral methodology was declared to be the decisive methodology in deaf education. Despite the position of the oral school of deaf education advocates, who wanted to eliminate the use of sign language, many deaf people took pride in their signing. Though untraditional, many deaf people and their advocates pushed to make sign language an established language. William J. Stokoe, a published professor who taught at Gallaudet University, the United States' premier school for the deaf and hard of hearing, advocated for the absolute admission of sign language into the category of foreign language. Attaching his platform to the already growing civil rights movement of the 1960's, he lobbied vehemently for both hearing and deaf society to recognize sign language as a bona fide language.

Stokoe's push for sign language was a multi-faceted endeavor. He not only insisted that sign language united and defined a culture of people, but also maintained that it was imperative for successful communication by the deaf. He expressed this point by illustrating that sign language was not a derivation of English, but a language all its own. In 1965, he stated, "Indeed scholars, and deaf people fluent in both languages, say American Sign Language (ASL) is as rich a medium as English for conveying even complex, intellectual ideas" (in Bollag, 2006, p. 34). Furthermore, Stokoe insisted that due to its erratic and inconsistent nature, the exact emulation of English syntax through sign language would be impossible. Sign language, unless it is Signed English, discussed below, does not share the same syntax and grammatical rules as English.

There exist four primary methods of educating the deaf. Though these methods are by no means certain or foolproof, they are the most accepted methods in modern-day deaf education. Different methods appeal to different people, but none of the methods are tailor-made. Bollag (2006) states, "For more than two centuries, educators of the deaf - and the college departments that train them - have debated the best way to teach deaf children. At one end of the spectrum are those who favor the 'oral' method, training teachers to concentrate on developing speech and hearing skills. At the other end are those who advocate a 'bilingual' approach, teaching primarily in American Sign Language (ASL) and promoting English as a second language" (Bollag, 2006, p. 34). In addition, a debate over sign language has recently emerged as well. Many deaf people and advocates resent the suggestion that sign language be abandoned in order to promote the assimilation of the deaf community. As a result, there exist both advocates and opponents of sign language.


With regard to the four methods of instruction, the use of sign language is a predominant factor in determining which instruction method is implemented.

Cued Speech

The first method of deaf education is called cued speech - a hybrid of sign and spoken language. Instruction through cued speech requires the teacher to "cue" or gesture to represent the sounds that they make as they speak. For example, if an instructor were to use a word with a 'long O' sound, they would cue the deaf person using an ASL sign for the corresponding sound. By doing so, the deaf person also reads lips, allowing him or her to communicate with the hearing community. Because cued speech relies heavily on gesture, many anti-sign language lobbyists do not approve of its use in the educational institution. However, cued speech allows the deaf person to participate in the English language. As mentioned previously, a main concern in the deaf community is alienation from the hearing community when using sign language exclusively.

The Oral Method

The second method of instruction is the oral method, which concentrates on the hearing and speaking skills of the deaf person, and as a result, sign language is rarely implemented. Though hearing and speaking may appear contradictory to the capabilities of a deaf person, advocates of the oral method firmly believe that the key to deaf integration lies within the ability to master the English language. Gabriel Martin, the chair of deaf education at Lamar University explains that sign language is the "native tongue" of all deaf people. However, advocates of the oral method hold contrary opinions. "The issue is highly controversial. Opponents say that concentrating on signing can undermine young children's acquisition of English, and largely relegates them to being able to communicate only with other deaf people" (Bollag, 2006 p. A20).

Signed English

The third method of teaching is called Signed English. Signed English - often referred to as "total communication" - differs from ASL because it is a direct translation of English through sign language. Unlike ASL, which has both syntactical and grammatical rules of its own, Signed English directly emulates every rule of the English language, and as a result many advocates of ASL criticize Signed English believing that it robs the deaf of maintaining their own language. In addition, some of these same advocates feel that though the assimilation of the deaf is important, the stabilization of deaf identity in society is equally important. "ASL exposes children to the world's knowledge…and it incorporates self-esteem and aspects of deaf culture" (Bollag, 2006, p. A19).

The Bilingual Approach

The fourth method applied in deaf education is regarded as the bilingual approach. What separates the bilingual approach from the other derivations of ASL is that the deaf student is urged to...

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