Peace Corps Director Ronald Tschetter observes...

Peace Corps Director Ronald Tschetter observes deaf students on his visit to Kenya. The students are using role playing exercises, educational videos, and other visual aids that Peace Corps Volunteers have developed, including Kenya’s first uniform sign language poster, the “Easy to Learn Sign Language Poster.” Peace Corps Press Release. “Peace Corps Director Visits Kenya and Unique Deaf Education Program .” June 26, 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Academics in Deaf education have always been a highly discussed topic. The concern is rather residential schools (schools for the Deaf) truly prepare deaf students at the same rate as their hearing counterpart. The other side if that coin is rather or not public (hearing) schools put effort forth in educating the deaf that attend their schools through on campus deaf and hard of hearing cohort or mainstreamed programs. If you toss in an additional coin the other concern is should the focus of deaf education be on vocational and life skills training to ensure students are functioning in a hearing society. The last side of the coin is for everything else in between.
The benefits for Schools for the Deaf is the school is tailored to meet the needs of the students as a whole; socially, personally, academically and vocational. Students are taught in their primary language which enables a better foundation for learning and increase complex concepts that may be difficult to clarify in English. Teachers are knowledgeable and specialize in Deaf education and have the best strategies on how to teach the deaf. Students are able to see Deaf adults as role models like themselves which encourages them to not limit themselves. Students live with others like themselves who have the same method of communication and similar struggles, they can communicate to support each other through the challenges they face. Schools for the Deaf are great for helping a child identify with their “deafhood” and be proud to be Deaf with a Capitol “D”. The drawbacks of a school like this is it can be sheltering because students live in the deaf world on an ongoing basis. It can be biased in the methods and content taught. Some educators outside the deaf community think students are not being prepared for the real world or college academics because of the lack of information students receive.
The benefits of students attending a mainstreamed program in a hearing public school is they are learning the same content their hearing counterparts are learning. They have access to resources to support their learning such as an interpreter or a note taker. Most importantly to some is that they are learning to function in a hearing environment and are not sheltered in a small world that can help them to exist in a larger world. I have met parents who say they solely chose mainstream programs because they want their children to learn to function in a hearing world. The disability-the lack of hearing will inhibit them from getting jobs and pursuing higher academics if they don’t learn how to communicate with hearing individuals and they feel mainstreamed programs support that. The drawbacks of a mainstreamed program is if the program is not well established with knowledgable teachers, interpreters and administrators deaf students may fall through the cracks if they dn not have advocates putting place best practices and programs for them. Also, regular administrators, teachers and support staff have no idea of how best to help the student besides general concepts like an Assistive Listening device or sitting the student in front of the class room.
There are pros and cons to both environments but what it comes down to is, which is the best environment for the student with the family desires taking a back seat. Which environment will the student be inspired, educated and grow in? This is what a parent should be looking for. Education is a partnership between the parent and the school. In addition, parents should support the student inside school by learning information to advocate on behalf of their child and outside of school by learning sign language to communicate with their child. I believe it is best to have  a combination of both academic and vocational education in any setting students attend. Both of these components will help to build a healthy and succesful student who will become a healthy and successful adult.

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