Graham Bell was born March 3, 1847 in Edinburgh, Scotland which is
referred to as the “Athens of the North.” Edinburgh is known for its
rich culture of arts and sciences. Alexander had two brothers, one
older and one younger, who both ended up dying of tuberculosis.
Alexander’s mother was hard of hearing and a proficient pianist.
Alexander Graham Bell’s father, Alexander Melville Bell, followed in
his father’s footsteps and became a head authority on elocution and
speech correction (Grimm, French, Pak). Alexander Melville Bell was
a strict father figure for Alexander Graham Bell. Early on he was
homeschooled by his mother; then for a year he attended a private
school, and later he spent two years at Edinburgh’s Royal High
School (Grimm, French, Pak).
part in Alexander Graham Bell’s decision to continue his father and
grandfather’s work was his grandfather. When Alexander Graham Bell
was 15 years old his grandfather became very ill, and Alexander
Graham Bell volunteered to care for his grandfather. He mostly did
so to get away from his overbearing father. During the time that
Alexander cared for his grandfather they became very close. His
grandfather encouraged Alexander to follow his dream and to continue
with his interests (Grimm, French, Pak). At the age of 16, Alexander
thus accepted a position at Weston House Academy in Elgin, England.
He taught elocution and music. At the end of the term he went home
to apprentice for his father. In 1865, he returned back to Weston
House Academy to teach. Again in 1868, he returned home to his
family and his father; however, this time it was due to the death of
one of his brothers. At this time, his father was teaching in
America, so he gained full control of his father’s work in London.
After some time Alexander Graham Bell’s health began to worsen; this
caused Alexander Melville Bell to move his family to Brantford,
Ontario, Canada. Alexander Melville Bell was offered a teaching job
at the Boston School for Deaf Mutes; however, he turned it down and
instead recommended his son Alexander Graham Bell (Brian H.
Greenwald). Alexander accepted the position but was not rehired the
following year due to the school’s financial state. In 1872,
Alexander Graham Bell opened a school in Boston to train teachers on
how to teach deaf children. He also created the American Association
for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, which later changed to The
Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
Their goal is to promote the teaching of speech to the deaf and to
make sure they can talk, listen, and thrive within society.
Bell and his father spent their lives promoting and creating what
they called, “visible speech.” Visible speech was the first notation
system for the sounds of speech independent of a particular
language. The symbols used in visible speech are intended to provide
visual representations of the different pronunciations of each
letter (Brian H. Greenwald). Another word for visible speech is “The
While he tried to
do help the deaf, he was trying to “fix” them. He found deafness as
sort of a curse or disease. Growing up the only experience with Deaf
Culture that he had was with his mother who was hard of hearing. All
he really saw was how she struggled communicating within the
household, rather than truly witnessing the Deaf Culture. Alexander
Graham Bell considered them to almost be a weakness to society.
Alexander really only saw the struggles of being deaf within
society, rather than the happiness that could be found within the
Deaf Culture. Alexander researched how to prevent the birth of deaf
children and even wrote a paper about it called, “Memoir Upon the
Formation of a Deaf Variety of the Human Race.” He put so much time
towards this topic because he believed the population of deaf
children was increasing too much. Alexander Graham Bell stated about
the creation of deaf children, “Would be a great calamity to the
world.” His goal was appeared to be to make Deaf people less
noticeable in society. Saying that without a Deaf Community, people
would be forced to integrate into society. Alexander also felt
strongly about preventing deaf people from marrying. The two main
ideas were one, enact laws to forbid it and two to eliminate
residential schools, prohibit sign language use, and forbid deaf
teachers from teaching deaf students. Alexander Graham Bell thought
that the first idea would not work because there would just be
illegal children, rather than actually stopping it. The second idea,
he thought, was more reasonable. He assumed it would integrate
hearing and Deaf people together more, and the change could appear
as education reforms rather than discrimination against the Deaf
race. Neither of the two ideas was actually put into action. It did,
however instill anger into the Deaf Culture, which caused many
debates to start up. Bell did all he could to gain success; he sent
he memoir to anyone and everyone involved in deaf education yet it
still continued to fail.
When looking at
Bell’s attempt to educate Deaf people, it is easy to see how the
Deaf community would be upset. He was ultimately trying to eliminate
their culture because he thought everyone should be alike in a way.
American Sign Language was their language just like English,
Spanish, French, and so on. Why would it be acceptable for them to
have their own language but not for the Deaf to have sign language?
They felt that they were being taken for granted. They were trying
to be changed and were not accepted for themselves. They stood up
for themselves by participating in rallies and protests to prevent
the change from occurring. Alexander Graham Bell and his father’s
goal was presumably to help the Deaf. They wanted them to feel like
a part of society; however, while doing that they were also
dehumanizing them in a way. The Deaf Culture takes pride in being
deaf, and the work that the Bell family was doing was taking away
their Deaf identity. Alexander Graham Bell and Alexander Melville
Bell assumed they were helping the Deaf; they had no intentions of
destroying or insulting the Deaf Culture.
Most Deaf people
choose to stay deaf. With today’s advances of technology and supply
of resources, Deaf children if they would wish to do so, could
become hearing. While it is not guaranteed to work, there are many
methods that could be attempted. People nowadays accept the Deaf
Culture and sign language. People are not focused on integrating the
two into one but rather educating the two about each other.
Alexander Graham Bell passed away on August 2, 1922, in Cape Breton
Island, Nova Scotia, Canada. While the practice of visible speech is
sometimes used, it is not a common thing to see.
S. (1998, January 1). Visible Speech. . Retrieved May 26, 2014, from
Grimm, L., French, L., & Pak, E. (n.d.). Alexander Graham
Bell . Bio.com. Retrieved June 3, 2014, from
Greenwald, Ph.D., B. H. (2001, January 1). Education: Essay.
disability history museum--: Disability History Museum.
Retrieved May 26, 2014, from
Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of
Hearing. (2011, April 7). My ASL Journey. Retrieved May 26,
Duchan, J. F. (2011, May 12). Browse History. Judy
Duchan's History of Speech. Retrieved May 26, 2014, from
Shoulson, M. (2006, February 8). Visible Speech. . Retrieved
May 26, 2014, from
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