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Laurent Clerc:

By Melanie Haas
May 6, 2007

Louis Laurent Marie Clerc

 

          "The Father of the Deaf in America" as he is called, Laurent Clerc who was deaf from the time he was a baby, became a valuable instrument of learning for the deaf in the United States.   He helped to establish the first school for the deaf in 1817; The American Asylum at Harford for Education and Institution of the Deaf and dumb.  It is now called The American School for the Deaf.  

          Laurent Clerc was born the day after Christmas on December 26, 1785 in Le Balme les Grattes, France.   His parents served the King.  As a baby, he fell and burned the side of his face.  Shortly after, the family realized he was deaf.   They didn't know if he was like that from birth or if the accident caused it.  Therefore, he spent his young years without voice or communication.

          When he was twelve years old, he was taken to a school for the deaf, National des Jeune Sourds-Muets or the National School for the Deaf in Paris run by Abbe Sicard.   There, Clerc advanced and learned quickly.  He became a tutor and then he became a teacher.

          In 1815, Laurent Clerc went to England with Sicard and Massieu to lecture and do demonstrations of their teaching methods.  A man from America was there to learn more about the teaching methods because of a little girl back home who was deaf.   His name was Thomas Gallaudet.  This little girl was Alice Cogswell, who was his neighbor.  At the time, there were no schools for the deaf in America.  Gallaudet convinced Clerc to come to America with him to start a new school.  Together, Clerc and Gallaudet petitioned congress for money.   They accomplished the first appropriation ever from the Connecticut General Assembly to help with the education of the handicapped.

          The school was much needed.   When it opened, deaf students of all ages came there, anxious to learn.  Their first student was Alice Cogswell. The school not only taught them how to communicate, but they learned manners and other important social behaviors.   Some of the students who arrived were from Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts.  For generations the people there had many who were deaf in their communities.   They used a French form of sign language.  When they came to the school, many of their signs were blended with other signs being taught there. All the signs combined have become what is now American Sign Language.   Over thirty percent have French origins.

          Throughout Laurent Clerc's life he continued to teach others his methods of teaching the deaf.   They went on to establish schools all over America and Canada.  He was also an advocate for the deaf all his life.   He died at the age of 84 and is buried in Connecticut with his wife. 

 

References:
 

Canias, Loida. Laurent Clerc: Apostle to the Deaf People of the New World .

   Laurent Clerk National Deaf Education Center.

   http://clerccenter.gallaudet.edu/Literacy/MSSDLRC/clerc/  


Deafwiki. Laurent Clerc. http://deafwiki.org/index.php?title=Laurent_Clerc


Lowenstein, Felicia. All About Sign Language. New Jersey: Enslow
Publishers, Inc., 2004.


 


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