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Deaf Community:  Residential Schools for the Deaf

Paula Eastwood

Residential Schools versus Public Schools for the Deaf

     The Deaf community has been struggling for its survival for decades.  The overall hearing majority think that the best approach for the Deaf is to have them integrated with the rest of the hearing world.  The Deaf have their own unique culture and language that is under constant threat from the hearing majority.  My paper is addressing the very real threat that Deaf children are facing when they are required to attend public schools in response to the 1975 Education for All Handicapped Children Act.
     Public Law 94-142 says that deaf children fall under the same category as handicapped and special education children, as being entitled to an education in public schools.  The result for residential schools for the deaf, because of this act, has been a major decline in enrollment of deaf students (Padden & Humphries, 1988).  This is a major problem for the Deaf community, as this is the place that a lot of deaf culture has been traditionally passed down to other members.  Many children that are deaf have hearing parents who have no idea of the historical significance of the Deaf and many are afraid to learn the language.  The oralists idea is to encourage the movement of deaf children to learn how to speak and lip-read like the majority.  Pre-lingually deaf children who are taught by oral methods tend to fall far behind their hearing peers in school.  One study found that the average deaf high school student read on the third-grade level (Kent, 2003).  This does not bode well for the Deaf community or the deaf children that are enrolled in public schools. 
     As can be seen by the swift decline of public funds being transferred from residential schools for the Deaf to public schools for mainstreaming purposes, deaf children are often left out in the cold.  Public schools cannot serve the needs of deaf children when they are ill equipped to do so.  Teachers in public schools often turn their backs when they are writing on the board and continue to speak, thus deaf children who might be attempting to lip read are left out of the conversation.  Also deaf students are not able to hear their peers in class as they respond to various things in the classroom environment.  Even when public schools give deaf students the benefit of an interpreter, all the conversations in the classroom are not told to the deaf students (Walker, 1994).  Thus, the deaf students are not really being integrated into the hearing culture, they are actively been shut out.  Most hearing students will not make the effort that is required to talk with a deaf student that they feel can not understand them when they try to communicate with them.  The deaf student is left out of the social environment of the school as a result.  A deaf child may with a lot of effort be able to excel in the academics of public school, our language is very different then ASL, but they will have a major stumbling block when it comes to the social environment.  It is very hard for deaf students to feel like they belong to an environment they feel is hostile to their language and culture.  Basically when deaf students are made to go to public schools they are being told that they need to forget about their language and culture and concentrate on blending in with the hearing world.  It is certainly hard for them to feel like they belong when there are very few, if any, deaf students in the school they attend. 
     Integrating on the basis of race is very different from integrating on the basis of communication abilities (hearing and deaf).  Integration on a physical level, such as winning athletic awards and playing on the hockey team, is not the same thing as integration in communication.  Students will miss out on talks in the locker room, the bus, and various other social activities that require a form of communication that the deaf may not be able to meet (Bragg, 2001). 
     Deaf culture has struggled to survive in a world that is constantly trying to suppress it.  While many residential schools for the deaf have been closed down through lack of funding, the Deaf community have been fighting back by inviting others to share in their rich cultural heritage and language.  Through their efforts and organizations, the Deaf are reaching out to the young deaf students that are coming on that have not previously been exposed to a culture that has been denied to them in the public schools they are required to attend.     


Padden, C., Humphries, T.  ( 1988).  Deaf In America Voices from a Culture. 
     Cambridege, Massachusetts:  Harvard University Press.
Walker, L. A.  (1994).  Hand, Heart, and Mind.  New York, New York:  Penguin Books
     USA Inc.

Kent, D.  (2003)  American Sign Language.  New York, New York:  Franklin Watts. (p. 39)

Bragg, L.  (2001).  Deaf World:  A Historical Reader and Primary Sourcebook.  New
     York, New York:  New York University Press.




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