ERIC Identifier: ED414676
Publication Date: 1997-08-00
Author: Gilliam, Judith - Easterbrooks, Susan
Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education Reston VA.
Educating Children Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing: Residential
Life, ASL, and Deaf Culture. ERIC Digest #558.
A residential school for students who
are deaf has a comprehensive academic, health, and socialization program
including dormitory living equipped for students who are deaf. Most programs
serve preschool ages through grade 12, although some schools also have
parent-infant, vocational, and outreach services. Dormitories are divided
according to age groups. All staff and personnel are expected to communicate
with students fluently in all areas: academic, recreation, sports, leisure,
field trips, and residential settings. Next to coming from a deaf family or a
family with some fluent sign communication skills, many view residential life as
the ideal opportunity for students who are deaf to become familiar with and
enculturated into the Deaf community. In the dining room, for example, students
get direct and firsthand experience of true dinner conversation, because the
language of the Deaf community, American Sign Language (ASL), is used. In
after-school activities students are on equal footing with their peers, and
communication is not a barrier to social life because students do not have to
depend on an interpreter, enabling them to express themselves freely to their
peers. The residential school provides a great opportunity for socialization and
is a great environment for developing self-worth.
If a culture is defined as heritage, language, and a set of customs and
values shared by its members and transmitted from one generation to the next,
then the Deaf community truly is a culture. Members of the Deaf culture are a
group of individuals who have a common heritage (historical events, famous
figures, art, literature, and scholarly organizations), a common language
(American Sign Language), and a set of customs and values (cherishing Deaf
children, expecting participation in cultural events, valuing the visual world,
protecting one another) (Padden & Humphries, 1988). This heritage is passed
on from one generation to the next via the residential school, where they learn
such things as Deaf folklore and folklife (jokes, legends, games, riddles, etc.)
from other children, Deaf teachers, and Deaf houseparents. Most schools for the
deaf use some form of sign language (Padden & Humphries, 1988).
WHO CAN ATTEND A RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL?
According to the April
1996 issue of the American Annals of the Deaf, there were 78 residential schools
for the deaf or deaf and blind in the United States with only four states not
reporting a residential school. Most schools accept students based on degree of
hearing loss, academic needs, parental choice, and other factors. Usually these
schools have an established relationship with the child's local education
agency. This issue of the Annals also reported that 21% of the population that
was studied attended residential schools. Many schools accept children at about
the age of three. For younger children, participation in a Parent/Infant program
administered by the school provides much needed services until the child is
ready to attend. Residential schools are an alternative to placements in local
schools. Parents who are Deaf themselves often choose a school for the Deaf over
local schools because of the opportunity for their child(ren) to participate in
the life of the Deaf community and culture. Hearing parents of children who are
deaf seem to have greater reluctance about sending their children because they
do not want to be separated from them (Scheetz, 1993). Separation may cause
feelings of guilt in the parents, confusion and homesickness in the child, and
depression in both, but once the child has adjusted, he usually embraces the
experience wholeheartedly. Houseparents and classroom teachers are often Deaf
themselves, and a unique bond may develop between the Deaf child and other Deaf
members of the school and community, where the child has access to role models
who are Deaf.
HOW DOES ONE BECOME A MEMBER OF THE DEAF CULTURE?
primary avenue by which a child with a hearing loss becomes a member of the Deaf
culture is through the residential schools, but any child who has a hearing loss
and uses sign language can become a member of the Deaf community. Students who
are deaf and who attended mainstream schools must continue to prove their
allegiance to the Deaf culture if they have chosen participation in adulthood
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL PLACEMENT?
students who are mainstreamed miss out on the feeling of belonging that
individuals from the Deaf culture associate with their residential schools, and
their experience is very different from those who attend residential school.
Mainstreamed students often are singled out in many respects. Although they have
access to interpreters, notetakers, and other special assistive devices, they
still may be loners, especially in mainstream environments where there are few
other students with hearing losses.
The residential school acts as a melting pot for the majority of the
students. They are able to become personally involved with those of same
educational or interest levels. In school, with an abundant number of students,
they are able to be grouped homogeneously, thus facilitating learning.
Residential schools also enhance competition among one another. The students are
exposed to deaf adults with various types of careers. The residential school is
the point of contact for the Deaf culture where deaf students can pass on the
stories or history to be shared from one generation to another. Residential
students are immersed in the genre of deafness and exchange the mannerisms, the
differences, the values, the folklore of the Deaf culture. The majority of
graduates from a residential school develop a strong bond with their alma mater.
Going to homecoming games, for example, is a thrilling experience. It is like a
home away from home. The alumnae also have a sentimental attachment to and value
the well being of the school.
WHAT ARE THE LIMITATIONS OF PLACEMENT AT A RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL OR MEMBERSHIP IN THE DEAF CULTURE?
This question is difficult to answer
because the answer depend on the perspective of the person answering. Many
students who have attended residential schools and who are members of the Deaf
culture will admit to some regret over missing out on a closely knit family life
but quickly add that the freedom of communication, sense of belonging, sports
and other group events, and opportunities to experience success far outweigh the
disadvantages. From the perspective of people who hear, there are concerns that
the child who is deaf will have greater difficulty adjusting to adult life due
to learned dependency and limited contact with the larger community. Further,
the curriculum of the typical residential school tends to be less rigorous than
that of other schools (Lane, Hoffmeister, & Bahan, 1996). Deaf culture
members are almost unanimous in their response that the Deaf culture more than
makes up the difference. In addition, because many families live at some
distance from the school, parents tend not to participate in their child's
education to a sufficient degree. The choice of residential placement must be
made with the child's educational and emotional needs in mind, weighing the pros
and cons carefully and with the best interests of the child as a guide.
ASL in Schools: Policies and curriculum.
Conference Proceedings. October 28-30, 1992, Gallaudet University, Washington,
Lane, H., Hoffmeister, R., & Bahan, B. (1996). A journey into the Deaf
world. San Diego, CA: Dawn Sign Press. National Association of the Deaf,
301-587-1788 (voice), 301-587-1789 (TDD).
Padden, C., and Humphries, T. (1988). Deaf in America: Voices from a culture.
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Reese, G. (1996). Personal communication. Atlanta, GA.
Scheetz, N. (1993). Orientation to deafness. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Schildroth, A., & Hotto, S. (1996). Changes in student and program
characteristics, 1984-85 and 1994-95. American Annals of the Deaf, 141(2),
Wilcox, S. (Ed.) (1989). American deaf culture. Burtonsville, MD: Linstok
The Convention of American Instructors of the Deaf (CAID) is an organization
of teachers who teach primarily in residential schools. The Conference of
Educational Administrators Serving the Deaf (CEASD) is an organization of
administrators who serve primarily in residential schools. CAID and CEASD
publish the American Annals of the Deaf as well as newsletters. The Broadcaster,
published by the National Association of the Deaf, provides a good glimpse into
Deaf culture and residential life.
The CAID and CEASD presidents change routinely. A listing of the current
presidents and their affiliations is found in the April issue each year of the
American Annals of the Deaf. This issue also provides a listing of all
residential schools in the United States and Canada and some in other locales. A
contact number is given for each school.