My own views on deaf history

by Nicki

(Canada)

After reading this article, as well as the other available ones on this site and a few from another ASL book I am reading I have come to the conclusion that I can’t choose one person in deaf history as my favourite. I have to say that they all have their goods and bads just like any other person.

I will say that Aristotle was entirely wrong in his views that people are only able to learn through spoken language or oralism. I can say that even hearing people don’t all only learn through spoken language, I am mostly hearing a visual learner and found that my teachers talking, in later grades, only made it more difficult to learn. Although perhaps he meant well with his statements, I suppose we will never know.

I certainly applaud the efforts of early deaf educators and say that without them deaf people would quite possibly not be as advanced in society as they are today and as they deserve to be. Juan Pablo de Bonet was very well meaning in his attempts and absolutely did good by deaf people of the time in educating them. This said, I am sure his version of deaf education was still far below that of hearing education and, although, the students could read and write and understand some speechreading, this probably still left them with a very low level education but something is better than nothing at all.

Abbe de L’Epee was absolutely one of the most important people in deaf history and without him deaf education would not have become as well known. He helped teach a generalized sign language so that deaf people could communicate with one another and with their hearing friends and family if those people were interested in learning.

Samuel Heinicke is another one of those people I would like to, try to, give the benefit of the doubt. He believed in oralism, I am sure he meant well with his ideas. He probably just wanted to make deaf people more like, or more understandable to hearing people. This however, would never work based on things we know today. Not all deaf people can be totally oral and those people deserve a language of their own to communicate their needs and wants.

Helen Keller and Laura Bridgman are both very important people in deaf history as well, showing that all deaf people can learn even if they are unable to see. I would go as far as to say that they are important to all educational history in the sense that this shows that all people are able to learn, not matter their challenges. I would like to give a hand to these ladies’ teachers as well as they had to deal with a lot of stress and difficulties while education these two people.

Alexander Graham Bell is another interesting person to deaf history. He made the choice to support oralism and I assume it was for the same reasons as all the other oralism only people but at least he eventually came around and realized that oralism is not the only way, just one way, for deaf people to learn.

William Stokoe was another very important figure and he is absolutely correct in saying that ASL is a genuine language with a unique syntax and grammar. His publication changed deaf learning forever in making ASL a national language.

The decision to use total education was also a great one in my opinion, deaf people should have the right to learn just as well as hearing people and, perhaps it is just because I was educated in a hearing school and am mostly hearing, I feel they should be taught the way that works for them, be it all sign or a mix of sign and oralism.

I also applaud the efforts of the Gallaudet University student and staff in the Deaf President Now protest and say that these people also changed deaf history for the better.

The final person mentioned in this article is Heather Whitestone, yes she may have been named Miss America and proven that deaf people can do what hearing people can but she is a bad representation of deaf people as a whole. It is well known that she refused to use ASL and looked down on those who did use it. Great for her but not a good show of who deaf people truly are.

As you can see, I couldn’t choose a favourite. All of these people, good and bad had an impact on deaf history and education, perhaps without the setbacks deaf people would be further advanced but I believe that these challenges made them work harder and so maybe makes them more determined than others. Either way all of these people, except Heather Whitestone are all important people.

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