Multi-Cultural Issues in Deaf Education Term Paper

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"Co-enrolled classrooms," they advise, "represent a promising additional possibility for increasing student social access to peers, as well as increasing achievement. A co-enrolled classroom typically consists of an approximately 2:1 ratio of hearing and Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing (DHH) students. A team of two teachers, a general education teacher and a teacher of DHH students, collaborate to provide instruction. In many CE classrooms, the teachers and students frequently use both spoken English and sign language" (p. 20).

According to Hicks (1999), these trends have also provided new opportunities for understanding how young people interrelate and react, features that hold special significance for understanding deaf education in a multicultural classroom. "As such," she advises, these trends "open up new ways of thinking about how cultural groups may function in relation to one another in a multicultural classroom" (Hicks, 1999, p. 19). This author also emphasizes that today's multicultural classroom has compelled teachers are begin looking at their lessons from the perspectives of "their black students, their Hispanic students, their white students, their poor students, their middle-class and upper-middle class students, their traditionally successful students, and their unsuccessful students" (p. 33). Therefore, it is clear that teachers also need to look at their lessons from the perspective of the deaf students, if they are so tasked.

In spite of legislative attempts to level the playing field for disabled students in recent years, significant disparities remain firmly in place for the deaf. For example, in her study, "Improving Practices for Students with Hearing Impairments," Easterbrooks (1999) points out that, "Most students who are deaf or hard of hearing are educated in their local schools, and many are in areas of this country where there are small numbers of students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Schools with few students may not have a variety of employees with sufficiently broad bases of specialization to advise the system" (p. 537).

In addition, a paucity of timely information concerning appropriate pedagogy for these children may result in schools making judgments about the unique needs of deaf students based on conventional wisdom rather than fact (e.g., they read well enough "for a deaf child"), which may result in failure to provide the basic requirements of the law, such as teachers, interpreters, or adequate remedial services (Easterbrooks, 1999). In this regard, Flood and his associates emphasize that, "The twin objectives of public school hearing impaired programs are to allow for instruction with normally hearing age-mates as much as possible and to facilitate the acquisition of English among the deaf children" (p. 314). Nevertheless, in spite of the availability of such programs in many parts of the country, as well as the highly intensive and technical methods for educating deaf children which have been developed over the years, deaf students in the United States continue to fail to achieve competence in English and assimilation with hearing people that their education is expected to provide (Flood et al., 2005).

Furthermore, when minority students are involved, these constraints to the delivery of quality educational services become even more difficult. In this regard, Easterbrooks notes that, "Students who are deaf and hard of hearing form a widely heterogeneous group" (p. 537). Notwithstanding these distinct cultural differences, though, deaf children are also members of a separate learning culture as well. For instance, according to Qualls-Mitchell (2002), "Deaf people belong to a distinct culture, and American Sign Language is the first language employed by most Deaf individuals in the United States. In order to appreciate a culture other than your own, it is necessary to understand the objective (tangible) and subjective (nontangible) characteristics of that culture. It is important to be aware of the socialization patterns as well" (p. 77).

This author emphasizes that an understanding of deafness is essential for educators working with deaf and hard-of-hearing students, but recognizing and appreciating the culture of others also allows communication to be less restrictive in nature as well (Qualls-Mitchell, 2002). In this regard, she advises, "People tend to let their guard down when a genuine interest in who they are or how they really feel is shown -- familiarity breeds solace. When children feel safe, they respond openly, honestly, and with pure intentions. Students hold their teachers in high regard" (emphasis added) (Qualls-Mitchell, 2002, p. 77). Likewise, as Broesterhuizen points out, deaf students do not want to define themselves in terms of lacking something their hearing counterparts possess, but rather in terms of how the positive aspects of their language and culture affect them on a personal level: "For them, terms such as hearing impaired or hearing challenged are typical of the disempowering and oppressive language use of hearing society. They define themselves as Deaf, just in the same way as others define themselves as belonging to the Italian, Irish, or Arab community" (2005, p. 304).

This would suggest that even in a highly multicultural setting, deaf students would likely consider themselves part of the nonhearing culture even before they thought of themselves as an American, Mexican, or otherwise. In this regard, Lane advises, "We seek mutual respect for each other's culture and language, and freedom from previous roles as oppressor and oppressed. We cultivate increased sensitivity, respect, and trust, with the hope of becoming true allies. Our goals are empowerment as individuals and equal partners, and recognition of deaf people as members of a cultural minority group" (emphasis added) (1994, p. 127). What does all the foregoing mean, though, for teachers seeking to improve the quality of educational services being provided deaf children?

According to Lane (1994), some observers believe that schools that have a multicultural philosophy in place for their deaf students are a step ahead of the pack; however, this approach ignores a fundamental reality: "By leaping into multiculturalism, they have ignored the dominant, oppressive dynamic in the system -- "that between deaf and hearing people. BiBi must occur first, or the multicultural emphasis will only enforce the prejudice that deaf people have no unique culture of their own" (emphasis added) (p. 123). Just as communism was viewed as a drastic but essential stepping stone to achieve true socialism, the use of BiBi by deaf students is also considered a transitional phase rather than the end-all for multicultural deaf classrooms. For instance, as Lane points out, "BiBi is not an end product. It is a transitional phase on the road to true multiculturalism. Just as you cannot start a BiBi philosophy without deaf people, you cannot start a multicultural philosophy without recognizing and accepting deaf culture -- "which means dealing with the last 150 years of attempted cultural genocide" (1994, p. 123).

In fact, Lane resorts to such violent metaphors over and over his analysis of how deaf children have received the short end of the educational stick over the years: "People have strong reactions to being identified as either oppressed or as oppressor. They do not like it, and usually deny it vigorously. But this relationship of oppression is precisely what perpetuates the current ineffectual and repressive system of deaf education. Traditionally we have ignored it, made fun of it, and acted as if it did not exist. BiBi identifies it as the enemy that it really is" (p. 126). It is safe to suggest that no one likes to be oppressed, but the problem in this case relates more to the fundamental inability of conventional approaches to provide quality educational services in the deaf classroom rather than any insidious plot on the part of evil-minded educators to fail to do so. No, the problem appears to be one of communication, and this is where many authorities suggest educators concentrate their efforts, and these issues are discussed further below.

Steps to Improve Education in the Deaf Classroom.

In spite of the co-enrollment alternative described by Antia and Mccain (2005) above, many deaf students will continue to find themselves mainstreamed into regular classroom settings. In these environments, deaf students' needs may be unique, but so too are their hearing counterparts; therefore, deaf students in the public schools do not necessarily represent any type of additional challenge for the educational system in this regard, rather it is just a different type of challenge. The introduction of high stakes testing regimens in virtually all of the United States over the past two decades or so has had an adverse impact on disabled students across the country in general and it would be reasonable to assume that deaf students are also experiencing some new challenges as they attempt to successfully navigate both the rigors of living in hearing world while attempting to achieve academic success. This assumption is borne out by scientific studies as well.

According to Bat-Chava, Deignan, Meza, Rosen, Sausa, and Shockett (1999), "Deaf and hard of hearing students have, on average, lower academic achievement than heating students. The standardized achievement scores of deaf and hard of hearing students, for example, are significantly below those of…[continue]

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