One of the things that has struck me in reading about deaf education these last couple of months is this extremely common rationalization that I see:

“English is a second language for many deaf people, so their English skills are usually at fourth grade level or so.”

This concept just boggles my mind. But on reflection I think there are several things happening. The far and away most obvious one, of course, is the inherent audism many hearing folks, even educators (for shame!), have in thinking that deaf people are less intelligent than hearing folks. But you’re not gonna convince me of that, no way.

But there must be some other factors, because many deaf people accept that too. Even accounting for a certain percentage who will believe something they’ve been taught (a tough one to get away from), there’s still too many people who buy into it.

But one facet of this thread of thought sounds very similar to another issue I’m familiar with…the notion that there is one language to learn. The United States is very monolingual — in most parts of the country there’s very little pressure to learn other languages. I was amazed the first time I visited Europe and realized how many languages people would learn as a matter of course. I also live in a place where there are many immigrants, and many of the ones I went to school with had a better grasp of English than many of my peers! So clearly multiple languages does not mean the second languages will be learned only half-assed. The only times I’ve seen this is when the person had no formal education in the second (or third or whatever) language. So perhaps by absorbing the general U.S. attitude toward languages, deaf people may also adopt a similar attitude about neglecting English for ASL? I don’t know. But I get interested in these things and start musing and so here you are reading about it 🙂 Internet’s interesting, isn’t it?

So I do think that this notion of monolingualism seeps into the Deaf community. I absolutely agree about teaching deaf children in a language they can use 100% which is ASL, and I absolutely agree that it’s crazy to waste as much time as we often do forcing these same children to speak. But too many people seem to tacitly accept poor English skills in deaf children and I disagree strongly. There should be no reason that a deaf child could not read and write at their educational level at any given point. The sooner we demand that, the sooner we accept a bilingual model for deaf children, the sooner we can improve on this.

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