Brief History of public education in American

History of Deaf Education in America

math class sign languageThe first half century of the school's existence was a time of flowering and growth for deaf education in America. ASD served as a model institution and a training ground for numerous schools for the deaf which opened elsewhere during this period. Instruction was in sign language, with the goals of imparting literacy, training for productive labor, and religious salvation. ASD was a Congregationalist school in its early years, which was consistent with the civil government of Connecticut at the time the school was established.

An important feature of manual communication as a teaching language is that it allows deaf people to be teachers. Many alumni did go on to become teachers and principals at schools for the deaf throughout the United States, which spread sign language throughout the country. A deaf culture developed during this period, with periodicals, organizations, social relations and all the other features to be expected of a minority culture dispersed through the general population. So rapid and positive was the spread of this language and culture that the period is today referred to as a golden age.

The culminating achievement of that time was the establishment of the Columbia Institution for the Deaf at Washington, D.C. in 1864. Now called Gallaudet University, it is still the only liberal arts college for the deaf in the world, although there are now many other institutions offering college and post graduate degrees to the deaf.

The later half of the nineteenth century witnessed the rise of oral theories of deaf education. Although there are a variety of these theories, they have in common an emphasis on the importance of oral skills (speech-reading and speech) in the education of deaf children. A leading proponent of oral methods was Alexander Graham Bell, whose mother and wife were both hard of hearing. The first major oral school in the U.S., Clarke School for the Deaf in Northampton, Massachusetts, opened in 1867.

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