- Letter to the EditorInclusion: The Big Delusion
Inclusion, mainstreaming, and monolingualism as language policy for the majority of deaf youths is one of the most colossal failures in the history of education, resulting in an entire generation of Deaf semilingual students. Since the mid-1970s, with PL 94-142, IDEA, and now No Child Left Behind mandating assessments, the majority of deaf students are starving for accessible, comprehensible linguistic input in the public school system.
For the past 25 years I have been in and out of small, medium, and large day programs, and what I have found are large numbers of deaf semilingual students who can't read very well, nor write, nor even understand sign language fluently. In the past 10 years, I have also provided language assessment for a dozen young Deaf adults in the court system. All of these Deaf youths have been products of public mainstream programs. They cannot read the legal documents they are asked to sign, and, furthermore, they have difficulty understanding an ASL interpreter, if they are provided one, when they stand before the judge or go on trial. In her landmark study of 99 Deaf prison inmates at Huntsville (AL) State Prison, Dr. Trina Miller (2001) found that most of these Deaf adult inmates read below the third-grade level. Many of these Deaf inmates had not fully participated in their trial because they were semilingual, meaning they had weak English and weak ASL skills (linguistic incompetence). As the state of deaf education stands now, semilingualism abounds in our public schools, courts, and prisons. A big part of this environmental problem is that we have neglected to aggressively insist that rich, visually accessible language-learning environments in the schools be set up for Deaf students where they can learn both ASL and English as early as possible.
In our current stale state of deaf education school programming, there is some fresh air. Dr. Steve Nover and his colleagues at the Center for ASL/English Bilingual Education and Research (CAEBER; http://www.nmsd.k12.nm.us/caeber/index.html) have set up state-of-the-art ASL/English bilingual professional development (in-service and preservice) that has spread to more than 15 state schools for the Deaf and to five universities with teacher preparation programs, leadership programs, and doctoral programs. Setting up these ASL/English linguistically rich environments is more difficult in the public schools, but not impossible. In a master's thesis, Melissa DeLana (2004) has reported about a medium-size ASL/English bilingual program that was successfully set up in Oklahoma. Connie Ferguson, the only Deaf director of a regional day school for the Deaf in Texas, has also set up bilingual programs in her deaf education programs in the Bryan–College Station school district (Andrews, Ferguson, Roberts, & Hodges, 1997). These bilingual day schools could be models for the nation in providing the standards for more visually accessible language-learning environments in the public schools.
We need to dismantle and restructure these linguistically impoverished mainstream programs. Deaf children and youth need early access to Deaf culture and ASL/English bilingualism. If we don't set up these ASL/English bilingual environments, then we educators will continue in our perpetual state of willing suspension of disbelief that inclusion, mainstreaming, and monolingualism language policies are working.
Department of Communication Disorders
and Deaf Education