- Course of Instruction
The question, what is the best method of teaching deaf-mutes, is one of very great importance, and yet one difficult to answer. It is important, inasmuch as the teacher has his pupils under his instruction but a short time comparatively, and in that time, he must teach them everything which it is desirable for them to know, without the opportunity of correcting his mistakes, if he have set out in a wrong direction, or have failed to adopt the best system of instruction. It is a difficult question to answer, because experience alone can qualify a person to decide whether this or that system is preferable, and few if any practical teachers of deaf-mutes, have been conversant with more than one mode of teaching. We may, it is true, form a pretty accurate estimate of the value of a particular system or course of instruction, by its results; but even here, there is room for mistake, and danger of erroneous conclusions: for a pupil under the best system, and in the hands of the most skillful teacher, may be so much inferior in intellect to another, not so highly favored in those respects, that his progress in a given time, shall be far less; and were this rule of judging to be strictly adopted, the better system might be made to give place to the worse. The same error might be fallen into, in case there existed a similar disparity in the teachers under the different systems: for it is obvious that the teacher of tact and skill may, by labor and perseverance, accomplish much more under an inferior system, than another under a better system, who should be destitute of the proper qualifications. Still, after suitable allowances are made, results may and must be regarded as the most conclusive evidence in favor of any system.
The writer of this article, after having been engaged twenty eight years in the business of teaching deaf-mutes, still feels incompetent to decide a question of so much importance and difficulty; and aims at nothing more in this article, than to present such views and suggestions, the result of his own experience, as may assist others in coming to a right decision of the question.
There are, at the present time, three distinct systems or modes of teaching deaf-mutes, namely, the French, the German, and the English. The French system makes use of the natural signs of the deaf and dumb as the medium of instruction, in connection with a set of conventional signs, expressive of the relations of words in a sentence, and of the changes which words admit of in respect to case, tense, number, comparison, &c., and a manual alphabet on one hand. It aims to extend and perfect the language of signs, and to give its pupils such a knowledge of written language as will answer the purpose of intercourse with those about them; and is content to leave them mutes after they are educated. The German system on the contrary uses speech as the principal means of imparting instruction, and endeavors to make all its pupils articulate like those who hear. It forbids the use of signs as far as possible, and of a manual alphabet [End Page 26] altogether, both to the teachers and the learners; requires the latter to read the lips of others when speaking to them and to reply orally; and is content with nothing short of changing the deaf-mute into a speaking and apparently a hearing person. The English system adopts an intermediate course between the German and the French. Like the latter, it makes use of signs as a means of imparting instruction, though in a less methodical way; relying more upon written language as an auxiliary to signs; and the two-handed alphabet. Like the former, it teaches articulation; not however as a means of education so much as the end. It endeavors to enable all its pupils to converse orally with others, and considers this as the principal object to be secured. Perhaps some may think that we should have extended our classification by adding to it the American...