SASLJ Vol. 2 No. 2 - Page 106

Unlocking the Curriculum Johnson et al. We are by no means the first to propose the use of ASL as a first language and as the language of instruction for deaf children. From its inception and continuing until the shift to oralism, deaf education in our country encouraged ASL as a first language, used competent deaf adults as models, and appears to have achieved satisfactory results in teaching English (Lane, 1984; Lou, 1988). More recently, numerous scholars, both deaf and hearing, have called for the institution of programs broadly labelled as bilingual education (Kannapell, 1974, 1978; Woodward, 1978; Erting, 1978; Stevens, 1980; Quigley & Paul, 1984; Paul, 1988; Strong, 1988). Each of these proposals shares our view that ASL should be the first language of deaf children, that English should be taught according to the principles of teaching English as a second language (ESL) and that the ultimate goal of the system is well-educated, bilingual children. Programs built on principles similar to those we are proposing have been established as national policy in Sweden, Uruguay, and Venezuela, and are being developed in schools in each country. We know of the following programs in which elements of a bilingual experience have been instituted as a part of the curriculum: Beirut, Lebanon (at the Institut de Reeducation Audio- Phonetique Ain-aar), Copenhagen, Denmark (School for the Deaf at Kastelsvej), Santa Monica, California (the Tripod Program at PS-1), Fremont, California (California School for the Deaf. (Cf. Strong, 1988; Hanson & Padden, 1988)), Framingham, Massachusetts (The Learning Center for Deaf Children), and Philadelphia (the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf). To our knowledge, however, no programs in the United States have adopted fully a set of principles and practices such as those we propose. Guiding Principles o Deaf children will learn if given access to the things we want them to learn. Children are born with the capability and desire to learn a language and a culture. Current practice denies access to such learning by denying genuine first language proficiency to most deaf children, and by demanding that children communicate in a language they do not know. All communication conducted between children and adults in educational contexts should be conducted in a language to which the children have access. In the beginning this will be the child's first language. If access to content is through the child's first language, it follows that all adult participants in the setting must be proficient in the child's first language. o The first language of deaf children should be a natural sign language (ASL). When children are born, they are predisposed to learn a natural language. Natural sign languages are learned easily through normal language acquisition processes by deaf children who are exposed to them at an early age (Bellugi, et al., in press). For this reason, natural sign language is the best vehicle for providing access to socio-cultural information during early childhood and to the curricular content of education at all ages. We have found no evidence to support the notion that early sign language acquisition inhibits or otherwise interferes with the acquisition of literacy or speech in English; to the contrary, there is evidence (cited above) that early language exposure enhances the later academic and linguistic achievement of deaf students. SASLJ, Vol. 2, No. 2 – Fall/Winter 2018 106