SASLJ Vol. 2 No. 2 - Page 87

Curriculum: Thirty Years Later Blackburn A commentary on Johnson, Liddell, and Erting's 1989 manuscript, "Unlocking the Curriculum" Unlocking the Curriculum: Thirty Years Later Laura Blackburn Tidewater Community College At this writing, it has been thirty years since the seminal paper, Unlocking the curriculum: Principles for achieving success in deaf education (Johnson, Liddell & Erting, 1989) was distributed without authors’ permission on Gallaudet University’s campus. Despite its unexpected release, the information contained in this white paper was timely and powerful. As a classroom deaf educator at that time and later as a doctoral student, charter school administrator and teacher trainer, I carried a rabbit-eared, highlighted copy of Unlocking with me everywhere and shared its contents with whomever I could. What thrilled me the most about Unlocking was the recommended model program for the education of deaf students that included 12 guiding principles for success. Publications I read before this white paper only described the failures of deaf students. Unlocking shone a bright light on deaf education systemic failures and the stakeholders responsible (If you have not read Unlocking the curriculum - a spoiler: the reasons they cited responsible for failure were not the deaf students themselves). While proposing this model program, Johnson, Liddell and Erting did not stop at identifying the stakeholders responsible for the failed system; they also offered solutions. Johnson, Liddell and Erting also gave us hope and direction. Their fundamental message was, if only the deaf education system would acknowledge and begin with the cornerstone of using a natural signed language to educate deaf children, we could begin to make repairs. My breath still catches in my throat when I read the first sentence of the document. Thirty years later as I write this commentary, it is, to say the least, disappointing that I must coin the same sentence with a slight revision (my added word is in italics): “The education of deaf students in the United States is still not as it should be.” Thirty Years in Retrospect Shortly after Unlocking the curriculum was distributed, scholars and educators weighed in on the viability of implementing the recommended model program and the 12 guiding principles for success. Most publications and discussions seemed to devolve into debates regarding the viability of using a natural sign language to educate deaf children, versus Signed Supported Speech (SSS), or spoken language/oral methods only. For example, a seasoned teacher wrote a letter to William Stokoe that was published in a special edition of Sign Language Studies (VanBinsbergen, 1990), detailing why the goal of using American Sign Language (ASL) in classrooms was unattainable. VanBinsbergen (1990) admitted feeling awkward about the idea because her teacher preparation program had not included much information about ASL. She asserted that in her professional opinion, most parents would not have the time or resources to learn the language. VanBinsbergen (1990) also mentioned inviting four deaf adults into her classroom to serve as SASLJ, Vol. 2, No. 2 – Fall/Winter 2018 87