SASLJ Vol. 2 No. 2 - Page 94

Unlocking the Curriculum Johnson et al. kindergarten. Because most deaf children are born into all-hearing families, they tend to be addressed in the home only in spoken English, a language and modality which may be almost totally inaccessible to them. Upon entering school they are consequently already well behind hearing age mates in both language development and the cognitive and social development that comes from interacting with parents and peers using a natural language. It follows that such children will also be substantially behind their hearing peers in the acquisition of the knowledge and information expected to be held by children of their age. In all of these respects, children who have been addressed largely in spoken English will typically also be behind their deaf age mates who have acquired ASL naturally. These children generally come from families with deaf parents or older deaf siblings, and typically have a native competence in natural sign language and several years of experience conversing about the world with adults and peers. We contend that education programs for deaf children in this country deny the linguistic needs of either of these groups. To our knowledge, all programs in the United States continue to present curricular material in a form that is not accessible to either of these categories of children. Material presented in spoken English is inaccessible to any deaf child, including even those with less than profound hearing losses. If deaf children could deal with plain spoken English, there would be no need for special educational treatment. That is, because the majority of deaf children fail when only spoken English is available, our country has long recognized the necessity of special programming. For reasons we will discuss below, material presented in "Signed English" is usually equally inaccessible. Oral programs use spoken English as the sole mode of instruction. Although residential oral schools have greatly declined in number, there are still many oral, public school, day programs for educating deaf students. The underlying assumption of such programs is that children will acquire spoken English through seeing and hearing it, and that this language acquisition will lead to more complete integration with the "hearing world" (Van Uden, 1968; Miller, 1970; Northcott, 1981). They have traditionally failed because deaf children cannot hear and because only a small part of the spoken English signal may be comprehended visually. Competent lipreading requires prior knowledge of the language and being able to use that knowledge (and partial hearing) to supply missing information. Thus, children who have substantial residual hearing and children who have become deaf after the acquisition of spoken English typically have been more successful in oral programs. Even with such advantages, it takes years of concentrated, individualized training for a child to develop reliable skills in lipreading and speech, usually to the exclusion of a substantial portion of ordinary curricular material. For a profoundly and prelingually deaf child with little or no prior language experience, oral education is expected to teach not only speech and lipreading, but also to provide the fundamental model for acquisition of the English language. Children are expected to acquire, to understand, and to use spoken English simultaneously. But more critical to the educational process is the fact that the same children are expected from the first day to receive, process, and learn all curricular content through spoken English produced by their teachers. It is not surprising that most deaf children do poorly in this environment. It appears to us to be unrealistic to think that a person who does not know a language and who cannot receive it in the form presented could learn much from someone trying to communicate in that language. SASLJ, Vol. 2, No. 2 – Fall/Winter 2018 94