While most Americans confess that they do not like the educational system in the US, and an infinite supply of solutions continually are offered by politicians and educators alike, there remains a small group of people that is often overlooked (more on that shortly). The political ramifications of this group may well further define a number of other political issues, ranging from English as an “official” language to the best possible way to facilitate a child’s education.
First, many Americans seem to feel English is the only language that ought to be spoken, taught and utilized in every facet of Americans’ lives. Others disagree and state that the United States has a long history of embracing various cultures and even languages and is the basis for the existence of this country. One need not look further to the symbolic meaning of New York’s Ellis Island, as well as its long history of welcoming immigrants from all over the world.
But, in the US, there still exists a governmental policy to continue teaching American children a foreign language as a first language. Schools have been funded through state and federal government programs. Additional schools that teach this foreign language have also popped up in various community colleges and universities across the nation.
The results have been disastrous: a majority of the children taught this foreign language lack the appropriate reading and writing skills to function within the larger American society. High unemployment, suicide and drug abuse rates and other socially deviated behavioral patterns are consistent for this older members of this group as well. Even worse, attempts to restrict the educating of American children an inefficient first language has resulted in claims of “cultural genocide.”
Welcome to the world of deaf people and American Sign Language (ASL). During the early part of the 20th century, many schools of deaf children initially demanded that no mechanical (or manual) signing systems were to be used, and instead, intensive focus on lip reading, writing and speaking skills were stressed – this is called an “oralist” approach. Conversely, by the 1970’s, many researchers of deaf and hard of hearing educational systems began touting ASL as a “native” language of deaf people and began demanding ASL only be taught in deaf residential schools. Interestingly, anthropologists and linguists alike debated the claim that ASL was a true language and challenged the basis for the existence of a “deaf culture” built around ASL on the premise that a culture cannot exist without a language, among other things.
Today, many colleges and universities across the country are offering ASL classes as a foreign language elective. It has become widely accepted by many in deaf communities that ASL is a legitimate language – even going so far as to claim that ASL is the only language deaf people ought to use. Evidence of the impact of the political controversies surrounding ASL and “deaf culture” can be found during the 1988 Gallaudet University protests which were initiated by ASL-militants who demanded that ASL be the only language taught on the campus.