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The Deaf as an Ethnic Community
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
A review of the book by John Vickrey Van Cleve and Barry A. Crouch
A Place of Their Own:  Creating the Deaf Community in America (Washington, DC:  Gallaudet University Press, 1989.  212p.)

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This is an excellent history for deaf education in the United States.  It is a readable and insightful treasure of names, dates and institutions, developed against the broader canvas of world deaf education.

I found this book in the book store of the University of Texas at Arlington a couple of blocks from my home, right after I moved here in January 2009.  The volume documents the development of social and political factors involved in the position of the deaf population within the broader general population in Europe and the United States.

These two scholars develop the story chronologically and thematically from the 1500s, paralleling the stages of social and industrial development in western society.  They portray the attitudes and approaches to the deaf within major segments of the European society and shine their specific spotlight on the growing consciousness of the deaf as a coherent community.  They reference to sources of the periods covered to demonstrate the paternalistic and self-serving general attitude of the hearing majority toward the deaf in their midst.

The Deaf were seen often as disabled and less able to learn, or were made to learn speech to enhance their interaction with the hearing community and their usefulness to the dominant hearing culture.  As educational movements they contrast the development of methods in Europe and the New World.  Notably, two streams focus on methods using sign language or oral-only approaches meant to establish oral fluency and lip-reading among the deaf.

Sign language was initially developed in France and introduced in the American territories and modified for English.  The authors detail the progress of sign language from France and its broader development in Britain by the Frenchman Clerc and its intentional crossing of the Atlantic in early institutions established in the US.  This method was an early success and continued in the US.

A new approach gradually gained dominance in Europe, however, focused on bringing the deaf to competency in oral speech and "speech-reading" to participate in broader society.  A major disadvantage to this approach was the great effort required for learners and low outcome of the approach.  This format came to be advocated by hearing persons involved in deaf education in the US, and became a great adversary of sign language as a medium of communication.

Advocates of the "oralism" approach desired to enable deaf persons to "become normal" and fully participate in the broader society.  In contrast, there was a strong early development and management of deaf association and services by deaf persons for themselves.  Signing continued but experienced periods of opposition.

Gallaudet University, whose press published the book, has a laudable history of practical deaf education and deaf advocacy in the United States.  As an institution of the District of Columbia it was directly administered by Congress and received federal government financial and philosophical support.

The oralism movement was more popular in certain circles, notably in Nebraska, where for a period, sign language education was actually prohibited by law in any state educational institution.  In Europe oralism prevailed until more recently.  Gallaudet is named after a member of the venerable family who pioneered deaf education in the United States.  This university is now a world leader in resources and education for the Deaf community.

I recommend this book as a credible history of deaf education, but further as a documentation of the development of major concepts of deaf language and worldview in the modern world.  In addition, this work provides important insights into the development of the whole western culture and its associated worldview in modern times.

See related reviews and articles on this site:
[PPt] The Deaf as an Ethnolinguistic People Group

Related on the Internet
Cross-Cultural Communication With the Deaf
The Deaf As A People Group
Deaf World Statistics
Gallaudet University

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First reading notes written and first review posted on Barnes and Noble 11 May 2009
Reviewed on Amazon 14 May 2009
This final review posted on Thoughts and Resources 27 May 2009
Last edited 12 November 2014

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2009 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Other rights reserved.

Email:  orville@jenkins.nu
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