Integration of Deaf Culture in Public Schools

Editor’s Note: This is a guest article by a student at Wakefield High School.

Sign Language is the fourth most taken language in the U.S education system as a foreign language, and there are approximately 1,000,000 deaf people (Gallaudet Demographics). Not many schools have interpreters for students who are deaf in a public school to help them understand what’s going on in a class. “My teachers try to sign a little bit, and they talk to me and ask me, ‘Can you hear me?’ But I can’t,” (Challenges Facing Deaf Students). Students have difficulty learning when there is not a head figure teaching them directly what needs to be taught. It becomes difficult for students to get an interpreter for all the classes that are being taught in public schools because sometimes there is only one interpreter for a specific class. The lack of having interpreters for deaf students who need them is a major problem in many places as most of the students would prefer to go to a deaf school or a communication accessible program to learn the material that is needed to be learned at ease. All teachers must have the ability to communicate in American Sign Language (ASL) because it creates awareness, sensitivity, and linguistic diversity for the deaf community.

In the first place, the public schools in the U.S lack interpreters and have an insufficient amount of teachers who really know sign language. “Yet, since the school year started, she has had an interpreter just in her social studies class, and only for the past few weeks,” (Deaf Students Lack of Interpreter). There is a shortage of interpreters for a varied amount of reasons “Interpreters do not want to work long hours every day, interpreting lessons for students,” (Deaf Students Lack of Interpreter). A scant number of interpreters don’t want to go and sit for about 9-10 hours relaying what is going on in a classroom to a student.

There is a moderate amount of deaf students that go to public schools. “Approximately 85% of all Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH) students in the United States are educated in public school’s programs with 43% spending most of the school day in general education classrooms,” (U.S Dept.). By having more than three-fourths of deaf students attending public schools without the aid of an interpreter to help them understand what’s going on in class is detrimental for the education of any child. The resolution is that teachers should be required to know ASL in order to become a teacher. Students start losing interest in learning when they cannot understand what’s going on in the class “They sit there wasting their time, having trouble following their teachers or not following at all,” (Deaf Students Lack of Interpreter). It is a waste of time to students just like to anybody else. For example, it is like going back to class after being sick for a while and not being able to understand anything because the class has shifted to a new topic compared to the last time you were present in class.

Sometimes, having an interpreter is not the most ideal option because students cannot always interact with other students on their own. They would need to have an interpreter right there beside them to sign what is being said. Also, students would not be able to have a one-on-one discussion with the teachers without having the interpreter translating everything that is being said. Like all students, some build a relationship and trust with teachers who they can open up to about their personal problems. However, needing someone to translate all that you say can feel invasive. “It can be really hard for [deaf kids] from a social and emotional standpoint to have an interpreter following them around all day long. It can feel somewhat isolating,” (Sign With Love).

Furthermore, students always fear that they might be put in a class that they will not have any type of help. “Professionals and the Deaf community have expressed fears that students will be “dumped” in classrooms without support and that their language, communication, and social needs cannot be met in public schools’ environment,” (Academics Status Of Deaf and Hard of Hearing). Being “dumped” into a classroom and having to figure it out on your own isn’t fun. For example, it’s like moving to another country and not having an idea of what they’re saying, and you’re left alone to figure out what they’re trying to say. There’s quite some challenges that deaf students face, and the major issue is the lack of empathy from others for the deaf students and mostly from administrators in public schools. “There is a lack of awareness on the part of administrators, teachers and even deaf students regarding the problem of sign language interpreters,” (Challenges Facing Deaf Students). Students to need excel in their studies in life, but with the deficiency of knowing about the deaf culture, people think that deaf individuals do not need anything. “The shortage of teachers specialized in sign language, too has a negative impact on teaching and learning processes, says Yoftahe. Little attention and support being given to deaf students is negatively impacting student’ academic competence,” (Challenges Facing Deaf Students). The more teachers that know sign language, the easier the comprehension of what is being learned and taught for the deaf students. Also, having teachers from every subject that know sign language creates awareness of the deaf culture, and if a student needs help they can be certain that they will be heard and understood.

Some people may argue that teachers shouldn’t know sign language because there are interpreters for this purpose, and teachers should not need to know this skill set when becoming a teacher. Additional arguments would be becoming a teacher shouldn’t have the requirement of knowing sign language, it should be a choice if they want to learn or not or that teachers should just study what they need to study. It can be perceived that there’s no point in having them know sign language.

Thirdly, if teachers knew sign language, this would create linguistic diversity within the school. And not just for teachers, but also for students who go to school would know and share the diversity. “I was thrilled that they were interested and that they wanted to learn some sign language and that they were taking some initiative to be able to communicate more effectively with one of their classmates,” (Sign With Love). Some students would like to be able to communicate with classmates who are deaf or hard of hearing, and they take inventiveness to make an ASL club to learn another language within their school. “It really gives them a perspective on this other culture within the U.S. that they previously weren’t aware [of], so they’re benefiting immensely just in terms of learning about diversity and having a broader perspective on the world around them,” (Sign with Love). Learning about other cultures and being mindful that there is another culture presently in many forms, right here in the U.S. gives us a wider view about the world around us.

Having a diversity in language is important as it gives off being open-minded and having that self-motivation in the language and culture. “Justice Assistant Minister William Kiptumo says the deaf still lack access to educational facilities and existing teachers are inadequately trained,” (National Lacks Sign Language). If teachers knew they would spread multiplicity in the whole school and with students of other cultures. “[Important collaboration between the deaf and the hearing, one of a sort not always encouraged by the deaf community,” (As Town for Deaf Takes Shape, Debate on Isolation Re-emerges). If both sides would collaborate more frequent there would be more of a mixture not just the American culture, but also deaf culture and language.

In conclusion, teachers hold the responsibility of the knowledge that each new generation holds and develop. The students add to their knowledge because of the breadth of information and tools their teachers and instructors share with them. In order to become a teacher, they should be able to transmit their guidance and experience to all students. In this case, they should be able to communicate in American Sign Language. All teachers should be aware of the deaf culture and be able to communicate if eventually they end up having a deaf student.

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