Open Letter to Superintendent O’Connell

14 01 2008

Superintendent O’Connell,

Thank you for reiterating your support of the State Special Schools and all California schools. The Deaf community is equally passionate about education, and will be more than happy to join you in the fight to preserve (and increase!) educational funding for ALL children in California.

I would like to put last week into context. When the Deaf community was alerted to this particular radio interview, we had no direct access to the interview, and had the interview transcribed. Therefore, we had the interview at face value- we couldn’t hear or see the intonation in your voice & facial expressions. However, we did deduce that your intentions were noble and that you have the best interests of Deaf children at heart, but ultimately we were concerned with this interview reinforcing the current media narrative on Deaf education.

Unfortunately, the words that were used during the interview also triggered our 128-year-old fears of losing our home; our wonderful Deaf schools. For 128 years we have lived with the very real threat of Deaf schools being closed; a few at this date have been closed or radically altered. For 128 years the Deaf way of learning (ASL-English bilingual instruction) and living has been under constant assault by the auditory-corporatist industry that is primarily motivated by financial interests.

The auditory-corporatist industry, disguised as parent advocacy organizations, has an intense stranglehold on the quality of Deaf education here in America.

Ø By “quality of Deaf education here in America”, there is a direct connection between the auditory-corporatist industry and instruction. Check out “AG Bell Launches Collaboration to Expand Auditory/Oral Education in Los Angeles”, http://www.agbell.org/DesktopDefault.aspx?p=AG_Bell_LAUSD_Collaboration. It is my understanding that LAUSD has approximately 1,000 Deaf schoolchildren.

Ø I am also referring to the Children’s Legal Advocacy program, where they dole out financial support to families to sue school districts providing instruction in ASL to their Deaf children, http://www.agbell.org/DesktopDefault.aspx?p=CLA_Program. One case has already been won here in California, creating a dangerous precedent for the research-backed and quality ASL-English bilingual instruction for Deaf children.

Ø According to the Gallaudet Research Institute, 70.7% of Deaf schoolchildren in California come from families who do not “regularly sign”. 78.6% attend programs that do not use ASL-English bilingual instruction (29.3% “speech/sign” [no ASL] combined with 49.3% “speech only”). 75.9% are at non-Deaf school settings. http://gri.gallaudet.edu/Demographics/States/2005/CA.pdf

There is a clear correlation between low achievement scores and the educational philosophy/method of Deaf children. If 78.6% of programs serving Deaf children do not use ASL-English bilingual instruction, then it is safe to infer that these programs are responsible for most of the shamefully low achievement scores happening here in California. On top of that, with 70.7% of families not regularly signing with their Deaf children, the picture becomes painfully clear. Something needs to be done now.

And we wonder why and how all the above is happening, and has been happening for the last 128 years. How is it possible for the truth and research-backed instruction to be completely ignored, allowing the same mistakes to be repeated ad infinitum?

The answer is; the media helps make it possible for the truth to be shoved aside in favor of front-page stories that glorify unproven and substance-less programs that focus on Deaf babies’ ears rather than their brains and soul. For instance, just last week, this article made it to the front page. http://www.contracostatimes.com/ci_7897148?nclick_check=1

When it comes to media, we frequently read articles about;

Ø The wonders of oral “education” and assistive devices, nothing about real and actual literacy scores and results

Ø How wonderful it is to “hear”, but not about learning everything and reading at grade level (which happens through ASL)

Ø Going to a local school with a team of ear “specialists” rather than a top-notch state school with qualified teachers & staff and where more than 80% of students pass the CAHSEE*

Ø The “hearing impaired” child that spends his/her day attempt to hear something, but nothing about the Deaf and VISUAL child that is doing well in English, literacy, and life

As you can see, after years of being bombarded with a false and misleading narrative in the media, the Deaf community takes the media very, very seriously. Our education and life depends on it. Hence our strong initial reaction to the radio

It is clear that a new & consistent media narrative founded in truth and not the auditory-corporatist propaganda is urgently needed.

You have always been a great ally to the Deaf community, and we appreciate your pointing out ASL’s benefits in your 2007 State of Education address, http://www.cde.ca.gov/eo/in/se/agdeaf.asp. We know you care about Deaf children, and we will continue working with you on closing the achievement gap among Deaf children and preserving CDE’s budget during this crisis.

We don’t want Deaf children to merely survive lousy education and lack of language; they should thrive in homes and schools with ASL & English. We want all Deaf children to thrive, not just survive.

Thank you,
David Eberwein
Deaf Community activist and a proud product of signing parents and a California state special school
*those with parents who sign ASL fluently

shared by David Eberwein, Deaf Community Activist

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