What is bilingual bicultural Deaf education and what should I look for in a bilingual education program?
“Bilingual bicultural Deaf education recognizes both the native sign language of the Deaf community and the majority language/s of the country in which the student resides. It also fosters Deaf culture and appreciation of the many cultures comprising the broader society” (Gibson, Small & Mason, 1997).
"Bilingual Bicultural education is first and foremost an empowering education". "An empowering education teaches Deaf students to develop the confidence necessary to exercise their basic rights, accept their responsibilities, to advocate and to learn to participate in the decision making process." (Malkowski, 1995).
Bilingual bicultural programs for Deaf children should reflect an empowering educational environment both in their teaching and in the structure of the program. An empowering educational environment is one where Deaf and hearing staff model for the children:
• respect for one another
• collaboration in decision making and
• advocacy for the rights of Deaf children and adults within and outside of school
While there are many different models of how bilingual bicultural education could be implemented, all of them must have at its basis, a structure that reflects Deaf empowerment. This necessitates a model that incorporates the school environment, the residence, the home, the Deaf community and the hearing community. Together they create an enriching bilingual bicultural experience to encourage Deaf children to take active roles in their communities and eventually as empowered citizens in society. Here are some aspects of the program you can look for:
The School Environment
•Deaf and hearing teachers would be using natural, fully accessible language with Deaf students; American Sign Language (ASL) or Langue des Signes Quebequoise (LSQ), for conversation and instruction throughout the day, whether they teach in the same classroom or in different classrooms.
•ASL would be recognized as the language of conversation, of instruction for all subjects and as a language that requires instruction of its own linguistics, its own literature (ASL poetry, stories, drama, tales and legends by Deaf people in ASL) as well as Deaf literature (by Deaf people in written English about Deaf experience).
•ASL literature would not occupy the margins of the curriculum. It would be integral to the program.
• The school environment would also provide much written English through printed materials in texts, computers, on blackboards, the visual PA system, through notes and TTYs. English literature would also play a key role and would be shared in print and through printed stories told in ASL.
•Deaf and hearing teachers would collaborate with one another whether they teach in the same classroom or in different classrooms. The system would be structured to encourage collaboration among all Deaf and hearing staff. This means that both Deaf and hearing people have a role in developing and promoting the cultural needs of the children.
• Deaf culture would not only be part of the curriculum from preschool through high school, it would be reflected in how decisions were made and in the school environment beyond the classrooms (such as in the hallways, lunchroom, and playgrounds) as well as in the residence and at home.
• Appreciation of other cultures that make up our society would also be highlighted, respected and nurtured in the school for mutual respect to develop among children whose families reflect the rich cultural diversity of our society.
• Staff would demonstrate an understanding of first and second language acquisition principles that they apply to their instruction in the classroom.
• Staff are knowledgeable about Deaf issues, Deaf history and Deaf culture. These become an integral part of the children's education and are integrated throughout the curriculum. Some examples include Deaf historical figures and events, prominent Deaf individuals and groups such as Deaf clubs, Deaf Olympics and the World Federation of the Deaf, knowledge of Deaf rights and Deaf experience.
• The school environment would be equipped with flashing lights for doorbells and alarm systems and with TTY's and flashing lights so that all phones provide equal access for Deaf and hearing people on campus, including classrooms, board rooms and offices. This provides access on the campus and an important model for children and adults regarding how to ensure full access in the community and at home as well.
• The bilingual bicultural school environment would also ensure availability of full time interpreters for meetings with staff, parents, students and visitors.
• Extra curricular activities are a vital component of school life and learning. Students love participating in Deaf sports teams, playing against each other in the schools with Deaf students as well as with hearing teams as well. These sports teams must be promoted. In the past, Deaf high school teams have played against hearing high school teams. Deaf teams have won championship games such as in football and other sports.
• Bilingual bicultural education is about providing a fully accessible environment for your child so that he or she feels central in his or her environment and has no barriers. A fully accessible language is needed for any child to acquire world knowledge. In his or her learning environment your child has the right to learn free of barriers. The right to learn spoken language must also be respected and would be provided in addition to the child's right to learn new information without barriers in the classroom. Spoken language would not take precedence over the need to ensure a fully accessible learning environment for all subjects (including ASL literature, written English, geography, math, etc.) for all children in the classroom. If a child or family wants to develop the child’s spoken language skills it is their right to do so. Time and place would be set aside for spoken language development for children who wish to develop those skills. It would be provided in a way that does not interfere with classroom curriculum and full accessibility for all students. The classroom focus is on the learning of world knowledge for all students.
Home or Residence
• Families can take advantage of many services in the community that support the bilingual nurturance of your child's development. In the province of Ontario, Deaf ASL Language and Literacy Consultants are available for parents of deaf and heard of hearing children for two years from the time of discovery. These consultants provide free ASL instruction, advice on ASL storytelling, sharing books using ASL, interaction with your child, the Deaf community and resources for you and your child. As your child grows older, you can continue to take ASL classes available through the Canadian Hearing Society and through some agencies that provide Deaf services. A qualified Deaf ASL instructor/ consultant may be hired by the family for personal instruction. Some provincial schools resource departments offer sign language classes as well. When a family from another country immigrates to Canada, the federal government subsidizes English as a second language instruction classes for both children and adults. They have a right to have English language instruction available to them and to communicate in Canada with depth and ease. Similarly, parents of a Deaf child whose most accessible language is ASL, have a right to communicate with depth and ease with their child. ASL classes ought to be subsidized for these families. Families can contact their local clubs to consider subsidizing ASL classes.
• Families can also hire a Deaf baby-sitter to provide a good language model for their child at a young age and to be a natural role model for the child and family. Families must be sure to check out references as is true for any baby-sitting situation.
• Visual technology in the home or residence is a key component for full access and full participation in home life. Visual technology to be installed includes TV caption decoders, TTY's, flashing lights for the doorbell and phone ringing. These are available through the Assistive Device Plan. Every five years they pay up to 75 percent for a TTY for a Deaf individual.
• Families are encouraged and are always welcome to participate in Deaf community activities. Examples are sports events, parties, ASL storytelling nights, summer camp, Deaf festivals such as Mayfest in Ontario and the many other Deaf community events.
• Families and residence are key in providing a literature rich home environment. Access to much ASL storytelling is critical and can be achieved by borrowing ASL storytelling videotapes from the provincial resource services library, and perhaps your local library and purchasing ASL videotapes from the Canadian Cultural Society of the Deaf book store and by going frequently to Deaf community events.
• Providing much visual written English is critical such as can be found through the use of TV caption decoders, TTY, written notes explaining where you are going or just notes for fun!
• Open communication at home using American Sign Language is so vital in your child being and feeling central in your family’s life and in your family being central in his or her life. This barrier free visual language is the key to you ongoing nurturing growing and deepening relationship with your child throughout your lives.
• Bilingual bicultural education necessarily involves the Deaf community since they are the backbone of support for Deaf children and their families. The Deaf community uses ASL and so it naturally provides a free flow of communication for Deaf children and a wonderful natural way for families to grow in their use of ASL and understanding of Deaf people. Families are always welcome and form part of the Deaf community.
• The Deaf community runs organizations such as Sports Associations, Cultural Associations and Deaf Associations. Community events are organized throughout the year including Deaf sports, ASL storytelling, community celebrations, etc.
• The community advocates for the rights of Deaf people and celebrates Deaf culture, ASL as a language and its literature. The Deaf community is a vital resource for any bilingual bicultural school for Deaf students, for Deaf children and for their families.
• Local libraries can establish ASL centres with ASL storytelling videotapes, Deaf authors, Deaf publications (such as Silent News, DeafNation) and information about Deaf issues of concern and interest (such as cochlear implants) including a Deaf perspective.
• Libraries can arrange ASL storytelling time with interpreters so that hearing as well as Deaf children can enjoy ASL stories at the library.
• Libraries can be equipped with Deaf Heritage Kits available through the Canadian Cultural Society of the Deaf.
• Local city halls can be contacted to establish a separate fund to pay for interpreting costs for recreational classes such as cooking and quilting and for any special events such as parties or special guests. A contact person should be appointed to book an interpreter when needed in the community for these public activities or events.
• Deaf presenters can be contacted through Deaf community organizations to provide information on Deaf culture, the Deaf community, ASL literature and many other topics.
The examples cited here are by no means exhaustive. They provide some indication of the many ways in which the school, home or residence, Deaf and hearing communities can provide accessible and enriching environments for every Deaf child. In so doing, Deaf children can enrich these environments with their full and active participation.
Bilingual bicultural education is about the learning of two languages and two cultures. It is about Deaf children appreciating who they are, feeling accepted for who they are and appreciating others. It is about developing their abilities to the fullest and becoming empowered to express them without bounds. Through an empowering bilingual bicultural education, Deaf children can meet the world with the wholeness of who they are.
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