Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Deaf Education vs. Mainstream Education - Kathryn

This post was written by my 16 year old Deaf friend Kathryn who is currently agonizing over whether or not she should apply to our local council for funding to go to Mary Hare Sixth Form.

As a lifelong main-streamer Kathryn knows all the ups and downs of mainstream school life as a profoundly Deaf teen but she fell in love with Mary Hare's unique environment when she visited a few years ago.

I hope you enjoy her moving post because it certainly resonated strongly with me... 

The way in which society educates deaf people has evolved throughout generations.  There was a time when deaf people were taught at deaf schools only, using the strategy of BSL, then BSL was banned in deaf education and deaf people were forced to speak. They were punished if they chose to sign as it was forbidden anywhere on school grounds.


By making them speak they felt like they lost their freedom, the freedom to embrace their deaf culture.

But have we learned from our mistakes?

Over time more deaf schools have been closed and deaf people have been sent to mainstream schools and have been taught orally.  Deaf people are now seen as part of the hearing world.  We have to learn English yet BSL isn’t taught.
We are seen as “deaf and dumb” this is NOT true, we can achieve anything in life if we put our minds to it. 

But shouldn’t we have the choice as to where we’re educated? 
The mainstream environment can cause deaf people to feel isolated, with lower confidence and self esteem but of course this doesn’t apply to everyone many deaf students thrive in a mainstream school and many don’t let their deafness get in the way of their goals and will continue to achieve their potential, with the right support and equipment.

But why should we have “special equipment” and have a TA sat next to us, and be seen as the odd one out, the one who’s disabled? Well, we’re deaf not disabled. Wouldn’t you like not to constantly battle for the right hours of support or equipment? 
Well, none of this matters, no battles are needed.   
Doesn’t society encourage equality? 

We should have the choice, the option to be educated in a deaf environment where you’re all treated equally, not being treated any different; not being singled out or having advantages because of your deafness. 

Not having to worry about explaining to a supply teacher how a radio aid works, or having to stick your hand up, embarrassed because you couldn’t hear what the teacher has said. No bullying towards your deafness. 

The deaf education is tailored to students who are deaf, with special group hearing aids, specialist teachers of the deaf. Deaf education allows deaf people to be themselves and forget their deafness, immerse themselves into a world of like-minded people, people who understand them, allowing them to feel “normal”, and also to develop their love for education again. Therefore, increasing self esteem and confidence.

The reason why we don’t see many deaf schools open and very few deaf students applying to go to deaf education is because of cuts and lack of funding. Why should our futures be decided by our LA’s?  However, there is a wide amount of support available in a mainstream environment but the quality of support is arguably varied. 

Wouldn’t you like the option to choose; mainstream or deaf education? You should have the choice to embrace your deaf culture, to decide how you want to lead your life, for you only live life once. So you should think about what’s best for you, and take the opportunity by both hands.


  1. Ian Shakespeare10 July 2012 at 14:02

    Great piece Kathryn/Nairi.Makes thoughtful reading.Ian.S.

  2. Totally agree with this. My confidence took such a battering at school, being the only one and so conspicuous was hell.
    Though I would like to add to your list of reasons- as it was in my case, my parents were against deaf education because they viewed the academic levels as lower. Now I have no evidence to support/deny this, but it does seem to be the prevailing opinion, even speaking to parents of deaf children today.

  3. I don't understand this 'singled out' via classroom support comment, we campaigned years for exactly that and still do. In reality as a deaf ADULT such 'support' will be essential if we want to work and be equal in aspiration. We won't all get jobs in deaf charities. I gather MH is actually NOT a sign-driven school but predominantly oral ? hence its success. Tailored education in the deaf sense already has its critics, in that it undermines the deaf person's ability to relate to the mainstream after school finishes. Being 'forced' to learn English, or 'Forced' to relate to hearing isn't a crime, it is ESSENTIAL and VITAL if deaf are to succeed in life.

    1. I think the "singled out" is more that as a teenager its hard (although necessary) to have a note-taker, CSW, TA etc in lessons. I dont think Kat is saying that she would not want the support just that often growing up it can be hard to come to class or university with an entourage of support as such. it makes it much harder to fit in with your peers and can lead to bullying etc. This could be argued as a benefit to deaf only education where everyone is treated exactly the same. As it is I know many deaf young people who struggle through mainstream education refusing the support they really need to achieve their potential as they are too embaressed.
      MH is very much bilingual whatever anyone tells you. The majority of teaching is done using speech but all lessons are "subtitled" using a palantypist and there is a group hearing aid. If mainstreamed deaf kids had that support im sure theyd do equally well. Outside the classroom the majority of kids are bilingual.

  4. I think Deaf education with bi lingual approach is the best. BSL and English are both equal important to Deaf people identity to live reality in the real world out there.

  5. As a teacher of the deaf/hard of hearing I understand your reasonings completely. In many cases, public schools and mainstream settings really do lack the resources that are truly needed to teach a student with a hear loss in the most effective way . Being in this setting myself, I do all I can to educate the rest of the staff to best meet the children's needs but it is hard for others to understand teaching strategies, Deaf culture, and that no two students with a hearing loss are the same. I struggle greatly with the students whose family does not expose their child to Deaf culture and do not identify with any other deaf individuals. Do you have any suggestions of how to convey how important this is to hearing parents who may not understand?

    1. thanks for your comment.
      I think the only way to explain to those families who dont embrace deaf culture why deaf culture and the Deaf Community are so important is by showing them... Im not sure how you could do that but I know that here locally there are some families who want nothing to do with the local DCS or other charities. I always feel kind of sorry for the kids in those families because they miss out on so many opportunities.
      Maybe someone should make a booklet explaining deaf culture etc to parents of deaf kids and with basic sign language etc and explaining the services such as DCS and how they can support the family.
      The only other way is through role models I guess - or NDCS do family weekends where they have deaf role models who talk about what its like growing up being deaf and where they are now with jobs etc...
      Ill keep thinking about this because I think youve hit on something there.

      thanks, Ni :)

  6. Bilinguality STOPS at the work face, you have to use what hearing and mainstream do, or at least possess the means so to do unaided.

    1. I dont necessarily think that bilinguality stops in the work place... What about access to work etc? if you want to use BSL/SSE/technology at work or now even in internships it will be provided through access arrangements.

      Many organisations are Bilingual - NDCS, Remark etc to name a few well known ones but many local comapnies are run by deaf people and employ both deaf and hearing.

      Some deaf people cant access the "mainstream" as you put it unaided... What do you suggest they do?
      Take myself - I would never be able to use the phone at work, even though I might want to and my speech is good. In this area ill never be able to achieve the mainstream, its just not an option.

    2. As a realist I just quote what I now and see, it wasn't a criticism of deaf people, quite the opposite. I think I must ignore NDCS/Remark since these are DEDICATED areas of hearing loss, the primary issue is functioning OUTSIDE such areas, we can't all work in charities for the deaf, and a lot of us don't want to, we want to have what hearing do and be in there pitching. But we need the right tools. I Just think not all options are being encouraged for deaf people and deaf politics is highly negative. MH is a success story because it knows that reality and isn't a total sign environment. If they can turn out very highly educated deaf who function pretty well in an hearing area, why can't the rest ? Deaf have an brilliant educational model already. we should be teaching deaf to cope in a hearing world, they already know how to manage a deaf one.

    3. This sounds like youre saying that Deaf schools such as Derby, Elmfield etc dont manage to prepare their students for "the real world". I find this an unfair comment. I know many deaf adults and teens from these schools. Many of them pocess better communication skills than their hearing counterparts.
      The majority of deaf adults from deaf schools work successfully within a hearing environment and have both deaf and hearing friends. They are also highly educated.
      Remark is a media company actually and not entirely dedicated to the deaf.

      You say not all options are encouraged for deaf people - actually i think that mainstreaming is whats encouraged at the minute. its only the select few who do go to schools for the deaf etc.

    4. i believe that the workpalce should encourage bilingualism, as it ensures that deaf employees have full acccess to the workplace, whilst promoting inclusion. The employer should find out what the needs are for the employee and offer interpreting services & any equipment necessary to ensure that the employee can do their job to the best of their ability. deaf people can succeed in a hearing environment as long as necessary protocols are put in place, and many deaf people have many deaf and hearing friends, being inclusive into the hearing community. I also believe that deaf schools can esclude yourself from the hearing world and almost put youinto a bubble but they do prepare you for the hearing world and allow you to develop communication skills, and also mean that yo ucan feel more confident about your deaf identity.

  7. Kathryn wilkins here. I believe that deaf education is good as it offers a bilingual approach,enhancing understanding of the curriculum, also diffusing exclusion and increases inclusion, as mentioned in the blog it increases self esteem and confidence meaning that students will be happier at school and may regain/develop their love for education.I also understand that we the deaf community need to learn english and integrate with the hearing community but we can do this with the use of bsl, so we can continue the deaf culture whilst educating the hearing about the deaf culture and bsl. I feel that mary hare is the right place for me as it uses a oral approach in lessons & have specialist teachers of the deaf,so interactive white boards are used as a visual learning tool. MH will also mean thati can combine a levels with a subsidary btec in health and social care,i would be apprenhensive about embarking down the a level route at mainstream.

  8. As a past student of MHS, I went there when I was 11 and had no experience of sign language. I left the school at 18 with sign language beyond the standards of Level 3 at the very least. MHS uses a bilingual approach although the classroom environment is designed to bring the very best out of their students through speech. As a boarding school, I learnt just as much outside the classroom than I did inside the classroom. It is true that by being with other similar to you i.e. deaf will further bring the best out of you and build on your motivation, confidence and self-esteem. What better to prepare you for the big wide world out there?! Bilingualism is the best way to do life and best at education level however it comes back to the environment that you are situated in. There will still be painful fights over communication as you move into university and beyond into life. There is no right or wrong answer but for an individual to make informed choice who believes it is the best interests for themselves. We can only support that decision made and back them as a 'deaf community'.

  9. Kathryn Wilkins21 July 2012 at 12:04

    I too belive that bilingualism is the best way forward; i worry not being fluent signer and onl;y knowing the basics at the monet, im currently learning level 1 bsl, that i would feel "left behind" in scoial situations. Doesn't the use of BSL almost not prepare you for the mainstream environment- don't get me wrong I love BSL!