On behalf of DBC, we would like to thank you for including our newly founded coalition to be a part of the DPN20 celebration. It is an honor for us to share our thoughts on where we have been, what we are doing and where are we going.
For 124 years, Gallaudet students remained silent until March of 1988 when the outrageous selection of a hearing president over qualified Deaf candidates led to the DPN protest. The leadership style of the DPN protest that was shown and the unity of purpose that it engendered made it successful and proved that we can all can fight together to break down harmful political barriers. The 1988 protest made change for the better and caused more doors to be opened for Deaf people who sought and received promotions to higher positions in their employment. It conveyed the message that Deaf people are capable of handling such higher positions and that they should no longer be treated as second class citizens.
As we fast-forward in our view of the timeline to the present 20th-anniversary DPN celebrations, we should reflect on what has been accomplished and all the positive changes that have been made so far. We already know that more and more superintendents, members of boards of directors, administrators, etc., of schools for the Deaf are now themselves Deaf since the aftermath of DPN. Increased levels of self-determination and empowerment are now recognized in the Deaf community. Even steady increases in the number of advanced degrees awarded to Deaf people are taking place. Prior to DPN, it was easy to name all deaf people holding doctorates, but not anymore. Does this mean that everything is all fine and dandy now? Should we just sit back now after all these gains and allow our political efforts to coast? We know very well that nothing is guaranteed and that these numbers, which continue to be on the rise, could later plummet. The question we need to ask is: How can we prevent such a reversal from happening?
For 128 years, the AG Bell organization has plowed their way onto the political scene by spreading the practice of oralism. They have not really been challenged since the days of the debates with Edward Miner Gallaudet. In early 1900's, George Veditz made efforts to preserve sign language by recording signers' speeches and performances on film, due to the threat of manual practices being banned in programs and schools all over the country. Some of the schools for the Deaf adopted an oral-only philosophy and shunned the manual practices completely. Some of the schools kept both methods. Nevertheless, the students were oppressed and they suffered the consequences, thereby being prevented from developing strong literacy skills and achieving higher levels of education and career success in the mid 20th century.
In the 70's, Total Communication (TC) came in the picture because of the findings of the Babbidge Report in 1965 which declared oralism to be a failure. However, the problem with TC was that it included a broad range of varied communication modes, such as Signed English, Signing Exact English, Simultaneous Communication, and what used to be called "Pidgin Signed English." ASL was not yet accepted as a primary at that time, although it was a part of the TC package. For as long as anyone can remember, the average deaf high school graduate's reading level remained stubbornly low. Many deaf children did succeed, but overall, the figure still remained low.
Then the evidence of research began to come in: Deaf children of Deaf parents tended to do much better. More recently, study after study has been released showing that a natural signed language should be the default language of deaf children, since they are VISUAL learners. Independent bilingual-bicultural charter schools began to spring up in the 1980's, but only slowly. Too often, a main obstacle has been ignorance and fear which has sometimes had the effect of pushing parents away from bilingual approach. Parents then make the misguided choice of thinking that spoken English should be their Deaf children's primary language. Too much propaganda has been marketed by the AG Bell Association for the Deaf (AGBAD), an organization which has persuaded parents to buy into their philosophy without really having the chance or taking the time to become educated about the benefits of the bilingual approach.
It is now 2008 and progress in bilingual education has, even at this late date, not yet been placed steadfast motion, even though research is being done and programs have been established at Gallaudet and in some prominent universities. We have seen the beauty of the results of these practices, but this good news has not been well publicized. Many parents still haven't been informed. In addition, only very few bilingual-bicultural courses are offered in teacher preparatory programs, as many educators who have been surveyed respond that they feel like they need more information, but that they are aware of the programs. However, along a contrary direction, clinical programs are on the rise, and a lot of misleading intervention materials are being made available to parents. We should see this as a red flag. Parents are being kept in the dark about the importance of allowing their Deaf babies to be exposed to ASL and acquiring it as a first language. Early acquisition of ASL is the only effective way for Deaf children to develop English skills, with English being learned as a second language.
We now have resources and programs but who will do the necessary marketing? This is why DBC was set up in July 2007, to enable us all to speak up about the findings of the benefits of bilingualism and to encourage parents and members of the public to learn more about the truth.
As Martin Luther King Jr. emphasized, we should take a stand for that which is right, just and true.
Please spread the word for others to come and join our first annual DBC education conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on June 27-30th. There will be workshops and presentations by keynote speakers, training sessions, rallies, entertainment, and various children's activities. More details will be announced in the website: deafbilingualcoalition.com.
Note: DBC thanks DPN leaders and conference organizers for including us in the DPN20 event.