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Words Made Flesh

Words Made Flesh: Nineteenth-Century Deaf Education and the Growth of Deaf Culture

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 263
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  • Book Info
    Words Made Flesh
    Book Description:

    During the early nineteenth century, schools for the deaf appeared in the United States for the first time. These schools were committed to the use of the sign language to educate deaf students. Manual education made the growth of the deaf community possible, for it gathered deaf people together in sizable numbers for the first time in American history. It also fueled the emergence of Deaf culture, as the schools became agents of cultural transformations. Just as the Deaf community began to be recognized as a minority culture, in the 1850s, a powerful movement arose to undo it, namely oral education. Advocates of oral education, deeply influenced by the writings of public school pioneer Horace Mann, argued that deaf students should stop signing and should start speaking in the hope that the Deaf community would be abandoned, and its language and culture would vanish. In this revisionist history, Words Made Flesh explores the educational battles of the nineteenth century from both hearing and deaf points of view. It places the growth of the Deaf community at the heart of the story of deaf education and explains how the unexpected emergence of Deafness provoked the pedagogical battles that dominated the field of deaf education in the nineteenth century, and still reverberate today.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-2403-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    Deaf and hearing people share a common past. How could it be otherwise? Most deaf people are born into hearing families. Their lives and histories are radically intertwined. Nevertheless, Deaf culture is not familiar territory for most hearing people. In fact, deafness is still largely understood by hearing people as a medical condition in need of a cure. For hearing people, the term “deaf” speaks of the body and its failings; it does not invoke a vibrant, subaltern culture with a language, community, and history of its own. It means deaf and not Deaf, or Deafhood, as it does for...

  5. 1 Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and Laurent Clerc: A Yale Man and a Deaf Man Open a School and Create a World
    (pp. 11-32)

    They were an unlikely pair to start a revolution in American education. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet (1787-1851) was a hearing American, a minister by training, a graduate of Yale. Laurent Clerc (1785-1869) was a Deaf Frenchman, a fluent signer, a gifted teacher at his former school, the National Institute at Paris. A series of fortunate events brought the two together from an ocean’s distance. Their meeting has slipped into legend in the Deaf community, but it is worth recounting the tale here. For with their partnership, they founded not just a school but an American community, a Deaf world.

    It was...

  6. 2 Manual Education: An American Beginning
    (pp. 33-50)

    Manual education promoted classroom instruction in the sign language. That would seem straightforward enough. But which language was this? The phrase “ the sign language” was invoked in the nineteenth century, along with “the natural language of signs” and “natural signs.” And so-called natural signs were later contrasted by educators with “ methodical signs” or “artificial signs.” The cluttered vocabulary of the nineteenth century can make it difficult to understand exactly what language choices educators faced, or what those choices meant to them.

    Given the existence of many different kinds of signing, it is important to understand how hearing educators...

  7. 3 Learning to Be Deaf: Lessons from the Residential School
    (pp. 51-88)

    Nineteenth-century educators watched as deafness was transformed into Deafness before their eyes in residential schools for the deaf. Most of them witnessed this metamorphosis with hearing eyes. How did deaf people understand both their deafness and their Deafness? What did the emerging world of Deaf culture look like from within?

    The annual reports of various schools for the deaf offer a tantalizing glimpse into this fledgling culture. In the nineteenth century, such annual reports regularly included samples of students’ writings. These samples, including letters home, school assignments, student essays, and valedictory addresses, provide insight into Deaf culture from the very...

  8. 4 The Deaf Way: Living a Deaf Life
    (pp. 89-142)

    Perhaps, from the outside looking in, deafness did appear as a kind of fraternity, full of secrets known only to the initiated.¹ After all, the Deaf world was not one that was much visited by hearing people during the nineteenth century. The organizations, practices, and people of the Deaf community were not widely known to antebellum Americans, and the history of the Deaf community remains largely unfamiliar to hearing Americans today. Here, then, is a kind of tour of the nineteenth-century Deaf world.

    The first deaf association in the country was the New England Gallaudet Association of the Deaf.² Founded...

  9. 5 Horace Mann and Samuel Gridley Howe: The First American Oralists
    (pp. 143-160)

    The years prior to the 1840s saw the emergence of a solid pedagogical consensus among educators of the deaf. The New York School had led the way and American Sign Language had become the preferred language of instruction. Hearing teachers had to learn this natural language of signs and become fluent in it. Other schools had quickly followed suit. A remarkable consensus emerged around the merits of this new pedagogical course.

    If educators and administrators were so confident in their bilingual-bicultural method, why didn’t it survive the century? Just as the field coalesced around the New York School’s method, it...

  10. 6 Languages of Signs: Methodical versus Natural
    (pp. 161-182)

    Mann’s forceful condemnation of the American system of deaf education set off a heated discussion about the future of deaf education among professionals in the field, a conversation that lasted well into the 1850s. Few voices spoke up on behalf of pure oralism, Mann’s actual recommendation to the field, as most educators continued to see a wholesale switch to oralism as an impossibility. But the mission of deaf education did suddenly seem up for grabs to these educators. In the years immediately following Mann’s report, a debate about the nature of the sign language and its role in deaf education...

  11. 7 The Fight over the Clarke School: Manualists and Oralists Confront Deafness
    (pp. 183-204)

    As the 1850s drew to a close, deaf education, under pressure from oralist outsiders, as well as emerging ideas about disability, normality, and aurality, witnessed the fracturing of the once-solid manualist establishment, with advocates of the natural language of signs increasingly pitted against the methodical sign supporters. But, during this same decade, even as the unity of manualist educators crumbled, Deaf culture grew stronger. Graduates of residential schools demonstrated a growing awareness of themselves as Deaf Americans, and they increasingly acted on this understanding by establishing Deaf organizations and newspapers.

    In fact, the rapid formation of Deaf culture only fueled...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 205-210)

    The founding of the Clarke School in 1867 only intensified debates about Deafness and the sign language within manualist schools. More new teachers, even those who entered manual schools, reacted strongly and negatively to the use of American Sign Language. Like oralists, they demanded that English and English alone be seen as the mother tongue of Americans, hearing and deaf alike. For instance, in 1871, W. A. Cochrane recounted his arrival as a new hire at the Wisconsin School for the Deaf in the late 1860s. He accompanied the principal and watched as he taught a class. Books were opened...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 211-248)
  14. Index
    (pp. 249-254)
  15. About the Author
    (pp. 255-255)