esidential Schools are an important part of Deaf Culture. Because 90% of Deaf children are born to hearing parents, Deaf Culture can’t be transmitted (as culture usually is) from parent to child. So who teaches Deaf children about Deaf Culture? Up until very recently, they would learn about it at Residential Schools.
Residential Schools are boarding schools specifically for Deaf children, such as Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, or the American School for the Deaf. Usually, parents send their children away to these schools to get a specialized education. The idea is that the children will be taught and supervised by Deaf adults who will pass on the culture to them. Although in the past signing was often prohibited, today ASL is used in the dining halls and for recreation as well as in the classroom in these schools. For many of the children attending them, it’s the first experience they have had without communication barriers. Even in the days when signing was taboo, children still found a way to pass on the ASL tradition. Because of the amazing sense of community fostered by Residential Schools, many of it’s graduates will settle down in the community around the school. Often, they will even be employed by the school. This creates an even wider Deaf community to teach the next generation of Deaf children.
Lately there has been a lot of debate about the best way to educate Deaf Children. Slowly but surely, Residential Schools are falling out of favor. In this time of recession and budget cuts, states are becoming increasingly unhappy to fund these places. Also, the American’s with Disabilities Act of 1990 made interpreters more widely available to Deaf students in mainstream classrooms. Many hearing parents feel that mainstreaming will allow their child to be more versatile as they get older, and more and more Deaf children are taking classes with their hearing peers. Other options that have become more popular are special Deaf schools that don’t have a boarding option, such as California School for the Deaf. While Deaf teachers at these schools still transmit parts of the culture to their students, Deaf children don’t live their whole lives at the school and have less strong ties to the place.
Even though Residential schools have fallen on hard times, they have been an immensely important piece of Deaf Culture from as far back as 1817 when Thomas Gallaudet and Laurent Clerc opened the first Residential School in Connecticut. Millions of Deaf children were educated in such places, and the transmission of Deaf Culture flowed smoothly generation to generation. In this new age, Deaf people have more of a challenge. They will need to figure out how to communicate Deaf Culture to young children in an age of ever increasing budget cuts, without the built-in network of Residential Schools to help them.