September 19 (Week 5): Imagining Communities: Debating Deaf Education

This week we will focus on the ways in which people with and without disabilities have created imagined communities through disability, using debates over deaf education and Deaf communities as a case study.

Please use the comment function to post two discussion questions about this week’s readings by Thursday at 2 pm.  Focus on intriguing or controversial points in the readings that you think will spark discussion.  Strong discussion questions are open-ended, engage with major points in author(s)’ arguments, and are not factual in nature.

Please also post one of the following:

  • a short description (1-3 sentences) of your “muddiest point,” that is, what important point of the author’s argument did you have trouble grasping
  • your “most interesting connection” for this week’s reading

If you refer to a specific point or quote in one of the readings, please provide the author and page number.



1)     R. A. R. Edwards, Words Made Flesh: Nineteenth Century Deaf Education and the Growth of Deaf Culture (NYU Press, 2012)

2)     Leila Monaghan, “A World’s Eye View: Deaf Cultures in Global Perspective,” in Many Ways to Be Deaf: International Variation in Deaf Communities, ed. Leila Monaghan et al (Gallaudet University Press, 2003), pp. 1-24 (MavSpace)

3)     Choose one of these case studies to read:

  • William O. McCagg, Jr., “Some Problems in the History of Deaf Hungarians,” in Deaf History Unveiled, pp. 252-271 (MavSpace)
  • Iain Hutchinson, “Oralism: A Sign of the Times? The Contest for Deaf Communication in Education Provision in Late Nineteenth-Century Scotland,” European Review of History—Revue européenne d’Histoire 14, no. 4 (December 2007): 481-501 (MavSpace)
  • Anne T. Quartararo, “Republicanism, Deaf Identity, and the Career of Henri Gaillard in Late-Nineteenth-Century France,” in Deaf History Unveiled: Interpretations from the New Scholarship, ed. John Vickrey Van Cleve (Gallaudet University Press, 1993), pp. 40-52 (MavSpace)

10 Responses to “September 19 (Week 5): Imagining Communities: Debating Deaf Education”

  1. Dalton Boyd says:

    Question 1: R.A.R. Edwards’s Words Made Flesh, discussed how American deaf education started out as a place for manual education, which included sign language and learning to read and write, and the development of a Deaf community that was full of people who had jobs, got married to each other, and participate in other activities that “normal” people perform as well. They could even be seen as being more socially evolved as they integrated deaf African-Americans into their community and even intermarried with them. However, as Edwards showed in his book and Leila Monaghan pointed out in her article A World’s Eye View, this community came under attack during the nineteenth century. Edwards stated that the American Deaf community and manual education came under attack by Horace Mann and oralists, who wanted to end manual education and focus on getting the Deaf to become a part of “normal” society and that the only way to “lessen” their deafness is by learning how to speak. Monaghan, on the other hand, stated that the Deaf community was under attack across the world as they were seen as a threat to nationalism and unity. So why was there an attack on the Deaf community and manual education? Was it because the Deaf community was a threat to the nationalism of various nations around the world, was it a real attempt to try to “normalize” deaf people and integrate them into society, or was it really an attack against the Deaf community since they defied the norm of being “disabled” and thus was a threat of the societal definition of the “norm” because the defied expectations by performing many of the same activities as “normal” people?
    Question 2: In Anne T. Quartararo’s Republicanism, Deaf Identity, and the Career of Henri Gaillard in Late-Nineteenth-Century France, Quartararo discussed how the Republic of France started to disfavor manualism because it did not promote national unity and identity and how Henri Gaillard fought for Deaf rights. French politicians preached about liberty and social obligation to work and advance society. Oralists, according to page forty-five, that the only way the Deaf can have greater opportunity until they were more directly part of French society. Yet, how could deaf people become society when they were not properly educated to match their skill sets? Also, how could they compete with other people in the job market that caused them to be at a disadvantage?
    Most interesting Connection: In A World’s Eye View, Monaghan discussed nationalism and the Deaf community from around the world. According to Monaghan, manualism began to fall out of favor with the rise of nationalism, just like Quartararo pointed out in her article about French nationalism and republicanism.

  2. Lydia Towns says:

    1. Edwards makes an interesting point in his book Words Made Flesh that both the American Asylum and the New York School were fully integrated well before the Civil War. The fact that Southern students, often from slave holding families, attended class with African American students, many of whom were freed slaves or the children of slaves, is shocking. The culture shock that the Southern students must have experienced, and the following moral crisis this exposure must have caused for some. is worth considering. But the fact that struck me as being of greatest importance is that the American Asylum did not identify the race of their students. To them, the students were Deaf, and that is all that really mattered. I see this, more than perhaps anything else, as being a sign of Deaf Culture. The students were Deaf first, all else was just happenstance.
    2. The impact that Nationalism had on the education of deaf students is clearly illustrated in the arguments over how best to teach students to communicate. The debate in Hungary over whether to teach German or the native Magyer, the question of whether sign was its own language and thus detracting from the native oral language, even the question of whether Hungary, as a nation closely related to Germany, could use the French Method or not, all point to the fact that Nationalism had a significant impact on deaf schools. In the end, Nationalism seems to have won out, with many schools shifting to a strictly oral method during the late 19th century through the 20th century. In an effort to nationalize students these schools seem to have forgotten that their true purpose is to effectively teach their students, and in the process they ended up alienating their students even more. As Monaghan points out, many deaf students who are taught in a strictly oral setting feel their deafness more acutely than those taught in a bilingual system.
    3. Muddiest point: The readings this week point out that the reading level of deaf students who are taught with the oral system dropped to a 4th grade level. This average reading level has remained consistent for nearly a century in schools using only the oral method. If it can be proven that the oral method is not as effective in teaching students language as the bilingual approach then why have schools insisted on using it for so long? The needs of the students should be put first. If the teaching method is not effective then it needs to be changed.

  3. Matthew Speight says:

    1. When you examine both the Edwards book and the work on Laura Bridgman, you see a correlation between the spectacle around students with disabilities. They both emphasize the importance of showing the potential that deaf or blind students have if put in the right situation. Clerc in the story and Bridgman serve as the model or potential cases at points. Thinking back to the Bridgman narrative, does this show and spectacle ultimately advance or harm the cause of the individual student and the collective whole?

    2. In thinking about the development of a standardized language and language in general, why is it that deaf students and citizens are not seen as English Language Learners much like other ESL students? They are obviously not learning English in the same way that hearers are, so why are they not treated and classified always as ESL students or citizens?


    Education in general is an interesting field in which research and testing is done and analyzed quite often. Unfortunately, as seen throughout the Edwards book, often research and results are not adhered to or followed. Does assimilation deter or supersede the need for general education and improvement?

  4. Cory Wells says:

    In Words Made Flesh, we see much more agency among the disabled, specifically the Deaf, in the form of community creation. Edwards certainly makes a thorough case that schools for the deaf had an important role in creating this community, and that the students themselves had agency in the creation of the sign that would allow the formation of a community. Edwards also does an excellent job at hinting at the lived experience of the students without falling into biography. However, as we have discussed in previous weeks, the experience of being sent off to an asylum was not the typical disabled experience, and I assume this is true for the Deaf, as well. So my question for the book would be: what about those who did not attend these schools? How were they integrated into the Deaf community, or were they at all? Also, it would have been nice to see some of the experiences of these students after their time at the schools. This absence reminds me of early class discussions of how in labor histories disabled people disappear once they have left the work force post-injury.

    Iain Hutchinson’s article “Oralism: A Sign of the Times? The Contest for Deaf Communication in Education Provision in Late Nineteenth-Century Scotland,” details the rise of oralism (the emphasis on teaching the Deaf to speak orally) during the late 1800s, arguing that Deaf educators were influenced by the “science” of time. Science argued that teaching the deaf to speak as the hearing was preferable, but since it was much more time-consuming and, thus, more expensive, only the most privileged students’ families could afford it. Because of this, many institutions officially opted for the “combined method” of signing and oral instruction. Hutchinson traces this preference for oralism to a stipulation from the International Congress on the Education of the Deaf, but does not fully elucidate the congress’ motivation or influence for this decision. If Hutchinson’s argument that this was an attempt to be more “scientific” as a “sign of the times,” is he referring to the standardization of the idea of norms only a few decades before that Davis discussed? The argument of oralists certainly fits, as they thought that the Deaf should be forced to work (very hard) to “overcome” their disability to better emulate “normal” people.

    My muddiest point is related to all three readings, and centers around the question of oralism. In each reading, different arguments are presented about the motivation behind the push for oralism in the late 19th century, and I’m not sure any of them really provides a convincing answer.

  5. Jacque Tinkler says:

    1. In Words Made Flesh by Edwards, “Deaf Cultures in Global Perspective” by Monaghan, and “Republicanism, Deaf Identity, and the Career of Henri Gaillard in Late-Nineteenth-Century France” by Quartataro the dispute over what form the education of deaf children should take is explored. Although much of the debate seemed to have been settled earlier in the 19th century, by the mid-1800s the conflict was revisited–which method was the most effective for educating deaf children, oralism, manual, or a combination, and if the decision was manual, which manual system should be used. The debate was influenced by a multitude of factors. This was the time that the concept of “normal” gained acceptance, reinforced by the development of statistical science. Cultural concerns regarding the formation of a Deaf community and general questions regarding the meaning of disability in America, the rise of nationalism and changing political realities in the United States as well as abroad all effected the thinking of the mid-19th century. Discuss these trends and how they effected decisions regarding the education of deaf children.
    2. Both the Monaghan articles and the Edwards book describe in positive terms the sense of community created by the Deaf through the use of a common sign language. Most students who attended the residential schools established for the education of deaf children, arrived using some form of manual communication developed within their families but, as the schools were conducted in a uniform sign language, this communication was further developed and had the effect of creating, and drawing the deaf into, a close community of the Deaf. In the process, they became a separate community from the non-deaf, and established an identity and camaraderie they would carry with them after leaving the schools. However, through the choice of communicating through manual signing, rather than learning to read lips and speak, were they then excluded from other communities that were more immediate to their daily lives after leaving the schools? Unfortunately, neither author goes into this question. Discuss how their participation in other communities that might have been open to them if they had been taught to read lips and to speak might have enriched their lives. Was this trade-off beneficial?
    Muddiest point: The statement that students who had been taught using the oral method only read at the 4th grade level proving that oral education was not successful, left many unanswered questions. How old were the students in question, how many years had they been in school, and what criteria was used in the testing? There are many factors to consider when making that judgement such as length of sentence, complexity of ideas, number of letters and syllables in words, etc. A preliminary search of current conditions (late 20th century) shows the most popular adult novels are written at the 5th grade level, newspapers are written at the 5th grade level and up depending on which newspaper and topic of article, and that the average high school student reads at the 5th grade level. The relevance of reading ability among deaf students can only be accepted if we know how they were tested and how their results would compare to similar non-deaf students of that time period.

  6. Michael Deliz says:

    1) In Edward’s Words Made Flesh, American Sign Language is presented as the core cultural carrier of Deaf identity, with the establishment of schools for the deaf as an ethnogenesis point for the community as a whole. That lead to treating the community as primarily a linguistic minority, rather than an ethnic/racially identified minority. That some among the deaf would resist inclusion into that community, or the merits of its existence, however is not fully explained by Edwards. From a modern perspective, where individuals navigate a sea of identities (racial/national/ethnic/gendered etc.) or at least where our comfort and acceptance of such identities is common, the inclusion of another – Deafness – does not seem at odds with modern identity politics. But identity politics are not new and I must wonder to what extent the debate over the emergence of a Deaf identity were solely internal to the community. Often with linguistic minorities, the language education becomes a lightning rod of debates, preserving the ethnic tongue is thought necessary for continuity in heritage though equally charged with self-segregation and often considered a hindrance to “Americanization” by opponents. In viewing Deaf culture primarily as a linguistic minority (through the debates over ASL) blind us other identity traits and debates that mark its history?

    2) Deaf-Deaf marriage is a repeated point of interest for Edwards, and perhaps the best evidence outside of language adoption that a Deaf community, self-identified, emerged in the early to mid-nineteenth century. As familiarization and common experience are often the catalysts for romantic intimacy and then marriage, its development is not surprising given the isolated education experience of many in the Deaf community. Equally, the popular resistance to it, even in a pre-darwinian/pre-eugenics perspective, can be understood from the fear of breeding deaf children. However, how these debates impacted the development of a Deaf culture and its self-identity, are unclear. Did popular distaste for such marriages and attempts to outlaw the prompt measure of identity resistance and protectionism? At times there are internal pressures among the members of ethnic minorities to marry others of the same identity, for the sake of the continuation of identity. Did such attitudes emerge within the deaf community?

    Muddiest Point: Perhaps the most interesting affirmation of identity expressed in the Edwards work is the issue of centrality in the language as he demonstrates with the example of the hard-of-hearing. Unfortunately this is a singular example and it seemed rather ahistoric in its presentation. Are there other such examples? And how does such centrality express the perceived otherness of the disabled, to which the Deaf community does not typically ascribe?

  7. Jacob Jones says:

    In Words Made Flesh, Edwards points heavily to Horace Mann and Samuel Gridley Howe in the fight over teaching methods in schools for the deaf. We understand from Edwards and Ernst that he considered, after his initial optimism, the physical attributes in people blind or deaf to contribute to moral and mental incapacity. I recall Dr. Rose indicating that he is an important subject in the field of disability, so now I ask to what extent and in what light? Is he seen positively because of his breakthrough with Laura Bridgeman and his dedication to education? Or is he seen as someone who helped create a more rigid structure of discrimination by assisting in the classification of what behavior was acceptable, such as in his assessment of his blind students and of Deaf culture?

    Edwards quotes many from the Deaf community who were trained in manualism, such as Clerc, but shows only a few example from those with oralistic training. What were their results in the use of written English? Was their command or rate of acquisition of the language comparable to those trained in manualism? Were there causes besides the distaste for deaf culture and desire for assimilation for the persistence of oralism?

    Interesting Connection- Even in schools for the deaf, deaf teachers were paid less. The institutions striving to bring them equality treated them as inferiors. When confronted, the abundance of deaf teachers was noted, but that did not explain the higher ratio of hearing teachers to deaf teachers, in fact it reinforced their inferiority.

  8. Robert Caldwell says:

    1. Manualism flourished in the early 18th Century as the “French Model,” but was initially closely associated with religious concerns. Despite the pages devoted to the secular French Republic, he Church survived the French Revolution and grew in strength in the 19th century. This relationship with religion is more apparent in Baynton and Monaghan than Edwards. Given the title of Edwards’ book is there a reason why fails to draw out the relationship of manual method with religion? Oralism emanated from Prussia and spread from the German state to German speaking counties. The literature points to the relationship between oralism and secularism and the centralization of nation-states. This fits neatly with earlier readings by Baynton, Stone, and Davis on the place of the state and the construction of normalcy. However, some points could be examined further: 1.) the shift from deaf to Deaf in the context of larger shifts from traditions to science; idealism to materialism; church and state? 2.) While World War I is discussed as a turning point on the influence of Germany on the United States, the relationship between France and Germany in the long 19th century is all but unexamined. Certainly the ascendancy of Napoleon III’s Empire and the defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War would have impacted the way onlookers interpreted both, accounting for Germany’s ascendancy during the period.

    2. This week’s readings all seem to agree that in certain spaces, including but not limited to residential schools, deaf people have created clearly identifiable Deaf communities. Edwards’ Words Made Flesh convincingly asserts that the Deaf constitute a “vibrant, subaltern culture,” not as the hearing imagine, a collection of those with a medical impairment. While Deaf culture is usually not passed from parents to children, it is a culture that is taught and inherited nonetheless. Deaf communities have their own institutions and their own rich history. Baynton’s “A Silent Exile on Earth” argues that deaf people aren’t metaphors, but that outsiders consistently draw upon metaphors to (mis)understand and explain the community. Monaghan’s “A World’s Eye view” claims that, while particularities are important, many trends for Deaf communities are global, and the communities have sought international fellowship for well over 100 years. Sign language is a vital part of Deaf communities, and Deaf of Deaf (DOD) people are important within the culture because they grow up from earliest childhood in Deaf culture. But what about hearing children who grow as children of Deaf parents? Can one be or become culturally Deaf even if not socio-biologically so?

    Connection: I found many connections this time, and some are alluded to in the two clusters of questions above. My most interesting connection was to a book not discussed in this course at all: Daniel Rogers’ Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age. Rogers’ tome argues that initially many of these Atlantic Crossings of the 19th century were by upper middle class individuals, not by professionals or functionaries. The readings seemed to echo the book many times. While most of the readings fit within the book’s framework, the focus on the tendency towards examination of social problems, medicalization/professionalization, and bureaucratization seem to challenge Rogers, placing these phenomenon at a slightly earlier period.

  9. Bryan Garrett says:

    I am impressed by the transnational lens Monaghan uses. The author’s process is two-fold: 1. In revealing the connections and transmissions of the intellectual currents surrounding various constructions of deaf education, and 2. contextualizing the emergence of the nation-state served as both facilitator and obstruction of these currents. Though this is a great point-of-departure, I agree with Robert in that many of these avenues could benefit from further exploration.

    The author does have to confront the intersection of imperialism and transnationalism. Writers frequently seem torn between the benefits and consequences of post-colonial agency and imperial alterity. Monaghan (16) offers a critique regarding the exclusivity of local forms of sign in relation to the predominant forms of sign that developed in more economically prominent and formerly imperial societies. This consideration as such, represents an intersection of the post-colonial ethnic and racial construct with the national and linguistic. The author compares this exclusion of local variants of sign to colonialism, with the example that empires found little use even for local spoken languages in administering colonial possessions. This appears to be a negative connotation, though there are examples in post-colonial studies that suggest imperialism had the benefit of exposing peripheral groups to broader imperial-linguistic forms. Formerly imperial subjects could enter into broader conversations because they had been previously exposed to the imperial languages of English, French, German and Dutch. I guess this would also have to be a muddy point for me. Is this a negative construction? Or is this merely context for the author’s larger argument? Is ASL a new form of imperialism, or an avenue to greater inclusion, or both?

    I think my above question relates to all of the readings for this week. All of the authors conclude that imposed structures provided avenues for agency. Deaf schooling and education provided the structures through which the Deaf community could create a sense of common identity and self-expression. I am impressed by the way these authors continually relate the cultural and social; how societal structures created in relation to broader cultural mores provide the apparatus for the construction of newer, more specific cultural forms.

  10. Christopher Malmberg says:

    Questions/Points: In Words Made Flesh, R.A.R Edwards does a fine job of discussing the history of deaf education in the United States; however, her book is very narrow. Her main goal in writing is to discuss the debates in deaf education in the 19th century in order to show that the oralist method took root a couple decades before it has generally been thought by historians. Edwards does this without looking outside the deaf community and she ignores events and discussions that were taking place across the country. For instance, she never once talks about immigration and the rise of nativism, which was occurring simultaneously with the debates over the oralist method and the signing method. She also does not incorporate discussions that were taking place about education as a whole and immigration. While Edwards ignores these events and discussions, she shows that the Deaf community were seeing themselves, and being described, as a separate nation with its own language separate from English and the United States. Dr. Dan Prinzing, in his article “Americanization, Immigration, and Civic Education: The Education of the Ignorant and Free”, discusses the debates surrounding education during the same period that Edwards is examining, and in his article he uses examples that are mirror images of Edwards. Could it be that the debate between using English only versus ASL in deaf schools was actually part of a larger debate over immigration and rising nativist sentiments? In other words, could it be that there was a push to get rid of ASL and deaf culture, not because of the hearing “normal” wanting to force the deaf “abnormal” to conform to the hearing world,but because of the Deaf culture and communities “foreignness”? It cannot be a coincident that the debate over getting rid of ASL coincides with debates over immigration and nativist sentiments.

    My muddiest point: In the beginning of the course I had a hard time understanding who is considered disabled and is therefore included in the field of Disability History and who is not, and more importantly how is such a distinction made. Edwards points out in the beginning of her book, much like other scholars, that deaf people actively deny association with the “disabled”, yet a huge amount of disability history looks specifically at the deaf community.

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