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History of Deaf Culture

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History of Deaf Culture

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The history of educating deaf people dates back long before Thomas H. Gallaudet and Alexander G. Bell squared off at the end of the 19th Century. Each of these men believed that deaf people could and should be educated, but each differed in how to accomplish that feat. However, for most of recorded history, deaf people were treated as nothing more than animals. Aristotle believed that because deaf people did not speak the superior Greek language, they could not be civilized. Christianity perpetuated the inhumane treatment of deaf people because they were believed to be punished by God.

In the 1500's, Spanish monks, who used signs to communicate within their vows of silence, were employed to instruct the deaf sons of the Spanish nobility (Van Cleve & Crouch, 1989). The primary goal was to teach deaf students how to read and write, but there was also a desire to have them learn to speak. The monks believed that using signs and voice made communication between both parties easier.

The most important development that emerged from the Spanish attempts at educating deaf people was that it was seen as an attainable and worthy goal. Consequently, deaf people all over Europe began receiving educational instruction. Two noteworthy educational projects were those of Samuel Heinicke and Abbe Charles Michael de L'Épée. Heinicke opened a school in Germany. His method of instruction was through spoken language. Students learned to mimic his sounds if they had some residual hearing, or just to mimic his mouth movements. Épée opened a school in Paris that utilized manual gestures. He observed that the gestures made by deaf people had specific meanings and that by learning and using the same gestures, the gestures in fact became signs (Mead, 1931). Thus, Épée is credited as the Father of Sign Language. Although Heinicke's oral method and Épée's manual method are decisively conflicting, the action of each to establish a school for deaf education contributed to the creation of...