Year

2003

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Faculty of Education

Abstract

In the past thirty years there have been significant moves by marginalised social and cultural groups to challenge their subordinate position in society and the assumptions by dominant groups about their educational and cultural needs. One of the most recent groups has been those Deaf people who have wanted to dissociate themselves from the stereotypes and perceptions of deafness as a disability. This group distinguishes itself by the use of capital '"D" Deaf and presents itself as part of a cultural linguistic minority with its own culture and language. Identification with this perspective of deafness is often accompanied by particular preferences towards educating Deaf children in ways that embrace this cultural perspective. It is this group and a program that has been developed for the schooling of their children that is the focus of this thesis.

This thesis critically examines issues associated with sign bilingual education through a case study of one school. Sign bilingual programs present an alternate view in educational practice that challenges long held notions of deafness as disability. From this perspective the thesis challenges the medical discourse that has constructed many of the approaches to the education of the Deaf that are widely practised. It suggests that sign bilingualism is an alternative that has acceptance with the Deaf Community and also has a theoretical and pedagogical basis on which to make its claim as a viable educational alternative. The two main issues driving this approach are cultural and linguistic. It is assumed that disability is socially constructed and that a first language approach through a native sign language is a viable although largely untested option. These positions are in opposition to and challenge long held beliefs and practices that have focussed on Oral approaches to education for the Deaf based on the language of the majority culture.

The first part of the thesis examines the literature to demonstrate how medical discourse has influenced practices and outcomes in Deaf Education for a lengthy period in the educational history of the Deaf community and has constructed Deaf people as disabled. The literature that challenges this perception and presents Deaf people as a group with their own language and culture and set of aspirations both educationally and as a community is also examined, as are the educational programs that present themselves as being inclusive of Deaf culture. From the literature a set of principles or tenets that emerge as the central principles of sign bilingual programs have been established.

The second part of the thesis is a case study of one school that purports to follow a culturally inclusive education for the Deaf. The policy and practice of the school is examined in the light of the principles or tenets describing best practice in the area of sign bilingual education for the Deaf. The issues and challenges facing the school as it attempts to put in place a sign bilingual program are presented and discussed.

Evidence from the study shows that sign bilingual programs for the Deaf have seldom been implemented under circumstances where all of the conditions for the program to be successful have been in place.

Recommendations from the study suggest that for a sign bilingual program to be successfully implemented the greatest possible number of principles or tenets described in the literature should be in place at the commencement of the program. Issues impacting on sign bilingual programs include, among others the relationship between the native sign language and the spoken/dominant language of the surrounding culture and also the tensions students face between participation in the hearing community and developing a strong Deaf identity with Auslan as the first language.

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