American School for the Deaf
The American School for the Deaf was established on April 15, 1817. This school was started by two men who were inspired to educate those who did not thrive in the traditional school setting due to their hearing disability. The American School for the Deaf has provided the opportunity for those in the deaf culture to be educated in America. Since roughly two out of every one thousand children are born with hearing loss of some sort, and other cases of hearing loss can develop as they become older, the establishment of this school changed the way of life for many people.
Backstory and Context
Prior to the opening of the American School for the Deaf, the only school for anyone in the deaf culture was located in Europe. Because of this, people who wanted their deaf children to have an education were forced to send them there. This was not practical for most common people, so oftentimes deaf people only received an education if they came from a rich family. Especially in these times, moving a whole family to Europe was not an option, but neither was sending an elementary school aged child across the globe by themselves; therefore, these children received no form of education. This all changed when Thomas H. Gallaudet and Mason Fitch Cogswell crossed paths.
Thomas H. Gallaudet graduated from Yale University and planned to become a pastor of his own church. Due to illness, he was forced into becoming a traveling minister and eventually returned home to live with his parents. This is where he met his parents’ neighbors, the Cogswell family. The Cogswells had a nine-year-old daughter named Alice who was deaf. Gallaudet began trying to communicate with her through pointing at common objects and then writing out what it was. Mason Fitch Cogswell, Alice’s father, encouraged Gallaudet to continue attempting to educate his daughter. Gallaudet started out only studying European experiments of sign language, but in later years Cogswell persuaded him to make the trip to Europe to further his studies and hopefully bring back knowledge great enough to begin educating the deaf in America.
When in Europe, Thomas H. Gallaudet’s first plan was to attend the Braidwood schools; however, this went much different than hoped. The Braidwood family said that they would not help him because he was not paying for their services and he may soon be a competitor of their school. As a second option, he attended a lecture at Royal Institution for Deaf-Mutes. This is where Thomas H. Gallaudet met Laurent Clerc, a teacher at this school. Clerc would go on to finish Gallaudet’s exploration with him and then they both returned to America. With the funds these two had earned plus additional funding from Mason Fitch Cogswell, they were able to open the American School for the Deaf.
The first class had only seven students, including Alice Cogswell. Gallaudet was the principal and Clerc was the first and head teacher. Since its open date in 1817, the school has grown to approximately one hundred and seventy students ranging from kindergarten to twelfth grade. This school now has a ratio of one teacher for every three students to allow for as much individualized assistance as possible. Opportunities, like athletics, are provided at the American School for the Deaf as they typically are at any other school. Sporting teams are optional through fall, winter, and spring. The offered teams include, Varsity Soccer, Varsity Volleyball, JV and Varsity Boys Basketball, Varsity Girls Basketball, Varsity Coed Cheerleading, Disc Golf Club, Softball Club, and Varsity Track and Field. The school also now offers a daycare program called Tiger Cubs for deaf children who are not yet of school age. The American School for the Deaf states their goals for the school and the students in attendance clearly in their credo:
"What does it mean to be able? It means you can. You have what it takes. To think. Question. Decide. Dream. Achieve. Not just in a classroom, but in the world. So we prepare deaf and hard-of-hearing students not only for diplomas, but for their whole lives. By nurturing the whole child: Intellectually. Emotionally. Physically. And socially. And by giving every student everything they need to focus not on obstacles or challenges, but on opportunities and potential. Our students and their families find we’re more than a school — we’re a true community, made up of passionate professionals. And using a holistic, ASL/English bilingual approach, we help students and their families be well-prepared to participate in everything tomorrow will bring. Because we want all our students to look forward to futures in which they’re... ALL ways able." (Bravin).
The opening of this school was a monumental movement for America because of the number of people it still benefits today. Deaf culture is much larger than often times realized. Twenty-five percent of people will experience a disabling hearing loss by the time they are seventy-five. Granted people who did not lose their hearing until that much later in life would not have attended the American School for the Deaf, but their lives now would be much easier if they would have taken a general sign language course or familiarized themselves with the life changes. Since ninety percent of deaf babies are born to hearing parents, being able to travel to Connecticut rather than Europe, allows for more families to have the appropriate help and education they need to raise someone who can be successful in whatever they may want despite their hearing disability.
Following the establishment of the American School for the Deaf, Gallaudet University was created in 1864.Thomas H. Gallaudet married Sophia Fowler, a graduate of the American School for the Deaf, and they had eight children. Their youngest, Edward Miner Gallaudet, would go on to create Gallaudet University. This was another monumental event for the deaf culture as it was the first barrier free university for deaf and hard of hearing. The university is currently educating approximately one thousand and eight hundred students. This school offers a wide range of athletics and twenty eight majors. Gallaudet remains the world's only university to be completely barrier free for anyone in the deaf culture.
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