Larry Stewart: Reverse Mainstreaming Trend
Larry Stewart was the superintendent of Illinois School for the Deaf (ISD) for two years before this interview and has since accepted a position at Gallaudet University. During his time at ISD he found himself in a battle for the schools survival and, although ISD's survival was critical, he felt the fight was for more than one residential school. He wants to reverse the trend toward putting deaf children in "regular" public school classrooms. This trend began in the mid-'70s after the passage of PL 94-142. Some of Mr. Stewart's arguments,that he gave in an interview with World Around You editor Cathryn Carroll for reversing the mainstreaming trend follow:
Carroll, Cathryn (1989). Larry Stewart: Reverse Mainstreaming Trend.The Deaf American, 39(3), 11-12.
- Deaf kids are totally different than other handicapped kids. Their accessibility is through communication. Not ramps. Not social experiences, like mentally retarded kids. Not special resource help, like learning disabled kids. Deaf kids are deaf 24 hours a day. They must be able to communicate with teachers, coaches and peers and it isn't happening in many public school situations.
- The most important part of the law (PL 94-142) emphasizes the "most appropriate education" for the child. It mentions this idea over 35 times. It mentions "least restrictive environment " only once. In that same sentence that talks about LRE it goes on to talk about strengthening residential schools.
- Residential schools may well be the LRE. But I don't want to say that residential schools unhandicap deaf kids. That would minimize the impact of deafness.
- It's important to define what you mean by "mainstream programs." In most mainstreamed situations in large schools, deaf kids actually spend most of their day in classes with other deaf students. Large programs have the staff and social environment necessary.
- The smaller programs reporting 1, 2, or 3 deaf students (about 6,000 public schools) can't offer those deaf kids what they need.
- I stayed in public school until I was in the 9th grade. It hurt in a lot of ways because of loneliness when I couldn't understand and because I was smart enough to know what I was missing.
- At Texas School for the Deaf (TSD) I learned to feel normal inside. I learned to put aside some of the shame I had started to use- Like acting like I understood when I didn't, learning it was okay to Sign, learning that other deaf people were successful, too.
- Where is the proof that residential education is a failure? Where is the proof that mainstreaming education is a success? No one can give that proof. No one asks deaf adults what they think!
There are many things to consider about what Larry Stewart has to say, especially in the area of Deaf culture. It is not something to be addressed in one hour long lesson. It is our students lives every single day. Not only our instruction but our actions should make our students feel proud of who they are and what they can achieve- ANYTHING! I think cultural knowledge and pride is learned much more naturally in the residential setting. That just means that those of us who teach the deaf in "regular" schools have our work cut out for us. Our students need deaf adult role models, time to interact socially with their peers and involvement in any and all community events. Children start forming their self concept at an early age and a very few deaf children go to a residential school until they are older. I have developed a theme unit on deaf culture that I will use in my classroom year around. Please take a look and use any and all ideas you find useful!
CLICK HERE TO SEE A THEME UNIT ON DEAF CULTURE