The search for the most effective way to educate deaf students has long been filled with controversy, due to strong advocacy for conflicting approaches. The bilingual model of deaf education has been in place in many schools for the deaf for the past 20 years (Drasgow, 1998), and while many advocates of a strictly oral approach to deaf education discount its success, it is still a viable and appropriate option for deaf students with severe to profound hearing loss. In this paper I will describe historical perspectives around deaf education and discuss hearing loss and language acquisition for deaf children. I will provide justification for the continued use of the bilingual model against arguments in favour of a strictly oral approach. In
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Following the monumental decision to ban on sign language in the classroom, deaf students worldwide were taught primarily via oral methods, with hearing teachers using only spoken language for instruction, and with a heavy emphasis on speaking and listening skills (Ladd, 2005). Many severely and profoundly deaf children struggled with this method and spent copious amounts of time performing speaking and listening drills, often at the expense of basic, grade-appropriate knowledge (Drasgow, 1998). While this method of instruction was seen to be the greatest hope for deaf students achieving language skills comparable to their hearing peers, its success was questionable. The reality is that deaf students acquire English slower than their hearing peers, and in the United States, their written literacy skills are an average of six to seven years behind hearing students by the time they leave school (Strong & Prinz, 1997).
In 1960, noted linguist William Stokoe published the first of many papers recognizing American Sign Language, or ASL, as a bonafide language (Stokoe, 1960). This formal acknowledgment brought a sense of legitimacy to the deaf community as a whole, and spawned a social and political movement that led to a demand for change. As Ladd (2005) notes, the shift to a bilingual model of deaf education began over 20 years ago in Scandinavia and has since