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Monday, February 17, 2014

The Tide Could Be Turning for Deaf Education - Guest Post by Mark Drolsbaugh

Mark Drolsbaugh kindly accepted my offer to guest post on the blog today. I am honored to share this space with someone who is making a huge difference for Deaf and Hard of Hearing children caught in the outdated politics of today's education system.

The Tide Could Be Turning for Deaf Education
By Mark Drolsbaugh

During  a powerful stage performance of Tribes in Philadelphia, I was completely caught off guard. There were plenty of deaf issues in the play and I was prepared for most of them.  I was curious to see if the cast could convey the struggles deaf people and their families have to deal with, and they did—they absolutely nailed it.

But what I hadn’t expected was a family dynamic that would tug at my heartstrings: Deaf brother and hearing brother. I don’t want to spoil the play for those who haven’t seen it yet so I’m not going to divulge any details. At the same time, I’m going to man up: The deaf brother/hearing brother storyline hit me hard, and for obvious reasons.

My oldest son Darren, age 15, is deaf. His younger hearing brother, Brandon, is 12. The two of them are tight. I mean, really, really, tight. They play basketball in the driveway and baseball in the backyard. They’re especially talented at baseball—both of them are on travel teams—and share a strong passion for the game. They also share a sick sense of humor and thoroughly enjoy watching Impractical Jokers every Thursday night. They do all of that stuff together and more.

 At least they used to.

The sad reality is that deaf education is a mess. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and its warped interpretation of Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) has totally decimated the education system for deaf and hard of hearing children. Darren was initially mainstreamed and did well academically, but he couldn’t bear the isolation and many frustrations that come with being The Only One.

Long story short: I got Darren out of the mainstream and into a deaf school. He reports that he’s very happy now. He says he finally enjoys education in a stress-free environment where he can talk to anyone, anytime. Good for him, but that school—the one that best matches his needs—is three hours away. I had to break up my deaf son and his hearing brother. No more basketball in the driveway or baseball in the backyard.

And this is why Tribes had me wiping my eyes after they featured a deaf brother/hearing brother storyline of their own. I had come to terms with sending my kid away—which was hard enough for me—but Tribes had touched a nerve that reminded me how hard it was for Brandon, too. I couldn’t sleep all night.

LRE has affected two generations of my family—first me, and then Darren. Then you add the impact on Brandon, and while we’re at it, add my hearing daughter Lacey (age 9). She absolutely adores Darren. Then there’s my wife Melanie who wants to visit her first-born kid every weekend. This isn’t easy.  And… we’re just one family. How many others are going through this? It shouldn’t be this way. 

Over the years I’d seen a lot of crazy things going on in the mainstream and it motivated me to write a book titled Madness in the Mainstream. For a short while before it was published, I wondered if I was the only guy bringing up concerns about LRE. Fortunately, I’m not. It turns out that I have some very inspiring company and there’s hope after all.

*Link to purchase this book is at the bottom of this post

Soon after Madness in the Mainstream was released, my family took a vacation in Los Angeles. We were thrilled to find out that our trip coincided with the premiere of No Ordinary Hero: The SuperDeafy Movie. We didn’t know it at first, but we were in for a pleasant surprise: No Ordinary Hero addresses important issues related to mainstreaming and deaf education.

No Ordinary Hero benefitted my hearing kids as much (if not more) than my deaf kid. Lacey actually pulled aside the star of the film, John Maucere, and told him “I’m sad that my brother has to move to a deaf school. But after seeing your movie, I understand.” Maucere smiled and responded by giving her his SuperDeafy pin.

A few weeks later, I was invited to do a presentation hosted by Swarthmore College and the Deaf-Hearing Communication Centre. While preparing for this presentation, I came across new research that validated everything I’ve said all along. This research proves without a doubt that it’s time to do away with the antiquated practice of isolating deaf kids in the mainstream. In fact, deaf kids with cochlear implants—who are often separated from signing deaf kids out of fear that sign language will ruin their speech—can actually benefit significantly from exposure to sign language.  This includes improvement in their ability to acquire language and speech. So there’s no logic at all to the practice of separating them and the other deaf kids. None whatsoever.

I bring this up because Darren was a victim of this warped mentality when he was mainstreamed. We learned after the fact that there was another deaf student in the school he attended, and they were intentionally kept apart because apparently the other kid’s IEP stipulated that there should be no exposure to sign language. Darren’s ASL interpreter was even told not to make eye contact with other deaf student. By the way, this student didn’t even have cochlear implants so they couldn’t use the ASL-affects-progress-with-CIs excuse—they just didn’t want him in close proximity to anyone who signs.

Can you believe this stuff still goes on today?

Speaking of the aforementioned research, you can find more of it in an exciting new book titled Turning the Tide: Making Life Better for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Schoolchildren by Dr. Gina Oliva and Dr. Linda Lytle. There are excellent case studies and research findings presented in there that clearly show it’s time to overhaul the interpretation of LRE.

I felt bummed out when I started writing this article. See how the mood is shifting now? We’re not alone in this anymore. Love the title of that new book because the tide is definitely turning.

As for LRE, there is something you can do about it now. The Conference for Educational Administrators of Schools and Programs for the Deaf (CEASD) has an inspiring Child First Campaign which is proposing a new bill, the Alice Cogswell Act. If passed, this bill will go a long way towards changing how the educational needs of deaf and hard of hearing children are met. At long last, LRE would be interpreted in a more deaf-friendly way. This is huge. To support the Alice Cogswell Act go to the CEASD website and sign their petition at:  http://www.ceasd.org/child-first/alice-cogswell

The battle has just begun and we still have a long way to go. But there’s no doubt that the tide is finally turning in our favor. Let’s make the most of it. 

*To purchase your copy of Madness in the Mainstream visit this link: http://handwavepublications.com/bookstore/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=4


  1. Great to read his post after I read a book of his for the first time. I will probably read this one too.

    I can't believe this still gors on at school. Surly its discriminating.

  2. Sometimes when I hear about this kind of stuff, I think "Is this 1972??!!!" It's time to get into the real world today and stop worrying about exposure to different walks of life. No matter what, we'd all be better people if we simply helped each other and not worried about separating different groups. Wow. Seriously???

  3. Excellent piece. I've admired Mark's good sense (and good prose) for a long time.

  4. An update on the Alice Cogswell Act: It has been introduced in Congress as H.R. 4040, the Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act! We need everyone to write to their members of Congress to help move this along. As mentioned, more information is available at http://www.ceasd.org/child-first/alice-cogswell. Thanks, Mark, for the shout out!

    Barbara Raimondo
    Government Relations Liaison

  5. Wonderful post. I am wondering how I can include it in my doctoral research.

  6. Liz, thank you for stopping by the blog! I'm pleased to see you have one of Mark's books. Let me know what you think of the new one.

  7. Anonymous, Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

  8. Henry Kisor, thank you for stopping by and also for supporting Mark as you do.

  9. Barbara, thank you for stopping by and giving us the update!

  10. Gary, I'm sure you can find something from the book to help with your doctoral research. Thank you for being a regular reader of my blog. I appreciate each time you drop by. I wish you much success!

  11. Thank you for your blog msg. I know alot of issues in the mainstream. It is growing. I would like to see someone who can create a one stop website where deaf people and hearing parents w/ deaf kid can tell stories (all over USA) so that we can read and understand how it happened, who or what lead them to the problem or issue. This probably will help others in many ways to improve their life rather than stay as caveman or stay primitive. Everything is backwards. Sigh.

  12. Anonymous, that is a GREAT idea!! You should research and see if that is something YOU could start up and provide. You could write a guest post here of the website, and I will include it in the sidebar of links to visit.

    1. Thank you for your response... Hmmm... Right now I have too many things to do on my plate especially the project I am working on. I will definitely think about it and get back with you later. Again thank you! :-)

  13. Audism reeks everywhere, and the oppressors oppress, and the oppressed would oppress as well.. Audists want CI's and Hearing Aids to be used, and as much as possible forbid ASL and/or keep away from as possible. If all else fails, audism still happens in most school settings.. As high up to 98% are gonna get the implants one way or the other..

  14. Good read...I was one of the early mainstreamers into public HS, it was a struggle as I was the only Deaf student there and no interpreter at the time. I've been sickened every time I hear about CI and ASL signer being separated or not allowed to communicate beside the interpreters not being allowed to talk to non signers...what kind of life is this? So sad and sure hope to change for the better!
    Where was The Tribes played at? I'm curious to see this.
    I tried to get into Melissa Mostyn's blog but it tells me that I must be invited...how do I do that?
    Thanks for sharing this blog with us all! Have a great day!

  15. Thank you very much for sharing your insight. I often worry myself about the dynamic between my hearing child and my child who is deaf. However, I think the think we need to keep in mind is that LRE is different for every child. And the LRE can change from year to year. There is no one way to raise a child that is deaf or hard of hearing. Nor this there one communication mode that works for children who are deaf & hard of hearing. We need to always keep in mind each child has their own circumstances and background. Although, as a parent wouldn't we all love the instruction manual for each of our children. I look forward to reading the book.

  16. Thank you for sharing your story. My husband is deaf. He has deaf brother. Their up bringing, both went to different school. His deaf brother went to Deaf school while my hubby went to mainstream. My husband went to Deaf school where his deaf brother goes to in his last two years of High school. He told me he wish had been to Deaf school with his deaf brother when both were little.... I have heard but I forgot where or which Deaf school that do allow hearing siblings come to Deaf school. Now more Deaf camps allow deaf's hearing siblings join. I would like to see more deaf's hearing siblings to have the rights to join in the Deaf school instead of deaf kid go to hearing school. What do you think?

  17. Really nice story.

    Here is more at H.R. 4040, Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act from the Library of Congress, Thomas Search. Please click on link or type it in to your adddress bar: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/F?c113:1:./temp/~c113WXC8tg:e5441:

  18. I was mainstreamed from K-12, it was very difficult & frustrating for me when I going to school! My parents had told the teachers to make sure that I sat in the front row & also to face me so that I could read their lips, well the teachers put me in front row but never faced me so I could read their lips! By the time I was in the eighth grade my mother had asked the school superintendant if it was possible for me to get an interpreter, note taker or use a tape recorder to record the notes for me & he said no because he thought it was "cheating"! I tried to get myself to be transferred to a deaf school but was told that I was doing fine in public school, I think the reason why the superintendant refused to let me get transferred was because he didn't want to lose some of the money

  19. I appreciate your commentary and I absolutely agree that LRE needs much further discussion and re-definition. I support the idea that there should be two strong programs for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children: in schools for the Deaf and in mainstreaming...and any in effective "in-between" options. Highlighting the isolation that many mainstreamed Deaf & HH children face is beyond critical; however, that does not mean that every Deaf & HH child is best placed in a school for the Deaf. As an individual who works in the field with experience in both types of programs, I know many hard-of-hearing children who would kick and scream (and several who have) to be taken out of their mainstreamed school, even though they likely admit to feelings of isolation. I've seen other students go to the school for the Deaf to try it out and return to mainstreaming after a year or two. And, of course, I've also seen students transition to the school for the Deaf feel like they've finally been saved. In addition to a closer look at this important issue surrounding LRE, we need to stop looking at one placement as if it is superior by itself to the other and start talking about the CHILD and focusing on which program (hopefully its strong) is better suited for him/her AT THIS TIME. This issue will always be sticky, no matter how you look at it.

  20. Thank you Joyce for posting such a moving interview with Mark Drolsbaugh about his own son and the difficulties that administration has with LRE for our students!! I started out working in a residential state school, and have progressed through general ed., D/HH small group in a site based school and am now an Itinerant D/HH Teacher. I have had to remind committee members at several IEP meetings that LRE is ABOUT the student and not what is doable for the school system!!!
    His posting brought tears to my eyes and a heavy heart as I look at each student on my caseload and pray that the placement for each of my students is the best LRE for that individual student!!!!
    Thank you!!!!
    Most sincerely,

    1. Suzan, the world needs more people like you! You really hit the issue spot on when you wrote, " I have had to remind committee members at several IEP meetings that LRE is ABOUT the student and not what is doable for the school system!!!"

      Thank you for stopping by and sharing your heart and thoughts with us!