Random Thoughts and Musings by moi

Musings by a feisty, opinionated Deaf gal who wants nothing but the best for her community and her people

vendredi 11 août 2006

What is the Least Restrictive Environment?

Tonight at the gathering, we discussed a lot of stuff. But one thing we discussed was mainstreaming. I have grown to hate mainstreaming more and more as I become older. This is not intended to be a "bashing mainstreaming" post. As I said in an earlier post, we did not choose our educational experiences - our parents chose that for us. This is simply intended to posit the idea that mainstreaming is not the best educational placement for many of us, especially during our formative years. I was mainstreamed part-time through elementary school and junior high, then again a bit in college, then again full-time for grad school. When I was younger, I didn't mind too much, but when I was an adult, I grew to dislike it, feeling suffocated by it. But what really, really hit me and helped me articulate just what the issue with mainstreaming is was being mainstreamed to take classes this past semester to get my Level 2 credential.

Before I go on, let us look at PL 94-142, otherwise known as the Education for the Handicapped Act (EHA), later re-named the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In its first form, and in all later incarnations, it has mentioned two things that must be considered by law:
1. All children with disabilities are required to have access to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). (emphasis mine)
2. All children with disabilities are required to be educated in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) possible. By law, this is defined as full mainstreaming, without support services. If that does not work, then support services are added one by one, with residential schools for the deaf being defined as the most restrictive environment. Yes, I will go into what "LRE" should mean later on, but this is the law as written.
In other words, every member of the IEP team at every IEP meeting is required to consider whether or not the child's placement is a free appropriate public education, and whether or not it is in the least restrictive environment possible.

This past semester, I found mainstreaming to be the most restrictive environment for me. I, an educated Deaf adult with an excellent grasp of English who is comfortable around hearing people, could not function freely as a student in a mainstreamed setting. My words were not my own, because they were filtered through a team of two interpreters. I was wholly dependent on them for processing my thoughts and signs and accurately translating them. Even the most skilled interpreter cannot do this with one hundred percent accuracy all the time. This had the effect of limiting my participation, because I ended up deciding whether or not it was worth trying to say something. I also cut my comments short when I did comment, because I did not feel my teacher and classmates would truly hear me and my individual voice/perspective. The current trend in education is for classes to be run as group discussions or at least have a lot of student participation in lectures and have an ongoing dialogue between the teacher and the students. As a result of having to keep my gaze on one three-foot space in front of me, the others' comments all blurred together because they were, again, filtered through one person. I use the word filtered because communication, no matter which way it flowed, went through one of two individuals, and they had complete power over what words/signs to use, how to phrase things, and it was completely their call on how to transmit information. In other words, interpreters added a barrier. They added an unnecessary layer between me, my classmates, and my teacher.

I was put in a tough position because of this. I compensated by going to every class, contacting my professors via e-mail a few times during the semester, and doing very well on my papers, tests, and projects. My final project for one class was an oral presentation. I thought about how I could communicate directly with everyone without needing an interpreter, and decided to do a PowerPoint presentation. That way I would let everyone read my presentation, and it'd be in my own words. I signed a sentence or so before each slide and answered questions, but this generally solved the problem for my final project. I was clearly successful in this environment if one looks at my grades - I got a 4.0 for 13 graduate units, while working full-time in a demanding job. By most standards, I succeeded.

This made me realize - wow. I, as a well-educated adult with life experience, have the tools, skills, and resources to deal with this situation. I have experience working with hearing people, which guided me throughout the semester. I have the wherewithal to provide a laptop and LCD projector for the presentation. I have the technical skills to do so. I have the experience as a student to be able to gauge what I am expected to master and to make sure I do so. I have the education to help me be self-reliant by reading the materials, checking things online, e-mailing my professor, and so on to ensure I learn the material. I have a wonderful support system, which helped me cope. I have all these tools at my disposal, and yet, I found mainstreaming to be a frustrating, restrictive environment. How can anyone justify putting children in an environment that erects a wall between them and their classmates and teacher(s)? Deaf children who do not have the skills, experience, and education I do are put in this type of situation all the time and they fare far worse than I did. Most of the time the interpreter in an K-12 placement is a glorified aide without appropriate certification nor education and the child's friends are limited to those who are willing to learn sign or to take the time to communicate with the child. What a frustrating, lonely experience.

Here are some sobering statistics: More than 50 percent of the eleven thousand Deaf children in this state are mainstreamed alone - no other Deaf child is in their school. Another 17 percent of those eleven thousand are mainstreamed with only one other Deaf child in their school. Only ten percent are in a program with large numbers of Deaf children - both state schools and mainstreaming programs with large numbers. Imagine - most of the Deaf children in this state growing up feeling completely and utterly alone. They feel different from everyone else. They feel like something is wrong with them. Before some of you squawk, this comes from personal experience and from discussions with hundreds of other people.

With all of this, it is clear that mainstreaming is a free inappropriate public education for many of us. It is the most restrictive environment, not the least. I cannot support mainstreaming as the main educational option for Deaf children and adults. Yes, it remains an option I'm grateful to have, but it should be an option only for teens or adults who have the experience, skills, and ability to handle being plunged alone in a situation where communication is not fully accessible no matter how well one talks or how well one's hearing aid or cochlear implant works. I would not wish that experience on anyone.


  • At 10:12, Anonymous Anonyme said…

    I just want to say that I enjoy reading your posts tremendously.


  • At 09:01, Anonymous Anonyme said…

    I most defnitely agree with you about what the sad state the mainstreamed schools are in & why we should sympathize with most students. Most of them don't have deaf teachers. I talked with a friend. He actually said he grew up thinking that there's no life for deaf adults.. and that he should become hearing by the time he graduates all because he never met a deaf adult. How disturbing is that for one's self-esteem? Must be an agony going through life thinking that I will be different someday...

    I work as a teacher at a mainstreamed school. It's infuriating to get students who have so much potential, but got passed over through those years by the teachers with low expectations. Also, it's frustrating because if there's a poor teacher in that department (elem, middle, or hs), the students are stuck with the SAME teacher all day long for several years. What a colossal waste of educational time for them.

    What's more... most admin don't know anything about deaf ed so they leave those poor teachers alone, thinking they're just doing superb job.

    Also, the irony of the mainstreamed schools is that if the students are reading/writing/functioning on grade level, they will automatically be mainstreamed. So, deaf classes are viewed as a remedial course by public schools... they get just as much respect as special ed classes. They're not being viewed as culturally different. This is a job I have as a mainstreamed teacher.. to keep educating the public and the students that being in a deaf class doesn't mean they are deficient at all. They just benefit MORE from having direct education.

    I agree... most mainstreamed schools deserve an "F" for being least restrictive environment.

    I grew up at a residential school and wanted to work at a mainstreamed schools just so I could see how the other half of deaf students live while growing up. Hats off to them.. they deserve a golden medal for putting up with what they go through (but then again, most of them are like you.. they don't know what they are missing, growing up in that type of environment.)

    To those budding teachers… you probably would want to consider being a teacher at a mainstreamed school? You could definitely make a difference in the students’ lives!

    I'm sure a lot of people resonated with your comments. :) Keep on blogging!

  • At 13:40, Anonymous Anonyme said…

    Wow...thanks for sharing your experiences. I'm in a rush but I will return to your blog.

    I was shocked at the quality of the mainstream school interpreters when they came to a week-long workshop held at a deaf residential school. It merits further investigation and an expose...

  • At 01:44, Blogger Joseph said…

    Yes, it remains an option I'm grateful to have, but it should be an option only for teens or adults who have the experience, skills, and ability to handle being plunged alone in a situation where communication is not fully accessible no matter how well one talks or how well one's hearing aid or cochlear implant works. I would not wish that experience on anyone.

    I suppose opinions are subjective. I'm deaf, and was in a school for the deaf before being mainstreamed through primary, secondary and junior college, and now waiting to enrol in JHU. In short, I'm what you call an oral Deaf who does not know how to sign. And frankly, I very much prefer it this way. Why so? In Singapore, the current state of education for the deaf is pathetic, so mainstreaming is the only way out here in Singapore for a quality education. This is because according to our government, the number of the deaf has not "reached a critical mass" for resources to be allocated to solve the issues concerning the deaf.

    Nevertheless, I do believe that oral deaf teens implanted with CIs from their youths or teens, and with proper parental teaching, will experience the least communicative problems in life, as compared to their deaf peers.

    But then again, this is not an utopia we live in.

  • At 18:32, Blogger moi said…

    Thanks, everyone, for your comments. *smile* They are appreciated!

    You're right in that opinions are subjective. Since you live in Singapore and I live in America, that makes a difference as well in our perspectives. I have no idea what it's like for a deaf person there, except for what you have shared. Your opinion and my opinion are both based on what you and I have experienced in our lives. I'm sorry things are so bad over there. If you are happy with the choices made in your life, that's terrific. Thanks for sharing.

  • At 02:51, Blogger Chaotic Mom said…

    Boy, is THIS an interesting discussion. I have three sons, two deaf with CIs. Each of them is SO DIFFERENT, that even deaf with CIs they need different environments.

    My oldest son is doing fine in a mainstreamed setting. He has a lot of friends in his neighborhood now and is doing well in school.

    My youngest son has some additional challenges, and I feel is served best by a Total Communication setting, which does involve sign language. I have a meeting with the school district today and they are going to propose their Oral program, and avoid the TC program I've been paying for out of pocket. I believe to take the language that he is comfortable with would restrict his learning experiences.

    He IS improving his auditory/oral skills, but at a much slower pace than many others. In the meantime he is learning LANGUAGE in a TC program.

    I have quite a few deaf friends, and I ALWAYS love hearing about their experiences. Helps me to better understand and help my sons. ;)

  • At 00:09, Blogger moi said…

    Hi chaotic mom,
    I'm sorry about the delay in moderating your comment - I've been laid up with a particularly nasty stomach bug.

    Thank you for contributing your thoughts - your comments are food for thought. Sounds like you are more than willing to look at each child and decide on an individual basis what is best for each one. Your point about making sure the youngest gets LANGUAGE is so important and one I feel some parents and educators overlook. I hope the meeting went well! Thanks again for sharing. :)


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