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.