The quietest known place in the world is located in Minnesota. It is “an anechoic chamber at Orfield Laboratories” and is used to test hearing devices (Eveleth). The longest that anyone has been able to stay in the chamber is 45 minutes because it is so quiet that the background sound is -9.4dBA. Apparently, people sitting in the chamber can hear their heartbeat, stomach digestion, and even their lungs. Slowly, people get disoriented and have to sit down (Eveleth). This eerie place is the closest a hearing person can come to experiencing true silence. Deaf people, however, do not know any different. Despite this, the deaf population makes up some of the most genius individuals in the world. Yet they are still marginalized, pushed to the side, mistreated, and forgotten. Unfortunately, the people who claim to represent Jesus Christ—Christians—have decided to ignore the deaf. This ostracized, mistreated people desperately need the Gospel of Jesus brought to them in their own language. Something must change. To effectively minister to the deaf, Christians must recognize their brutal past, profound intelligence, past and current educational situation, and desperate need for the Gospel.
In order to minister to the deaf, Christians need to understand and empathize with the gloomy history of the deaf community. Deaf people and their families experienced rotten prejudice, discrimination, and restriction of economic opportunity. In past centuries, the deaf were thought of as dumb “idiots” who were “not worth teaching” (Morrison 120). The parents of deaf children were expected to place their children in group homes or asylums (Morrison 120). Even as opportunities for deaf education grew, politicians and the public continued to devalue the deaf community as a whole. In the 1900s, many fought for a ban on sign language because they believed that oral communication was more modern, while sign language was “primitive,” “inferior,” and “abnormal” (Nielson 597). The deaf were (and still are) lumped into the category of “disabled.” As a result, they were denied jobs in the New Deal of the 1930s and continue to struggle with employment today (Nielson 599-600). Additionally, deaf men were robbed of economic opportunity and therefore could not provide for their families. According to author Kim E. Nielson, “The dominant culture…tied male civil and moral worth to paid employment, leaving deaf men categorized as civilly and morally unfit and unable to find work” (599). This enraging mistreatment did not stop there, however. The deaf also had to face restrictions on marriage and even driving restrictions (which also decreased the opportunity for work). Clearly, deaf people as a whole have been misunderstood and mistreated throughout the centuries. Christians today must acknowledge this past and compassionately embrace what the deaf represent today.
Despite past and even current understanding, deaf people possess profound intelligence. This is clarified not only through their stunning Americanism and passion, but also through the exemplary deaf figures of the past. Intriguingly, historic resistance against the deaf resulted in powerful fortifying of the deaf culture (Nielson 598). The deaf of the 20th century united to form influential organizations such as the National Association of the Deaf and the National Fraternal Society of the Deaf. According to Nielson, the prejudice the deaf experienced resulted in “active” and “rich” “social lives” and culture (Nielson 602). Some of the world’s most famous historical figures were deaf. In fact, Thomas Edison, who “literally invented the 20th century,” had been deaf since childhood (Moran 1). Beethoven, who wrote some of the greatest music of all time, was deaf. Helen Keller, who was not only deaf but blind as well, wrote numerous books and essays and even completed college. She was deeply intelligent and had beautiful, fascinating insight into the world (Keller “Introduction”). William Hoy, an exemplary player in Major League Baseball, was deaf. Linda Bove, a famous Sesame Street actor, was deaf. Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts, was deaf (“Famous”). The list goes on. Despite common conceptions, there is absolutely no doubt that deaf people are outstandingly intelligent.
Even though the deaf are extremely smart, history proves they often fall through the cracks in education. This must change, and Christians and educators must be the people to change it. Scholars did not begin to recognize the potential for deaf education until the sixteenth century. In fact, Geronimo Cardano, a sixteenth-century doctor, became the first to appreciate that the deaf can be educated with written words and pictures (Flodin 10). In 1620, the first sign language book was written by Juan Pablo de Benet. Soon, Abbé Charles Michel de L’Épée, who became the “father of deaf education,” opened the first free deaf school in France (Flodin 10). Deaf education did not come to the United States until 1817, when Reverend Thomas Hopkins Galluadet began the first U.S residential school in Hartford, Connecticut (Flodin 11; Nielson 597). By 1863, there were twenty-two schools in the U.S alone (Flodin 11). The methods taught at these early schools were mostly crude forms of French sign language and the beginnings of American Sign Language (ASL) (Lou 77). Later, the French sign language was completely dropped in pursuit of the refinement of ASL (Lou 87). When oral methods of deaf education were developed, some educators abandoned sign language completely, while others simply integrated it into sign language methods. By 1960, there was a relatively equal balance between the two (Lou 88). The 21st century brought with it the integration movement, producing education reforms such as Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which placed deaf students in classrooms with hearing students (Morrison 121). In 2012, there were 80,000 “deaf and hard-of-hearing” students being educated under the IDEA (Higgins and Lieberman 1). Deaf education has certainly improved throughout the years; however, the achievement gaps between deaf and hearing students as well as students with other disabilities are gaping (Morrison 121), primarily because of the lack of opportunity and understanding of the processes used to educate deaf people.
Because of the deluge of new research and reform, deaf education today is in disarray. With the implementation of this research and reform comes confusion and debate, especially between components of oral and manual education. While learning to write and read English remains integral, authors Michael Higgins and Amy Lieberman argue that “ASL fluency is a key predictor of the academic, linguistic, and social-emotional achievement of deaf students” (1). Others believe that technology provides for an oral approach to language (Higgins and Lieberman 2). This historic argument can easily be solved by the integration of both oral and manual methods while teaching deaf and hard-of-hearing children. Another heated argument in the world of deaf education involves whether or not the deaf should be treated as disabled. Deaf children attending public schools are lumped into the “disabled” category along with severely physically and mentally hindered children. What is integral is that, although lack of hearing can taint education, it is certainly not as educationally restricting as autism, cerebral palsy, etc. and logically does not make the inflicted student any less able physically or mentally. Therefore, Higgins and Lieberman argue, the public and the government should treat deaf students as “a cultural and linguistic minority” rather than simply disabled (3). Instantly considering and treating a child as disabled stunts their potential because it causes them to think of themselves in a “deficit-oriented” way (Higgins and Lieberman 2). Thinking of deaf children as English Language Learners (ELLs) could make the difference in deaf education today, solving the majority of the problems in the field.
Evidently, the deaf are a largely ignored and mistreated people; unfortunately, that fact is also true in the church and throughout the world on the mission field. The deaf community is a lost and wandering people. According to deaf author Chad Entinger, out of the 250 to 300 million deaf people throughout the world, only 2% of them claim to be Christians, making them one of the largest unreached people groups in the world (Entinger 7). The reason for this in other countries is that the deaf are mistreated, abandoned, and thought of as freaks, resulting in poor lifestyles and education. The reason for this in America is that churches do not accommodate deaf people and Christians do not reach out to them. In his article, Entinger gives an example of a deaf man who grew up in church but totally rejected God as an adult. He did this because, as a child, this man interpreted church as a place that only cared about taking people’s money because the only thing he comprehended at church was the offering (Entinger 7). No one bothered to reach out and explain to this man the Gospel of Jesus Christ just because he was different. This too often represents the situation in churches across America. Jesus would not have acted in this way. Additionally, since the first language of most deaf people is sign language, they need to be taught the Bible in their own language. While ASL translators have recently provided this for Americans, there are 400-500 different sign languages in the world, most without their own translation of the Bible (Entinger 9). Clearly, the church desperately needs to step up and treat deaf people as Jesus would.
By recognizing the past and present situations and the culture of the deaf community, Christians can begin to reach out to a broken and lost people. When every Christian stands before Jesus one day, He will say this (according to Matthew 25:40): “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (The Holy Bible 831). Christians must take action. Hundreds and millions of misunderstood, marginalized people need Jesus and the church is doing little about it. This needs to change—not tomorrow, not next week or next month—today. Christians must begin to understand and empathize with the past and present situations of the deaf community and take a stand for them as Jesus would right now. True followers of Christ have the opportunity to represent Him today by penetrating the silence.
Entinger, Chad. “The Deaf: An Unreached People Unlike Any Other.” Mission Frontiers. 01 Jan. 2014, pp.6-10. Print.
Eveleth, Rose. “Earth’s Quietest Place Will Drive You Crazy in 45 Minutes.” Smithsonian.com. 17 Dec. 2013. Web. 12 Sept. 2016.
“Famous Deaf People.” Start ASL. Web. 13 Sept. 2016.
Flodin, Mickey. Signing Illustrated. New York, NY. Penguin Putnam Inc., 1994. Print.
Higgins, Michael, and Amy M. Lieberman. “Deaf Students as a Linguistic and Cultural Minority: Shifting Perspectives and Implications for Teaching and Learning.” Journal of Education 196.1, 2016. Academic Search Premier. Web. 9 Sept. 2016.
Keller, Helen. The World I Live in, edited and with an introduction by Roger Shattuck. New York NY. The New York Review of Books, 2003. Print.
Lou, Mimi WheiPing. “The History of Language Use in the Education of the Deaf in the United States.” Language Learning and Deafness, edited by Strong, Michael. Cambridge, UK. Cambridge University Press, 1988. pgs. 75-89. Print.
Moran, Michael E. “The Light bulb, Cystoscopy, and Thomas Alva Edison.” Journal of Endourology 24.9, 2010. Academic OneFile. Web. 9 Sept. 2016.
Morrison, George S. Early Childhood Education Today. 13th ed. New Jersey. Pearson Education, 2015. Print.
Nielsen, Kim E. “Deaf History and the U.S. Historical Narrative.” Reviews in American History 31.4, 2003. Print.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2011. Print.