First schools for the deaf

"When and where were the first schools for the deaf established? Nikola Śliwa explains in Polish Sign Language (PJM)."

First schools for the deaf were established in the second half of the 18th century. At that time, three centers were founded:

  1. The Braidwood Academy for the Deaf and Dumb, founded in Edinburgh by Thomas Braidwood in 1760,
  2. The National Institute for Deaf Children in Paris, opened in 1760 by Father Charles-Michel de L’Épée,
  3. The Saxon School for the Deaf and Dumb, established in Leipzig in 1778 by Samuel Heinicke.

These three pioneers of deaf education have gone down in history as promoters of two educational traditions: 1. Bilingual, known as the French tradition, 2. Oralism, known as the German tradition. Thanks to these three individuals, regional communities were formed for the first time where the deaf could integrate and build their own communities. Deaf individuals from various places came to these schools, bringing their own often “home” sign languages. Through the possibility of exchanging information and spending time together (as these were boarding schools), the natural development of language occurred, resulting in the creation of a common communication system.

Patrons of British and French Sign Language

Braidwood and L’Épée learned sign language from their students. Both are considered as patrons, allies of the British and French sign languages. Regarding de L’Épée, he also developed French Sign Language, equivalent to the Polish system (SJM). Presumably, this system was used in his Institute. His successors adopted French Sign Language as the language of instruction. Over time, deaf teachers were hired. One of them was Laurent Clerc, who, in 1817, agreed to assist an American, Thomas Gallaudet, in establishing the first school for the deaf on the American continent. Earlier, Jakub Falkowski visited Paris, where he organized the Institute for the Deaf and Blind in Warsaw (1817).

The founder of the school in Leipzig, Samuel Heinicke, took a different approach, teaching the deaf phonetic language. Subsequent schools also adopted this direction, and in the second half of the 19th century, oralism dominated, with sign languages being seen as an obstacle to acquiring national (phonetic) languages. Unfortunately, even today, many people, including those involved in education, still perpetuate harmful stereotypes about sign languages. Fortunately, awareness about this is growing, and hopefully, it will only get better with time!

Source: “O trzech aspektach naturalności języków migowych” (“On Three Aspects of Naturalness of Sign Languages.”) Marek Świdziński.

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