Oral Education as Emancipation

After the Civil War, education reformers urged schools for deaf children to fundamentally change their teaching methods. Reformers wanted eliminate "manualism," the use of sign language, and replace it with "oralism," the exclusive use of speech and lipreading. Residential schools, from their beginnings, had conducted classes in sign language, fingerspelling, and written English. Lessons in lipreading and speech had been added to the curriculum at many schools in the 1860s, but for advocates of oralism this was not the crux of the issue. They opposed sign language, believing that it slowed the development of speech and set deaf people apart from society.


In this articulation class at the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind, students in the back row use mirrors to learn to pronounce words.

Oralists believed that signing oppressed and isolated deaf people and invited discrimination-since it set them apart from the general population. Speech was the way to "emancipate"them. Many deaf leaders profoundly disagreed, and portrayed oralists themselves as oppressors of deaf people.


Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind


John Clarke was the foremost supporter of the Clarke School in Northampton, Massachusetts. His name is on the wall at the back of this this classroom. The school was a pioneer in oral education.


Clarke School for the Deaf/
Center for Oral Education



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