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From:  Valerie Sutton
Date:  Wed Jan 6, 1999  6:51 pm
Subject:  SignWriting In Bi-Bi Education

January 6, 1999

Hello Everyone -
We have increased requests for information on SignWriting from Spain,
Brazil and several other countries. The increased interest came from an
article that was published in Spanish about the SignWriting Literacy
Project, and this article was then distributed through a newsletter for
educators of the deaf in Europe and other Spanish and Portuguese speaking
countries. Suddenly, in the middle of December, I received a long list of
email messages written in Spanish. I do not speak Spanish, but I can read
it fairly well, so I have managed the best I can.

(A side note....There is an interesting "bilingual issue".....How can a
person understand reading Spanish without speaking it? If reading and
writing is not a language, then what is happening when I read another
language and understand it without knowing how to speak it? smile)

Anyway...back to the issue of deaf education. People wrote to ask me about
deaf education in the USA. Of course I am not an expert on this subject,
but I did answer their questions the best I could. They wanted to know
about our project, and how it "relates to deaf education" in the USA.

Meanwhile I knew that I had to write to them in English. So I always told
them that I wish I could write Spanish! So if there is someone who is
fluent in Spanish, who would like to help me, we do need to make Spanish
translations of some of the English articles that explain SignWriting, and
I would be most grateful if anyone can donate some time to this. No rush,
no deadline. It would be valuable for those who write in Spanish. So
anyway, they clearly had to find someone who could read English to read my
responses to them.

Here is the general write-up that I wrote regarding deaf education in the
USA. I know that some of you on the SignWriting List are true experts on
this subject, so I thought I would send you this writing, with the hopes
that you can give me the proper feedback. If we get a good write-up, I can
post it on our web site for general information for the public. Here is
what I wrote:


QUESTION: Is SignWriting used in bilingual education in the USA, and what
is the educational philosophy there?

ANSWER: Yes, SignWriting "can be used" in bilingual education, and is being
used in a few rare cases, but No, SignWriting is not an "official part" of
the Bi-Bi Educational Approach in the USA, although I believe that some
people are starting to consider to use it.

Here in the United States there are many ongoing philosophies on how to
educate profoundly deaf children. Some people still believe in oralism.
Some schools still do not teach a signed language. Other schools have
chosen to adopt Total Communication, which is an educational approach that
combines signing and speech and other philosophies into one classroom.
Total Communication got a lot of criticism, and it varies around the
country. I suspect there is no standard way to teach Total Communication
here in the USA.

Some schools choose to use Signed English, placing ASL signs in English
word order. Other schools choose to use SEE signs, which actually changes
ASL signs by adding English endings, such as "ing" on the end of ASL signs.
They change the ASL signs to be "more connected with English".

But recently, a new educational philosophy, called the "Bi-Lingual,
Bi-Cultural Approach", or "Bi-Bi" for short, started in a few schools in
the United States. For example, the first Charter School to adopt the
Bi-Bi-Approach was the Metro Deaf School in St. Paul, Minnesota. And the
Metro Deaf School has all of our SignWriting materials. SignWriting is at
the experimental stage there, and there is now talk that they may join our
SignWriting Literacy Project.

How is the Bi-Bi-Approach different than Total Communication?

Total Communication essentially says "teach the child anything that works".
Most of the time that meant that ASL was not a choice, because the teachers
couldn't sign ASL well enough to present it properly. And I have never
heard of a school using Total Communication that gave the deaf children
"official lessons" in the grammar of true ASL. Perhaps that does exist, but
I personally have never heard ot it. Most of the time, anyway, the signing
used in the classroom is more of a "bridge" between English and ASL, and it
is not the same ASL that is used by the native signing deaf children, when
they return home to their Deaf native signing parents.

So, even though researchers had been saying for years that ASL is a true
language that should be respected equally with English, that philosophy had
not been incorporated into the classroom until the Bi-Bi Approach was
established. And the Bi-Bi Approach is still in its infancy.

As far as I can see, the Bi-Bi Approach wants to present both languages,
ASL and English, on an equal footing. It also teaches equal respect for
both languages and cultures. But because this new philosophy of teaching
was started before the school systems knew that SignWriting existed,
generally SignWriting is not a part of the Bi-Bi Approach at the moment.
But that is starting to change. And I am glad, because I feel that
SignWriting can be used in the Bi-Bi-Approach as a useful tool.

There is a new and special project that is researching the Bi-Bi-Approach,
called the Star Schools Project, headed by Deaf educator, Steve Nover. Some
of the teachers involved with the Star Schools Project, including Steve
Nover himself, have expressed interest in experimenting with SignWriting at
a later date. The Star Schools Project is a five-year project, and they
have only completed the first year, so there is time to approach the use of
SignWriting in the future.

The teachers at the Texas School for the Deaf, who participated in our
SignWriting Literacy Project in the Fall, 1998, are also participants in
the Star Schools Project.

This is all at the experimental level, and I have no idea where this will
lead, but our SignWriting Literacy Project, which is free to any school
interested in working with us, was established to help this process along.
So if there is a teacher who is interested in participating in the
SignWriting Literacy Project, please contact me and we can work out the

All the best -

Valerie :-)

Valerie Sutton at the DAC
Deaf Action Committee for SW


Center For Sutton Movement Writing
an educational nonprofit organization
Box 517, La Jolla, CA, 92038-0517, USA

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