Education* – Is the process of acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself intellectually for mature life. The word “Education” comes from a combination of Latin words meaning to train and to lead out.
History – For many years educators did not teach Deaf people. The famous philosopher, Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC) said, “Those who are born deaf all become senseless and incapable of reason.” His philosophy remained until the sixteenth century. Thankfully, today in the United States, most Deaf people can have a good education. However, there are still many areas of the world where Deaf people remain uneducated.
Education is a Process – Going to school does not make a person educated. Also, some people who have never finished high school or college are very educated. An education begins with getting basic knowledge. Every level of education should prepare a person for the next level of learning and life. A good education helps a person develop the ability to reason and think things through for himself. A truly educated person never stops learning.
Benefits of Deaf Education – Well educated Deaf people tend to know about their governmental rights. They tend to have better jobs. Deaf people who continually learn tend to become leaders in the Deaf community and beyond. They can raise good families and teach and train their children to become productive citizens.
Lack of Deaf Education – Over the years, I have had the privilege of speaking to Deaf groups and individuals in several other countries. I have met well-educated Deaf people who have also traveled, taught, and led others. I have also met Deaf adults who have never been educated. They were able to learn, but lacked opportunity in their younger years. It has been a privilege for me to observe missionary teachers educating Deaf people in places where there were no government schools. It was thrilling to see parents become excited that a missionary would teach their Deaf child to read and write.
What is Missing? – Over the years, I have also observed that one thing is missing from many Deaf people’s education, both in the United States and in several countries. Learning language, math, and a skill, or a way to make a living, is not enough to completely prepare a person for life. A person must also become educated about God and the Bible. God loves all people, and God loves Deaf people! It is not right to teach a person only to make a living. Deaf people also need to learn how to live right before God (see Ronnie Rice’s article, The Deaf Can).
Deafness is not an excuse for spiritual ignorance. Churches must not ignore the spiritual needs of Deaf people. “Thou shalt not curse [make fun of, despise, ignore] the deaf” (Leviticus 19:14). Not every church can have a deaf ministry. But many Deaf people do not have a local, Bible-preaching church to attend. Recently, a Deaf family moved to a new location, away from a big city, and contacted Silent Word Ministries to find a church with an interpreter. Sadly, we did not know of one in their area. But consider this – one pastor of a small church in West Virginia met a Deaf man, invited him to church, and started a deaf ministry so they could try to win him to Christ and teach him. He eventually did receive Christ as Savior. That church understood the need to reach ALL people in their area, even if it meant someone had to learn sign language!
Deaf Churches and Deaf Ministries – There are several different kinds of deaf ministries. Where possible, a deaf church with preaching and teaching in sign language, and with ministry to hearing family members, has the potential to provide a complete ministry to Deaf families. But lack of preachers for the Deaf and the limited number of Deaf people in some areas prevent most churches from starting a Deaf church. Therefore, many hearing churches interpret their Sunday service. But experience has shown this method alone to be somewhat limited, incomplete, and not fully able to communicate spiritual truth to Deaf people. Over the years I have noticed that, in the hearing church setting, one of the best ways to minister to Deaf people is to have a separate Deaf class with a curriculum designed to fit their language and culture needs. Along with interpreted services and occasional deaf services when possible, this method allows hearing churches to reach out to the Deaf community, especially when a Deaf church is not available. It is the responsibility of deaf churches and deaf ministries to teach Deaf people about God, the Bible, and God’s spiritual truth and life principles.
Education or Religious Education? – Many people are surprised to learn that one of the goals of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet was to provide religious education to the Deaf. He wrote, “Remember, that the more you read and understand the Bible, the wiser you will be; and the more you love and obey it, the better and happier you will be. Pray daily to God for his Holy Spirit, that you may thus read, understand, love, and obey that best of books [Bible], which He has given you to show you the way to Heaven.” – Rev. T. H. Gallaudet’s Ten Bible Stories, 1834, Reprinted: SWM
A Modern-day Example – Dr. Reggie Rempel (Deaf) established Harvest Deaf Ministries in 1994 with the purpose of “Training the deaf to reach the deaf for Christ.” Today they have a deaf church and offer education for Deaf people from preschool to college. (Information/Contact: HarvestDeaf.org)
Thomas Gallaudet cared for the souls of Deaf people. Do you care? – Help SWM reach the Deaf World for Christ. Let SWM help you or your church reach Deaf people in your area. Contact me for more information.
*Dictionary.com, Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2013.
**Mervin G. Garretson, “Introduction” in Deaf Heritage: A Narrative History of Deaf America, by Jack R. Gannon (Gallaudet Classics in Deaf Studies Series, Vol. 7, 2012).