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An Argument for Residential Schools, Least Restrictive Environment, and Physical Education

Page history last edited by Elizabeth Croft 14 years, 9 months ago

An Argument for Residential Schools, Least Restrictive Environment, and Physical Education for the Deaf



Butterfield (1991) provides the following background on residential schools in the United States:

Residential or boarding schools have been in place on the American education scene since the early days of our country. Patterned after the western European model, these schools optimistically sought to educate the whole person. In addition to their academic mission, boarding schools strove to develop athletic prowess and character traits such as loyalty, perseverance, industriousness, and manners.

In the U.S., boarding schools were educating children and youth prior to the establishment of a public education system. Over the years some of these schools evolved around themes such as military science, equestrian, and even downhill skiing; several became a means of entry to elite colleges and universities. However, in special education circles the mention of residential school P.E. and Sport for the Deaf 97 (institution) can still evoke images of thick stone walls, wire and glass mesh windows, heavy-duty furniture, and human behavior managed by drugs rather than by personal interaction. These monoliths, though built with noble intentions, were seen as purgatories where individuals were simply kept as opposed to being treated or educated.

Unlike institutions for the mentally retarded or mentally ill, residential schools for the deaf were not set up to remove or hide deaf children from society. Instead, early leaders in deaf education, like Thomas Gallaudet, were convinced that deaf children would learn best if educational services such as hearing aids, sign language, and trained teachers of the deaf were available to them. (pp. 96-97).



Butterfield  (1991) goes on to argue that residential schools provide an educational environment in which Deaf Culture can thrive. One aspect of Deaf Culture that thrives at residential schools is that of Deaf Sports. “Physical education and sport are important elements of the total program at most residential schools for the deaf … Sport in residential schools for the deaf is truly an outcome of physical education. The process by which deaf children move from physical education to interscholastic sport has a pervading quality of nurturing and advocacy (pp. 99-100). This is often not reflected the same way in mainstream environments, claims Butterfield. In mainstream environments, deaf students are rarely seen as equals and thus are not provided with the same level of involvement and growth related to physical education and sport (Butterfield). “Unfortunately, with the trend toward mainstreaming of deaf children, the residential school seems to be losing its grip as the bastion of deaf sport and culture” (Buterfield, p. 100).



“The residential school is usually not considered a viable placement option for deaf children. Nowadays the standard practice is to place deaf children in public schools, where their education is often in the hands of sign language interpreters rather than trained teachers of the deaf. Thus isolated from peers and denied their language and culture, many deaf children are forced to live in a detached, insular world that limits their potential and exacerbates their so-called handicap (Butterfield, 1991, p. 101). Butterfield argues that the residential school is a viable option and provides a least restrictive environment, as is demonstrated by the physical education and sport environment provided to deaf students. He states that “it is time to rethink the meaning of least restrictive when making placement decisions affecting deaf children. A narrow interpretation of PL 94-142 is a disservice to deaf children, and in a broader sense to the deaf community. Moreover, physical education and sport within the context of the residential school is a linchpin of deaf culture and provides a means for deaf children to grow, learn, and engage in self-actualizing behavior” (p. 101).





Butterfield, S. A. (1991). Physical education and sport for the deaf: Rethinking the least restrictive environment. Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, 8, 95-102.


Posted July 3, 2009 by Elizabeth Hutchins-Croft


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