Education: Lesson Details


Today’s Deaf Culture is rooted in American Sign Language. ASL was created at specialized educational institutions during the first third of the nineteenth century. Students and teachers at the American School for the Deaf in Hartford, Connecticut, played an especially crucial role.

This lesson outlines the collaboration between Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, Mason Cogswell, and Laurent Clerc, a joint effort that fostered the creation of American Sign Language. Primary sources include a sermon by Gallaudet on the religious duty to educate deaf people, a contract allowing Clerc to come to America, and early reports of the Connecticut institution.

Students will closely examine the connections between the origins of deaf education in early nineteenth-century America and prevailing religious and cultural beliefs. They can then apply this information to modern-day contexts in which issues of deafness, deaf education and cultural beliefs intersect. Any class on antebellum America, especially one that examines the impact of the Second Great Awakening and related reform movements, would benefit from “Heathens among Us: The Origins of American Sign Language.”

Questions To Consider

1. Who were the main actors in the origins of deaf education in the United States? What did each person do?

2. What roles did religion play in the creation of the American School for the Deaf?

3. How might life have changed for the deaf people with the arrival of educational opportunities for deaf people?