Contributions deaf culture has made to improving the reading of hearing kids.

The following article first appeared in 1992 editions of Parents' Monthly and Long Island Parenting News. It is about two contributions deaf culture has made to improving the reading of hearing kids. It was written by Steve Kokette.

Recently I read an article editorializing that some of the multicultural studies movement in schools has an undercurrent of anti-Western bias. It argued Western culture should always be studied because, imperfect as our culture is, historically it is usually the most open to new ideas and change.

But in advancing multicultural studies the obvious question becomes which cultures are worth studying and which aren't. Making such decisions can only reflect our own cultural biases.

We have much to learn from other cultures; and, if multicultural studies are to be worthwhile, students should be gaining knowledge that something is to be learned from every culture. Just because a culture isn't studied shouldn't mean it isn't worthy of study.

In developing multicultural studies, many societies worth studying will be overlooked. And one, which may have more to offer us now in our national educational needs than any culture, often literally speaks with a muted voice for attention. Also, it may be overlooked simply because many consider it a part of our Western culture.

Deaf culture has two contributions that may be very important in helping hearing kids learn to read better, and one of them might prove to be an immense benefit to our economy.

Sign language can help kids read better. A school system in Prince Georges County, Maryland, is teaching hearing kids Sign, and reading scores have gone up. Other research has also shown Sign improves reading.

Many kids fall behind when first learning to read because they simply don't remember what letters and words mean. The problem is that once they fall behind they often stay behind, so it might be considered beneficial to try to prevent kids from falling behind in reading initially.

If children learn words and letters in conjunction with a Sign for the letters and words they learn they are more likely to remember what those letters and words mean. Therefore they read better.

Closed captioning is the other contribution to better reading, and soon it will be available to all. Federal law demands that by mid-1993 all TV sets sold with screens of 13" or larger, which is essentially all TVs, must have closed captioning (CC) at the push of a button. One manufacturer has already introduced these TVs at competitive prices with conventional sets.

One day many parents, perhaps most, will be using these sets at home - often before kids start school - to help teach reading. The sets might be used with the sound off and captioning on, which some schools already do, and which research shows to be effective. If kids don't learn to read from this they should at least develop a curiosity as to what the letters running across the screen mean. The sets may also be used at home with both sound and captioning on to teach reading.

The irony is, that this technology developed to help the deaf may become an important tool in advancing our economy. It's also been shown CC is great for teaching English as a second language, which could help many non-English speakers in the U.S. become more productive. And the deaf, who often can't afford CC decoders and who have far fewer opportunities to learn from other individuals than those who hear, will find themselves with more learning opportunities than they have ever had.

But its real impact may come in increasing U.S. exports. Other nations are likely to pass laws allowing only push button CC sets to be sold in their countries too, so it's possible that soon all or most TVs sold will have this feature. And for now, manufacturers will retool their factories to produce a surplus of these TVs for the U.S. market. It will be better for them to have too many on hand, which can be sold in other nations, than too few to sell in the huge U.S. market.

The U.S. easily leads the world in CC video and TV programs, and these new sets will make it easier for many throughout the world to learn English via CC programs. Many more in non-English speaking nations should eventually be capable of using English instructions for using or assembling U.S. products. And more should be capable of learning enough English to trade with the U.S. - whether ordering one inexpensive item or putting together multi-million dollar deals.

The military and NASA often love to point to "spin-off" products their research helped develop and that now benefit all. But perhaps two of the greatest spin-offs of all time are from a group most would least expect - the hearing impaired.