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Alexander Graham Bell's design sketch of the telephone, ca. 1876.

[Detail] Alexander Graham Bell's design sketch of the telephone

Historical Issue Analysis and Decision Making

A study of any number of the thousands of documents relating to Bell's work in the field of elocution discloses his sincere concern for improving education for persons with impaired hearing. Have students browse the Subject Index for papers related to educating the deaf. Analyze selected documents to discern reasons for his interest in this topic and circumstances that contributed to his work in speech therapy. Evaluate the impact he made on improving the quality of life for the deaf. Students could also investigate the degree to which Bell's exploratory work is still used in speech therapy.

From their analysis of Bell's education of deaf people, students can consider the issue of culture and assimilation. Deaf culture has distinct characteristics that make it differ from that of the hearing world. The differences may seem obvious at first, but there are subtleties, too, to the differences in these cultures. Why might a deaf person not wish to speak? Students can consider what it means to be part of a culture: What support do we gain from those within our culture? And what does it mean to be a culture living in the world of another? What does it mean to always feel and be identified as "different" from the mainstream culture?

This discussion may lead to a consideration of how people give and receive assistance. Hearing people might assume that all deaf people would want to speak and, therefore, the best thing a hearing person can do is teach a deaf person to speak. However, what challenges can arise when the giver and receiver make assumptions? What benefit is there in the giver and receiver discussing what they each hope to gain from their interaction and how best to achieve those goals?