Bell's "Upon the Formation of a Deaf Variety of the Human Race" paper

Few people have seen the primary document (see below) in which AG Bell put forth his analysis of deaf to deaf marriages contributing to the possible development of a deaf variety of the human race and ways to stop this from happening. This 86 page paper shows Bell’s interest in social Darwinism, eugenics, and his paternalistic attitudes towards Deaf people.

While it is noted that even the NAD had a resolution statement in 1920 to discourage deaf to deaf marriages in the interest of the offspring, Bell’s writings and activities in this area lays out his blueprint for a highly aggressive and systematic campaign against deaf people’s civil liberties, their culture and their language. Again, gratitude and credit to B.R. for getting this material to us.

By Alexander Graham Bell


The influence of selection in modifying our breeds of domestic animals is most marked, and it is reasonable to suppose that if we could apply selection to the human race we could also produce modifications or varieties of men.

But how can we ascertain the susceptibility of the human race to variation produced by selection? We cannot dictate to men and women whom they shall marry, and natural selection no longer influences mankind to any great extent.

We can see around us everywhere evidences of the transmission by heredity of characteristics both desirable and undesirable, but at first sight no general selective influence appears to be at work to bring about the union in marriage of persons possessing the same congenital peculiarities. On the contrary, sexual attraction often appears to operate after the manner of magnetical attraction–“unlike poles attract, like poles repel.” Strong, vigorous, and robust men naturally feel a tenderness for weak, delicate, and fragile women, and are generally repelled by physical strength and masculine traits in one of the opposite sex. Even in such characteristics as the color of the hair and eyes, it often appears that unlikes attract.

Certain diseases are known to be liable to transmission by heredity. But we do not find epileptics marrying epileptics, or consumptives knowingly marrying consumptives. Even though persons afflicted with the same hereditary disease were to intermarry for a number of successive generations, it is doubtful whether any permanent variety of the race could be formed in this way, for the increased tendency to disease inherited by the offspring would probably cause a greater tendency to premature death and ultimately occasion the extinction of the variety.

On the other hand, it is reasonable to suppose that the continuous intermarriage of persons possessing congenital defects not associated with diminished vitality or vigor of constitution would result after a number of generations in the production of a vigorous but defective variety of the race. For instance, the absence of coloring matter from the skin and hair is a defect occasionally found among human beings, and we may learn from the success of attempts to propagate Albinism among animals, that we would probably produce a pink-eyes, white-haired variety of the human race by causing Albinos to marry one another; but this is only speculation. We cannot control the marriages of men as we can the breeding of animals, and at first sight there seems to be no way of ascertaining how far human beings are susceptible to variation by selection.

Such a conclusion, however, would be incorrect; and I desire to direct attention to the fact that in this country deaf-mutes marry deaf-mutes.

An examination of the records of some of our institutions for the deaf and dumb reveals the fact that such marriages are not the exception, but the rule. For the last fifty years there has been some selective influence at work which has caused, and is still causing, the continuous selection of the deaf by the deaf in marriage.

If the laws of heredity that are known to hold in the case of animals also apply to man, the intermarriage of congenital deaf-mutes through a number of successive generations would result in the formation of a deaf variety of the human race.

On the other hand, if it can be shown that congenitally deaf persons marry one another without any greater liability to the production of deaf offspring than is to be found among the people at large, then it will be evident that we cannot safely apply to man the deductions that have been drawn from experiments upon animals.

There are good grounds for the belief that a thorough investigation of the marriages of the deaf and the influence of these marriages upon the offspring will afford a solution of the problem, “To what extent is the human race susceptible to variation by selection?”

Although the statistics I have been able to collect are very incomplete, I have ventured to being the subject to the attention of the Academy, in the hope that publication of the results so far obtained may lead completion of the statistics.

To see full paper – see links at bottom

Conclusion (p. 47-48 excerpt)

The grand central principle that should guide us, then, in our search for preventive measures should be the retention of the normal environment during the period of education. The natural tendency towards adaptation would then co-operate with instruction to produce accommodation to the permanent conditions of life.

The direction of change should therefore be towards the establishment of small schools, and the extension of the day-school plan. The practicability of any great development of day schools will depend upon the possibility of conducting very small schools of this kind economically to the State; for the scattered condition of the deaf and dumb in the community precludes the idea of large day schools, excepting in the great centers of population. The principle referred to above indicates that such schools should be of the minimum size possible; for the school that would most perfectly fulfil the condition required would contain only one deaf child. It also points to the advisability of coeducation with hearing children–but this is not practicable to any great extent. No instruction can be given through the ear, and complete coeducation would only therefore be possible by a change in the methods of teaching hearing children. It is useless to expect that such a change would be made for the benefit of the deaf and dumb on account of their limited number.

Partial coeducation is, however, possible, for some studies are pursued in the common schools in which information is gained through the eye. For instance, deaf-mutes could profitably enter the same classes with hearing children for practice in writing, drawing, map-drawing, arithmetic on the black-board, sewing, &c. For other subjects special methods of instruction would be necessary, and those demand the employment of special teachers. They do not, however, necessitate special schools or buildings, and a small room in a public school building would accommodate as many deaf children as one teacher could successfully instruct. Considerations of economy render advisable the appropriation of a room of this kind, as the appliances of a large school might thus be obtained without special outlay.

The average per capita cost of the education of a deaf child in an American institution is $223.28 per annum [Footnote: See Table X in the Appendix.] Very small day schools could be maintained at no greater cost. The cost, at an institution, however, includes board and industrial training. On the day-school plan the parents would generally assume the expense of maintenance, and some special provision would have to be made for industrial training. This need give no concern, for so many deaf-mutes are earning their livelihood by trades which they were not taught in the institutions as to demonstrate the practicability of apprenticing deaf-mutes in ordinary shops.

The indications are that in all places where three or four deaf children could be brought together near their homes the cost would be no more to form them into a class in the nearest public school building under a special teacher than to send them to an institution. On the basis of the average per capita cost at an institution the sum of $669.84 would be received for three, and $893.12 for four pupils; and such sums would probably be sufficient to pay the salary of a special teacher, as well as to cover incidental expenses.

If this is so the day-school system could be made to penetrate into the smaller centers of population as well as into the large cities, in which case it would exert a considerable influence as a remedial agent. The plan of forming small classes of deaf children in public school buildings recommends itself as affording the closest approximation possible, on the large scale, to the normal conditions of life.

Segregation during education has not only favored the tendency towards the formation of a race of deaf-mutes, but has led to the evolution of a special language adapted for the use of such a race–“the sign-language of the deaf and dumb.” This is especially true in America where the sign-language is employed by a large majority of the teachers in instructing their pupils. In foreign countries the vast majority employ, for this purpose, the ordinary language of the people. This will fully appear by reference to Table V in the Appendix.

The lack of articulate speech should also be noted as an indirect cause of segregation in adult life, operating to separate deaf-mutes from hearing persons. Hence, instruction in articulation and speech-reading should be given to every pupil.

This is done in Germany. Indeed, in 1882, more than 65 per cent. of all the deaf and dumb in foreign schools were being taught to speak and understand the speech of others, whereas in America less than 9 per cent. were to be found in oral schools. [Footnote: See American Annals of the Deaf and Dumb, vol. xxviii, pp. 47-61; also, Table V, in the Appendix–from which it will appear that of 7,155 American deaf-mutes, only 584, or less than 9 per cent., were to be found in oral schools; whereas of 19,318 deaf-mutes in foreign schools, 12,662, or more than 65 per cent., were taught to speak in purely oral schools.]

According to more recent statistics compiled by the Clarke Institution [Footnote: See Appendix to Sixteenth Annual Report of the Clarke Institution. See, also, Table Y in the Appendix. Complete returns were not obtained, but the cases noted number 6,232, thus comprehending the vast majority of the pupils under instruction in May, 1883. Of these 886, or 14 per cent., were under oral instruction; 1,105, or 18 per cent., received occasional instruction in speech in sign institutions; and 4,241 received no instruction in articulation whatever.] we find that in May, 1883, about 14 per cent. of the deaf and dumb in American institutions were using speech in the school-room as the language of communication with their teachers; 18 per cent. were taught to speak as an accomplishment, and 68 per cent. received no instruction whatever in articulation.

Nearly one-third of the teachers of the deaf and dumb in America are themselves deaf, [Footnote: See American Annals of the Deaf and Dumb (January, 1883), vol. xxviii, pp. 56-57. Out of 481 teachers 154, or 32 per cent., were deaf.] and this must be considered as another element favorable to the formation of a deaf race–to be therefore avoided.

The segregation of deaf-mutes, the use of the sign language, and the employment of deaf teachers produce an environment that is unfavorable to the cultivation of articulation and speech-reading, and that sometimes causes the disuse of speech by speaking pupils who are only deaf.

Having shown the tendency to the formation of a deaf variety of the human race in America, and some of the means that should be taken to counteract it, I commend the whole subject to the attention of scientific men.

LINK TO DOWNLOAD ENTIRE PAPER (PDF, 38 MB, very slow to download) or download one page at a time
then change the number after race for each page 4 – 89

If dont have adobe – change pdf in url to jpg

NOTE: Bell’s paper was re-published in 1969 by the Alexander Graham Bell Association under the longer title: “Memoir Upon the Formation of a Deaf Variety of the Human Race.”


11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. John
    May 30, 2008 @ 12:31:35

    Should NAD be aware of all this and rectify all these problems that the society learned from AGBell and its associates in the past 100+ years about Deaf people, culture, education and language.

  2. E
    May 30, 2008 @ 18:26:43

    Seriously, Bell is just a product of his times, where Social Darwinism was the prevailing sociological thought.

    Patty, do you support or contribute to Planned Parenthood? If so, would you still support that organization if you knew that Margaret Sander strongly believed in eugenics as well. She founded Planned Parenthood to make it socially acceptable to abort the undesirables, including homosexuals, ethnic minorities, and certainly the disabled.

    Yet Planned Parenthood continues as an organization to this day.

    My point here is that you also have to look at the prevailing thoughts during AGBell’s time. Eugenics was very socially acceptable back then as they thought it would help improve society as a whole.

  3. pdurr
    May 31, 2008 @ 07:17:42

    John – re: NAD – it is my hope that NAD has some Deaf history experts within its organization that are aware of this information

    Knowledge is power

    E – I think the NYTimes article in the next post and the article by EM Gallaudet as well as Baynton’s book Forbidden Signs indicate that Bell was more than just a man of his times in terms of his promotion of eugenics. He was very zealous in his approach.

    Re: Planned Parenthood and Margaret Sanger – Are Planned Parenthood centers named in Sanger’s honor? I dont know of any Margaret Sanger Association. Is there a building on my campus bearing Margaret Sanger’s name? If there is, please let me know and I will contest that as well.

    This is the issue on the table folks – whether or not a college which has a significant number of deaf students, faculty, staff and friends within its population should be honoring AG Bell

    Its not whether or not Bell had a right to his own beliefs and principles. It is simply – is he the right person to be honoring given what we KNOW about him and his actions?

    To many Colonel Custard is a hero and a man of his time but you can bet if any program or college that served Native Americans had a building in his name – it would be off in a blink once his actions and legacy were examined and known.

    Thomas Jefferson is revered in history. I cherish his words in the Declaration of Independence (all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with the inalienable right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness) above all other political statements – however, i can still acknowledge the hypocrisies and irony of such a statement coming from Jefferson. I can still examine his slave ownership, and fathering children with his slave but not freeing them until later in life and his writings negative views of Native Americans and deaf people and say – not someone id want to name a building after on an African American or Native American or Deaf campus. I would not advocate for the removal of the Thomas Jefferson memorial or the George Washington memorial – TJ and GW owned slaves – but the monuments in their honor are there as presidents of our country and not specifically intended to be an African-American tribute to them as a deaf dorm named in Bell’s honor is intended to be.

    We have to consider the place / space and what it is about and for

    So lets ask ourselves what DID AG Bell do that is so honor worthy for a d/Deaf college:
    1. he invented the phone???
    its highly disputed – see seth shulman
    and isn’t it a bit odd for a d/Deaf college to be honoring someone because they made a device that they could never use for NINETY YEARS and it lead to alot of employment discrimination. this doesnt mean that if Bell did in fact invent then phone, he shouldnt be honored somewhere on the planet – it just means is NTID the right place?

    2. he devoted his life to deaf children by trying to destroy Deaf-life. He attested to this aim and aspiration in his writings and speeches. He had no shame about this effort and yes it was fairly common for folks to believe in assimilation vs. pluralism at that time but we dont honor those folks with building names and plaques in their name today.

    3. he promoted the pure oral method exclusively by:
    – trying to disband Deaf residential schools
    – forbidding sign language in the classroom
    – establishing a splinter organization to rival CAID and convert deaf education to pure oralism
    – actively tried to prevent deaf to deaf marriages
    – opposed deaf organizations and publications
    – rendered deaf people unable to communicate with their brethens in his all or nothing approach

    The development of oral instruction was being integrated and advanced within the combined method, which accepted both oral skill development and sign language. But because of Bell’s zealousness and wealth oral-only education came to rule the day in the US deaf education system for almost a century.

    The result of which can be seen in the 1965 Babbidge report to congress in which it was deemed that pure oralism education was a “dismal failure.”

    The U.S. Congress Commission on Education of the Deaf (COED) published in the 1988 also had some criticism for pure oral education.

    The question is – is it right and proper for NTID/RIT to have a dorm named in Alexander Graham Bell’s honor – if yes WHY?????

    In examining the unexamined – Bell’s direct impact on deaf education today, we must be honest and forthright. We do not honor him by naming things that go against his beliefs and what he worked for – he did not want the deaf to be socialized together, he did not want them to marry and possibly create more deaf children, he did not want them to be teachers, he did not want sign language to be used in the classroom, he did not want them to have their clubs and organizations. NTID/RIT provides all of the things and environments that Bell opposed.

    So my question for you E is why should we be honoring AG Bell at NTID/RIT?

    He and his organization make no direct donations to NTID/RIT

    NTID/RIT does not uphold the things he worked for

    RIT’s value statement cherishes:
    integrity, respect, diversity and pluralism

    Bell’s integrity is challenged re: the phone plaigarism and fogery scandal and his dealings with EM Gallaudet, CAID and the Normal college

    Bell did not respect deaf teachers or deaf people’s rights to choose their own mate or to produce their own offsprings

    Bell did not respect having language diversity in the classroom

    Bell wrote many xenophobic statements against people from southeastern Europe and applied some of his social darwninism bents to them as well and thus did not show an appreciation for pluralism

    What did Bell do that was good other than try to wipe out Deaf culture and sign language out of the kindness of his heart in his effort to improve the lot of the deaf-mute in society? He afforded the deaf no self-determination and his plans and in his effort to “restore them to society” he further disenfranchised them and left them politically mute and powerless.



  4. Joseph Pietro Riolo
    Jun 01, 2008 @ 15:17:17

    I was not able to find information on colleges honoring the name of Margaret Sanger. Even if any college wants to name a building after her, I would not jump to the conclusion that the college agrees with everything that Ms. Sanger did. It could be that the college only wants to honor the few best things that Ms. Sanger did and ignore the rest of her life.

    I was able to find information about the award that is named after Ms. Sanger. I could not determine what is the official name but it is called “The Margaret Sanger Award” at the minimum. Just because a person receives the award does not necessarily mean that he or she agrees with everything that Ms Sanger did and said. A good example is that The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. received the award during the first year of the award ( The latest recipient of the award seems to be Senator Velmanette Montgomery who is a senator in the New York Senate. It is highly improper to say that just because they received the award means that they agreed with or accepted what Ms. Sanger did and said all through her life. They received the award simply because there were few or some commonalities between them and Ms. Sanger.

    We should extend the same principle to the naming of the dormitory after Dr. Alexander Graham Bell. Just because the past committee decided to name the dormitory after Dr. Bell does not mean that the members agreed with everything that Dr. Bell did and said all through his life. There are few or some commonalities between NTID and Dr. Bell that we should focus on, in the same way as we should focus on the commonalities between the recipients of The Margaret Sander Award and Ms. Sanger.

    One may ask if there are any commonalities between NTID and Dr. Bell. I turn to the last fourth paragraph in the report titled “Some Incidents In The Progress of Deaf-Mute Education in America – 1890-1895” written by Edward M. Gallaudet, Ph.D., LL.D. as shown in the previous entry of this blog.

    Dr. Gallaudet recognized that Dr. Bell and those other pure-oralists were very sincere in promoting the welfare of the deaf kids, similar to the goals of NTID. He also recognized the many generous things that Dr. Bell did for the deaf kids, similar to all people at NTID. He pointed out that it was through Dr. Bell’s sympathetic heart that he decided to do something for the deaf kids. Although NTID does not have a living heart, it through the people’s hearts continues to improve the life of the deaf students.

    I fully understand that it is totally up to each individual’s choice to recognize commonalities and ignore the differences or to focus on the differences and ignore or minimize the commonalities.

    Joseph Pietro Riolo

    Public domain notice: I put all of my expressions in this post in the public domain.

  5. Joseph Pietro Riolo
    Jun 01, 2008 @ 17:38:55

    Pondering on the comment made by E, I out of curiosity tried to google on George Eastman and eugenics. Building 01 was named after George Eastman. The search results, while are far from perfect research, indicated that he was involved with eugenics. How involved he was with eugenics is hard to determine from the search results alone. But, this should give people something to think about.

    Joseph Pietro Riolo

    Public domain notice: I put all of my expressions in this post in the public domain.

  6. pdurr
    Jun 03, 2008 @ 09:15:09

    Joseph – as always thanks for ur digging. The issues with Bell are not limited to his stand on eugenics but most especially to his promoting an exclusive method of communication for deaf children and actively setting out to undermine and destroy sign language and the deaf community

    I did go back and re-read paragraph 4 of EM Gallaudet’s paper that you mention above – i do not see any text that seem to be praising Bell by EMG – could you copy and paste the section you are referring to below please?

    Also, i am wondering if you would be comfortable just sharing your own personal views on AG Bell – it is clear that you feel NTID/RIT should continue to honor him by having a dorm named after him. I am really interested in your POV. You have clearly stated here and in other places why you caution against removing his name (man of his times etc) but i dont believe i have seen you articulate why it is you personally feel Bell is praise worthy.

    It is very important to me to see your and others thoughts on this matter.

    Can you identify the ways you feel that Bell’s writings and activites contributed positively to deaf people’s lives then and now?

    I sincerely do value your thoughts.



  7. Joseph Pietro Riolo
    Jun 04, 2008 @ 16:31:17

    The paragraph that I am referring to is the following:

    “I have not questioned the motives of those whose actions a stern sense of duty to my profession has compelled me to criticise. I am quite ready to believe that those who glory in the name of pure-oralists are sincerely desirous of promoting the welfare of the deaf, and no one is more ready than I to accord all due praise for the many generous things Prof. Bell has devised and done in behalf of this class, the infirmities and disabilities of which first touched his sympathetic heart in the days of his early manhood. For all those whose course I have called in question I have none but kindly personal feelings. It is not them whom I condemn, but simply such acts of theirs as are justly open to the charge of being partisan or unprofessional.”

    It appears in the last fourth paragraph of the report, not the first fourth paragraph.

    The following is the link between my statements and Dr. Gallaudet’s statements on three commonalities:

    Commonality #1: I wrote: “Dr. Gallaudet recognized that Dr. Bell and those other pure-oralists were very sincere in promoting the welfare of the deaf kids, similar to the goals of NTID.” Based on Dr. Gallaudet’s statement: “I am quite ready to believe that those who glory in the name of pure-oralists are sincerely desirous of promoting the welfare of the deaf, …”

    Commonality #2: I wrote: “He also recognized the many generous things that Dr. Bell did for the deaf kids, similar to all people at NTID.” Based on Dr. Gallaudet’s statement: “… no one is more ready than I to accord all due praise for the many generous things Prof. Bell has devised and done in behalf of this class, the infirmities and disabilities …”

    Commonality #3: I wrote: “He pointed out that it was through Dr. Bell’s sympathetic heart that he decided to do something for the deaf kids. Although NTID does not have a living heart, it through the people’s hearts continues to improve the life of the deaf students.” Based on Dr. Gallaudet’s statement: “… first touched his sympathetic heart in the days of his early manhood.”

    You asked a hard but good question on why I feel that Dr. Bell is praiseworthy. Most of my arguments centered on the fairness that the past committee and Dr. Bell deserved. I need some time to compose my thoughts and will submit them in a separate comment hopefully during the weekend (or earlier).

    Joseph Pietro Riolo

  8. pdurr
    Jun 05, 2008 @ 17:10:19

    Joseph- thanks so much for coming back and clarifying what quote u were drawing from

    look forward to ur thoughts when u r ready to share them



  9. Joseph Pietro Riolo
    Jun 09, 2008 @ 18:05:59

    (I am not sure why the below comment did not show up when I submitted it yesterday evening (June 8th at 8:00pm). I am trying it again.)

    Unlike you, I have been a signer since when I was around 3 years old and I went to three deaf schools. All through my life, I have not seen Dr. Alexander Graham Bell placed in favorable light. Even if I was told some good things about him, I already forgot them. The strong dislike toward him was in my blood. It is the controversy over the naming of the dormitory after Dr. Bell this year that challenged my prejudices about him and my attitude toward him.

    You posed a thought-provoking question that is extremely difficult for me to answer right away. Is it possible for me, who grew up in environment where Dr. Bell was constantly scorned, to find anything in him that is praiseworthy? I believe I can identify four attributes in him that are worthy of praise.

    Attribute #1: Paradigm shifter. Dr. Bell was a catalyst for the change in the landscape of the education for the deaf children. He shook the status quo in the deaf education. He was bold enough to offer another method for teaching the deaf children.

    Attribute #2: Strong belief in education for the deaf children. When I read Dr. Bell’s statement, “I prefer the pure oral method to any other, but I would rather have a deaf child taught through De l’Epee signs than not educated at all.” (footnote #1) and also “… but my heart is with teachers of the deaf whatever their method may be.” (footnote #2), I was impressed with his passion in providing the education to the deaf children.

    Attribute #3: Ensuring that oral aspects of communication have place in deaf education. There is little information that indicates that Dr. Bell is not a pure oralist. Professor Zenas Freeman Westervelt (the first(?) superintendent of Rochester School for the Deaf) wrote, “… Dr. Bell is not a pure oralist, …” (footnote #3). Dr. Bell himself wrote, “… I am not an advocate exclusively of the oral method alone, …” (footnote #4). In any way, he did make sure that the deaf education covers, rather than leaving out or minimizing, oral aspects of communication.

    Attribute #4: Recognition of language in signs. I was surprised to learn that Dr. Bell recognized the signing system of De l’Epee as a distinct language when he wrote, “As we can express ideas through the instrumentality of the De l’Epee sign-language alone, without recourse to English, we are justified, I think, in claiming, not only that it is a “language” (in the correct and proper use of that term – not in a loose sense) but that it is a distinct language – as distinct from English as French or German, or any other spoken tongue.” (Footnote #5) Keep in mind that too many people during his time believed that true language is limited to vocal utterance.

    There may be some more favorable attributes in Dr. Bell if I have the luxury of time to read the historical materials. I hope that these four attributes are sufficient in satisfying your question.

    Before closing, I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to express my, to use your term, point of view. I am very pleased that we are able to discuss on this sensitive topic in civil way. I am fully aware that my point of view is only one of many facets of diamond and that other facets are equally valid.

    Footnote #1: The Question of Sign-Language and the Utility of Signs in the Instruction of the Deaf: Two Papers by Alexander Graham Bell (1898). Reprinted with a comment made by Professor Marc Marschark in The Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education 10:111-121, 2005. Available at Page 121, first column, second paragraph.

    Footnote #2: Same as footnote #1. Page 121, second column, first paragraph.

    Footnote #3: In “Search Keyword”, enter the words “Letter from Z. F. Westervelt to Alexander Graham Bell, March 30, 1891” in the box. Click on Search button. In the search result, click on link for the first item. Go to 7th image and the quotation is in the last paragraph. (Or, go to directly.)

    Footnote #4: Same as footnote #1. Page 121, first column, third paragraph.

    Footnote #5: Same as footnote #1. Page 112, first column, second paragraph.

    Credit goes to the person, whose name I am not at liberty to reveal, for making me aware of these sources.

    Joseph Pietro Riolo

  10. pdurr
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 11:44:09


    Again I apologize for the trouble u experienced submitting ur comment due to multiple link listings and word press thinking it was spam

    I am very glad u alerted me to the problem and we were able to get your comment up. It is very important to me. I thank you for sharing your background and how you are working to overcome a prejudice that was taught to u and seeking out your own understanding.

    I believe that our points of views are often grounded in our own value system, centers, and ways of seeing the world. It is always worthwhile to want to understand where others are coming from so I thank you very much.

    Below I respond to each of the Attributes which you have identified as making AG Bell praiseworthy. While I still have a very different read on things – I am very grateful for your comment and your good heart. Be well.


    Patti Durr

    Attribute #1: Paradigm shifter.
    True but for the better? Oral / Aural ONLY approach was for the better?
    See Baynton’s Forbidden Signs and the Babbige Report to Congress
    (while Bell may have conceded to the use of sign language for those who could not “succeed” in an oral program or amongst Deaf adults, he was strict about the removal of ASL from the classroom.

    Attribute #2: Strong belief in education for the deaf children.
    Deaf education had been alive and well long before AG Bell made his mark on the Deaf Ed. landscape. You quote Bell “… but my heart is with teachers of the deaf whatever their method may be.” This is paradoxical since Bell was very aggressive in trying to ban / remove Deaf teachers from the classroom so if he loved and had a place in his heart for them – why did he try to stop them from becoming teachers and from having a place within the non-vocational classroom?

    Attribute #3: Ensuring that oral aspects of communication have a place in deaf education.
    Oral aspects of communication had already begun to be included into Deaf education within Europe and the U.S. and certainly would have continued to do so without Bell’s zealous oral / aural only stance.
    Note I could not locate the quotes you were referring to in either of the links you provided – sorry. My only guess is that Bell meant that oralism might not be for everyone but that within the confines of his methods and his programs – he would not want ASL to be a part of the program. If you find otherwise – that Bell did accept ASL in the classroom, dorms, hallways, and playgrounds, it is a shame that many teachers and parents chose to tie their students hands, rap them with rulers, make them sit on them, or kneel while holding heavy stacks of books, all in the name to get them to stop doing what came naturally (signing and/or even gesturing). The partial quote you provide: “… I am not an advocate exclusively of the oral method alone, …” might refer to Bell’s tolerance of fingerspelling, writing, and or the letter handglove he at times utilized. It is not a clear statement of his acceptance of ASL in the education of Deaf children.

    Attribute #4: Recognition of language in signs.
    Yes, you are correct that Bell recognized ASL as a real language and demonstrated an in-depth understanding of Deaf people from a sociological point of view. This is why it is all the more chilling that his writings advocated for the removal of ASL from a Deaf child’s educational experience and that he actively sought out to remove and destroy the pillars of the Deaf community and Deaf culture. See his own paper above and other writings. He justifies his opposition to ASL and the Deaf community and Deaf culture because it made Deaf people foreigners in their own land (he was pretty xenophobic – see Baynton again).

    Lastly, I am sorry for my great delay in replying

    I thought summer would allow for some leisure and lazy days but alas not yet

    Thank you again for your comments and for caring.

    I too value u and this civil dialogue



  11. Brian Riley
    Sep 28, 2009 @ 05:31:18

    Edward Allen Fay later showed that the likelihood of having deaf children is the same for deaf-deaf and deaf-hearing marriages. In other words, Alexander Graham Bell’s thesis in “Memoir” was wrong.

    Here is the link to Fay’s book on Google Books:

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