Beck: Good morning David, thanks for joining me.
Denton: Hi Doug. Happy to be here, thanks for the invitation.
Beck: Dave, would you please review a little bit of your professional bio for us?
Denton: Sure, Doug. Ive been involved with educating deaf children for the last 35 years. My bachelors degree was in deaf education in North Carolina, My masters degree was from Cal State University at Northridge. My masters program focused on Educational Administration and I was awarded an honorary doctorate in Deaf Education from Western Maryland College, in Westminster, Maryland in 1971 for creating and developing the Total Communication program, and also for establishing the largest masters program in Deaf Education in America. I should note that Western Maryland College is now called McDaniel College.
Beck: How was it that you got interested in deaf education?
Denton: I was actually in law school, when I had an opportunity to teach and coach after-school activities at a large school for the deaf. I was very surprised when I learned the kids were not taught sign language! They all used sign language to speak with each other outside of classbut it wasnt taught in school, and more or less it was frowned upon in the elementary schools. So you see, the children taught each other signs and they used them at lunch, recess and on the playground, but in class they were supposed to use auditory trainers and try to get by learning to speak and hear. So to me, that was fairly unusual and unexpected. I had to learn sign language very quickly, and did so to get by as a coach in basketball and football. Of course, this was back in the early 1960s, and deaf education in America at that time was based on the simultaneous method, which was essentially using signs and speech, also called the combined method.
Beck: How is that different from Total Communication (TC)?
Denton: Well the major difference is that the simultaneous method was used after the fact, and it essentially discouraged signs. The simultaneous method stated that if signs were used, signs would discourage the use and development of speech and lip-reading skills. Additionally, parents were shut out from the educational system at that time. Total communication has as its foundation, that we had to bring the family into the process, and we had to facilitate lip reading, sign language and maximal communication via the transfer of information, using all channels together.
Beck: I know there have been many heated controversies regarding the educational approach to the deaf child, and obviously youve had to defend TC many times and many ways in difficult situations. How did you spread the concept of Total Communication?
Denton: In 1967, I became the Superintendent of The Maryland School for the Deaf. We initiated classes in sign language for parents and siblings across the state, just about anywhere we could find space to hold class! So we pretty much just jumped in and started teaching TC, and it picked up steam and started to take on a life of its own. As best we know, the term itself, total communication was first used by Roy Holcomb in California. I liked the term because it was inclusive and made sense, so we adopted the term to represent our philosophy that a multi-sensory approach to the education of deaf children is the best way to go. TC is visual, dynamic and based primarily on manual communication.
Beck: Dr. Denton, what do you think were the most significant developments in deaf education over the last 25 years?
Denton: Thats hard to say, but perhaps the most significant development has been the emergence of American Sign Language (ASL) as a cornerstone of the education, socialization and integration for the community of deaf people.
Beck: Thats a great point. What about your thoughts on cochlear implants?
Denton: Certainly cochlear implants have made a significant impact on deaf people and deaf education. I think that as cochlear implant technology has improved, their acceptance has become more widespread. Cochlear implants truly do speak for themselves, and the results and outcomes have far exceeded our early expectations. Cochlear implants have made mainstream education available to many children. Although I was one of the people with serious reservations about cochlear implants 20 years ago, I am excited and enthused by them at this time, and I believe my thoughts and experiences are shared by many.
Beck: Dave, youre a fascinating person. I could speak with you for hours.but I know weve got to wrap this up. Can you please tell me the name of your new book?
Denton: Sure, Doug. Its called Listening to Deafness: An Old Song Sung Differently. The ISBN is 1-4137-3873-7, and its available through Amazon.com.
Beck: Can you tell me about the origin of the books title?
Denton: YesIm glad you asked! Many, many years ago, I was outside watching three deaf adolescent children signing to each other. It was beautiful and dynamic, and I thought to myselfIf music was visual, it would look like this!
Beck: Thanks so much for sharing your time with me this morning
Denton: My pleasure Doug.
Listening to Deafness: An Old Song Sung Differently
available through Amazon.com.
Beck: Good morning David, thanks for joining me.