28. Total Communication
Total Communication is a philosophy that holds that deaf children should have access to every approach, every mode, whatever means of leaning language, that benefits them—speechreading, sin language, Cued Speech. It represented a breakaway from the rigid inflexibility of the Pure-Oral approach that had dominated education of the deaf for nearly a century. It held the promise of freeing education of the deaf from the shackles of oralism, of giving deaf children what they needed, of seeing each one as an individual and meeting those individual needs.
But we have to ask some tough questions about TC. How effective has it been? As a philosophy, TC sounds good on paper . . . but in practice, is it the best possible approach? Is it a compromise? Does it compromise Deaf children’s education? Does it not go far enough? (We doubt that it has gone too far.)
Ideally, TC should include ASL, but in practice, ASL has not been embraced by TC. Many TC programs have interpreted “sign language” as Signing Exact English or other form of Manually Coded English., not ASL And some fervent TC advocates have been adamantly opposed to using ASL in the classroom.
It should be noted that TC is commonly, but erroneously, used to denote Simultaneous Communication—signing while talking. This is an MCE method that is very hard to do well.
As we’ve just noted, it’s rare for TC programs to include authentic ASL. So we’re left with the question: Are ASL/English Bilingual programs better for Deaf children?
We believe that Total Communication, while a reasonable philosophy that encourages the use of any and all approaches that benefit deaf children, has serious flaws in the way it has been interpreted and applied. Access to ASL should not be restricted or forbidden. ASL should not be replaced with SEE or other MCE systems. Deaf children deserve full access to authentic ASL.