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Van Praagh & the rise of Oralism

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 18 November 2011

William VAN PRAAGH (1845-1907)

While other teachers such as Thomas Braidwood in Britain and the Abbé de l’Epeé had used some oral teaching in the 18th century, it was the German Samuel Heinicke who founded what became known as ‘Oralism’ or ‘the German method’ for teaching Deaf children.  In 1778 when Heinicke set up a school in Leipzig which he directed until his death in 1790 (see Wikipedia entry here – Heinicke).  He proved very influential and his followers took the Oral method to Holland.

Wolf  Saloman Van Praagh was born in Holland into a Dutch Jewish family.  He took the name William when he settled in England in 1866 (see interview in British Deaf Mute and Weinberg).  William had been sent to take charge of the Jewish Deaf School by the influential Dutch oralist David Hirsch, Director of the Rotterdam School (see McLoughlin).

In 1871 Van Praagh published a phamphlet (unfortunately not held by us) which moved for the establishment of Day Schools for Deaf children.  Possibly influenced by this and partly as a consequence of the success of the Jewish School, Baroness Mayer (see previous post) wished to start a non-sectarian school and spread the use of the Oral system.  The Association for the Oral Instruction the Deaf and Dumb was set up in 1871, and an associated training college the following year.  The Normal School and Training College was then established in June 1872 in Fitzroy Square, not far from Euston Station, with Van Praagh as the director.

Van Praagh wanted Deaf children to mix with the non-deaf population, and was opposed to the combined lip-reading and manual method of education. The British Deaf Mute article from 1894 includes an interesting interview with Van Praagh in which the following is said –

“The Rev.T.Arnold recently made use of the remark that the combined method of instruction is ‘irrational and immature.’ Is that your opinion , also?”
“Yes. I prefer any system in its purity to any combined methods of instruction.”

Van Praagh died after his annual public demonstration in Fitzroy Square.  His last words were “Gentlemen, I have finished,” then he collapsed with an attack of ‘angina pectoris’.  Immediately after his obituary in the British Deaf Times for 1907, there is a short article on ‘The Shortcomings of the “Oral” Method’, which concludes “Every teacher of the deaf ought to master the sign language of his pupils.”  The spread of Oralism did, and continues to generate great anger in the Deaf community. In his 1910 book ‘The Deaf Child‘ (p.121), James Kerr Love said “Teachers have divided themselves into opposing camps of oralists and manualists, and until this opposition ceases, the deaf child must suffer.”

Andreas Markides, The speech of hearing-impaired children. 1983.

Appreciation. Teacher of the Deaf, 1907, 5, 178-81.

Association for the Oral Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb. British Deaf-Mute and Deaf Chronicle, 1894, 3(33), 113-15. (photo)

Love, James, 1858-1942.:  The deaf child : a manual for teachers and school doctors. Bristol, 1911

McLoughlin, M. G.:  A history of the education of the deaf in England. Liverpool :   [the author] ,   1987

Obituary. British Deaf Times, 1907, 4 (44), 185-86. (photo)

Obituary. American Annals of the Deaf, 1907, 52, 499.

Van Praagh, William,  Lessons for the instruction of deaf and dumb children in speaking, lip-reading, reading and writing… Illustrated. London, Trubner, 1884.

WEINBERG, J. The history of the Residential School for Jewish Deaf Children, 1865-1965.

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