American Sign Language as a second language in elementary education: A critical perspective on curriculum and policy

Date of Completion

January 2005


Education, Elementary




Over the past decade, foreign language instruction in elementary education has steadily increased throughout the United States. Researchers often attribute this growth to political and economic factors, as well as an ever-increasing global society. However, in recent years there has also been a subtle shift in ideology that has become more receptive and supportive of cultural and linguistic diversity in the classrooms. Spanish is the most widely taught foreign language, though an increasing number of “less commonly taught languages” such as Japanese, Russian, and in particular, American Sign Language (ASL) have been slowly making their way into foreign language programs. Interest in ASL began more than twenty years ago, and since then, many colleges and high schools now recognize and accept ASL as a foreign language option for credit. Although this growth shows promise for the future, the inclusion of ASL as a foreign language option in elementary education continues to face many challenges. Some of these challenges specifically result from misconceptions concerning ASL as a language or about Deaf culture. However, like other foreign language programs, ASL programs must also contend with political and social perceptions that often portray foreign language instruction in elementary education as secondary to math, science, or language arts. This dissertation attempts to explain the issues and challenges facing contemporary foreign language education programs in elementary education in the United States context with specific focus on ASL. Critical analysis of current research and literature with respect to the nature and purpose of foreign language education programs at the elementary education level, the linguistic knowledge base related to ASL, and the growing literature on teaching ASL as a foreign language, will be used to provide a framework for offering suggestions with respect to the development and implementation of ASL curriculum and programs at the' elementary school level. ^