A Passing in the MSD Community


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Nov 23, 2020
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It is my understanding that Superintendant David Denton who was a pioneer in what was then called total communication using Signed English with speech where possible and lip reading etc has passed in late January. He was responsible in some ways for breaking taboos and insitutional prohibitions against the use of Signs which was physically punished in the 50's and 60's period in deaf mute schools. Columbia Campus in Maryland was his first project about 1973 with 12 teachers and he also worked in the Frederick MSD campus as well during many years of being a Super.

Many people were provided with improved communications which included a evolving ASL starting back in the 80's as a then new language at that time which is now widely used today. He was always with the students in both campuses regularly. And a leader in ensuring that there is a language we use in those days with freedom from punishment and possibly even improving for a better future for those who did not have a good experience as a deaf in those days. David Denton was involved after his time as Superintendant with the Deaf in many ways the rest of his lifetime.

I am happy to have had known him when I was a student in Columbia back in those days as I did not possess a language or a education that was suitable to freedom and society in adulthood. That credit goes to him and his first group of 12 teachers who taught that to me and many others over time. I am also aware of a number of other People who have passed fairly recently as well after decades of service with the Deaf in a variety of ways but the list grows too many to list individually rather quickly I must say.
Grew up in Total Communcations in the 80s and early 90s. I am fluent in SEE. I don't use it unless someone makes a request. Indeed, it takes forever to complete a sentence in SEE. Sorry to hear David Denton passed away.
Yes SEE takes forever to convey information. ASL was awesome when we learned it back then. It did throw some of the Teachers off track in those days sometimes. Almost like the old slang word "Ain't" from Baltimore City which was sort of banned in their schools. Or the use of "Try-na" (Trying to do) here in Arkansas.

However DD, He smashed the institutional habit of punishing deaf who used signs in the really early time. I think that Columbia for me was a place of gaining a bright future. I will explain that my first day in September of 1973, we had me and one teacher a Sandra Brown go over the alphabet and numbers 1 to 100. Once i grasped the written roman system it was easier to consider the numbers all the way up. That took a hour total. Then I was told good luck with everyone in the dorms and school that week to learn the rest of it. I would be remiss not to mention that there were certain forbidden curse words and those that applied to girlfriend-Boyfriend stuff was the first taught by the others. Not necessarily the approved language in those days.

Speech was a bit more difficult. The State invested in a Speech Pathologist for four years there and she patiently had me add words, many words in spoken form. I always took joy in signing in ASL with the deaf church because you can convey a great deal of information to people there.

I would be somewhat afraid to use SEE with any deaf unless as you said, that person requested that particular langauge. The reason being it is so rusted out from disuse. Not to mention regional diffrences between the east coast (Maryland) and the deep south here in Arkansas where even today some deaf in Little Rock were protected from Society and were too sheltered for their own good in some cases.

I must add on the MSB which is the Maryland School for the Blind on Taylor Ave in Baltimore City (NE section, next to Parkville just beyond the city line) was also a user of sign langauge as well. They were also part of a system then to teach coloreds as well who were deaf and so forth however that far back in time up to the 50's they were not intergrated until the mid 60's which I would consider a barbaric practice among other things. Having seen in the 70's on how any one of any race or sex could engage in one or more languages freely without punishment is probably a greatest step forward for the Deaf Community. Dr Denton was a influential part of that, if not the foundation to move it forward. (Galludet was the first in America however to go into him would be to be beyond the subject of this post.) Galludet saw that in the UK for example signs were kept secret at the state level for strict control of deaf workers in shops. To possess signs or a complete language in those days hundreds of years ago was to be danger to the State. So Galludet brought it to America.
Sounds like a familiar story. Deaf woman told me a few scary stories like teachers at her school beat up her arms and hands with a ruler or a stick for signing. She witnessed her deaf classmates were put in a closet for signing behind teachers' back. She is from Massachusetts.

I had to learn ASL by socializing plus a few ASL classes. Yes, there is a regional for ASL here in Texas, too. It took me time to learn their regional signs and Texas city signs. I used to live in CA, and AZ.