Laurent Clerc


Laurent Clerc Essay, Research Paper

Laurent Clerc Pioneer Teacher


Laurent Clerc was born in LaBalme, France, on Dec. 26 1785. His father was Mayor of the town and the family could boast of a long line of magistrates in the Clerc lineage. At the age of one, the infant fell from a kitchen chair by accident into a nearby fireplace. He was burned on one side of his face and a fever left him totally deaf. He had uncle also named Laurent Clerc, who heard about the school for the deaf in Paris. When he was twelve years old, his uncle brought him to Paris and took him in the Royal Institution for the Deaf. In 1816, his eight year as a teacher, an event happened which changed the course of his life.

He met a young idealist from America, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, who had gone to Paris to learn the best method of educating the deaf. Gallaudet could spend three months at the Royal Institution. He realized that Clerc had the expertise and “deaf experience” to help him fulfill his mission of found the first school for the deaf in America. Clerc became the assistant. Clerc and Gallaudet rode on the ship. Gallaudet taught Clerc the English language and Clerc taught Gallaudet sign language. They arrived in New York on Aug.9th.

Gallaudet was Clerc’s interpreter and Clerc gave many speeches. They spent the next seven months traveling throughout the east, from Boston to Philadephia. They also interviewed parents of deaf children. The first school was established at Hartford. It opened on April 15, 1817. Gallaudet became the principal and Clerc also became the teacher. He married Elizabeth Broadman and had four children. At age 84, Laurent Clerc died on July 18, 1869.

History of Laurent Clerc

There are a lot of firsts that Laurent Clerc accomplished. He was the first deaf teacher in America, the first deaf person to appear before U.S. Congress in Washington, D.C. to talk about establishing public schools for the deaf, and the first deaf person to get an honorary M.A. degree from Trinity College.

Clerc was born to a prominent family in the village of LaBalme, France. His father was a notary by profession and a mayor of the village for 34 years. His mother was the daughter of another notary. Males in Clercs family held the office of Tubelion (a Royal Commissary) in that village for over 300 years. Clercs family believes that he became deaf after falling from his highchair into the kitchen fire, but he might have been born deaf. His right cheek was burned from the accident- hence the name sign of brushing two fingers across cheek.

Clerc lived through the French Revolution, witnessing Napoleons rise and fall. In fact, he lived in England for a while to escape from the turmoil.

Clerc had once been considered to help start a school for the deaf in Russia but was passed over because he was deaf. He agreed to coe to America for only three years for three reasons: 1) to help organize a new school for the deaf; 2) to be the first experienced teacher; and 3) to teach others how to teach deaf. However, he married one of his beautiful, dark-eyed, dark-haired, slender, and vivacious pupils, Eliza Crocker Boardman of Whiteborough, N.Y. This proved to be a strong incentive for Clerc to stay in America. Clerc and Eliza had six hearing children (two died at the age of 2), and Clerc returned to France three times with his sons to ensure they would have a firm grasp of the French language. Clerc stated that each time he visited France, he returned to the U.S.A. feeling that America needed him more. He felt that he had received the blessings of an education and wanted to freely five to others- “freely receive; freely give” as he quoted from the Bible.

The French are known for their logical way of thinking. When Clerc was sailing from France to America for the first time with Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, he saw some sailors feeding mice to the ducks that were kept on the deck as food for the passengers. Clerc wrote in his journal that if ducks ate mice and people ate the ducks, the the people were really eating mice! After that, when roast duck was served on the ship, he refused to eat the duck, eating only bread and tea.

On the ship, Clerc taught Gallaudet sign language while Gallaudet taught English. Clerc knew not one iota of the English language, but by the time he arrived in America (52 days), he mastered English to “near-perfection.”

Clerc loved New York City and on meeting Alice Cogswell, all his homesickness that he felt on that ship vanished.

Clerc’s first three pupils were Alice Cogswell, WIlson Whiton (first native-born American deaf teacher), and George Loring (entering business with his father in Boston).

Clerc taught for over 50 years. He had taught for at least 10 years in France and then for 40 years at the American School for the Deaf. He left the American School for the Deaf for six months to be an acting principal at the Pennsylvania Institution for the Deaf in Philadelphia. Clerc retired in 1858 at the age of 73 years. He died on July 18, 1869, two months after his 50th wedding anniversary.

Clerc and John Carlin knew each other. Carlin did at least two oil paintings of him. One of the paintings labelled Clerc as an apostle to the deaf-mutes of the New World. Indeed, he is recognized as such as it was said, “If Clerc had been a lesser man, the social, economic, and educational history of the deaf in the United States would be considerably different from what it is.”

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