by Robyn Bell
(Toledo, WA USA)
As a young man L’Epee had certain expectations given to him by the people around him. His father was a well-know architect and probably wanted a great many things from his son. L’Epee decided to study theology. Not a great career choice, but at least something with honor.
The French Catholic Church had decided to denounce Jansenism during L’Epee’s studies, which is a belief that all things are predetermined and that human nature is incapable of good. L’Epee refused to sign the ordinate that condemned this faith and was denied his ordainment. (Rebel!) Thus, he turned to law and was admitted to the Bar.
A cleric friend had introduced him to twins that were deaf and wanted to learn religion, when the cleric died suddenly, L’Epee took on their education. This was during a time when many deaf were considered non-persons and many laws were in place that restricted them. L’Epee could have been the man that many in his time were: stubborn, apathetic and socialists that turned away from those in need. Yet again L’Epee rebelled by embracing these individuals and teaching himself and the deaf common ground language.
Later, by founding the free school, he rebelled yet again. It was nearly unheard of to educate the deaf and only the extremely wealthy had the deaf tutored in oralism. The open school changed history and set L’Epee apart from any other deaf advocate in his time. As he wrote in his 1784 book, La veritable maniere d’instruire les sourds et muets, confirmee par une longue experience (The True Method of Educating the Deaf, Confirmed by Much Experience), “Religion and humanity inspire me with such a great interest in a truly destitute class of persons who, though similar to ourselves, are reduced, as it were, to the condition of animals so long as no attempts are made to rescue them from the darkness surrounding them, that I consider it an absolute obligation to make every effort to bring about their release from these shadows.”
What a wonderful example we have! Rebel and all!
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