New Perspectives on Language and Deaf Education
Amatzia Weisel, Editor
Chapter Two: Thinking With and Without Language
by C. Tane Akamatsu
by C. Tane Akamatsu
Biology makes psychology possible; consciousness, sociality,and technology make it actual. (Ratner 1991, 17)IN THIS CHAPTER I raise issues that concern how deaf children learn and examine assertions in the literature about the relationship between cognition, language, and school-based learning. In particular, I explore the role of language in an overall conception of intelligence and the utility of this verbal intelligence in educational pursuits, particularly in literacy acquisition.
Cognition is the foundation for higher-level learning. Human biological, neurological, and sociocultural factors support or hinder cognition. Thus, children s levels of cognitive development, as well as their cognitive potential, may constrain their learning. How this cognitive potential and level of development are determined has become a contentious issue in the field of deaf education. We have seen the pendulum swing from deaf as deficient (Pintner and Patterson 1917), through deaf as concrete (Myklebust 1964), to deaf as the same as hearing (Furth 1966, 1973). Others have since explored the emotional, cognitive, and psycholinguistic development of deaf children to determine exactly how they are the same as--or different from--hearing children (e.g., Levine 1981; Marschark and Clark 1993; Martin 1991). The work presented here raises the possibility of deaf as potentially the same but . . . , or deafness as a preventable form of intellectual and educational delay.
By and large, the work in cognition and cognitive development in deaf children has either explicitly or implicitly drawn on the work of Jean Piaget, followed by the work of Hans Furth and his colleagues. Work on cognitive processes has often been in the human information-processing school and its offshoots. Both these traditions have yielded much information, but have suffered from being too grounded within the individual--without consideration for how the individual has arrived at a particular level of cognition. In contrast, Bruner and Sherwood (1981, 27) pointed out the potential of cultural influences:
While the capacity for intelligent behavior has deep biological roots . . . the exercise of that capacity depends upon man appropriating to himself tools and techniques that exist not within his genes but in his culture.Ratner (1991) has more recently argued for the study of cognition in its societal context.
We must understand the socially mediated processes by which deaf children appropriate meaning from various contexts and become participating members of a society that uses various forms of meaning making, such as signing, print, and even speech (Akamatsu, Gavelek, and Bonkowski 1990; Bonkowski, Gavelek, and Akamatsu 1991; Trevarthen 1979; Vygotsky 1978, 1987; Wertsch 1985, 1991; Wood, Wood, Griffiths, and Howarth 1986).
Much of the impetus for changes in how society in general views deaf individuals has come from the work of linguists who not only provided evidence that naturally evolved signed languages were bona fide languages, but also forced changes in the very definition of such sacrosanct linguistic concepts as language and phonology.