Issues

Chapter Two continued...
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Societal changes helped deaf people participate more fully in U.S. society--that is, after the 1960s civil rights movement paved the way for rights of communicative access. These changes primed society to accept signing as an integral part of many deaf children's school curricula. In sharp contrast to the 1880 International Congress on Education of the Deaf, which passed a resolution effectively banning signing in schools and barring deaf individuals from teaching in many countries, today newly trained teachers of the deaf must typically be able to sign the national signed language and use both the signed and written forms of the national spoken language.(1)

Since sign language has been integrated into many programs for deaf students, it is now high time to look at the attendant verbal thought development and processes in deaf students. We are only now beginning to develop a body of research that explicitly goes beyond the nonverbal thought processes of deaf individuals and taps their verbal processes.


The Role of Language in an Overall Conception of Intelligence

Theoretical models of cognition that allow and, indeed, compel us to explore the realm of language and deaf education are those characterized as sociocultural or cultural-historical (Vygotsky 1978). In a Vygotskian framework, learning is a transactional process with the child and a more knowledgeable other constructing knowledge together in an interactive partnership. Vygotsky believed that mastering semiotic systems, including language, transforms an individual's existing (i.e., natural) forms of mental functioning into higher psychological processes. From such a perspective, an individual's interactions with knowledgeable others--within the contexts of sign-mediated (2), goal-oriented activity--bring higher-level cognitive and metacognitive strategies.

We may envision this transactional process using the following diagram, borrowed from Harre (1984) and Raphael and Hiebert (1995).

Figure 2.1 shows two axes, one differentiating the public and the private domains of an individual s world, and the other differentiating social from individual language. That which is public is observable; that which is private is not observable. Social language has its origins in interactions with others; individual language is language generated within oneself. Quadrant 1 indicates social, public, observable linguistic interactions. These interactions are appropriated into quadrant 2, egocentric speech (3), which is private and observable but not intended for social use. Quadrant 3 represents individual, idiosyncratic inner speech. It is this inner speech that forms the basis for the cognitive tools necessary for thinking and literate thought. Quadrant 4 is individually generated public speech, including making public what was formerly private. This individual public speech eventually becomes conventionalized for use among multiple speakers, becoming the public, social speech of Quadrant 1. This is a recursive process, extending over time and across contexts.

From this perspective, language and cognition are intimately intertwined--language development drives cognitive development as much as cognitive development drives language development. A person's disposition to learn is inextricably bound to his or her problems of creative meaning.

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