Chapter Two continued...
The challenge of mediating meaning and learning is especially acute in deaf children because of the difficulties of establishing the necessary inner speech in quadrants 2 and 3, regardless of the external language modality used to develop this inner speech (Akamatsu, Gavelek, and Bonkowski 1990; Bernstein and Finnegan 1983; Bonkowski, Gavelek, and Akamatsu 1991; Conrad 1979: Webster 1986). This situation can have serious cognitive repercussions that affect both language and literacy learning unless advocates intervene and give children access to a wide variety of social forms, genres, registers, and markers of language. (4) The literature for both deaf and hearing children (e.g., Curtiss 1977; Kaiser-Grodecka and Cieszynska 1991; Lane 1976; Taylor 1990) has provided evidence for the detrimental effects of a failure to develop inner speech during the critical language-learning years.
Despite the fact that signed language is often used successfully to ameliorate these effects, I argue that signed language, by itself, is not an academic panacea for late language-learning individuals. The fact that these individuals have missed the most crucial early language-learning years may have caused a permanent language delay that cannot be entirely made up through the use of sign language alone (Mayberry and Eichen 1991; Mayberry and Fischer 1989; Newport 1990). I argue that this language delay has cognitive consequences, which also cannot be circumvented.
In my practice, I find increasing numbers of students who enter school between the ages of six and ten, with no formal education, no language, and no communication system at home. Many arrive in Canada as refugees and have, therefore, not had the opportunity to engage in formal schooling. After several years of participating in our educational system, they are able to communicate well enough for everyday needs, but their academic language (in either speech or sign) remains far from adequate for their academic needs.
The Utility of Language for Thinking and LearningDeaf parents are perceived to be in the ideal position to provide the intermental and interpersonal conditions for establishing inner speech and, thus, ignite this cognitive cycle. Indeed, deaf children of deaf parents are often touted as the ideal model for natural language acquisition and subsequent educational achievement because of the rich, early, accessible language and emotional acceptance they provide (e.g., Gee and Mounty 1991; Marschark 1993; Supalla 1991; Vernon and Andrews 1990). However, there is now some evidence that simply having deaf parents may not be equally advantageous for all educational pursuits.
My colleagues at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and I have been examining the language and communication proficiency of deaf and hard of hearing teenagers, and comparing this proficiency to early indicators from their preschool years. We are examining the effects of intellectual structure, heredity, early communication, and hearing levels on later communication abilities. Our results, collected on a large sample of deaf children, stand in contradiction to more widely held beliefs. That is, we found that children whose parents are hearing--and in whose families a genetic component to deafness exists--perform better on standardized measures of intelligence than do children whose parents are deaf.
It is important to remember that access to school-based knowledge is also attained through literacy and access to the knowledge and thinking tools of the dominant culture. Hearing parents provide a link to the