Issues

Chapter Two continued...
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We have argued that, in a Vygotskian framework, education is formative rather than merely facilitative in the cognitive development of the individual (Akamatsu and Stewart 1992; Bonkowski et al. 1991). Therefore, a deaf individual's full cognitive capabilities can emerge only as a result of instruction that uses an accessible language as a central component in the mediation of experience. To some extent, the total communication and bilingual education movements have succeeded in providing visually accessible language for the mediation of experience. But why have educational achievement levels not improved to a great extent?

The equivalence of deaf people's nonverbal intelligence with the general population has long been documented in the literature (Moores 1996). This equivalence supports arguments that deaf people should be able to succeed in school, if they receive proper access to instruction (e.g., Johnson, Liddell, and Erting 1989; Vernon and Andrews 1990).

The psycholinguistic basis of artificial sign systems remains obscure, but it is clear that natural signed languages have the advantage of capitalizing on a fully functional visual system, are easily used, have widely understood methods of communication, have been shown to be bona fide languages, and are highly effective media for communicating both concrete and abstract information. Therefore, natural sign language should be both necessary and sufficient for establishing the essential inner speech needed for complex psychological processes. Our data as well as recent studies (Cook and Harrison 1995; Jamieson 1995) suggest that, in fact, they are.

We still believe that having deaf parents is advantageous for early language development, particularly for signed language development, and we also believe that having a solid native language base will help in developing academic and higher-order thinking skills. And while certainly one would need a basic intelligence within or above normal limits to benefit from school-based programs, one also needs access to the written form of language for independent learning. Yet, adequate performance in literacy skills is very difficult for deaf children to acquire. Literacy in a specific language requires knowledge of that language, but further requires access to the lexicogrammatical structure of that language and perhaps even to sound/symbol relationships. Given that, to date, signed languages have no written form, deaf children must move from internal representations of a signed language to external representations of a spoken language they have never heard!

Assertion 2: Natural sign language is not a sufficient basis for teaching literacy of a spoken language without the student s proven fluency in the spoken form or a signed system representing that spoken language.
Mayer and Wells (1996) point out that in studies of second-language literacy acquisition, students had access to the target second language in both its spoken and written form, and/or access to the written forms of both the first and second language. Obviously, for most deaf students, the first route--fully accessible spoken language--is out of the question. Given that, to date, signed languages do not have a standardized written form that is taught to schoolchildren, they do not have this access route to their second language, either. Mayer and Wells refer to this as the double discontinuity model. Moreover, the students who seem to have high levels of literacy in English are those who somehow (from cued speech or signed English, for example)

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