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Ethical Considerations in Educating Children Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing
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7. A deaf couple wanted to make sure that they had a deaf child. They sought out a sperm donor with five generations of deafness in his family in much the same way hearing couples seek donors with high IQs, artistic or athletic talent, and so forth. The deaf couple was condemned for deliberately inflicting a “disability” on a child. The deaf couple, of course, viewed their deafness from a linguistic and cultural perspective and did not see themselves as “disabled” (Sandel, 2007).

8. It has been known for decades that hearing children require from 18 months to 2 years of consistent, comprehensible language input before they begin to talk in a meaningful way. Their initial expressive communication constitutes a natural “child grammar,” which differs significantly from adult grammar (Brown, 1973). Over time and with consistent input, most hearing children naturally acquire the spoken language of their families. Deaf children, on the other hand, the majority of whom have not experienced consistent, comprehensible language input at home, are expected to express themselves in English phrases and short sentences soon after they begin school, usually between the ages of 2 and 4 years. We know with deaf children that early acquisition of a signed first language (L1) supports later learning of the written form of a spoken language and that “delayed exposure to an accessible L1 in early life leads to incomplete acquisition of all subsequently learned languages” (Mayberry, 2007, p. 548). Yet deaf children are denied early access to visually accessible, comprehensible linguistic input again and again in programs throughout the country.

Furthermore, of course, there are the issues of technology and the application of innovative strategies to a field that is struggling to prepare deaf citizens to succeed in a rapidly advancing society. The fields of education, science, and technology appear to be moving forward without the requisite ethical discussions that build a moral foundation on which to base critical decisions. Consider the following excerpt from the New Yorker magazine. It has implications for education:

The 21st century has seen the advent of “feature creep,” a problem which results when engineers design products with bells and whistles that enhance products for the general public but, for the most part, are too complicated for the general public to use effectively. A recent study showed that “at least half of all returned products have nothing wrong with them. Consumers just couldn’t figure out how to use them.” (Elke den Ouden, Phillips Electronics, New Yorker, May 28, 2007)

The engineers and marketers of these products had the well-being of the public in mind, but they were not in touch with the public’s needs and capabilities. Ironic as it may seem, more options may create confusion and make a product less useful. Education is needed in order to help consumers make smart, ethically appropriate choices for individual use. The field of education of deaf students, in turn, has the same need. Although the National Technological Institute for the Deaf (NTID) at the Rochester Institute for Technology and PEN-International are taking the lead in providing symposia on technology and deaf education, the widespread use of current technology in teacher preparation and classrooms for deaf and hard of hearing students has yet to be realized beyond an experimental or cursory basis. Much of the educational technology available to support deaf students is missing, misunderstood, or misused in contemporary classrooms. From cochlear implants to “talking gloves,” there is much to learn about the application of technology with deaf and hard of hearing students (Hyde & Power, 2006; Parton, 2006).

The issues and ironies mentioned earlier challenge us to recognize our assumptions, perceptions, or biases and determine to what extent they may interfere with ethical decision making. Indeed, it is the observation of these and other situations that, in large part, has motivated the contributions to this book.

Overview of the Book

The intent of this book is to set the stage for a situation ethics approach to the concept of decision making. This approach is based on the following fundamental points.

There is no “right way” that can be applied to every situation:

  • Situations are examined not with regard to what is “right or wrong” but rather to what is useful. “Either/or” thinking is replaced by “both/and” thinking.
  • It is understood that no one can be absolutely objective because an individual’s own power interests and social influences prevent it.
  • “Common knowledge” is ruled out in favor of “common awareness.” One cannot speak for everyone, and claiming to know the ultimate “truth” is at best naïve and at worst arrogant. (Adapted from Critchley, 2001) The text is divided into three parts, and each part considers the decisions that must be made in three crucial areas in a child’s education—parental choices, educational services, and interpreting.
Part One: Parental Decisions

Chapter 1 provides an inside look at a state residential school for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Marybeth Lauderdale utilizes her considerable expertise as a teacher and administrator to detail the benefits of residential school placement from educational, social, and cultural perspectives. She introduces the Illinois School for the Deaf as a rich, barrier-free environment where students develop a sense of Deafhood “at first hand,” so to speak.

In chapter 2 Mathew Call explores the threefold condition of triplicity. In this case, triplicity means life in three cultures (American Deaf culture, mainstream culture of the United States, and Latino/Chicano culture) and use of three languages (American Sign Language, English, and Spanish). In a situation where a deaf child from a monolingual Spanish-speaking family enters school in the United States, what responsibility do educators have to provide trilingual education? Call presents the apparent barriers to successful trilingual, tricultural education and poses the following question: Is it ethical to deny a language, especially a heritage language, to a child who is deaf? He considers the potential advantages of access to trilingual education. Given the fact that the birth rate of Hispanics in the United States is increasing, this chapter helps us to anticipate future needs in education.

No current book on the topic of ethics in the education of children who are deaf or hard of hearing would be complete without a chapter by a member of the medical community. Much controversy revolves around issues that spring from a medical perspective and stream beyond the boundaries of the medical community and into the cultural and educational world of deaf children and their families. In chapter 3 Katrin Neumann presents state-of-the-art findings on the issue of cochlear implantation in young children who are deaf. Neumann has extensive experience working with families with young deaf children in her practice at the University of Frankfurt am Main, Germany. The insights she has gained from this work, along with an overview of current international research on cochlear implantation, make chapter 3 essential reading for persons engaged in, perhaps even struggling with, decision making with regard to the pros and cons of cochlear implantation.


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