University of Edinburgh

Language and Deaf Education: Into the 21st Century

March, 2006

Marc Marschark -

Deaf Education: An "Enlightened Empirical Approach"

Deaf education and empirical research have had a long but uneasy relationship. Without "pointing fingers," it is evident that whatever progress has been made, deaf children continue to face significant challenges in education.  Despite varied claims about new models and methodologies, deaf students still underperform relative to hearing peers across the curriculum.  Historically, research concerning academic and cognitive functioning of deaf students has constituted two different areas of endeavor, yet without an understanding of the cognitive underpinnings of learning, deaf education will continue to make little progress.  An "enlightened empirical approach" to deaf education leaves behind politics and notions of what can or cannot work in favor of objective, integrative research. It adopts a whole-child approach rather than a reductionistic perspective, seeking to understand relations among different aspects of development and education. Acknowledging that deaf children may learn differently and are more diverse than hearing peers,  this approach seeks to weave together diverse observations concerning language, learning, and social functioning of deaf students, abandoning myths and re-examining assumptions. An enlightened empirical approach to deaf education seeks to partner with parents, teachers, and students, basing decisions on facts (data), but recognizing that we are dealing with lives, emotions, and rights/responsibilities.