- EditorialCentripetal and Centrifugal Forces
In our field, as elsewhere, there is always a temptation to oversimplify things and to see matters in dichotomous black-white, either-or frameworks. The reality, of course, is much more complex even when we consider the impact of such separate forces as national and international organizations of the deaf, the growing acceptance of national sign languages, cochlear implants and digital hearing aids, mainstreaming and inclusive education, and changes in curriculum, among others. The complexity increases exponentially when we try to analyze and comprehend the interactions of these forces, some of which tend to draw us together and some of which tend to move us apart. Added to that, each country has different characteristics, inevitably leading to different outcomes. Finally, there may be significant regional differences within each country. For example, examination of the data for education of deaf and hard of hearing children within the four major regions of the United States—Northeast, Midwest, South, and West—reveals significant differences in educational placement, racial/ethnic status, and mode of instruction (sign-only, sign plus speech, and speech-only) for deaf and hard of hearing students. In fact, if one did not know the source, it would be easy to assume that the data were gathered from four different countries. Even further, individual states within each region, such as California and Idaho in the West and New York and Vermont in the East, also vary widely.
The competing forces for uniformity and variation have been brought home strongly for me recently as I have been working along with Dr. Margery Miller of the Gallaudet Psychology Department, editing a text on deafness around the world. There are similar forces operating internationally, but the impact varies from one country to another. Although it is dangerous to overgeneralize, some commonalities may be identified tentatively. On the international level, there is a growing influence of organizations of the deaf, some of which have a long history. Chief among these are the World Federation of the Deaf, the Deaflympics, and the European Union of the Deaf. In addition to annual meetings and conventions, electronic communication has served to bring deaf leaders in constant contact, facilitating the development of an international deaf community capable of coordinating activities and advocating for the benefit of deaf individuals across the globe. Another example of the growing commonality of interest is reflected in the increase in recent years of manuscripts submitted to the Annals from Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America addressing shared topics of interest. The widespread use of English is a contributing factor to the exchange of information.
In the case of curriculum, there are both common and separate elements. Most countries classified as "developed" now emphasize that deaf and hard of hearing children have access to the regular education curriculum. As such, there are close similarities in the content of math and science instruction across these countries, but differences in the teaching of history and literacy. In general, however, there is a discernable move away from the traditional concentration on speech and grammar to the exclusion of the regular curriculum.
In contrast to unifying developments we have several countervailing forces that operate in different ways. Chief among these is the movement toward mainstream and inclusive education, a movement that has been facilitated by neonatal screening, early intervention programs, and cochlear implants. It is interesting to note that many of the countries in Northern and Western Europe and in Australia that led the educational implementation first of speech-based signs and later of national sign languages are the same countries that have been in the forefront of cochlear implants. Even in those countries that have officially recognized national sign languages (It should be noted that the United States has no official language and is not in this category) mainstreaming and inclusive education are becoming the norm. We are facing an anomaly; residential and separate day school placement is decreasing at the same time there is a growing acceptance of national sign languages and a more cohesive international adult deaf [End Page 3] community. It is unclear how these two seemingly disparate trends will eventuate.
The situation is much more variable in...