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  • Perspectives on Deaf Epistemologies
  • Peter V. Paul (bio) and Donald F. Moores (bio)

The editors of this special issue of the American Annals of the Deaf believe that it is timely to explore the construct of a “Deaf epistemology”—or, perhaps more accurately, “Deaf epistemologies”—which has become a controversial, contentious phenomenon. Dissension between and among professionals who work with d/Deaf or hard of hearing individuals is not new (see, e.g., Lane, 1992; Marschark, 2007; Moores, 2001; Paul, 2001, 2006). For example, there are ongoing, vitriolic debates on the how, what, and where with respect to instruction, curriculum, and assessment (see, e.g., Moores & Martin, 2006). However, in our view there has been a reinterpretation of many of these conflicts that seems concurrent with the rise of views often associated with postmodernism (see, e.g., Noddings, 1995; Pring, 2004; Ritzer, 2001) or, at least, that is occurring as a reaction to the so-called failures of ideas and projects in the field of education—in our case, deaf education. Specifically, there has been a call for more emphasis on the views and understandings (i.e., the knowledge) of ethnic and minority groups, including women, who historically have been relegated to the margins rather than, say, the center of educational theory, research, and practice (e.g., Noddings, 1995; Ritzer, 2001; Tanesini, 1999). In essence, this is also the impetus for the emerging notion of Deaf epistemologies.

At first glance, the dialogue on concepts such as epistemology or epistemologies seems to be best conducted within the purview of universities, having little to do with the everyday lives of teachers, clinicians, and other professionals. Nevertheless, there is a growing chorus of support for the assertion that teachers and other professionals need to be aware of the epistemic foundations of their disciplines to ensure that they are critical thinkers and are engaging in the use of truthful and accurate information in the classroom and other learning environments (e.g., Fenstermacher & Soltis, 2004; Noddings, 1995; Phillips & Soltis, 2004). One possible consequence is that students will become empowered to be rational, logical thinkers and, eventually, stewards of the critical thinking enterprise, both necessary roles for living in the 21st century with other diverse individuals. Of course, a second major consequence is that educators and clinicians will do a better job of assisting in the improvement of academic achievement—assuming that agreement can [End Page 417] be reached on the meaning of achievement. As is shown in this special issue, this dialogue cannot be left to the academic philosophers.

Admittedly, these are lofty goals, and we (the editors and contributors) do not claim to explicate the issues completely, nor even to resolve or manage the conflicts. There is no doubt in our minds that the notion of Deaf epistemologies is relevant not only to theorists and researchers but also to teachers, clinicians, and parents. Our case is based on our wager that most individuals have had strong opinions about the following constructs (among others): cochlear implants, Deaf culture, Deafhood, DEAF-WORLD, Deaf brain, Deaf mind, and the psychology of deafness. Perhaps there is also a connection to or a judgment about the ensuing statements, which have been motivated, at least, by the notion of Deaf epistemologies (discussed in Paul, 2009):

  • • Individuals who are d/Deaf are visual learners.

  • • All d/Deaf children/adolescents should be taught d/Deaf culture/history.

  • • Individuals who are d/Deaf learn differently from hearing individuals.

  • • Anything based on sound/speech is not appropriate for d/Deaf learners.

  • • Most of deaf education is focused on deficits, not cultural or individual proclivities.

  • • Students who are d/Deaf should be taught mostly by Deaf teachers.

  • • Models for teaching should be based solely or predominantly on patterns of interactions involving sign language using dyads such as Deaf mothers/teachers and d/Deaf children.

  • • American Sign Language (or any sign language) is the natural language of d/Deaf individuals.

  • • The Deaf brain or the Deaf mind is different from the hearing brain or the hearing mind.

  • • There is no psychology of the Deaf or of deafness.

  • • Mainstream theories and research are inappropriate or not sufficient for understanding d/Deaf individuals.

With respect to these statements...


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