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  • In Praise of Doubt and Systematic Inquiry
  • Peter V. Paul

Paul, P. V. (2014). In praise of doubt and systematic inquiry. American Annals of the Deaf, 159(4), 305–311.

The articles in this volume represent the first segment of a two-part special issue on English reading development for individuals who are d/Deaf and hard of hearing (d/Dhh). I want to express my deepest gratitude to all the authors, particularly the coeditors, Ye Wang and Jean Andrews, for their insightful contributions, which should provide the impetus for subsequent dialogues as well as additional productive theorizing and research in our field. This relentless quest for a better and deeper understanding of the English literacy process should also pave the way for the development and implementation of instructional practices to facilitate the acquisition of English reading skills by d/Dhh children and adolescents.

It should not be surprising that constructs such as reading, reading comprehension, reading assessment, and reading instruction have engendered vitriolic debates—metaphorically described as “reading wars” (Pearson, 2004). Constructs that are conceptually complex are often “slippery” (Flavell, 1985)—that is, difficult to define or describe completely, equally as difficult to measure or assess, and downright challenging to translate into instructional strategies that might be considered effective for a particular student at any age or grade level. This conceptual slipperiness often leads to polarizing views, with proponents in diverse camps, enclaves, or information silos, which can be frustrating and confusing to parents/caregivers and teachers/educators, and—worse—have unintended, unproductive consequences for children learning to read and write English.

From one perspective, this situation need not be unresolvable or even unbridgeable (see, e.g., Bloome, 2013). Nevertheless, crossing any number of divides or attempting to enrich the silos requires sincere, concerted efforts—often labeled cognitive contamination by sociologists—and these endeavors can produce positive or constructive outcomes. (For a popular account, see Berger & Zijderveld, 2009, which inspired the title of this editorial.) As a researcher, my goal is to oscillate between applying a healthy dose of doubt and a modicum of cautionary certainty, the better to avoid being placed in a category that could be labeled the folly of pedants—often associated with strong voices of certainty and, sadly, fanaticism.

These introductory remarks portend the approach of this editorial. I recognize that familiarity with my work and that of my collaborators should place me in the camp that favors the construct known as the qualitative similarity hypothesis (QSH; Paul, Wang, & Williams, 2013). Thus, sans the introductory article (Wang & Andrews), it might be reasoned that I am in agreement with most, if not all, of the contents in two of the four main articles in this special issue (Mayer & Trezek; Wang & Williams). In essence, the major points in these articles do resonate with my own tentative convictions.

As a result, most individuals would argue that there is no way I can be an unbiased observer, or even an unbiased synthesizer of diverse positions—especially those that question the assumptions of the QSH. Of course, it is possible that no researcher or scholar can be completely free of bias—if this is interpreted to mean the possession of a mental framework or, rather, a specific type of epistemology, that drives theorizing, research, and implications for practice—and that this position is rigid, inflexible, and impervious to contamination. Nevertheless, I can find areas of consensus in the other two main articles (Allen, Letteri, Choi, & Dang; McQuarrie & Parrila)—if I am permitted to contextualize their assertions with respect to sociodemographics of participants and a working model of English reading acquisition (obviously, any model is debatable)—as discussed later.

In reading all the articles in this issue (and Part II, forthcoming in the Winter 2015 issue), my desire has been to become cognitively contaminated so that I can grow further in my understanding of the process of learning to read English. Each [End Page 305] group of contributors provides sufficient fodder (actually, a preponderant amount) for the generation of additional questions and, in my view, the need for more systematic inquiries. I highlight a few of the slippery constructs and select only a small number of assertions that sometimes cause me...