Given a fair hearing

30th October 1998 at 00:00
ISSUES IN DEAF EDUCATION. Edited by Susan Gregory, Pamela Knight, Wendy McCracken, Stephen Powers and Linda Watson. David Fulton Pounds 18.50.

Teachers of the deaf are not renowned for their eclecticism. Until recently, most support services for the hearing-impaired espoused a "blanket" philosophy, such as "oralism" or "signing", regardless of the needs of children or families. So does this "comprehensive" and "accessible" core text by training providers, researchers and practitioners augur "a silent but revolutionary change" in deaf education, as it claims?

Issues in Deaf Education has 28 contributions, varying widely in scope and pitch. Section one examines social issues, such as family dynamics following diagnosis of a deaf child, or the complex cultural identities of Asian deaf children. Some thorny areas are dealt with well, others so superficially as to merely mark, rather than probe, their significance, such as the impact of a hearing loss on neural organisation and cognition (where we are told "tests of verbal IQ measure different aspects of verbal ability").

Section two, which deals with language and communication, delves much more convincingly into the research literature on early interaction, spoken and signed inputs and children's language progress, expertly highlighting the dangers of "extracting rules of thumb from a mass of complex research".

Section three surveys the teaching and assessment ofliteracy, mathematics and the wider curriculum within different communication approaches, while section four focuses on innovations in audiology and implications for families and services. Here the coverage of neonatal screening, cochlear implants, otitis media and central auditory processing disorders takes a leap in technical detail, but comes closer to providing the kind of useful professional update required by workers in the field.

Given the amount of space devoted to the old controversies in this book, revisited with some persistence in sectionfive, it is clear that some elements in deaf education have barely shifted, while others have moved on rapidly. This is a valuable, if uneven, tapestry of disparate strands, which reveals something of the underlying uncertainty with which this domain of special education looks ahead.

Alec Webster is reader in education at the University of Bristol

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