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Ethics in Deaf Education: The First Six Years

Ethics in Deaf Education: The First Six Years

RATING: (4 of 5 ears)
EDITOR: Rod G. Beattie
PUBLISHER: Academic Press
ISBN: 0-12-083522-3
COST: $69.95 (hardcover)

REVIEWER: Judy Elkayam, MA, FAAA, Low Incidence Cooperative Agreement/North Suburban Special Education District, Des Plaines, IL

SYNOPSIS: Ethics in Deaf Education: The First Six Years is about the influence of ethics on the identification, (re)habilitation and education of children who are deaf. The editor begins with an introduction to ethical behavior and then asks each author to describe how ethical practices can affect various aspects of deafness: demographics, identity (disability vs. cultural model), use of technology, language and communication systems, assessment practices, education and curriculum development, special education law, parent choice and teacher training. Dilemmas are pondered, but solutions are not offered. It is up to the reader to review the ethical challenges and then consider appropriate courses of action. The book heightens the reader's awareness of the complex and interrelated issues which impact the lives of children who are deaf and their families. It also acknowledges that striving to behave ethically can influence advice given, actions taken, and frustrations felt.

REVIEW: At the start and throughout the book, the philosophy of ethics is discussed and various authors identify ethical principles: respect for autonomy/value awareness ("recognize the individual's abilities and perspective on life"), beneficence ("do good"), nonmaleficence ("do no harm"), justice ("distribute benefits and burdens fairly in society"), competence (employ high standards and level of care), and recognition of limitations (enlist assistance when operating beyond limits of ability). It all sounds fairly obvious until case studies are introduced. For example, what is the ethical way to behave when it is desirable to confirm the suspected presence of hearing loss and begin remediation as soon as possible, but a family wants to take time to re-energize after their infant daughter has survived meningitis?

This 200-page book consists of ten chapters, the first and last written by the editor. His intention is for the remaining chapters to be "loosely 'theme' organized" around the issues that are dominant for children under and then over the age of three years. He has also requested that each author include autobiographical information and case studies, and conclude each chapter with a list of important points, references and ethical questions "reflecting or extending the chapter's content".

In Chapter 1, the author-editor provides an introduction and overview, including his motivation for addressing this issue. The next four chapters deal with issues typically faced by parents of children under the age of three years. Chapter 2 enlightens the reader as to how ethical considerations can affect even the demographics of deafness. Chapters 3, 4 and 5 investigate the ethics of potential scientific and technological advances and research, the complex considerations of language and communication systems, and potential ethical pitfalls in the area of assessment. Chapter 6 is the first of the next four chapters to deal with ethical considerations faced by families of children between the ages of three and six years. It addresses issues of educational equality vs. excellence and the role of parental choice. It is in this chapter that important insight is gained as to how parents' and society's views of deafness (disability vs. cultural minority) may differ and the impact these sometimes conflicting philosophies have on educational options, choices and outcomes. Chapter 7 addresses the myriad of details and often unanswerable questions that are raised, at both an individual and institutional level, when planning an educational program. Chapter 8 continues this discussion, particularly in the area of curriculum development and implementation. Chapter 9 discusses ethical themes in the preparation of teachers of students who are deaf. In Chapter 10, the author-editor ruminates a little, then adds his own thoughts on what else might have been included when addressing ethical issues for deaf children.

One important theme throughout the book is the pervasive impact of society's perspective on deafness on decision-making. The struggle between the disability vs. sociocultural model touches all aspects of deafness, particularly communication, education and the social-emotional welfare of the child who is deaf. Often, an ethical challenge arises because of the polarized viewpoint that the various constituents adopt.

CRITIQUE: This is a good overview of an important topic. The organization of information within and between chapters provides cohesion, while still allowing each chapter to stand alone. Particularly insightful, and not to be overlooked, are the ethical questions at the end of each chapter. Although it starts off slowly and can be somewhat tedious at times, the book is informative and enlightening. A few grammatical/spelling errors are annoying, at most.

As the editor acknowledges, the intended audience is anyone who might have influence upon families of children who are deaf. Unfortunately, the chapters to which audiologists might naturally gravitate (technology and assessment), are the weakest, in part because of missed opportunities to address real-life dilemmas. Conversely, the chapters which audiologists may believe have little relevance (language, education, and curriculum) are the best and most important, containing information that anyone who offers professional advice to families of deaf children should know. In addition, this book is a natural as part of an Au.D. program.

Absent from the book is any discussion of the ethics of communicating with parents, children and other professionals. Except for a perfunctory page in an otherwise-excellent chapter on educational placement, the ethical questions that arise when working with children with other disabilities in addition to deafness are not addressed. Despite these limitations, the book opens the door to discussion of vital issues and will make the reader think about ethical issues and deafness long after the book is finished.