Monday, October 14, 2013

Why Marc Marschark is Wrong about Cued Speech: A Review of the Body of Evidence

Marc Marschark wrote a post on NTID's page "Educating Deaf Children" in response to a question about whether research on Cued Speech is being taken into account when "evaluating and recommending a communication mode that promotes literacy in deaf children." His post REEKS of bias against Cued Speech, which is not surprising given RIT/NTID's history with providing cued language services.

Marschark has a long history with deaf education as the founder and editor of Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education and has over 100 publications to his name, therefore he should have a lot of credibility when it comes to criticism of Cued Speech. However his criticism of Cued Speech has been one of that based on research articles and publications and not the overall body of evidence within the Cued Speech community.

I'm not one to engage in character assassination, but perhaps it is time to expose Marschark for who he is, a biased researcher in favor of American Sign Language and opposed to the use of Cued Speech. There is a camp of biased individuals entrenched in NTID administration that has commited discrimination and oppression against cuers and oral adults as evidenced by personal experiences with NTID's disability services (which seems to have been integrated into RIT's main office), but that's an investigative article for another time. Based on what I have read of his work and what I have heard from others, Marschark is a member of this group. This ridiculous statement that Marschark made about Cued Speech reveals his true colors:

In its more than 60 years of existence, it [Cued Speech] has never been found to facilitate the acquisition of reading skills by deaf children who are learning English. (Marschark, 2013) 

What the hell? Seriously? A lot of curse words come to mind when thinking about Marschark's attitudes and bias against Cued Speech, but I aim to keep this virtual space at least PG-13. FYI, Cued Speech is not even 50 years old, so get your facts straight.

Let's look at the body of evidence about why Cued Speech facilitates English language acquisition. After all Marschark seems to be only referring to research articles and not observations or anecdotal evidence, which when compiled together paints a pretty clear picture:

Dr. Cornett invented Cued Speech with the purpose of supporting literacy developoment. He carried out an educational experiment by recruiting an entire family with a deaf child to learn Cued Speech. The results set the stage for the next four decades of exposing children to Cued Speech for purposes of supporting language acquisition and literacy development.

Multiple cue camps exist to this day with hundreds of participants attending each year. Why would parents and professionals continue to organize these camps if Cued Speech was not successful in facilitating the acquisition of reading skills by deaf children who are learning English? After all that was really the point of Cued Speech.

Cued Speech has been adapted to over 60 traditionally spoken languages, yet why did people from other countries buy into Cued Speech? Because they saw the results of American children reading at grade-level or better. The promise of increased literacy levels is what drew these parents and professionals to organize non-profit organizations and advocate for the use of Cued Speech.

In the first few decades of Cued Speech, deaf children did not have access to the technology we have today in the form of digital hearing aids, bone conduction hearing aids, and cochlear implants, yet these cuers were able to achieve reading levels commensurate to that of their hearing peers. Not all were exposed to sign language and some lived in isolated areas where services were limited, yet because of their family dynamics, many of those cuers read at grade-level or better.

Many cuers were mainstreamed in the public education setting and went on to post-secondary institutions, including ivy league universities, which obviously requires strong literacy levels in order to be accepted. Some of their stories can be found in The Cued Speech Resource Book for Parents of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children, written by Dr. Cornett and Mary Elsie Daisy, mother of the first native cuer.

One of the more well-known programs in the country for spoken language and listening outcomes, CASTLE in Durham, NC (an OPTION school), has come to recognize the implications of Cued Speech for language and literacy development because they observed their own clients making significant progress with language and literacy outcomes (see my interview with Marie Beck Jansen).

Let's also take into consideration the personal statements of many deaf individuals who grew up with Cued Speech. Many of these accounts have been shared on the Cued Speech Facebook group and all point to an inherent belief that Cued Speech truly helped them in their personal lives. Don't believe me? Just go and read for yourself, since some cuers are coming forward to share of their discrimination at RIT/NTID...

But this is the MOST important point to make and one that should put Marschark in his place.

Illinois School for the Deaf is in the middle of a pilot study where it has integrated Cued Speech into its literacy curriculum where the focus is on teaching English skills, especially in reading and writing. The initial results have convinced the administration to move forward in expanding the use of Cued Speech from pre-school to high school (despite opposition from Deaf individuals who believe it is a threat to their way of life). After all, thanks to federal and state laws, evidence-based practices must be used and shown to be effective before being implemented on a full scale in regards to accountability and effective instruction.

At this school we have classrooms where Cued Speech is the primary mode of communication because these students are choosing Cued Speech over sign language (at least in the classroom). Beverly Trezek of DuPaul University, who has published articles on Visual Phonics, has played a critical role in helping ISD modify its programming to include Cued Speech. In a few years or less, you will be seeing these results published and I certainly look forward to seeing Marschark's criticism of the research.

These points are just some of the few examples that serve to demonstrate why Cued Speech is effective in supporting English language and literacy development and why it has such a loyal following.

The question is then how did all these cuers achieve typical language and literacy levels in American English? It's because they were able to access traditionally spoken English in a visual medium that corresponds with English's spoken phonemes.

I'm not saying that Cued Speech makes you smart. I am just making the case that Cued Speech helps equalize the playing field in terms of acquiring English, one of the most irregular languages in the world where many words are spelled differently, but may be pronounced the same. Furthermore, vocabulary can have different meanings in specific contexts, making higher level language skills important in terms of comprehension and expression.

Marschark is well established in the Deaf community as a "respected" researcher because his work has supported the use of visual languages and increased support of parents in helping their children acquire language and literacy levels. Yet his own statements reveal his attitudes in that he believes Cued Speech does not facilitate English literacy development. Marschark's own opinions is based on his own literature review of Cued Speech articles, which admittedly is not as robust as I'd like them to be due to limited sample pools and the type of studies published (which include case studies, comparative studies, longitudinal studies, and so on...).

On page 14 of my independent study (PDF), I discuss a specific comment regarding Cued Speech which reflects Marschark's own attitudes
“Cued Speech is not included because it is not a research-validated practice. The only studies (reviewed internationally by Marschark & LaSasso) that showed consistent and positive outcomes were those done in French-speaking Netherlands. Most of the ‘research’ about Cued Speech is anecdotal or not empirically validated.” (Rose, 2010) 
If Marschark didn't write this himself (after all, my survey was conducted with anonymity), then it's apparent that Marschark's influence has convinced others to buy into this belief that Cued Speech is not a valid means of facilitating literacy acquisition, which is certainly a shame since they are not willing to recognize the personal experiences and rights of cuers.

However, many parents don't necessarily look at the research itself. They meet native cuers and they decide for themselves based on other people's personal experiences and the information provided (mostly by the National Cued Speech Association and its chapters along with experienced service providers). It is not just about research publications (which Marschark refers to as if scientific research was a religion of its own), but the overall body of evidence people look at when making decisions for their own children in terms of communication and language outcomes.

In the end, Marc Marschark has come out and exposed himself as a biased researcher who holds Cued Speech in contempt for what it really is, a viable means of facilitating spoken language and literacy development across many traditionally spoken languages. In a way, Marschark has done something good for the Cued Speech community. He has stoked the fire within cuers who are now passionately speaking up about their personal experiences with Cued Speech, especially those who attended RIT.

The Cued Speech revolution has just begun and native cuers are rising up to fight against oppression and discrimination perpetrated by individuals, including those at RIT/NTID. We will not stand by while others paint Cued Speech and cued language in a negative light when we know the positive benefits of exposing children with hearing loss to a visual communication system that provides verbatim access to traditionally spoken languages, regardless of hearing status.

Let's put Marschark in his place by continuing to share our personal stories of how Cued Speech helped facilitate our language and literacy development. After all, these personal stories are much more powerful than some boring research articles that only members of the deaf and hard of hearing academia read thoroughly with critical analysis. In other words, let us show that Marschark is dead wrong about Cued Speech.


Ben said...

We have a favorite story that we tell to describe the benefits of Cued Speech. When I was two years old, my family went on a vacation somewhere, I forget where. We were in a car driving down a country road. We entered a tunnel and it became dark with very strange lights flashing by. I got scared and started fussing. My Dad frantically searched through his Sign Language Book for the sign for tunnel. But he couldn't find a good sign. It was an incredibly frustrating and scary time for him because he couldn't communicate to me in words that came easily to him what was going on.

So they learned Cued Speech. By the time I was 3 and 4, I was using words like President and Dinosaur. My parents never again had to frantically search for a way to express what it was they wanted to tell me.

Anonymous said...

I learned cued speech in less than 2 weeks and became fluent in less than a month (able to cue anything in any language I speak, including English and Spanish). How long does it take to learn signed language? Last I heard, those whom have used it their entire lives still don't know every single symbol and there are tons of English words and phrases that simply can't be translated effectively to signed language. Plus, if I wanted to speak German Signed Language it's a whole other language compared to American Signed Language..

Reading levels of every individual I have ever met that grew up learning signed language were absolutely HORRIBLE. They were always wayyy behind the other kids in school and that didn't so much matter, since they couldn't communicate with anyone that didn't know signed language. Children raised on cued speech, ultimately become profoundly efficient lip-readers and therefore communicate with the rest of the hearing world without nearly as much issue as someone who speaks only signed language.

SIGNED LANGUAGE IS NOT ENGLISH. Individuals whom first learn signed language have to secondarily learn English and their reading and communication levels suffer. They are trapped in bubble for the rest of their life and constantly looked at as being, quite literally, disabled.

Besides reading levels, their speech, if they could speak at all, was HORRENDOUS. Cued speech doesn't just teach how to lipread, it teaches how to speak. Deaf children whom have never heard human voice (including their own) can be reading a book and come to a word they have never seen before and can "sound" it out visually using cued speech. Therefore they can actually correctly pronounce, out loud, a word they have never read or heard before in their life. Can signed language do that?

Anonymous said...

My son was born with severe auditory nerve hypoplasia / aplasia (thin or absent nerves) and hence 100% deaf and unable to benefit from hearing aids, and he could only partially benefited from a cochlear implant when he eventually got one at nearly age 3. He was therefore entirely dependent on visual language input. We found out about Cued Speech from Professor Charles Berlin via an auditory neuropathy email listserve group. We learnt the entire system within a few weeks of finding out about it and started using it straight away from when he was about 1 year old. Within a few months he had learnt (and was responding and translating into sign) over 50 words. We carried on using CS for spoken English and (separately) sign language as well (voice off) - for complete separation of the two languages. By age 4 he had age-appropriate understanding of spoken English and easy 2-way conversations with us speaking English with CS and him communicating in sign (as he couldn't yet speak as he hadn't had enough useful aided hearing to develop speech by then) and over the next year he learnt to read more quickly than most of the other kids in his mainstream class at school - we couldn't believe how easily he picked up reading, and numeracy too as he didn't have any language delay). At age 9 he had a reading age of 15. He gradually began to make use of his CI + speech reading and is now completely oral (also continuing to learn sign language) and a great speech reader. At 18 he has completed all of his schooling in mainstream, specializing in English Literature, business studies and psychology, and he will be going to university. He's a great writer and likes to write poetry in his spare time. And he's a book worm. None of this would have been possible without him learning spoken English through Cued Speech and the rapid literacy development this supported. I have long been very angry about Marc Marschark's bias against Cued Speech and with other deaf education establishment figures. How many deaf children have been let down by the whole system's prejudice against and ignorance about Cued Speech??