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Let those without bias cast the first stone: a reply to Fischgrund.

Let Those Without Bias Cast the First Stone: A Reply to Fischgrund

* In his response to our manuscript "Play behavior of hearing-impaired children: Integrated and segregated settings," Fischgrund makes repeated reference to the prointegration bias inherent in our work. Judging from the nature of his remarks, our alleged biases seem to have run directly counter to something very dear to him; that is, his own bias.


From their beginnings, researchers in the field of special education have been the stepchildren of physicians, biologists, psychologists, and others in the natural and behavioral sciences. As such, they have been trained in the tradition of the "scientific method," of which researcher objectivity and value-free inquiry have been essential components. There is, however, a growing literature that attests to the fact that inquiry cannot be value free. The statement that inquiry should be value free is, in fact, itself a value statement (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). And so, rather than attempt to deny our biases, we wish to quickly step forward and acknowledge our proclivity for the physical and social integration of all young children without regard to ability, race, religion, or sex. Just as quickly, however, we wish to acknowledge our respect for Fischgrund's right to include physically separate settings as one option in the continuum of choices available for selection as "the most appropriate setting" for young children who have hearing impairments. What we wish to avoid is the illusion that any research, or any response to research, is carried out in the absence of values and biases.


Much more serious than the accusation of having a bias, however, is the allegation of allowing our bias to guide our research. Contrary to Fischgund's assertion that the study was designed to find out what we already believed, this investigation grew out of some impromptu observations of the first author. Visiting a child-care center on a regular basis on unrelated business, Esposito began to notice that Michael, a child with a hearing impairment and one of the eventual participants in the investigation, regularly was involved in some very positive social interactions and play episodes with the other children attending the center. Recalling that the presence of a hearing impairment is often linked in the literature to a delay in the development of advanced play skills, this author wondered whether Michael's play skills and social interactions were in any way influenced by his social setting. From those early observations, grounded in the natural setting, the investigation was born; and the desire to understand the dynamics of the situation was genuine. The accusation that we "were not out to discover anything about . . . interactions, play strategies, or abilities" (Fischgrund) seems to attest to the degree to which Fischgund's own biases were violated.


That said, we can respond briefly to Fischgrund's more specific criticisms. First, lest we be the only ones criticized for using outdated material, Fischgrund has noted that "interaction . . . is the issue, not physical proximity" (Fischgrund). Certainly, physical proximity is not the issue. But physical proximity is clearly a prerequisite for the interaction that Fischgrund wishes to discuss. Without physical proximity, there can be no interaction. In addition, we disagree that "integration" and "segregation" are inappropriate terms for use here. We assert that these terms are as relevant today as they were in Brown v. Board of Education of the City of Topeka, Kansas, in 1954.

A criticism is also raised over our use of the term handicapped to refer to children with hearing impairments. We agree that labels are unfortunate outcomes of the human tendency to classify and categorize. Nevertheless, when one wants to study groups of people with certain characteristics, the need for a way to designate the group arises. Our inclusion of hearing-impaired children within the broader group of handicapped children represents a common convention, in wide use by The Council for Exceptional Children, federal and state governments, and many other administrative bodies, to identify groups of children who may be in need of special education services. We recognize, nevertheless, that the significant limiting factor is not the hearing impairment itself but rather the social and societal response to the impairment.

We agree that detailed descriptions of the children who participate in research studies are important, and not only in the present case. Descriptions of children with intellectual handicaps, for example, are just as important as descriptions of children with hearing impairments. Unfortunately, much of the information in our original manuscript in this section, as in all sections, was deleted because of space limitations. Rarely do we see articles in the special education literature that have devoted more than the usual two or three paragraphs to description of the participants. We have done no better and no worse.

With regard to the assertion that the characteristics of children must be fully understood to assess their play behavior, however, we disagree again. The play categories that served as our dependent measures are well documented in the early childhood literature and were sufficiently defined for the purposes of our investigation. The fact that we were able to obtain acceptable levels of interrater reliability attests to the operationalization of the measures. We question the assertion that only an observer highly trained in one specific school of thought could code the play behavior of a hearing-impaired child into, for example, four fairly broad categories of social participation. At some levels, the interactional behavior of all children is complex; at other levels, as in judging whether a child is playing with someone or alone, it is rather straightforward.

As for our conclusions about cognitive play, we followed traditional protocol in using the discussion section of our manuscript to explore possible explanations for our findings and to make recommendations for future research. It is true that we found no consistent indications that the cognitive play behavior of our participants was influenced by short-term, rapid alterations in social settings--and we clearly stated that fact. Our caution in pointing out that long-term gains should not be ruled out was simply an acknowledgement that the design of our study was not intended to investigate long-term effects. Nowhere did we conclude that "the cognitive development of hearing-impaired children could be enhanced through integration" (Fischgrund), although, taken out of context, our comments could be construed that way.

Finally, our description of one participant as "more socially impaired" than the other seemed to ignite Fischgrund's fear that we believe in early, rigid classification of young children's abilities. His fear is ill founded. The act of getting along with others, as with any other human behavior, lies along a continuum from high proficiency to low proficiency, along which every individual can be placed. To locate a child at a particular point relative to another child is to describe present behavior, not to attach a life-long label. It remains true, at least in our thinking, that some people are more socially impaired than others, be they hearing impaired, blue eyed, or Republican.

In summary, we recognize that the educational placement of children with hearing impairments is presently a controversial, hotly debated, and often emotional issue and that no one group or way of thinking is inherently correct. We admire the passion with which Fischgrund holds his convictions. We also admire our own.

BEVERLY G. ESPOSITO is Director, Open Doors Child Development Center, Inc., Tallahassee, Florida. MARK A. KOORLAND is Professor, Department of Special Education, The Florida State University, Tallahassee.
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Title Annotation:Joseph E. Fischgrund; special education research
Author:Esposito, Beverly G.; Koorland, Mark A.
Publication:Exceptional Children
Date:Nov 1, 1989
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