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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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The Rising of Lotus Flowers: Self-Education by Deaf Children in Thai Boarding Schools

Charles B. Reilly and Nipapon Reilly

Chapter Four
Association among the Students

During the twenty-year history of the school, the children have developed an array of educational activities by themselves. Their use of creative narrative and participatory groups reveals their ability to devise social gatherings to fulfill their intellectual, social, and emotional needs. Their adoption and modification of authoritarian codes of behavior imposed by the school indicates their ability to negotiate complex social demands. Older students tend to become either authoritarian supervisors or leaders of free-time (creative, participatory) activities, roles that reveal their ambivalence about the values of hearing, adult educators as they translate those roles to their own peer culture.


To build a “social base” (Whyte 1955), I initiated the study with a broad, sweeping observation of the daily school life and visited all classes, dorms, and activities. The early findings supported the initial assumptions. School life was bifurcated into a formal and an informal domain, clearly separated by time, site, and leader (see table 5). The activity periods were easily distinguishable by the clothing: uniforms during school affairs and loose fitting shorts and tees during after-hours. Teachers asserted their control and involvement only during the classroom hours. After classes were finished, the students were largely left to their own devices, with minimal supervision. During the free time (informal domain), I had expected to find typically child-like responses to the relaxation of authority—playing games, conversing, and doing whatever children do befitting their age and gender. After all, the binding forces of families were far away, the teachers were off-duty, and numerous peers were at hand.

Interaction among children of different ages is only minimally impeded by adult-created barriers in the structure of space and time. In nations with age-graded and highly organized school systems, children of different ages are kept physically segregated. Younger and older children occupy separate classrooms, if not entirely different school buildings. Schedules are arranged to keep children of varying age groups apart, even during meal times. Children’s freedom in establishing their own relationships across age groups is reduced by this kind of structure.

In the Thai boarding schools, youth of all ages are in extremely close physical proximity to one another. The circumstance encourages togetherness, partly by giving them few choices and little privacy. During the tropical days, the children gather in the shade under the open-air halls and the trees. The evenings are spent under a few bare light bulbs in open dorm rooms. Students are within eyesight of one another far more than in modern Western institutions. Gender separation is enforced only during evening hours.

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