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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

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Once a child earns the “regular” status, he or she is given access to more activities. The children at this level most intensively engage in creative narrative, a type of interaction that is described later. They yearn to use their new fluency to receive connected, elaborate information, be it true or make-believe. They continue to be subject to the discipline of older youth. Because these regulars can understand instructions, they are the chief providers of labor and service to older pupils and teachers. They assume the rights and responsibilities of membership in both the student social organization and the Thai official school culture. The regular group is quite diverse, comprising members within a swath of childhood from about the ages of ten to fourteen years old and including barely proficient signers to fluent, institutionally savvy pupils. The life of a regular student is complicated by its own internal hierarchy that involves not only age but also the strictures of and attractions to association with the opposite gender. The children carefully choose members of their storytelling events, conversational circles, and games. Supapon spoke of being denied access to the very best story circles until she had “reached the upper level.”

Additional distinctions that the children make among themselves are not explained here. These involve personality (assertiveness brings respect), gender (boys valued over girls), and physical prowess. For example, the boys place high value on the personality trait of selfassertion as a basis for moving beyond mere regular status to a position of respect. Patipol explained how he became “an equal” in the eyes of fellow youth.

Researcher: Back when you were little did you get picked upon or intimidated by older pupils?
Patipol: Yes, I was picked upon until I could sign back. You must be able to reply. I watched movies and got some ideas. One time I said, “Go take the orange medicine.” That was thought real funny, it spread all over the school. [Comment: Although I was unable to grasp the humor (though it likely directed an offending person to go take a substance that was deemed horrible by most students, the equivalent of “go jump off a cliff”), it is clear that P’s gibe helped earn him a reputation as one who should not be a target of derision.]
Researcher: How much bigger were the children who picked on you?
Patipol: There were some fifth graders. You have to be able to sign something to get them to step back and leave you alone. When you come back at them they think, “Hmm, leave him alone.”
The child’s access to enhanced social participation within the school is based on his or her achievement of a “mindful” state. A mindful state allows a child to begin to express his or her unique qualities and thereby gain status and respect.
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