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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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Kampol: Thongchai would sit and wed gather around and watch him. He could sign about anything. We had no meaning. Thongchai did. We had no way to sign anything. He did, for every concept, sign by sign. Sure, we could sign the regular things but Thongchai was extraordinary. Amazing. He showed us signs like we had never seen before. He opened my mind and threw things in. I have never forgotten what he did for me. I am sorry he moved away. My eyes miss him.
Researcher: What do you mean?
Kampol: Out-of-sight, its a real loss. When we graduated from Sethsatian School, the Principal, Kamala, sent him to school to teach. She had noticed that he was always surrounded by people who always watched him. He could talk to everyone, old and young people. I cant do that! Thongchai would make his signing easier for young ones and encourage them to sign.
Researcher: Is he taken care of now because he was a true teacher? (Thongchai has gone blind.)
Kampol: Yes, yes. I, too, go and visit him and take him around. We are grateful for him opening our minds and throwing many things in. It was only him. We cant talk to hearing people. There was only Thongchai.

Children who were deemed smart because of their sign mastery were rarely top students. Teachers often perceived these students as frivolous or immature. Winai was a skilled satirist and popular among children of all ages. Yet, he was uninspired by the drudgery of the classroom and mocked the inarticulate signing of his teachers. Consequently, they held him back for two years in the upper grades. Most pupils were held back for one or two years in their first years in school; this slow start was the norm. But those who failed an upper grade were singled out by teachers and peers.

So the boys in the graduating class teased Winai about being left behind. He did not mind at all because he was a respected creative leader who reveled in his ability to make people laugh. He fretted that the outside world held no opportunities for his talents. Winai told us that he did not look forward to leaving the school. He wondered where he could find another meaningful situation in which he could understand and be understood.

His peers, however, hankered to join the larger world. Their anxiety was centered on finding a job or further education. Jum echoed this sentiment, By the time I was in secondary school, I was bored with school. My friends and I really wanted to broaden our horizons. We wanted to get out and see what was happening in different places. Nowhere was the difference between the fulfillment provided by student life in the residential school and the communicative void in the mainstream more starkly delineated than in the dilemma of the smart deaf child.

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