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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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TABLE 5. Division of Schedule into Formal and Informal Aspects




Participants Teachers with students Student body alone
Site Classrooms and assembly areas Dorms and playgrounds
Time 8:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m. on weekdays Before breakfast and after 3:00 p.m. on weekdays,
All day and night on weekends
Leaders Teachers Older pupils

I quickly made an unexpected and puzzling observation: the free-time hours were dominated by authoritarian activities created by the pupils themselves. During the times when play had the potential to be paramount, I saw, instead, youth standing frozen in lineups, drilling in formation, and watching didactic lectures, even when no adults were in evidence. The seniors ordered the youngsters about as if in a boot camp. The evening regimen in the dorms was lengthy and strict. Typically, students formed a lineup at 7:00 p.m. downstairs during which the students did drills with their arms as long as the dorm head wished. Before bed, students attended dorm meetings that involved strident, repetitive lectures emphasizing propriety and cleanliness.

I also saw some bizarre acts such as enforced recitation and echoing (choruses of the deaf, truly) and mass self-punishments. Student leaders reinforced their displays of power by wearing militaristic garb. Older students commonly made demeaning statements about the younger children’s intellect. However, the reader should not get the wrong impression. This exercise of remarkably strict control by older over younger students was strict but not mean-spirited. Only on a few occasions did we see any physical force or malicious intent. (We also occasionally saw teachers act this way.) In general, the goal of the authoritarian approach was to supervise the younger children and to keep them from harm. The older students felt duty-bound to keep order, and the younger students usually accepted the situation.

The teachers’ strategy of delegating authority to older students successfully extended the adult sense of order into the private time and places of the youth. There were striking similarities between teacher-dominated and peer-dominated activities. The assumption involving separate adultchild worlds was shattered. My observations made apparent the error of two initial assumptions: (a) that the children were learning little from their teachers and (b) that informal interactions among peers would be devoid of influence from the school climate. This early discovery in the field compelled a rethinking of my assumed model of human relations within the school. The data confirmed Gerald Grant’s statement in The World We Created at Hamilton High (1988, 7): “Every school can be seen as a network of authority relations shaped by cultural influences, an external policy matrix, family and social-class factors, and the moral and intellectual authority of faculty and staff.” Figure 2 shows a revised illustration that more accurately portrays the patterns of communication in the school.

Even though the school segregated the deaf children from normal social experience, it transmitted society’s norms to its boarders through its climate, discipline, and the students themselves. The deaf children not only were learning adult norms—a skillful feat given the circumstances—but also had become proxy socializing agents. Older youth were integrally involved as actors in the transmission of norms to younger students. The surprise here was that deaf children learned anything at all from the hearing adults. Jules Henry (1976b) wrote about the strong, innate propensity of human beings to learn many things at once (polyphasic learning). The extent of learning through vision alone may be a useful lesson about how socialization occurs and the relative role of the sensory channels.

When this extension of imposed authority was discovered, it showed that the formal-informal distinction was useless for predicting the nature of the social interaction. Although the daily routine was divided cleanly into school-hours and after-hours periods, the nature of interaction could not be predicted based on the time, site, or actors present (adults with children, children with children). This realization verified the original impetus to do first-hand, extended observation.

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