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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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The implications for the field work were clear. Because the goal was to understand all acts of teaching and learning among children, the scope of the data collection was widened to encompass authoritarian activities, including some focused study of teacher-children relations. The research questions were applied to both the authoritarian and the voluntary free-time activities created by the youth. The dualistic construction of student life became a subject of inquiry, in particular, how the demands of authority coexisted alongside the indomitable urge for social creativity.

A dialectic of imposed authority and creative expression shaped the educational experience of the students. The norms of authority and freetime activities constitute a complex set of rights and responsibilities about daily life in the school. Becoming familiar with this body of normative knowledge was a student’s first major learning task. Perhaps closed institutions are intrinsically more complicated than ordinary childrearing settings because so little separates the sets of actors, times, and spaces, which, thus, attenuates the clues about expected roles. Boarding students must master a repertoire of skills to cope in their environment. These deaf children are able to move between the official activities and their own informal diversions with alacrity. The complexity of this learning needs to be appreciated.

After-Hours Activities

At the end of the official school day, the teachers relinquish their claim on the students without hesitation. These bureaucrats’ sense of obligation does not extend outside civil service hours (8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., Monday to Friday). Oversight responsibility for the pupils during off-hours falls to rotating duty teachers and unmarried teachers who live in the dorms. Practically, children and adults have very little to do with one another after-hours. In the dorm—the children’s “home”—the older youth are the homemakers with near-total responsibility for child rearing and upkeep. The following description of a typical evening provides an introduction to a child’s activities outside the classroom. The goal is to highlight the dialectic of authoritarian and creative activities carried out by the students themselves.

Released from the classroom at 3:00 p.m., the pupils re-join their friends. The path back to the dormitories takes them past the sweet shop, which is run for profit by the teachers’ cooperative. Many youngsters stop to buy a cool drink—their final transaction with adults until morning. A duty teacher may occasionally pop in, but the night belongs to the children. Dress style is a clear sign of the shift in foci of control between teacher and student. The discreet uniform of the school day has been stowed away in favor of comfortable clothing that expresses their personal preferences. Poverty has put many youngsters in faded and ill-fitting secondhand clothing. But no one cares about the younger children’s dress, least of all themselves. They are free to ramble and run as they please.

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