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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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For senior students, the free time is a chance to display their looks and tastes to their peers. Most girls older than the age of ten make extra efforts in their appearance, wearing crisply ironed blouses and putting bows in their hair. Lads cherish sporty T-shirts, although capable sneakers are their real (and rare) treasure because those shoes enhance their ball playing. The norms of the institution and current Thai fashion are influential; the dress tends to be largely conservative and discreet, with a dash of flair and color. Fragrance of body is highly valued by older youth.

The end of the day brings to the older pupils a flurry of heavy chores such as hauling supplies, tending gardens, or scrubbing clothes. At half past four, the grip of authority begins to tighten again as suppertime nears. Older pupils nonchalantly drift in to the living areas, only mildly interested in the proceedings, unless they are obligated to organize them. Their deputies, fifth to seventh graders, handle the mundane supervisory chores. In turn, the deputies use younger runners to call residents back to the dorms. Minute by minute, the screws tighten until lines form by the seven dorms. They arrange themselves by shortest to tallest individual. The newcomers are pulled into place. Enforced imitation of others is the dominant form of peer instruction.

During the march to supper along the dusty lane leading from the dorms, the lineup loses its rigid shape but still reflects the hierarchy. The younger children must walk packed together with their arms crossed to prevent talking. The older pupils meander behind at their own pace. At the canteen, there are more drills, especially among the girls, whose leaders value their dormsí public image. Every mealtime features a similar routine as well as mutual cooperation of seniors and teachers in impressing discipline. To get their food, the children must perform satisfactorily for their elders. The cool of the evening beckons the children to rush through supper and onto the playing fields.

Until dusk, the boys and girls of all ages are free to associate as they wish. Signing deaf children are physically and communicatively unhindered in sports and games. On the left of the playground is a group of five girls demonstrating their hopscotch technique for the benefit of a few smaller girls. This scene is unusual because most gaming events are open only to students with equal knowledge of rules and approximate skills. Nearby, the boys have formed three soccer games by skill level. The big boys have the big field and the best ball. The junior players are smashing around in a crammed sand pitch. Although these boys hope to move up to the big field, only a rare talent will move ahead faster than the orderly succession of age groups. The small players and those with lesser skills kick a wobbly green ball around on the hard volleyball court. They learn by playing with novices and by watching the elders.

In the bleachers sits a cluster of older girls. They stop signing when approached and pause to look around to ensure that they are not being spied on. Girls vigorously defend the privacy of their intimate groups, even to the point of expelling members who violate the trust. It is difficult for outsiders to learn about these private groups. This study acknowledges the critical role of these friendships in childhood but does not deal directly with them.

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