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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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Boys and girls are permitted to mingle. Forays by tiny boys into the girls’ areas lead to wild chase, not dialogue. The matched skills of preadolescent boys and girls produce challenges and displays of bravado. Occasionally, a boy jumps hopscotch or a girl rolls her marbles in the boys’ circle. Senior boys and girls sit and talk together, but always in groups. We were aware of rumors of sexual activity within and between the genders, which could occur during the laxity of adult supervision in the evenings. But the children assert their own sense of propriety with respect to one another, which is often quite conservative. A tug-of-war was nearly scuttled because of the taboo on touching the opposite gender. Because the students had no long rope, they had one team member grip the short length and the other members grip the waist of the person in front of them, like a human chain. Then they realized that girls and boys are not supposed to touch. They held an animated discussion and tried different ways. Finally, they got the idea of gripping teammates’ clothing, and the tugging continued once more.

On a concrete slab against a backstop sits a storyteller named Winai, a lanky teenage boy, watched by a dozen youngsters. His cheeky satire about people in the institution has everyone in stitches. Like the other master storytellers, he has a handful of protégé’s and admirers whom he orders to attend performances. More than most storytelling, his are truly public gatherings and open to all. Boys and girls are welcome to come and go as they please, and they do. The composition of the audience of each storyteller is set according to one’s ability to understand, one’s gender, and one’s social status. This practice is similar to others (which will be described later in the text) in which, by including and excluding individuals, the children open and close learning opportunities.

As the pupils squeeze out the final minutes of play in the light of dusk, the dorm leaders send their runners to call them to line up. The evening regimen has begun. The children go to the dormitory, their home away from home. The agenda of institution and the urge for a home life meet under the roof of the dorm. Bathing is followed by a morals lesson and a free-chat period before lights-out. In the absence of participating adults, older pupils are charged with the care of younger pupils and oversee the lineup, the clean-up of the dorm, a disciplinary lecture, a prayer, and the awakening at dawn the next day.

Negotiating the Boundaries

An illustrative example of how the students apply norms to different situations is seen in their approach to school boundaries. The youth not only grasp the difference between the official Ministry rules and the tacit, more lax agreements with teachers but also create and enforce their own laws. Their variable application of these norms to individual students serves as an introduction to the later discussion on social status. Many older pupils wish to partake in the life of the town.

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