A Deaf Way of Education: Interaction Among Children in a Thai Boarding School
Reilly, Charles Banks
Hopkins, Richard L.
MetadataShow full item record
This is an ethnographic study of peer society in a boarding school for deaf children in the Kingdom of Thailand. The aim is to describe the students' after-hours interaction together and its function in their intellectual and social development. Deaf children tend to be institutionalized because they are unable to fully participate in the process of socialization conveyed by speech. Deafness is perceived as an inevitable loss to intellectual and social capacity. Considered to be uneducable in ordinary settings, they are sent to residential schools, which remain the predominant placement worldwide. The informal interaction among deaf students has largely been ignored or decried as impeding educational goals. Yet as their first opportunity for unhindered communication, the interaction among deaf students reveals their learning capacity and preferences. Aged six to nineteen years, the youth created educational activities to learn the sign language, in-group and societal norms, and worldly knowledge. They devised a complex social organization via a sign language that is little used or appreciated by teachers. They regulated their modes of interaction with each other according to relative skill in the sign language and mental acuity (a "social hierarchy of the mind"). This provided a pathway of gradually diversifying learning activities. The confinement to a given status group fostered teaching and learning among youth of similar skill levels ( and provided an example of Vygotsky's "zone of proximal development.") Student leadership was split into elders who wielded authority and those few youth who were skilled and creative masters of signs. These "signmasters" were generators of new ideas, storytellers and interpreters. This honored role was aspired to by youngsters, and the skills had been consciously passed down. At the same time there was pressure, by some students and teachers, to supplant creative activities with regimentation. The study recommends that educators examine the overall school environment to assure that there is a "normal" balance of activity that is similar to other children in the society, and to consider the value of deaf students' interactions and sign language as resources in the classroom.