In developed nations around the world, residential schools for deaf students are giving way to the trend of inclusion in regular classrooms. Nonetheless, deaf education continues to lag as the students struggle to communicate. In the Bua School in Thailand, however, 400 residential deaf students ranging in age from 6 to 19 have met with great success in teaching each other Thai Sign Language (TSL) and a world of knowledge once thought to be lost to them. The Rising of Lotus Flowers: Self-Education by Deaf Children in Thai Boarding Schools reveals how their institutionalization allowed them to foster a unique incubator of communication and education.
Charles B. Reilly, a teacher and community organizer in Thailand for eight years, and Nipapon Reilly, a Deaf Thai citizen, studied the students in the Bua School for 14 years, with periodic follow-ups thereafter. They found that the students learned little from their formal instructors, but that they were able to educate each other in time spent away from the classroom. Older students who had learned TSL in the dorms and on the playground successfully passed it on to six-year-olds who had virtually no language at all. The Reillys’ study uncovers an elaborate hierarchy of education among these students, with each group using games and other activities to teach and bring other classmates up to their level. Named for the much admired aquatic plant that blooms in Thailand’s bogs, the Bua School epitomizes the ideal of The Rising of Lotus Flowers, which also offers analytical evidence of the continuing value of residential schools in deaf education.