Disability Studies Quarterly
Fall 2006, Volume 26, No. 4
Copyright 2006 by the Society
for Disability Studies


Reilly, Charles B. and Reilly, Nipapon W. (2005). The Rising of Lotus Flowers: Self Education by Deaf Children in Thai Boarding Schools. Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press. ISBN 1-56368-275-3, 255 pages, $55 (hardcover).

Reviewed by Mitchell A. Kaplan, Institute for the Puerto Rican and Hispanic Elderly, Inc. New York City

Charles B. Reilly and his wife Nipapon Reilly have combined their professional talents and life experiences to produce an outstanding book that gives readers an insightful understanding of the world of education for deaf children in Southeast Asia. Divided into seven chapters, the book grew out of Reilly's research for his doctoral dissertation in sociology at the University of Maryland in the early 1990's. Using case study techniques such as in-depth taped interviews, anecdotal oral histories and detailed participant observations of after-hours student activities, the authors examined the social organization and hierarchal structure of interaction of a small community of 376 deaf students between the ages of 6 and 19 who lived at a residential boarding school in Thailand.

The book provides insight into the process of language acquisition in deaf communities within a context of social interaction in a cross-cultural educational setting. The opening chapter describes the historical significance of the boarding school as an institution of cultural formation and transmission for deaf children in most non-western societies. Reilly argues that the most significant contribution that residential schools made to lives of the Thai deaf students he interviewed was to provide them with a social environment where they could acquire sign language skills that would enable them to communicate effectively with those around them. The acquisition of primary language skills, the authors contend, plays a key role in the deaf Thai student's socialization process both in school and within the larger deaf community. The authors noted that at the Bua residential school as well as two other similar institutions they visited, the teachers had no formal training in sign language instruction. Younger students learned most of their formal language skills through their interactions with peers and older students outside the classroom.

In chapters two and three, Reilly reviews the historical evolution of the educational system in Thailand and its view of the education of deaf children. Reilly argues that in traditional Thai society deaf people are looked upon as problematic individuals who are difficult to educate because of their lack of verbal communication abilities. Reilly contends that the majority of hearing individuals in Thailand believe that deaf people have little to contribute to their families and society. Instruction of deaf people is considered a low-status professional position in the Thai educational system because most educators would rather teach hearing children who are easier to educate. Chapter three examines social and environmental characteristics that make residential schools for deaf people "total institutions. "Using Erving Goffman's conceptual framework, the authors analyze the four basic conditions of social interaction at the Bua residential school that have contributed to its becoming a total institution for the deaf students who reside there. The four conditions of total institutionalization that the authors describe are physical containment and isolation, detachment from family, limited access to information from the outside world, and alienation from teachers. The authors believe that these social conditions at residential schools for deaf people are what shape student interactions with educators and each other.

Chapters four through six examine the social organization of student life and the creative activities that deaf Bua students utilize to teach each other language skills. Through a series of illustrative examples in chapter four, Reilly explores the complex hierarchical structure of social ranking among the deaf students at the residential school. Drawing upon information collected in interviews combined with careful observations, Reilly describes three levels of social ranking that he believes govern the patterns of social discourse between the different cohorts of deaf students at the school. He argues that social status and discourse between the student cohorts at Bua is based upon an individual's level of intellectual and language ability. Moving up the ranks is dependent upon an individual's cognitive strengths and his or her ability to show mastery of sign language communication skills.

Chapter seven closes out the book with a review of the theoretical foundations of Reilly's research followed by a description of central findings for each of the four research questions that guided his study. He ends the chapter with a series of six recommendations for education policy and school and classroom functions that he believes will give deaf children a greater opportunity to get a full education in an environment that is supportive of and equipped to meet their special educational needs.

The Rising of Lotus Flowers: Self Education by Deaf Children in Thai Boarding Schools is an excellent book for educators who want to gain a heightened sensitivity to and an informed perspective about the special educational needs of deaf children from a cross-cultural viewpoint. The book provides an inspiring illustration of the power of the human spirit in overcoming social and environmental obstacles in the pursuit of educational achievement. I would highly recommend that it be placed on the reading list of college faculty who are teaching graduate courses in special education teacher training programs.