Living Away from Blessings : School Failure as Lived Experience
Abstract: This dissertation seeks to unveil and describe students’ experiences of school failure. Traditionally, research in the field has tended to approach school failure from a societal perspective, often construing school failure as a drop-out problem. Consequently, adults have been authorized to define how the notion of school failure is to be understood, and have usually attributed it to inadequate grades, and/or cognitive shortcomings on the part of the students. Moreover, scientific and governmental reports regularly provide us with statistics concerning drop-out rates. What these statistics do not tell us, however, is how the students themselves define and experience school failure. Parallel to the drop-out research, classroom research has traditionally focused on the teacher-student interaction, mainly from a “teacher-thinking” perspective. This dissertation offers an alternative understanding of the notion of school failure: it examines students’ lived experiences of school failure in the classroom. Former students in an individual program and inmates in juvenile institutions shared their lived experiences of a school failure. The students were asked to write down their recollections of a specific moment when they felt that they had failed in school. In addition to the written experiential accounts, the students’ experiences were explored further in interviews. The lived-experience descriptions show that the students view school failure as having little to do with cognitive inadequacy; rather, they understand school failure as a behavioral deficiency on their part. Thus, the center of attention is not on the student-learning perspective, but the student-teacher relationship. The phenomenological, thematic analyses show that the experience of school failure is a complex phenomenon that reaches far beyond grades and dropping out. The temporal, spatial, and relational dimensions of experiencing school failure include feelings of disappointment, non-recognition, loneliness, boredom, shame, marginalization, stigmatization, inferiority, and worthlessness. A subsidiary aim of the dissertation is to contribute to the development of the phenomenological research method “phenomenology of practice.” The method, developed by Max van Manen and inspired by the scholars of the Utrecht school, integrates phenomenology, hermeneutics, and semiotics. The “phenomenology of practice” approach, which aims to disclose taken-for-granted attitudes, and has proved beneficial for exploring practical, pedagogical issues, such as experiences of school failure.
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