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IMAGINE THE FUTURE: ROLE MODELS AND STUDENTS' CAPTURED IMAGINATION

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Abstract

The topic of education and imagination is directly related with role models and heroes who shape individuals' value maps. This work first looks at the results of the first Romanian nationwide survey on role-models and motivation for learning and it will then analyze how these findings are connected with imagination and education. We will try to find out if Romanian students still value education, as well as how imagination is connected with motivation to learn, study and develop skills for the future? Second, it will present a comparative analysis of major trends in education through the lenses of the intrinsic relation between education and imagination. Third, if the imaginations of our students are often captured by the controversial creations of the media, by street mythology and villain heroes, this study will briefly scrutinize present challenges. After more than 15 years of democratic reforms, Romania has started to evaluate the first major effects of changes in public education. We have two different types of changes: planned and implemented changes, structured as theoretical projects in a strange puzzle built with different fabrics, materials and different (if not opposite) levels and ideologies. On the other hand, we have results or changes at the grassroots level, realities widely avoided or unexplored in official reports and studies. Nevertheless, we can find, as a core characteristic for the entire educational system, that it is still far from finding a minimal direction for the purpose of education: is the goal for Romanian schools to equip people for work, to focus resources on broader issues for students' personal development, or at least to state clearly what values are being conveyed in education in a multicultural society? Beyond the rhetoric used by the Romanian officials for international donors, public education here seems to be under pressure at a more fundamental level: do we still value education? Do new generations - educated in our post-communist society - attach importance to education, work and personal development for their lives and futures? Although this is not a local problem - being common to societies under development - these concerns place educational institutions in the situation of competing to infuse the imaginations of students, if reality shows they do not see real-life connected with school.
IMAGINE THE FUTURE: ROLE MODELS AND STUDENTS’
CAPTURED IMAGINATION
Stefan Popenici, Postdoctoral fellow, Simon Fraser University
ABSTRACT
The topic of education and imagination is directly related with role models and heroes
who shape individuals’ value maps. This work first looks at the results of the first
Romanian nationwide survey on role-models and motivation for learning and it will then
analyze how these findings are connected with imagination and education. We will try to
find out if Romanian students still value education, as well as how imagination is
connected with motivation to learn, study and develop skills for the future? Second, it will
present a comparative analysis of major trends in education through the lenses of the
intrinsic relation between education and imagination. Third, if the imaginations of our
students are often captured by the controversial creations of the media, by street
mythology and villain heroes, this study will briefly scrutinize present challenges.
After more than 15 years of democratic reforms, Romania has started to evaluate
the first major effects of changes in public education. We have two different types of
changes: planned and implemented changes, structured as theoretical projects in a strange
puzzle built with different fabrics, materials and different (if not opposite) levels and
ideologies. On the other hand, we have results or changes at the grassroots level, realities
widely avoided or unexplored in official reports and studies. Nevertheless, we can find,
as a core characteristic for the entire educational system, that it is still far from finding a
minimal direction for the purpose of education: is the goal for Romanian schools to equip
people for work, to focus resources on broader issues for students’ personal development,
or at least to state clearly what values are being conveyed in education in a multicultural
society? Beyond the rhetoric used by the Romanian officials for international donors,
public education here seems to be under pressure at a more fundamental level: do we still
value education? Do new generations – educated in our post-communist society - attach
importance to education, work and personal development for their lives and futures?
Although this is not a local problem - being common to societies under development -
these concerns place educational institutions in the situation of competing to infuse the
imaginations of students, if reality shows they do not see real-life connected with school.
We usually imagine the past in idyllic colors and develop utopias about perfect,
past cities or societies. Political leaders are attracted to build their rhetoric on imagined
ancient times, constructed realities about a glorious past, perfect cities and precedent,
virtuous societies. This can be a powerful weapon for politicians, as is any weapon based
on the involvement of imagination. Nevertheless, it is important to look more closely at
how important it is to imagine our future, when we talk about education: in childhood, we
look naturally for role models and we shape our life in relation to heroes or undesirable
characters that embed values and specific features. Bruno Bettelheim pointed out the fact
that a child will never ask himself
, “Do I want to be good?” but “Whom do I want to be
like?” (Bettelheim, 1989). A child will try to imitate and replicate the desired behavior of
a hero according to all the values attached to this complex model. In other words, a
character esteemed by a child is emotionally attached as a behavioral model, and values
represented by this model are adopted by the child as its own axiological scale. Later,
teenagers look for reference points and different kinds of heroes become symbolic
“teachers,” presenting and indicating the limits of revolt, style and clothes, values and
lifestyle. The relationship between individuals and role models is not a simple cause-and-
effect relationship; but various codes, cultural settings, archetypes, contextual conditions
and psychological mechanisms weave the fabric of this formative linkage.
It is particularly important that Bettelheim points out the profound significance of
role models for education and how they shape the future structure of individuals’
personalities. At the social level, the most visible heroes (and villains, as the embodiment
of undesirable behavior and personality) represent, in essence, the moral and behavioral
codes used by the youth as reference marks for their present actions and for the future.
Therefore, youth will study or not, develop themselves spiritually and professionally or
choose street gangs and disruptive behavior in synchronization with the “symbolic
recipe” of the adopted role model(s). Villains are also very important because they also
have the power to seize imagination and more importantly– to clarify values and to
confront us to choose what moral coordinates we will follow: if the “villain” is an
uncultured and uneducated individual, there are more chances to orient the child toward
school and study in order to avoid a predictive and imagined future fall into a
reprehensible category. A sports star lost to drugs and alcohol can be a powerful example
for teenagers to avoid similar mistakes. However, if a “baddie” becomes a “hero”
surrounded by a romantic aura, admired for money and a flamboyant lifestyle, it is hard
to see school and study as desirable goals for those fascinated by this class of idols.
Nevertheless, role models inspire and give individuals energy to achieve a similar level of
success (Lockwood & Kunda, 1997). Their moral and axiological coordinates are
extremely important from the educational point of view. Role models or models of
success are directly related to cultural features which are and will be perpetuated,
assigning behavioral and lifestyle models that may be imitated. Therefore, this code of
symbolic reproduction creates social roles and status configurations; it is a clear and
powerful mechanism of imagining success in life as a formative process.
Imitation is embedded in our human nature and this is no surprise for schools and
public education. In Learners for Life. Student Approaches to Learning: Results from
PISA 2000” (OECD, Dec. 2003), the authors revealed that motivation was the main
factor for students’ success in school. However, it is difficult to see a real interest these
days on what is persuasive enough to stimulate children’s imagination and how this is
related with their motivation for learning. Based on observation and interactions with
students and teachers during various research projects in Romania, I decided to initiate
within the Institute for Educational Sciences a comprehensive study on role models and
values for students in high school in their last year of study. The main reason was that
this generation was completely educated after the fall of the communist regime, and
students at this level begin to move into labor market or to study in colleges. Both
alternatives are connected directly with their motivation to learn further; we considered at
that time that
this was highly relevant to a study of perception in school and its influences
on the future careers of this first cohort of students educated during democratic reforms.
Following these ideas, in 2004, a team of researchers from the Institute for
Educational Sciences – Romania, conducted a questionnaire survey on a nation-wide
representative sample of students in the final year of upper secondary education (ISCED
3) with the aim of identifying students’ attitudes to school, values and role-models related
to education. Interviews and questionnaires were conducted from February to December
2004 and the margin of sampling error for the poll was +/- 2 percentage points. The final
sample was represented by 2007 students, 1834 from urban areas and 173 students from
rural schools. Results are relevant also because, for the first time, a comprehensive poll of
students’ values and their connection to education was conducted in Romania. It is a
study about students who imagine success formulas for their future, and studies their
perceptions of school and learning and the connection of these constructs with an
axiological map of Romanian youths. Based on previous studies focused on random
observation in high schools, other studies and media coverage, our hypotheses were:
Decreasing motivation for learning among students;
Students find role-models outside of the school’s symbolic space, often in
subcultures or anti-social characters;
Controversial characters with notoriety from mass media are the most valued
models for the majority of students;
Values embedded and diffused by these notorious role-models do not support
motivation for learning and do not value education or school success.
This study speaks of influences rather than causes of educational success and aims
to see the connections between imagined success, and the source or the predominant
environment where students find their role-models. It was not our intention to assert that
there is a certain causal relationship or a specific order of cause and effect between role
models and students’ behavior.
The first results of our study reveal that most students have role models and most
of them have at the same time undesirable models or categories used as a reference point
to identify failure or unacceptable conditions (social position or behavior). The table
below shows the numbers and percents of this distribution:
Role models
Total
answers
Total %
Undesirable role models
Total
answers
Total
%
1784
88,9%
Students mention “Whom I do
not want to be like?”
1823
90,8%
129
6,4%
NonR
184
9,2%
NonR
94
4,7%
TOTAL
2007
100%
TOTAL
2007
100%
Data reveals that students look for role models and their choices and - ultimately –
school performance is strongly influenced by those models. In their contemporary
mythology, students operate using the same binary oppositions because “the human brain
is innately <<hardwired>> to build understanding on the binary discriminations” (Egan,
1997, p. 39). Dividing reference points into good and bad, ideal and outrageous and role
models into “goodies” and “baddies,” students revealed their real interests and moral
coordinates for their future. Here it is possible to see an accurate picture for a generation
and we have a glimpse of the imagery’s structure for a generation. “Whom do I want to
be like?” and “Whom I do not want to be like and why?” along with interviews and the
multiple questions in the survey revealed a stunning result of a parallel existence to the
school (as an institution), the teachers and the students. Percents show that an
overwhelming majority clearly and rapidly named their role models and their opposites:
Students with role models -
88.9%
Students with no role
models - 6.4%
Non R - 4.7%
Students with undesirable
role models 90.8 %
Non R - 9.2 %
S1
0.00%
20.00%
40.00%
60.00%
80.00%
100.00%
Series1
This study was not focused on specific characters mentioned by respondents as
role models or their opposites, but on specific categories. Characters like Britney Spears
were included in the “TV stars” category and students’ mother, uncle etc. were joined
under the “family members” umbrella. Using these categories we can see the comparative
distribution of students’ preferences in choosing role-models and their opposites.
Role models vs. undesirable role models
Optiuni as upra ale ge rii mode lului
-80 0 -60 0 -40 0 -20 0 0 2 0 0 4 0 0 60 0 8 0 0
non-model model
Vedete arta,
TV
Membrii ai
familiei
Sportivi
Oameni de
afaceri
Profes ori
Politicien i
Prieten i, coleg i
Oameni de
cultu ra
TV stars
Family members
Athletes
Businessman
Teachers
Politicians
Colleagues/Friends
Academics
Options on role models and opposites
This distribution is highly relevant for many reasons. First, it is possible to see
that TV stars capture students’ imagination both as role models and opposites. This
category is far ahead of the next group, that of “family members.” The basic explanation
for this: many students named as role models a character like Britney Spears and
answered the question regarding the unacceptable role-model as “I do not want to be like
Eminem” (or another music idol). For the majority of students, role models and their
opposites entirely belonged to the “TV stars” category. “Family members” stood as the
second option, a big percent separating these two leading groups: if “TV stars” provided
36.5 percents of role models for youths (and opposites to role models: 34.9%), “Family
members” accumulated less than half with 16.6 percent. Close to second place, we find
“Athletes” with 13.3% and “Businessman” accumulated 11.2 percent. At the end of the
list of students’ preferences we find “Teachers,” with only 7.5%. The last place is held by
“Academics” with 1.2 percent as role models and 2 percent as opposites to role models.
Teachers and Academics are “invisible” for an entire generation: they are not loved and
not hated; simply, in students’ symbolic space, academics do not exist and they do not
have any chance to drive youths’ imagination for a future career or any kind of adventure.
Unfortunately, with 1.2 percent, “Academics” were below the margin of the poll’s
sampling error. Here, it is obvious that youths’ imaginations were captured by TV: TV
stars were the most popular role models and – at the same time – opposites. It is a sign of
visibility and attached-significance in a symbolic space dominated by this group:
students’ imagery is dominated by televisions’ productions.
A specific set of questions were focused, in our study on the reasons why a
specific role model was chosen. The general values identified by students were:
Professional success: 30.4%
Notoriety : 24.7%
Money/wealth: 20.3%
Intelligence: 16.8%
Good looking character: 10.4%
The reasons to choose a character a role model which had the lowest scores were:
Credibility, sincerity: 2.9%
Education: 2.6%
Goodness, altruism: 2.5%
Religiosity: 1%
TV Stars represented the most important source for students’ role models and
their reasons to choose TV Stars as “models to follow in life” are indicated in the next
answers’ distribution rank:
1. Notoriety: 37.6%
2. Professional success: 28.2%
3. “Good looking”: 22.1%
4. Intelligence: 22.1%
… and the reasons with the lowest scores were:
education
religiosity / goodness / altruism
credibility / sincerity
Students’ perceptions were that education had little to no importance as a cause
for success in life, in comparison with other factors such as notoriety or prettiness. These
findings have been a grim surprise for the research team and outrageous results for the
Ministry of Education’s officials. Before a comparative and comprehensive analysis,
these data show that, at a nationwide scale, dominant role models are not a part of the
school’s symbolic space, but TV stars and other mass media characters are. Very few
students find role models in school life or symbolic areas connected with education,
learning and academic culture. Moreover, most popular media role-models were found in
commercial entertainment. These disturbing findings expose schools’ incapacity to
stimulate students’ imagination and failure to offer and promote role models (or models
of success) able to endorse personal development and society’s development.
Undoubtedly, this is a disruptive situation where it is evident that youths do not believe in
education, and intelligence is marked by a blurring confusion between an educated mind
or being aggressive and tricky. An entire generation shows the symptoms of moral
disorder. This generation openly chooses to follow in life “notoriety” and does not
believe in altruism, sincerity and integrity, and public education is completely oblivious
of this fact and no signs are apparent that anyone cares about it.
Public education’s influence on students to choose a role model or a specific set
of values is extremely low. Teachers and school counselors are the lowest in students’
perceptions as influential factors or points of reference in life.
Factors of influence
(“social ” andinformational ”)
in role models’ selection
0 0,5 1 1,5 2 2,5
Int ernet
Presa scrisa
T eleviziune
OSP
Profesori
Colegi
Prieteni
Familie
I
nfluen_a factorilor sociali _i ai mediului de informare asupra alegerii modelului
Variables of persuasion
(“social ” and informational ”)
for role models selection
0 0,5 1 1,5 2 2,5
Int ernet
Presa scrisa
T eleviziune
OSP
Profesori
Colegi
Prieteni
Familie
I
nfluen_a factorilor sociali _i ai mediului de informare asupra alegerii modelului
Influence of social factors and mass media on options for a role model
Family
Friends
Colleagues
Teachers
Schools
counseling
TV
Magazines,
journals
Internet
opting
As our study
reveals, television is undoubtedly the main source for youths’ role
models. Mass media confirms its informal teaching role, inculcating values, preferences,
behaviors and “role models” as recipes for success. At least in Romania, it is obvious that
the moral responsibility for this important role is missing completely from television’s
existence, and the tremendous symbolic force over youths is used with no ethical (or at
least decent) reference. Nevertheless, it is very important to see that here is a clear sign
for a major transmutation: the educational role is taken from the school and often from
the family by the media. Family stands only in third position after television and
magazines in students’ ranking of role models in life. Previous Gallup International
studies in Romania show that youths prefer to spend their free time in front of the TV
(Gallup, 2004). Almost 90% of Romanian children watch television at least 4 to 5 days
per week, and 79% spend time daily in front of the television. The average child living in
Romania watches television for 151 minutes a day over the week and 214 minutes over
the weekend. The average time is almost equal to the average time spent in school by a
child. Daily exposure to television is directly associated with no interest in reading, and
only 3 percent of the children mentioned reading (books, magazines and others) as their
favorite way to spend a good time. Television is teaching values and is able to capture the
imagination of those too young and unaided to be able to understand right from wrong.
New heroes imposed by the media rapidly change into role models for students.
Consistent results in our study reveal the fact that students’ motivation for
learning in school is predominantly external, and public education is not able to create
intrinsic motivation for learning. Moreover, students’ imaginations are not attracted in
any way by public education discourse or by school life. Youths need to follow this
human desire for references in life and they look at other available (and more attractive
spaces) for role models. Here, it is possible to see that 36.3 percent feel a general
indifference about schools concerning the role models adopted by the students. This
majority was never asked by teachers about their interests or their projects for the future.
School is perceived as being uninterested in students’ real needs, interests and
aspirations.
In this representative cohort, 33.2 % of students considered education as
responsible for their role model’s success in life, and 24.8% considered that school was
not connected with success in life. Nevertheless, 40.5% students were not able to evaluate
any connection between education and their model in life. Again, education and learning
was not perceived as a condition for personal development and a large percent of students
revealed confusion or lack of interest in this issue (or both).
Unfavorable feelings among students about school are significant. Critical views
toward school rise to 26.4% among students in the specified cohort. Data reflects that a
significant number of students see a gap between their interests and needs and school
curriculum and practice. Among those who indicate critical views towards school, 36.9%,
indicate that school is not student centered and is uninterested in students’ interests and
needs. Moreover, 21.6% consider that school is not fair and does not give chances for a
better future and 5.5% consider school as boring and useless. Through extensive
interviews and questionnaires we documented the fact that an important percent of
investigated students feel that they do not belong at school. This is not only important for
academic performances, but it is connected with the way they see their future
. We can
admit that this will affect various other aspects of students’ lives.
Unfavorable students' opinion about school
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
1
School is: not interested by
student's interests and
specific needs
...not connected with real-
life/do not teach useful or
relevant knowledge
...not fair and is not
important for your future
...not connected with
students
...boring and useless
Stakeholders should know and value how education systems prepare students for
life. In fact - not only in Romania - parents, students and other stakeholders notice in
different parts of the world that school looses connection with students, and curriculum is
far from students’ lives and real interests. A recent study released by the World Bank
reveals that:
Abstract, fact-centered, and decontextualized narrative knowledge prevails in the
secondary curriculum and continues to be used for selective purposes in a setting of
scarce educational and job opportunities, causing high dropout and high failure
rates among secondary school students. (World Bank, 2005, p. 78)
Romania stands as a very good example of major risks for educational systems
and individuals if “educational imagery” is captured by irresponsible institutions.
Romanian education used to have a prestige well deserved for many years – as all the
Central European countries – being culturally connected with Vienna, Paris and Berlin
for centuries. These European capitals were cultural and educational centers for political
and cultural leaders. Comparing our findings in Romania with similar results in
comparative education studies around the world, it was possible to document the fact that
this is a common reality for present schools. For instance, The Organization for
Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) showed in a survey conducted in
2003 in 41 countries that educational systems maintain a significant percent of students
who agree with the statement that school has done little to prepare them for adult life
when they leave school. They also agree or strongly agree that school has been a waste of
time:
Nevertheless, a significant minority of students, 8 per cent on average across
OECD countries, consider school a waste of time and an average of 32 per cent
consider that school has done little to prepare them for life. In Germany, Hungary,
Luxembourg, Mexico, Turkey and, among the partner countries, in Hong Kong-
China, Liechtenstein, Macao-China and Uruguay, those agreeing or strongly
agreeing that school has done little to prepare them for life exceeds 40 per cent.
(OECD, 2004, p. 125)
In other words, a surprising number of students today follow a different imagery
than school’s axiological and developmental codes, rejecting public education’s role as a
positive factor in life. Students who think that school is a waste of time cannot develop a
sense of belonging in school, and they do not consider that academic success will have an
effective bearing on their future. These feelings and attitudes may result in their
becoming turned away from and towards school (Finn, 1989; Jenkins, 1995). Their
imaginations are often captured by characters that represent the symbolic personification
of their desired moral, behavioral and developmental features and these characters are
often opposed to school or even the common idea of civilization. Youths, even in remote
cultural areas of the world, are subject to a strong media influence, which is morally
irresponsible and is not concerned about lifelong learning, life skills or moral values.
September 11
th
was caused by a group able to capture imagination in a specific culture
and religion with a twisted imagery about 72 virgins and martyrdom. In this case, school
was often hardly punished for its long-lasting moral indifference and was changed under
pressure from dominant extreme views.
Worldwide, education must face the challenge of building metacognitive capital
oriented to culture, civilization and humanistic ideals of education, a capital able to lure
even an already captured imagination. Education stands now, at the beginning of a new
century, in front of major challenges: one is to face unfortunate trends of increasing
numbers of children excluded from education in some developing countries like the
Philippines (with a well known population boom). In Jamaica, the share of out-of-school
children has been rising for the last ten years. In general, it is clear that, often, local
governments’ or World Bank’s ideas of educational reforms and structural development
are not very functional in reality. Here is a story about institutions with little desire to
imagine the worst and to think out of the box or even face the reality of corruption and
bad management in education. This is, in fact, just another chapter of “captured
imagination,” but at a different level. Other countries face the same threats even though
they do not belong to the so-called “third world” category. At the same time, education
faces now the challenge to… educate. Public education is called to rebuild its narrative
with a focus on knowledge and values able to give equal chances to all youths in a
globalized world and to motivate them to learn on their own under the motto of “lifelong
learning.” If youths are left by the arid school’s curriculum and unmotivated (or
untrained) teachers with no heroes, no role-models and points of references in life, then
they just look, in a natural impulse, for a new source for all these. Here comes television
and, clearly, mass media is the most aggressive institution, with the self proclaimed goal
of capturing the imaginations of its consumers. The problem is that this institution is not
only morally irresponsible but definitely a bad educator. Moreover, television usually
does not motivate students for lifelong learning or personal development, and motivation
can be regarded as the driving force of education and learning throughout life.
Imagination must be fed from time to time with good quality products, cultural
productions, moral examples and creative ideas. Only in this way is it possible to offer
children and youths the chance to choose between right and wrong: they must be enabled
to imagine different alternatives and to choose as educated and responsible human
beings. The chance to choose when you ask yourself, “Whom do I want to be like?” and
the seeds of passion and motivation for learning are the most important parts of an
education. It really doesn’t matter if youths’ imaginations are nourished sometimes with
low quality products or sub-cultural materials. There is no real risk if they have the
capacity to discriminate and select what is relevant for their own direction in life and
these products are not so abundant as to affect motivation for learning.
If we sacrifice youths’ imaginations on the altar of rationality through a
profoundly inadequate curriculum, we leave them exposed to worthless dreams (such as
television stars) or destructive imagery. Lack of imagination can’t be pointed out as the
possible explanation for the Columbine High School massacre, but rather the captured
imagination of two teenage students lured by blured characters depicted within so-called
“popular culture, presented by mass media. And this is a serious warning for an entire
generation left with no references in an imaginary vast space. School is an institution
called upon to help all students develop themselves by imagining better futures.
REFERENCES
Bruno Bettelheim (1989). The Uses of Enchantment. New York: Knopf.
Egan, Kieran (1997). The Educated Mind: How Cognitive Tools Shape Our
Understanding. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Finn, J. (1989). Withdrawing from school. Review of Educational Research, Vol. 59, No.
2, American Educational Research Association, Washington, D.C., pp. 117-142.
Jenkins, P. H. (1995). School delinquency and school commitment. Sociology of
Education, Vol. 68, American Sociological Association, Washington, D.C., pp.
221-239.
Lockwood, P., & Kunda, Z. (1997). Superstars and me: Predicting the impact of role
models on the self. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73(1), 91–103.
* OECD (2004)(b). Learning for Tomorrow's World: First results from PISA 2003. Paris:
OECD.
* OECD, (2004)(a). Problem Solving for Tomorrow’s World. First Measures of Cross-
Curricular Competencies from PISA 2003. Paris:OECD.
* The Gallup International (2004). Expunerea copiilor la programe radio si TV (Children
exposure to television and radio programs). Romania: The Gallup Organization.
* The World Bank (2005). Expanding Opportunities and Building Competencies for
Young People A New Agenda for Secondary Education. Washington DC: The
World Bank.
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The Educated Mind offers a bold and revitalizing new vision for today's uncertain educational system. Kieran Egan reconceives education, taking into account how we learn. He proposes the use of particular "intellectual tools"—such as language or literacy—that shape how we make sense of the world. These mediating tools generate successive kinds of understanding: somatic, mythic, romantic, philosophical, and ironic. Egan's account concludes with practical proposals for how teaching and curriculum can be changed to reflect the way children learn. "A carefully argued and readable book. . . . Egan proposes a radical change of approach for the whole process of education. . . . There is much in this book to interest and excite those who discuss, research or deliver education."—Ann Fullick, New Scientist "A compelling vision for today's uncertain educational system."—Library Journal "Almost anyone involved at any level or in any part of the education system will find this a fascinating book to read."—Dr. Richard Fox, British Journal of Educational Psychology "A fascinating and provocative study of cultural and linguistic history, and of how various kinds of understanding that can be distinguished in that history are recapitulated in the developing minds of children."—Jonty Driver, New York Times Book Review
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Research on dropping out of school has focused on characteristics of the individual or institution that correlate with the dropout decision. Many of these characteristics are nonmanipulable, and all are measured at one point in time, late in the youngster’s school career. This paper describes two models for understanding dropping out as a developmental process that may begin in the earliest grades. The frustration-self-esteem model has been used for years in the study of juvenile delinquency; it identifies school failure as the starting point in a cycle that may culminate in the student’s rejecting, or being rejected by, the school. The participation-identification model focuses on students’ “involvement in schooling,” with both behavioral and emotional components. According to this formulation, the likelihood that a youngster will successfully complete 12 years of schooling is maximized if he or she maintains multiple, expanding forms of participation in school-relevant activities. The failure of a youngster to participate in school and class activities, or to develop a sense of identification with school, may have significant deleterious consequences. The ability to manipulate modes of participation poses promising avenues for further research as well as for intervention efforts.
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The authors propose that superstars are most likely to affect self-views when they are considered relevant. Relevant superstars provoke self-enhancement and inspiration when their success seems attainable but self-deflation when it seems unattainable. Participants' self-views were affected only when the star's domain of excellence was self-relevant. Relevant stars provoked self-enhancement and inspiration when their success seemed attainable in that participants either still had enough time to achieve comparable success or believed their own abilities could improve over time. Open-ended responses provided rich evidence of inspiration in these circumstances. Relevant stars provoked, if anything, self-deflation when their success seemed unattainable in that participants either had already missed the chance to achieve comparable success or viewed their abilities as fixed and so unlikely to improve. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)