Academic journal article Journal of Thought

Between the Actual and the Desirable: A Methodology for the Examination of Students' Lifeworld as It Relates to Their School Environment

Academic journal article Journal of Thought

Between the Actual and the Desirable: A Methodology for the Examination of Students' Lifeworld as It Relates to Their School Environment

Article excerpt


In this article we describe and demonstrate a phenomenological method for researching students' school experiences. Within this method, students are asked to imagine and design an ideal school and to illustrate it both visually and verbally. Their proposals are examined in relation to their current actual school context regarding the characteristics of the physical environment and educational vision. The method is applicable for the use of high school students. It offers them an opportunity to express their feelings and wishes in this regard. Through the designs of their ideal school we receive a subjective portrayal of the way they conceptualize "school."

Projects in which students are asked to design a school are mentioned in the literature in the context of accomplishing two main goals: First, to produce an architectural design of the environment tailored to the students' needs; second, to offer a challenging task that ignites the students' creative imaginations and increases their involvement in school life (Burke & Grosvenor, 2003; Burke, 2007; Flutter, 2006; Koralek & Mitchell, 2005; Sorrell & Sorrell, 2005). Our method proposed in this article serves to accomplish both these goals. Its uniqueness is expressed in two aspects: First, it is based on a solid rationale that is grounded in the phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty; second, it outlines a process of analysis that enables a comparison between the students' school experiences, which leads to general insights into the nature of learning environments.

To illustrate our method, we will demonstrate an analysis of the ideal school proposed by two Israeli students: Eli, 17 years old, who attended a democratic school, and Tom, 18, who attended a regular public school. Eli and Tom prepared their proposals as part of a comprehensive study that took place in Israel in 2008 (Zur, 2008). Twenty high school students--ten from a democratic and ten from a public high school--participated in it. Since we cannot present here the entire corpus of our findings, we decided to focus on two proposals based on the fact that these two students expressed a common idea--to design a school for the arts. Paradoxically, their common purpose served as grounds for exploring the difference in their school experience and its linkage to their respective educational environments.

The article has three main aims:

1. To present the method that we have developed and the rationale on which it is based.

2. To characterize basic components of students' school experience.

3. To present ways in which students' school experience is interwoven with the characteristics of their school environment, and discuss implications for school choice.

The article is composed of five sections: In the first section, we present the philosophical infrastructure of our research method; in the second, we describe the tools and processes on which the method is based; in the third section, we illustrate the democratic and public school contexts; in the fourth, we present an analysis of two students' proposals for an ideal school--one from a democratic school and one from a regular public school. In the last section, we discuss the results and the theoretical and practical implications of our findings.

The Philosophical Underpinnings of the Research

This study is anchored in the phenomenological paradigm which incorporates the description, analysis, and interpretation of the structure of consciousness as it is experienced from a first-person perspective (Kvale & Brinkmann, 2009). A key concept in phenomenology is the lifeworld, which is considered as the fundamental layer of consciousness--the everyday, covert, primordial, self-evident, and pre-reflective stratum, from which people's overt and explicit thinking originates (Husserl, 1970).

The lifeworld expresses the idea that people are immersed in the world. …

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