Toward an understanding of how individuals overcome challenges to development: A phenomenological study of an inner -city student's attitude toward academic orientation and life

Mickey Weiner, Florida International University


The purpose of this qualitative case study was to gain an understanding of the phenomenon of academic orientation by seeking the insights into an inner-city Haitian-American middle school student's attitudes and world view toward education and life. A phenomenological approach was used in order to explore the way in which Cindy, a minority student, gives meaning to her lived-experiences in terms of her desire to meet academic expectations and her ability to overcome social adversity and/or other risk factors.^ The study attempted to answer the following two research questions: (1) What provides the focus for Cindy's (the subject's) approach to her school work and/or life? (2) What are the processes that give meaning and direction to academic orientation and life for Cindy? In-depth interviewing was the primary method of data collection. In addition, journal and sketchbook entries and school district records were used and classroom observations made.^ The nature of the study to understand lived-experience facilitated the use of the case study method and a phenomenological method of description. Data analysis was conducted by means of an adapted form of the constant comparative approach. Patterns in the data which emerged were coded and categorized according to underlying generative themes. Phenomenological reflection and analysis were used to grasp the experiential structures of Cindy's experience. The following textural themes were identified and confirmed to be essential themes to Cindy's experience: personal challenge to do her best, personal challenge to want to learn, having a sense of determination, being able to think for self, having a disposition to like self, achieving self-respect through performance, seeing a need to help others, being intrinsically motivated, being an independent learner, attending more to academic pressure and less to peer pressure, having motivational catalysts in her life, learning and support opportunities, and having a self-culture. Using Mahrer's humanistic theory of experiencing, Cindy's development was interpreted in terms of her progression through a sequence of developmental plateaus: externalized self, internalized self, and integrating and actualizing self.^ The findings of this study were that Cindy's desire to meet academic expectations is guided by a meaning construction internal frame of reference. High expectations of self in conjunction with other protective factors found in Cindy's home and school environments were also found to be linked to her educational resilience and success. Cindy's lived-experiences were also found to be related to Mahrer's theory of human development. In addition, it was concluded that "minority" students do not all fit into social categories and labels. ^

Subject Area

Education, Sociology of|Education, Curriculum and Instruction

Recommended Citation

Weiner, Mickey, "Toward an understanding of how individuals overcome challenges to development: A phenomenological study of an inner -city student's attitude toward academic orientation and life" (1997). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI9805210.