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Implications for the Field of Education
One of the main purposes of this study was to inform practice
in a readable fashion. This study highlighted what happens when
attention is paid to how teachers teach as well as what they teach.
It underlined the need for the learning community to provide students
with opportunities for experiential learning, such as student
government, travel-based learning, international study, structured
service experiences, and leadership-based work experiences.
Although I understood that education was foundational to success, I had no concept of the power of small-school private education, nor the efficacy of role-modelsmany of whom did not resemble, at least physically, the students involved. Nor had I considered what Peshkin (1978) articulates so clearly when he suggested that schools designed to suit a particular clientele contribute a sense of personal identity to their youth. This study illuminated a powerful element of connectedness in the learning community that addressed a felt need.
The findings of this study imply a need for a climate of affirmation and positive reinforcementone in which young people can create connections with the staff to develop their own worldviews by observing them in their own context. The end in mind is, undoubtedly, an affirming school environment in which both students and staff feel free to ask hard questions, come to know each other, and connect. It affirms a school environment in which the expectations of the students, the parents, and the teachers intersect.
It also suggests a difficult posture but one not impossible in a small school. It suggests a need for the educational community to provide for a wider range of freedoms, while still creating protective but not suffocating banks. It affirms schools with tight involvement with their community, particularly the parents of the students enrolled.
The stories of these young women indicate the potency of an education which focuses on preparing them to continue the process of perfectability (Gardner, 1997). Theirs was an education which was not exclusively aimed at preparing them for the work- force. It had provided them with opportunities to achieve their own frame for success. It had also exposed them to models of successvicarious or naturalistically observable, and had given them, through constant affirmation, the map and the backbone to navigate their personal territory in their own way.
Value to the Field of Narrative Inquiry
In the rapidly developing field of research methodology, and
narrative inquiry in particular, this study has helped me refine
several aspects of the methodology. First it underlined for me
the efficacy of language as a communicator of culturea reservoir
for the richness and complexities inherent in stories. In short,
it confirmed my faith in language and story.
Second, the concept of seed story, which emerged as I listened for story, brought the processes of description, analysis, and interpretation to a head. Seed stories, it appears to me, are most salient in lifestory accounts and assist the interviewer in honing her listening skillswe have to listen for the flowering of the seed storywhile sharpening her critical skills.
It also emphasized the value and efficiency of E-mail as the postscript of the collaborative interview. Finally, Corrine Glesne (1997) introduced me to a way of interpretation which seems to be a perfect conduit for representing powerful story. The economy of words melded with the wealth of space in a free-verse poetic transcription is marvelously suited to distilling the essence of story through this type of member check. The lines, limited in number but not substance, often veil the face of the rhetor yet capture her essence. If the lines fail the storyline and function more as camouflage than illuminator, participants find it easy to locate the error, and explain what is amiss. When the adjustment is made, lines of empathic understanding are advanced (Eisner, 1997b).
Value to the Participants
At the end of each interview, I asked one final question: "What
did the interview process do for you?" Their responses were
slow and deliberate. Jade's words epitomize them: "It put
breath into my thoughts." The interview process was a form
of dialogue in which weeach participant and Itried
to come to grips with her truth in the context of mutual care
and understanding. I construed Jade's words to mean that her experience
had little value until it was connected to story. By telling a
story about their lives, the women understood more clearly that
their life had structure since stories make explicit the meaning
that is implicit in lived experience (Widdershoven, 1995).
Eboni, who loves to talk but often had no audience, indicated that it felt good to have someone listen. She noted, as well, that the exercise of creating the diamondthe metaphor of her lifehad been a mind-expanding function. "I hadn't thought about it like that before. I really like it." She had, as she recounts it, listened to the stories of her childhood powerlessness and then heard herself relate tales of her newly developed competence and active agency. Her resilience stories were therapeutic for herself and her audience. They affirmed for her that she has regulated her life. She can now look more clearly on the things she had accomplished and the relationships she has built. Jade's accounts tracked her development into the maturity and strength that is now dominant in her stories, and brought her philosophy of service to the fore.
As I listened to the women's story, a curious series of processes evolved in my consciousness. The dots now connect. I experienced the phenomenon that multicultural theorists describe as spontaneous identity (Axelson, 1993). I began to celebrate, perhaps flaunt, my hyphenated identityCaribbean Canadian. I understood my life more clearly because of the vividness with which the women had illuminated theirs. Atkinson's (1998,
p. 76) concluding statement made sense: "The more we share our own stories, the closer we become."
Nor did it seem that the years which evolved as this study dragged on were in vain. I needed to find a medium for my puzzlement.' Narrative inquiry was not yet in vogue when I first started this quest for meaning. I needed, as Silver described it, to be "hungry for this experience" to make it even more valuable to me.
Next, I understood the salience of informal role-modeling. I had been on the receiving end of this process for at least half of my life. It is now my turn to model, and I am delighted to comply.
As I mouthed the words of the poetic polylogue which introduced chapter 7, I finally realized how closely that quest mirrored my own search for a medium to call my own. Eisner described that phenomenon: "We have a platform for seeing what might be called our actual worlds' more clearly. Furthermore, when narrative is well crafted, empathic forms of understanding are advanced" (Eisner, 1997a, p. 264).
Enchanted, I re-read the poetic postscript which concluded each portrait presentation. Bells went off. Emerging from the shadowy foreground of my conscious memory were phrases which were not my own. The copyright on the journey metaphor had never been mine. Traditionally, or so I thought, it had belonged to developmental psychologists. They hold no exclusive rights, however. A cursory survey of the literature on qualitative methodology, but more specifically narrative inquiry, confirmed my emerging discovery. The journey metaphor is ubiquitous. It is embedded in the writings of the experts.
Culling sentences and phrases from the works of qualitative writers such as Eisner, Richardson, Etter-Lewis, and Lawrence-Lightfoot, I created a pastiche with words, using the same methodology I had used to design the graphic of the quest. My dots connected yet again!
The paragraph below is composed from the actual words of the authors cited.
We are, in a sense, looking for new stars. We are also looking for new seas. We are exploring the edges (Eisner, 1997b, p. 9). Once embarked upon, reflexive thinking 'becomes a continuing mode of self-analysis' (Knapp, 1997, p. 340). The new frontier in qualitative methodology refers to research methods [that] might broaden and complement traditional ways of thinking about and doing educational research (Eisner, 1997a, p. 209). We are exploring the potential of other forms of representation for illuminating the educational worlds we wish to understand (Eisner, 1997b, p. 4). All texts stand on moving ground (Reissman, 1993, p. 15). The exploration of alternative forms of data representation is simply a symptom of a fertile imagination seeking to discover its limits (Eisner, 1997b, p. 5). Cutting new ground is never easy (Eisner, 1997a, p. 272). I enter the field through a path cleared by others (Reissman, 1993, p. 16). The act of writing moves our thinking to a deeper level and connects field notes to conceptual ideas (Lawrence-Lightfoot & Davis, 1997, p. 189). Novelty for its own sake leaves us rudderless (Eisner, 1997a, p. 268). [But] it is not necessary to push a canoe into the sunset at the end of every paper (Wolcott, 1995, p. 56).
But the data are irresistible and the sunsets are exciting!
They make the
connection from our past to the future clearer than it ever was.
Where Do We Go From Here?
As Corinne Glesne (1997, p. 218) noted, qualitative research rarely leads to a conclusion. "Conclusions suggest an ending, a linear progression that can be resolved in some neat way. I see no conclusion here."
This study begs us to continue with at least two new searches for meaning. The first is the quest for the stories of the other six women from the original nine to uncover whether their stories will add robustness to the information at hand since they are now "hungry to talk." The second search is for answers to gendered-theme questions. How will the stories of young adult men from a similar contextsame school, same periodfit alongside the schema of stories chronicled in this study?
The quest continues.