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Type: Thesis
Title: An Australian co-educational boarding school as a crucible for life: a humanistic sociological study of students' attitudes from their own memoirs.
Author: White, Mathew A
Issue Date: 2004
School/Discipline: School of Education
Abstract: The aims of this study were to define an Australian boarding school, provide a summary of international and Australian boarding school literature, and complete a small-scale qualitative investigation of students' views in a co-educational boarding school. At first glance, it appeared that contemporary Australian boarding schools were a reproduction of the influential public boys' schools of Great Britain. Although there have been a number of histories of Australian independent schools, the boarding element has often been portrayed as Dickensian and remains an overlooked area of educational research. In particular, the literature available about Australian residential schooling over the past 20 years has been limited to a handful of significant studies by Cree and Trimingham Jack. In this study 45 Australian and overseas students were asked to write memoirs of 4-5,000 words about their boarding experience emphasising their thoughts, feelings and aspirations. The limitation was that all respondents were full-time boarders for at least one year when the questionnaire-survey was completed. The memoir-based humanistic approach of the Polish- American sociologist Florian Znaniecki, as developed for the analysis of personal and group social systems in the culturally diverse context of Australia by J. J. Smolicz, was employed to interpret the memoir data. The memoir method has been well documented in Australia, as a means of collecting and analysing concrete and cultural facts, mainly in relation to the study of minority ethnic groups and their cultural actions. The humanistic approach emphasized that the researcher must accept cultural phenomena from the viewpoint of its participants and not from that of an outside observer. In the present study, this approach permitted the researcher to understand the experiences and attitudes of individual students towards an Australian co-educational boarding education through their own eyes. The memoirs analysed were generated from 26 concrete questions, which revealed place-of-birth, ethnic identity, and languages spoken at home. This provided the researcher with verifiable information about the everyday lives of the respondents. The second half of the memoirs required response to 23 questions - these yielded cultural data. These questions required students to reflect on their situation, attitudes and experiences of boarding as a system of education. This information could only have been provided by the participants themselves and gave the researcher direct access to the memoir writers' individual and group consciousness. The study discovered that a number of the students were in the process of re-evaluating and re-interpreting the advantages and disadvantages of boarding school as a social system transmitted to them by parents, friends, family, and teachers. The respondent's personal statements revealed that the relationships among students and among students and staff in the boarding House tended to be primary in nature, in that they were personal, informal, and involved the entire human personality. From these data, it appeared that the success of a boarding school was determined by the personal atmosphere, support, and comfort of the boarding House. Consideration of the empirical data found that 43 of the 45 respondents' memoirs believed that their overall experiences at the research boarding school were positive. Negative observations stressed the pressures of homesickness, tedium of school life and a lack of freedom thereby supporting Goffman's view of a "total institution". The majority of students' memoirs were ambivalent towards religion at the research school. Nevertheless, 11 stressed its significant implication in their day-to-day lives. The memoirs suggested that an education at the research boarding school was a crucible that forged students through a variety of experiences, positive and negative, individual and collective, for life. Overall, the memoirs support the observation that boarding school acts as a social system for the acceptance of new cultural values, such as the cultural diversity respondents' experienced in their lives at boarding school. The study revealed an attitudinal shift in the group that welcomed the cultural pluralism of the school and recognised the cultural monism of the home. These memoirs revealed that boarding school was a significant factor in fostering independence and embracing cultural diversity as experienced in the crucible of the boarding school. These findings challenged the popular maxim that an Australian residential education was an anachronistic, inflexible, colonial-British model and suggested that it has the potential to act as a system of education that prepares its students for the challenges of life.
Advisor: Smolicz, J. J.
Dissertation Note: Thesis (Ph.D.)--School of Education, 2004.
Keywords: boarding schools, boarding school students, private schools, coeducation, sociology, educational sociology
Appears in Collections:Research Theses

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