Calling all now adult Summerhillians to please participate in this study!
The study of meaning in life as a psychological construct started with the works of Frankl (1963), and since then, empirical studies have established its importance. Meaning in life increases positive affect (Debats, Lubbe and Wezeman, 1993; Hicks and King, 2009; Trent, Lavelock and King, 2013), and a sense of control over one’s life (Ryff, 1989); decreases negative affect (Chamberlain & Zika, 1988).
These studies have focused mostly on adults and their current experiences.
More recently, empirical investigation into meaning in work has found connections between meaningful work and improved work engagement and satisfaction (Bonebright et al., 2000; May, Gilson, & Harter, 2004; Sparks & Schenk, 2001), wellbeing (Arnold, Turner, Barling, Kelloway, &
McKee, 2007), motivation (Hackman & Oldham, 1980), psychological adjustment and work unit cohesion (Sparks & Schenk, 2001; Steger et al., 2012).
The third well-known construct studied here is self-efficacy which is related to improved academic outcome, coping skills, personal adjustment, physical health, and commitment to continue schooling (Chemers, Hu, & Garcia, 2001), reading levels (Margolis & McCabe, 2006), Grade Point
Average (Zajacova, Lynch and Espenshade, 2005), job-performance, job-satisfaction (Stajkovic and Luthans, 1998; Judge and Bono, 2001), training proficiency (Martocchio & Judge, 1997), and job attitudes (Saks, 1995).
Last, the previous literature on meaning in school has dealt with the construct through the lens of the curriculum or from a more philosophical lens that neither takes students’ views into account nor approach meaningful schooling holistically.
Aims and Objectives
The proposed research aims to extend the existing knowledge about meaning in life by exploring the connections between retrospective meaning in school, current meaning in life, meaning at work and general self-efficacy. How these associations are different in democratic schools (that function as a
a democracy where all students and adults make decisions by voting, and wherein student learning is self-determined) and mainstream schools (that have a hierarchical structure wherein decisions about the school largely and individual students particularly are mainly made by the adults) will be further
Contrasting the two schooling systems by gathering data from those who attended democratic and mainstream schools may result in recommendations for increasing meaning in all schooling systems.
What insights can be drawn from democratic and mainstream schools about how schools can increase meaning in school and work life, general meaning in life, and general self-efficacy?
1. How meaningful was the schooling experience of former students of democratic and mainstream schools?
2. What effect does meaningfulness in school have on general meaning in adult life, meaning at work and general self-efficacy?
3. How do meaning in school, general meaning in adult life, meaning at work, and general self-efficacy differ among past pupils of democratic and mainstream schools?
This thesis will be divided into three parts—Study 1a and 1b, and Study 2—all of which be conducted online with participants around the world.
Study 1 will validate the Meaning in School Scale (MSS) that has been developed for this study by recruiting two groups of participants—
1a) Experts with expertise in the field of education or psychology and scale-development who will respond to an online questionnaire to determine the content validity.
1b) Non-experts who have spent at least three years in either a mainstream, private school or democratic, private school, have completed compulsory schooling before participating in the interview and are above the age of 18. They will participate in a 50-minute interview while simultaneously filling in the questionnaire to determine its face validity.
Study 2 will investigate the experience of approximately 400 people who attended mainstream and democratic schools by collecting data online with the help of a four-part, 109-item questionnaire. These participants will spend at least three years in either the identified mainstream, private school or the identified democratic, private school, must have completed compulsory schooling before completing the questionnaire, be above the age of 18 and either be currently employed (full-time or part-time) or have worked for at least one year if they are currently not employed. Trials of the completion time for the four questionnaires suggests that it is expected to
take 15 to 20 minutes to complete.
IBM Statistical Package for the Social Sciences will be used to analyse the data. Regression models will be used to test the Structural Equation Model.
This research is significant in the following ways:
1. It will define meaning in school and develop and validate an instrument to measure it. This will eventually also allow schools and the research community to identify, measure and develop ways to increase meaning in school.
2. It will explore how schools affect adult life in general, and meaning in life, meaning at work and self-efficacy in particular by employing a retrospective design.
3. It will expand the current research into self-efficacy by investigating its connections with different schooling systems.
4. It will clarify the empirical differences between the two school systems—democratic and mainstream, with particular emphasis on the variables of interest.