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What is the meaning of disengagement as lived by students who left school without graduating 1998

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WHAT IS THE MEANING OF DISENGAGEMENT AS LIVED BY STUDENTS WHO LEFT SCHOOL WITHOUT GRADUATING by Mladen A. Loncaric B.A. Simon Fraser University, 1978 M.A. (Counselling Psych.) University of B r i t i s h Columbia A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY in THE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIES (Department of Counselling Psychology) We accept this thesis as conforming to the required standard THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA March 1998 (c) Mladen A. Loncaric In presenting this thesis in partial fulfilment of the requirements for an advanced degree at the University of British Columbia, I agree that the Library shall make it freely available for reference and study. 1 further agree that permission for extensive copying of this thesis for scholarly purposes may be granted by the head of my department or by his or her representatives. It is understood that copying or publication of this thesis for financial gain shall not be allowed without my written permission. Department of The University of British Columbia Vancouver, Canada Date frtfflC/? DE-6 (2/88) ABSTRACT This study was designed to explore the meaning of disengagement from school as experienced by those who left school before graduating. Data for the study was gathered using an unstructured interview format. The research produced authentic narrative accounts of the meaning of disengagement for the individual participants. A cross case comparison of these narratives indicated the presence of three common streams of movement. As children, each of the participants were involved in an escalating cumulation of problems which over time, increased in scope and intensity. Their personal vulnerabilities generated through a troubled background, when coupled with the more complex demands of the secondary system, translated into an increased school maladjustment. The third movement involved a crystallizing of previous experiences and attitudes and an engulfment in a spoiled identity. The stories collected indicated that a comprehensive theory of disengagement must be built on a holistic perspective. Beyond the events, experiences, and circumstances that contribute to a disengagement process, questions of individual interpretation and meaning must also be considered. Finally, the thesis raises questions about the relationship of school practices and dropout experiences. Table of Contents Abstract Chapter 1: Chapter 2: Chapter 3: Chapter 4: Chapter 5: Chapter 6: Chapter 7: Chapter 8: Chapter 9: Chapter 10: Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Introduction Review of the Literature Methodology- Case Study One: M Case Study Two: A Case Study Three: R Case Study Four: G Case Study Five: L Case Study Six: B Case Study Seven: M Case Study Eight: S Case Study Nine: B Case Study Ten: C Comparison of Common Patterns of Narrative Accounts Discussion i i 1 7 44 54 64 74 88 101 112 125 140 151 161 175 198 References Appendix A: Appendix B: Appendix C: Recruitment Notice Participant Consent Form Sample Transcript 212 224 226 227 ACKNOWLEDGMENT Appreciation is extended to Dr. Cochran for his direction, encouragement and kindness. I wish also to thank Dr. Borgan and Dr. Holmes for their attention to detail, support, and warmth. Finally, there are my children Michael, David , and Carlyn and my wife Carol whose tolerance and generosity know no bounds. Chapter 1 Purpose of the study This study was designed to explore the meaning of disengagement from school as experienced by those who l e f t school before they graduated. The l i t e r a t u r e dedicated to the issue of high school dropouts f a l l s p rimarily into two camps. Empirical studies have generated data about the correlates of dropping out, and the stated reasons that children have c i t e d f or leaving school prematurely (Gilbert, Barr, Clark, Blue & Sunter, 1993). Another body of research has i d e n t i f i e d intervention e f f o r t s to prevent students from leaving school (Finn, 1989). While useful i n a r t i c u l a t i n g c e r t a i n aspects of the dropout problem, the nature of the research from both camps i s l i m i t e d to an external focus on str u c t u r a l c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s . Missing i n the l i t e r a t u r e i s any large scale e f f o r t to understand the int e r n a l , l i v e d process of dropping out (Bloch, 1991; Finn, 1989; Rumberger, 1987). A r t i c u l a t i n g .the process presupposes a f a i t h f u l grasp of the meaning of events. According to Polkinghorne (1988), "experience i s meaningful and human behavior i s generated from and informed by t h i s meaningfulness. Thus, the study of behavior needs to include an exploration of the meaning systems that form human experience" (p. 1). The intent of t h i s study was to explore and describe the l i v e d experience of disengagement. Capturing t h i s process necessitated a 2 "respectful l i s t e n i n g to what the phenomenon speaks of i t s e l f " (Colaizzi p. 53). Rationale There i s a growing recognition of a need for a better understanding of the disengagement process. M i l l e r , Leinhardt and Zigmond (1988) i n an ethnographic study of s o c i a l and academic p a r t i c i p a t i o n among high school students described "dropping out as a process of gradual disengagement from school" (p.12). Rumberger (1987) emphasized the importance of researching the process of disengagement rather than the "structural c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s " such as family background and socioeconomic status. A f t e r t h e i r review of quantitative, observational and interview data from 14 secondary school dropout prevention programs, Wehlage, Rutter, Smith, Lesko,& Fernandez,(1987) suggested that dropping out can best be understood as a process of mutual r e j e c t i o n . Commenting on the state of present dropout research Finn (1991) noted that what the f i e l d needs i s "good conceptual analyses" rather than " s t a t i s t i c a l t a l l i e s of dropout rates or dropout correlates" (p. 30). Research on the process, often referred to as disengagement, (Kelly, 1993; Rumberger, 1987) has both p r a c t i c a l and theoret i c a l advantages over a more t r a d i t i o n a l perspective. As a construct, disengagement has p r a c t i c a l value because i t cuts across the polemics of blame often associated with the terms "dropout" and "pushout". The former attributes blame to the i n d i v i d u a l ; the l a t t e r 3 attr i b u t e s blame to the system. In terms of theory, research on disengagement i s needed because i t "encourages us to connect events i n students' l i v e s over time and to look for cumulative e f f e c t s " (Kelly, p. 29). School counselling has much to gain from a well a r t i c u l a t e d theory of the disengagement process. In t h e i r role as c h i l d advocates counsellors have an o b l i g a t i o n to enhance school personnels' understanding and tolerance of at r i s k students. According to Bloch (1991) counsellors "have an o b l i g a t i o n to promote a forthright examination of the facts of dropping out and research on e f f e c t i v e strategies to help schools more adequately serve a l l students" (p. 45). An understanding of the l i v e d experience of disengagement would provide a h o l i s t i c perspective that may a s s i s t and guide counsellors' intervention e f f o r t s . A better understanding of the disengagement process might also broaden the influence of school counselling. Some c r i t i c s of the school system have proposed that the dropout problem would be more e f f e c t i v e l y addressed through an ecological approach (Srebnik & E l i a s , 1993). These researchers maintained that "the holding power of a school should be central not only to the d e f i n i t i o n of school excellence, but of basic school competence" (p.527). Certain aspects of "holding power" which are often addressed by school counsellors include student bonding (Hawkins & Weis, 1985), peer tutoring and peer counselling (N a t r i e l l o , Pallas, M c d i l l , McPartland & Royster,1988), and 4 s o c i a l s k i l l s t r a i n i n g (Elias, Gara, & Ubriaco, 1985). An a r t i c u l a t e d theory of disengagement might contribute a unique and helpful perspective to discussion with educators on matters such as d i s c i p l i n e , evaluation, and retention each of which i s seen as contributing to the dropout problem. A theory of disengagement would also be useful to the development of school counselling as a profession. Across the province of B r i t i s h Columbia there i s substantial v a r i a b i l i t y i n the roles that counsellors perform (Paterson, personal communication, September, 1996). Job functions vary from c h i l d advocates, therapists, behavior s p e c i a l i s t s to administrators. If the job description i s l e f t to the understanding of the school administrator there i s a danger that the role of the counsellor can be eroded and l i m i t e d by the imagination and perspective of those with l i t t l e d i r e c t information. This i s a p a r t i c u l a r concern i n d i f f i c u l t economic times. Disengagement theory can help address t h i s concern. A better understanding of how some children disengage would also inform on what may be involved i n the process of student engagement. These findings, while i n t e r e s t i n g , are a n c i l l a r y data that are beyond the scope of the current inquiry. By charting the l i v e d experiences of the developing c h i l d i n the school system, a theory of disengagement could begin to lay the groundwork for a f i e l d - driven emotional curriculum. The management and establishment of such a curriculum p o t e n t i a l l y would serve 5 to ground, a r t i c u l a t e , and enhance the role of school counselling. Disengagement theory provides the f i e l d of school counselling with a potent means of c r y s t a l l i z i n g a comprehensive a f f e c t i v e developmental guidance curriculum. Research Strategy Yin (1984) indicated that case study i s an e f f e c t i v e means of "investigating phenomenon within i t s r e a l - l i f e context" (p. 23). A multiple-case design i s a v a r i a t i o n of the case study and i s akin to multiple experiments. U t i l i z i n g r e p l i c a t i o n l o g i c , t h i s approach generates evidence that can be considered compelling and robust (Yin, 1984) . Data for t h i s study was gathered using an unstructured interview format. This approach i s characterized as "a f l e x i b l e strategy of discovery [whose] object i s to carry on a guided conversation and to e l i c i t r i c h , d e tailed materials" (Mishler, 1986, p. 27). The intent was to allow pa r t i c i p a n t s maximum lati t u d e to i d e n t i f y and a r t i c u l a t e s i g n i f i c a n t aspects of t h e i r experience. The primary focus of the study was to capture and describe the l i v e d experience of each participant. The research produced authentic narrative accounts of the meaning of disengagement for ind i v i d u a l p a r t i c i p a n t s . A cross case comparison of these narratives indicated the presence of common streams of movement. 6 D e f i n i t i o n of Terms Dropout i n t h i s study refers to any student who has l e f t school p r i o r to graduation. D e f i n i t i o n a l ambiguities of the term commonly associated with e f f o r t s to estimate the size of dropout populations (Carson, 1993) are outside of the scope of t h i s research. Pushout commonly refers to a student who has been evicted through some school i n i t i a t e d p o l i c y or action (Fine, 1986) . Since the focus of t h i s research was the des c r i p t i o n and i d e n t i f i c a t i o n of the process of leaving as experienced by individual students, the "pushout-dropout" dichotomy was not u t i l i z e d . Agency i s a combination of s k i l l s , attitudes, b e l i e f s , and convictions, that enable people to d i r e c t , control, and shape t h e i r l i v e s (Cochran & Laub, 1994). Disengagement has been described as a process of mutual r e j e c t i o n (Wehlage et a l . , 1987). Kelly (1993) elaborated on t h i s notion through her metaphor for engagement which she described as "two toothed wheels of a gear, student and school, meshed together so that the motion of one i s passed on to the other" (p.29). In the following chapter, research i n the f i e l d of high school dropouts i s examined. Two models of school leaving are reviewed and studies focused on the process of disengagement are presented. 7 Chapter 2 Review of the Literature Introduction In some ways the term "dropout" i s a benchmark of North America's dreams and f a i l u r e s . The word entered the popular imagination i n the early 1960's, when completing secondary school was f i r s t established as a norm (Dorn, 1993) . Over the years dropping out has been associated with personal and i n s t i t u t i o n a l f a i l u r e , delinquent behavior, and s o c i e t a l i n j u s t i c e . At stake are issues of in d i v i d u a l and c o l l e c t i v e hope and security. Dropping out of high school has serious personal, s o c i a l and economic implications. Dropouts have higher le v e l s of unemployment and lower earnings than graduates (Gilbert,et a l . , 1993; Rumberger, 1987). Social costs come i n the form of increased criminal a c t i v i t y , a greater tendency to have health problems, and a higher rate of welfare dependency (Rumberger, 1987). Calculated i n r e a l d o l l a r s one American estimate of the annual loss to the nation i s $77 b i l l i o n - - $ 3 b i l l i o n i n crime prevention, $3 b i l l i o n i n welfare and unemployment and $71 b i l l i o n i n tax revenue (Weis, Farrar, & Petrie, 1989)-. Dropping out has been shown to have a s i g n i f i c a n t l y negative e f f e c t on psychological functioning i n young adulthood (Damphousse & Kaplan, 1994). Individual consequences of dropping out include lower academic s k i l l s (Alexander, N a t r e i l l o , & Pallas, 1985), reduced opportunity for employment 8 (C a t t e r a l l , 1987) and increased psychological stress. One study linked increased unemployment with a greater r i s k of suicide and mental i l l n e s s (Brenner, 1976). Since dropouts tend to f i n d work harder to secure Brenner suggested that they would also suffer greater rates of mortality and mental- i l l n e s s . E f f o r t s to address the dropout phenomenon have generated d i f f e r e n t bodies of research. Depending on how the term "dropout" i s framed, studies have focused on in d i v i d u a l s , families, schools, or s o c i e t i e s at large. Regardless of the focus, there i s an overriding concern that a substantial body of dropout research i s decontextualized data (Finn, 1991). Many of these studies have focused on i d e n t i f y i n g the c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s of the dropout population, the schools or school systems from which students leave, and the attempted resolutions to the problem. Building on t h i s work, more recent e f f o r t s have attempted to delineate the process of dropping out (Kelly, 1993; Finn, 1989; Fine, 1986). An understanding of the process would better illuminate how dropouts come into being. In t h i s chapter information i s provided on the c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s of the population, school-level contributions to the problem, attempted solutions, and e f f o r t s to a r t i c u l a t e the process. The Problem Of Incidence Research e f f o r t s to understand the magnitude of the dropout phenomenon a l l grapple with questions of d e f i n i t i o n 9 (Carson, 1993; Kominski, 1990; Rumberger, 1987). Three d i f f e r e n t terms are most often used: the event dropout rate, the status dropout rate, and the cohort dropout rate. The event rate i s simply the percentage of enrolled students who leave school i n any given year. The status dropout rate measures the percentage of a population that has not completed high school and i s not enrolled i n school. The cohort dropout rate refers to the percentage of dropouts i n a single group over a period of time. Questions of d e f i n i t i o n translate into varying estimates (figures range from 15% - 30%) about the size of the dropout problem (Carson, 1993; Gilbe r t et a l . , 1993; Rumberger, 1987). For the purposes of t h i s study a broad i n c l u s i v e d e f i n i t i o n has been u t i l i z e d , that i s , dropouts are students who l e f t the school system before graduating. Causes associated with the problem Research on the causes of dropping out i s divided along two general l e v e l s of analysis. The larger group of studies has focused on the individual and attempted to ascertain the many factors associated with leaving school prematurely. A second strand of research has taken a school focus. The intent here has been to uncover the d i f f e r e n t i n s t i t u t i o n a l l e v e l factors and c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s that influence dropout rates (Rumberger, 1995). 10 Individual perspective Studies have i d e n t i f i e d a large number of i n d i v i d u a l l e v e l factors associated with dropping out. The most often mentioned general categories include: demographics, family- background, and individual school experience. A demographic focus indicated that race, e t h n i c i t y (Gilbert et a l . , 1993; Rumberger, 1987) and low socioeconomic status (Ekstrom, Goertz, Pollack, & Rock, 1986; Rumberger, 1983) are highly correlated with leaving school prematurely. Dropout rates i n the United States were higher for Blacks and Hispanics than for Anglo and Asian students (McMillen, Kaufman, Hausken,& Bradby, 1993). Aboriginal people were also disproportionately represented i n dropout data. One national Canadian study indicated that over 40% of aboriginal 18-20 year-olds dropped out as compared to 16% for the general population (Gilbert et a l . , 1993) . Research about family background, another key factor, i s often divided along l i n e s of underlying family processes and o v e r a l l family structure. Investigation of family structure has linked dropout behavior with lower parental education, socioeconomic status and single parent families (Gilbert et a l . , 1993; Ekstrom et a l . , 1986; Rumberger, 1983). When socioeconomic status was held constant, children from stepparent families exhibited s i m i l a r d i f f i c u l t i e s with educational attainment as d i d child r e n from single parent families (Astone & McLanahan, 11 1991). This research expanded on Coleman's (1988) theory of s o c i a l c a p i t a l . He maintained that the rel a t i o n s h i p between a c h i l d and the parents determined the c h i l d ' s access to whatever f i n a n c i a l and human c a p i t a l existed i n the household. Two-parent families therefore would have more s o c i a l c a p i t a l . Astone & McLanahan (1991) expanded on t h i s quantitative notion of s o c i a l c a p i t a l and introduced a q u a l i t a t i v e measure. They argued that s o c i a l c a p i t a l was also indicated by the strength of the attachment between parent and c h i l d . From t h i s perspective the q u a l i t y of attachment i s a matter of: (1) parental willingness and a b i l i t y to provide the c h i l d with care and attention and (2) the c h i l d ' s r e c e p t i v i t y to the parent's gestures. A much smaller body of data exists about the underlying processes through which family background influences school success. Measures of parental involvement through a c t i v i t i e s l i k e reading at home and attending school functions have been t i e d to academic accomplishment (Astone & McLanahan, 1991) which i n turn i s associated with increased engagement and decreased dropout behavior (Ekstrom et a l . , 1986) . Parenting style has also been linked with school success. Students who came from homes where parents regulated and monitored behavior while providing emotional support tended to be more successful at school (Dornbusch, R i t t e r , Leiderman, Roberts, & Fraleigh 1987; Steinberg, Elmen, & Mounts, 1989). One study which compared families of dropouts to families of other students i d e n t i f i e d three 12 major differences between the two. Dropout behavior was f a c i l i t a t e d by permissive parenting, negative reactions and sanctions to poor grades, and a lack of parental involvement i n t h e i r children's schooling (Lamborn, Mounts, Steinberg, & Dornbusch, 1991). The implication, while based on l i m i t e d data, i s that parental practices and styles do play a role i n dropout behavior (Rumberger, 1995). Investigations of family functioning indicated that less cohesive and less adaptable families fostered more a t - r i s k children (Vickers, 1994). Other home related factors included parental attitudes towards school and the value placed on education by parents. (Gilbert et a l . , 1993). The r e l a t i o n s h i p between an individual's school experience and dropping out has also received a substantial amount of attention. Poor academic achievement, low test scores, grade retention, poor attendance and unacceptable behavior were a l l linked with a higher r i s k of dropping out (Bhaerman & Kopp, 1988; Borus & Carpenter, 1984; Ekstrom et a l . , 1986; G i l b e r t et a l . , 1993; Grannis & Riehl, 1989; N a t r e i l l o et a l . , 1988). Excessive part-time employment (over 15 hours a week) has been associated with higher dropout rates as well (Hergert, 1991). Researchers have also i d e n t i f i e d a number of i n d i v i d u a l factors associated with dropping out. Lower l e v e l s of s e l f - esteem, a reduced sense of control over t h e i r l i v e s (Rumberger, 1987), poor attitudes towards school and lower l e v e l s of occupational and educational a s p i r a t i o n (Ekstrom 13 et a l . , 1986; Wehlage & Rutter, 1986) have a l l correlated with dropout behavior. Other factors associated with dropping out are a l i e n a t i o n from peers (Mahan & Johhnson, 1983; Wells, 1990), pregnancy, and early marriage (Bhaerman & Kopp, 1988; Ekstrom et a l . , 1986; Rumberger, 1983). F i n a l l y , p o t e n t i a l dropouts often f i n d the relevance of school to l a t e r l i f e d i f f i c u l t to comprehend (N a t r e i l l o et a l . , 1988) . Studies aimed at uncovering the factors associated with dropouts have been c r i t i c i z e d on several fronts. Much of t h i s c r i t i c i s m has focused on the implications and assumptions of such research. E f f o r t s to uncover the underlying factors have had a tendency to hold students or t h e i r families responsible for dropping out (Wehlage & Rutter, 1987). Other researchers have queried the si g n i f i c a n c e of s p e c i f i c factors. For instance, while i t i s broadly accepted that low socioeconomic status i s a key factor i n dropout rates' (Weis, Farrar, & Petrie, 1989) t h i s argument f a i l s to explain why some minority groups from the same economic l e v e l succeed while others do not (Rumberger, 1991). E f f o r t s to address t h i s c r i t i q u e have advanced a s o c i o c u l t u r a l argument. This p o s i t i o n maintained that the degree of acceptance of the dominant culture by d i f f e r e n t minorities explained why some minority students were successful while others were not (Mehan, 1992; Ogbu, 1992). Grounded i n philosophical debates about culture, human agency, and constitutive action, the s o c i o c u l t u r a l viewpoint 14 has i n v i t e d a broader and deeper investigation about the .dropout phenomenon. Studies aimed at uncovering factors associated with dropping out can also be c r i t i c i z e d on grounds of usefulness. An understanding of the factors does l i t t l e to help determine interventions. Designing interventions requires an appreciation of the role that such factors play- i n the l i v e d experience of the children i n question. School Perspective The l i t e r a t u r e on school-level factors and dropout rates i s l i m i t e d . Few studies have focused d i r e c t l y on how schools may be contributing to the dropout problem. To date, researchers have looked at the e f f e c t s of school size, i n t e r n a l organization, various p o l i c i e s , some teacher practices and attitudes, and classroom structure. Research on school size i s mixed. One study indicated that school size had an i n d i r e c t e f f e c t on dropout rates. Larger student bodies were linked with less p o s i t i v e s o c i a l climates, less s o c i a l integration, and reduced i d e n t i t y with the i n s t i t u t i o n . These experiences, i n turn, were seen as contributing to increased dropout rates (Pittman, & Haughwout, 1987; Bryk & Thum, 1989). This finding contrasted with previous research which indicated that smaller schools were associated with increased student a l i e n a t i o n . According to t h i s perspective, a smaller student body increased pressure to successfully p a r t i c i p a t e 15 i n a l l school a c t i v i t i e s , thereby generating negative s e l f - evaluations when expectations weren't met (Grabe, 1981). The int e r n a l organization of schools was also c i t e d as an important factor i n the dropout problem. From t h i s perspective, smaller schools, less d i v e r s i f i e d academic offerings, and teachers interested i n p a r t i c i p a t i n g with students fostered a sense of belonging. Decreased a l i e n a t i o n translated into less absenteeism and reduced dropout rates (Bryk & Thum, 1989). This conclusion offered support to Newman's concern (1981) about the need to counter school generated student alien a t i o n . The quest for harmony-integration (the reduction of alienation) through learning requires a d i f f e r e n t i a t i o n of s e l f from experience, an analytic detachment, but th i s must be pursued with e f f o r t , struggle, and engagement. Reducing alienation, then, i s not tantamount to eliminating stress or e f f o r t ; rather, i t i s arranging conditions so that people expend energy i n ways that enhance engagement with work, people, and physical surroundings, (p. 54 8) One of the school generated conditions that has received attention and i s linked with student a l i e n a t i o n i s a school's retention pol i c y . Roderick (1994) concluded that students who repeated a grade i n elementary school were twice as l i k e l y to drop out at age 16. These findings were 16 part of an emerging perspective (Mantzicopoulos & Morrison, 1992; Schultz, 1989; Shepard & Smith, 1988) questioning the long-term emotional and academic benefits of kindergarten and early grade retention. Beyond retention p o l i c i e s , the education system has also been c r i t i c i z e d for being too insular. C i t i n g parental d i s s a t i s f a c t i o n , Coleman (1993) has c a l l e d upon schools to be more e f f e c t i v e i n involving families i n the education process of t h e i r children. S p e c i f i c a l l y , he saw the exclusionary practices and attitudes of teachers as a contributing factor i n alienating parents. In a r e l a t e d study, parental support was i d e n t i f i e d as an important variable i n student academic engagement (Raddysh, 1992) . Student generated reports indicated that a perceived lack of teacher interest i n students, the perception that d i s c i p l i n e practices were unfair and i n e f f e c t i v e , and widespread truancy were school-level factors which contributed to premature school leaving (Wehlage & Rutter, 1986). Fine's (1986) ethnographic study of an inner c i t y New York school i d e n t i f i e d school p o l i c y and classroom structure to be large contributors to the dropout problem. An accepted practice of ridding the school of "bad kids" and classrooms organized around notions of competition, obedience, and authority were seen as factors that pushed students out of school. 17 Solutions to the problem Research on dropout prevention programs provided a c r i t i c a l evaluation of previous e f f o r t s to address the problem as well as a snapshot of the l a t e s t proposed solutions. These di f f e r e n t viewpoints are pertinent to the present research because they o f f e r a perspective about past and present conceptualizations of the dropout phenomenon. Various elements have been i d e n t i f i e d as c r i t i c a l to a successful prevention program. One element focused on the academic needs of t h i s diverse population. I d e n t i f i e d concerns included an appropriate curriculum, sensitive and sympathetic teaching s t a f f , and varied measures of progress (Rumberger, 1987). Desirable aspects of a dropout prevention program that made a p o s i t i v e difference included a mix of academic and vocational studies, i n d i v i d u a l i z e d instruction, and a more sensit i v e s t a f f ( B u l l i s , 1986; Olsen & Edwards, 1982). Successful and timely recognition was another c r i t i c a l element of prevention programs. E f f o r t s to address the problem among high r i s k disadvantaged students have linked lower dropout rates with preschool programs (Schweinhart, Berrueta-Clement, Barnett, Epstein, & Weikart, 1985) . Attempts to meet the psychological needs of p o t e n t i a l dropouts, most often a r t i c u l a t e d as a desire for someone to care about them i n d i v i d u a l l y , have often been addressed through increased a v a i l a b i l i t y of counselling time ( B u l l i s , 1986; Olsen & Edwards, 1982). 18 For the most part, these types of solutions are grounded i n the di f f e r e n t structural c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s used to define the dropout population (Finn, 1989). Researchers who espoused an e c o l o g i c a l l y focused solution (Srbnik & E l i a s , 1993) saw individually-based prevention interventions as fundamentally flawed. The source of the error was the conceptualization of the problem. According to Rappaport (1981) the very notion of prevention may l i m i t our a b i l i t y to address such issues. The idea of prevention i s the l o g i c a l extension of a needs model which views people i n d i f f i c u l t y as children; the idea of advocacy i s an extension of the rights model of people as c i t i z e n s . Both of these are one-sided. I propose an empowerment model for a s o c i a l p o l i c y which views people as complete human beings, creates a symbolic sense of urgency, requires attention to paradox, and expects divergent and d i a l e c t i c a l rather than convergent solutions, (p. 1) Within the context of the dropout problem, the ecol o g i c a l approach advocated u t i l i z i n g supportive structures l i k e peer tutoring, peer counselling, buddy programs, and s o c i a l s k i l l s t r a i n i n g (Wells, 1990; Greenwood, Carta, & H a l l , 1988; Cohen, 1986). While these are valuable additions to the school system, t h i s systemic focus i s hampered by an o l d dropout paradigm. S p e c i f i c a l l y , the proposed ecological 19 perspective was l i m i t e d to a school focus and f a i l e d to take into consideration the broader process involved i n disengaging from school. The process of disengagement was central to the findings of a large scale American evaluation of high school prevention programs (Natriello et a l . , 1988). This study resulted i n a four-category typology of approaches to the dropout problem. The i d e n t i f i e d categories included: (1) success i n school, (2) p o s i t i v e relationships i n school, (3) relevance of school and (4) outside interferences. In a c r i t i q u e of t h e i r own typology the authors offered the following: One weakness of the typology i s i t s s t a t i c character, when dropping out i s a c t u a l l y a process that develops over time. A student does not get c l a s s i f i e d as a dropout usually as a result of a single decision one day by the individual that enrollment i n school i s no longer of in t e r e s t . Dropping out i s usually not a f i n a l , e x p l i c i t decision by a student to leave school or by a school o f f i c i a l to terminate a student. More often an individual begins a pattern of•off-and-on attendance that grows over time into an even more intermittent attendance pattern u n t i l the i n d i v i d u a l f i n a l l y stops coming to school altogether. It often 20 would be more accurate to speak of the " d r i f t o u t " problem than the "dropout" problem.(p. 36) A s i m i l a r c r i t i q u e of the state of present research was offered by Diem (1991). This research employed a case study methodology to investigate a t - r i s k students and the outcomes of the school-based interventions they were involved with. Among the interventions c i t e d are teacher and business mentors, work-study programs, and u t i l i z a t i o n of a t - r i s k program co-ordinators and counsellors. Diem concluded that: To set up a viable at r i s k intervention program i t i s necessary to gain some understanding of the population one i s dealing with that goes beyond attendance records, test scores, promotion records, and guidance r e f e r r a l s and should include i n q u i r i e s into the l i v e s of students and how school f i t s into them... Providing programs that only focus on obvious academic and interpersonal d i f f i c u l t i e s has not reversed dropout patterns. Yet, tryin g to develop a systemic community oriented at r i s k prevention model would not only be costly, but probably unacceptable to many who might view these e f f o r t s as beyond the purview of educational i n s t i t u t i o n s . We have come to understand that the needs of students at r i s k are numerous, programs to serve them diverse, and that a systematic theory f o r 21 understanding student engagement and disengagement i s s t i l l i n a primitive state. Because of t h i s we may well be at an impasse i n devising e f f e c t i v e interventions towards reducing the dropout rate. (p.15) Process Models Kel l y (1993) stated that "the metaphor underlying engagement i s that of two toothed wheels of a gear, student and school, meshed together so that the motion of one i s passed on to the other" (p.29). Disengagement, by contrast, has been described as a process of mutual r e j e c t i o n (Fine, 1991; Wehlage et a l . , 1987). In a review of the l i t e r a t u r e on dropouts, Finn (1989) argued that e f f o r t s to understand and address the dropout phenomenon lacked a "systematic understanding of the developmental processes that lead an i n d i v i d u a l to withdraw completely from school" (p. 118). He described and offered support for two developmental models of the disengagement process: (a) The f r u s t r a t i o n s e l f - esteem model and (b) the p a r t i c i p a t i o n - i d e n t i f i c a t i o n model. Frustration-Self-Esteem Model The basic tenants of t h i s model maintained that poor school performance led to an impaired self-view which i n turn, resulted i n oppositional behavior and early withdrawal. These three components were common across various studies even though measures of the constructs d i f f e r e d . School performance was established by the use of standardized tests, subject generated tests, cumulative 22 grade h i s t o r i e s and, on occasion, IQ scores. The explanation of poor performance varied although i t was commonly attributed to the school's i n a b i l i t y or f a i l u r e to address students' i n t e l l e c t u a l or emotional needs. An impaired self-view often resulted from embarrassment or f r u s t r a t i o n and was operationalized as general self-esteem, self-concept, academic self-concept, or personal agency b e l i e f s . F i n a l l y , oppositional behavior took the form of class disruptions, missing school, delinquent acts, or some combination of a l l three. Finn reported that the frustration-self-esteem paradigm was present i n various analyses of adolescent behavior. Berstein and Rulo (1976) u t i l i z e d t h i s l i n e of reasoning to o f f e r an explanation of how undiagnosed learning d i s a b i l i t i e s may lead to delinquent behavior. Frustrated and embarrassed by lim i t e d school success or f a i l u r e from the start, the c h i l d becomes increasingly disruptive i n the classroom. Over time,controlling unacceptable behavior, as opposed to addressing the learning d i s a b i l i t y , becomes the main concern of the adults involved and the c h i l d " f a l l s farther and farther behind and becomes more of a problem. Eventually, the c h i l d i s suspended, drops out, or i s thrown out of school and the movement towards delinquency i s well under way" (p. 44). A broader though si m i l a r perspective was taken by Bloom (1976) who maintained that ongoing evidence of school- 23 related adequacy leads to self-confidence and ego strength i n the developing c h i l d . This provided: a type of immunization against mental i l l n e s s for an i n d e f i n i t e period of time [while at the other extreme] are the bottom t h i r d of the students who have been given consistent evidence of t h e i r inadequacy... over a period of 5 to 10 years. Such students r a r e l y secure any p o s i t i v e reinforcement i n the classroom...from teachers or parents. We would expect such students to be infected with emotional d i f f i c u l t i e s and to exhibit symptoms of acute di s t r e s s and a l i e n a t i o n from the world of school and adults.(p. 158) Theories of delinquent behavior postulated student a l i e n a t i o n and d i s t r e s s as part of the "aspiration- opportunity disjunction". Failure, or anticipated f a i l u r e i n school a c t i v i t i e s attenuated commitment and generated a l i e n a t i o n which i n turn opened the door for delinquent behavior ( E l l i o t , Ageton, & Canter, 1979). Ford and Nickols (1987) provided one explanation of how unattainable goals might result i n f r u s t r a t i o n and withdrawal from school. Within t h e i r framework, behavior was organized into hierarchies of goal-^directed episodes. The framework consisted of broad categories of goals which included: "affec t i v e goals", "cognitive goals", "subjective 24 organization goals", " s o c i a l relationship goals", and "task goals". In t h i s context the frustration-esteem model assumed that the cognitive goals "exploration", "understanding", and "positive or confirmatory s e l f - evaluations", along with "mastery" and "meeting a standard of achievement" were sal i e n t for most students (p. 295). Ford (1987) maintained that one's agency b e l i e f s , the perception that a goal i s attainable, regulated the p r i o r i t y given to desired goals. Where students experienced ongoing fr u s t r a t i o n s and f a i l u r e i n school subjects, a perception of the s e l f as " i n e f f e c t i v e and powerless" (Ford, 1987, p. 214) might take hold and could lead to early withdrawal from school. A threatened or b e l i t t l e d self-view resulted i n a student's search for other, less s o c i a l l y sanctioned a c t i v i t i e s . Gold and Mann (1984) saw self-esteem as the engine that drove t h i s process: Under conditions of low s o c i a l control, these young people turn to delinquent behavior to raise t h e i r s e l f - esteem. If experiences at school were altered s u f f i c i e n t l y to raise t h e i r self-esteem...their disruptive and delinquent behavior would subside.(p. 19) Various studies have indicated that a re l a t i o n s h i p i s present between self-concept and self-esteem measures and academic performance (Byrne, 1984; Gold & Mann, 1984; 25 Hansford and Hattie, 1982). This relationship has also been demonstrated to exist over time (Kifer, 1975). A more s p e c i f i c focus revealed that academic self-concept i n p a r t i c u l a r correlates more highly with academic performance and grades than other broader measures of self-esteem. These associations however, are supported p r i m a r i l y by c o r r e l a t i o n a l evidence, therefore d i r e c t i o n a l conclusions are not j u s t i f i a b l e . Byrne (1984) stated that: Causal predominance between self-concept and academic achievement has not been f u l l y confirmed. An examination of the results from a l l the causal modeling studies reviewed indicated that other important variables appear to influence the r e l a t i o n s h i p between self-concept and academic achievement. [Included i n these variables are]: socioeconomic status, e t h n i c i t y , a b i l i t y l e v e l , and s p e c i f i c i t y of self-concept and academic achievement measure, (p. 451) Shavelson and Bolus (1982) recommended the i n c l u s i o n of peer and parental influence on t h i s relationship. The conclusions about the relationship between s e l f - esteem and problem behavior are mixed. Reid (1984) reported that students who were absent regularly tended to have lower academic self-concepts and lower general l e v e l s of s e l f - esteem. Kaplan (1980) stated that children rated low i n general self-esteem were more l i k e l y to display deviant 26 behavior. On the other hand, Ekstrom et a l . , (1986) found that on measures of general self-esteem, there was no s i g n i f i c a n t difference between graduates and dropouts. Other researchers (Wehlage & Rutter, 1986) confirmed t h i s f i n ding. Measuring the change i n self-esteem over a three year period with a group of sophomores, they reported an increase i n self-esteem for a l l students. The gain for dropouts was the same as the gain for graduates. While a number of di f f e r e n t studies lend support to the frustration-self-esteem paradigm, substantial gaps exi s t between theory and research. Support for the model i s la r g e l y c o r r e l a t i o n a l (Hansford & Hattie, 1982) or speculative (Bernstein & Rulo, 1976). The main construct, self-esteem/self-concept i s burdened by a lack of accepted d e f i n i t i o n a l c l a r i t y and questions of causal predominance (Byrne, 1984). F i n a l l y , the s i m p l i c i t y of the model makes i t easy to blame the school system for the ch i l d ' s lack of success when, what i s needed, i s a better understanding of the developmental sequences involved i n disengagement (Finn, 1989) . P a r t i c i p a t i o n - I d e n t i f i c a t i o n Model The second model reviewed by Finn postulated that student disengagement was associated with i d e n t i t y and p a r t i c i p a t i o n . Premature departure was linked with a lack of active p a r t i c i p a t i o n i n school and classroom a c t i v i t i e s and an absent or reduced sense of i d e n t i f i c a t i o n with 27 school. As with the frustration-self-esteem model, Finn c i t e d several studies to support t h i s paradigm. I d e n t i f i c a t i o n with school. Student i d e n t i f i c a t i o n with school has been studied under numerous guises. In p o s i t i v e terms i t has been described as " a f f i l i a t i o n " , "involvement", "attachment", "bonding", and "commitment". From a negative perspective i t has been considered i n l i g h t of "alienation" and "withdrawal". Finn (1989) maintained that: These terms denote two ideas i n common that constitute a good working d e f i n i t i o n of i d e n t i f i c a t i o n . F i r s t , students who i d e n t i f y with school have an i n t e r n a l i z e d conception of belongingness-that they are d i s c e r n i b l y part of the school environment and that school constitutes an important part of t h e i r experience. And second, these individuals value success i n school- relevant goals.(p. 123) Various studies linked i d e n t i f i c a t i o n with school success. A longitudinal study, the Perry Preschool Project (as c i t e d i n Finn, 1989) i d e n t i f i e d bonding as a s i g n i f i c a n t contributor to student success. On the basis of these internal [commitment to schooling] and external [student role reinforcement] factors, s o c i a l bonds develop between persons and 28 settings i n the course of human development. Strong s o c i a l bonds to conventional settings, such as school, are seen as making delinquency less l i k e l y whereas weak s o c i a l bonds make delinquency more l i k e l y , (p. 123) In t h e i r investigation of alternate schools Gold and Mann (1984) found c o r r e l a t i o n a l support for i d e n t i f i c a t i o n as valuing of school. In t h i s new setting students were less disruptive and indicated an increased commitment to, and an optimism about, t h e i r chances of academic success. Other studies looked at i d e n t i f i c a t i o n as a measure of belonging. Polk and Halferty, (1972) linked lack of commitment with eventual withdrawal and delinquency. Delinquency among at least some youth may be a function of the lack of commitment to school and adult success... The uncommitted delinquent youth, i t would appear, i s characterized by behavioral withdrawal from school. He does not study, he receives poor grades, and he does not pa r t i c i p a t e i n a c t i v i t i e s . . . there i s a pattern of psychological discomfort and a l i e n a t i o n i n the attitudes the delinquent and uncommitted youth exhibits toward the school (p. 85). Firestone and Rosenbloom (1988) i d e n t i f i e d commitment to place and commitment to learning as important variables l i n k i n g i d e n t i f i c a t i o n with school success. 29 From a d i f f e r e n t perspective, a l i e n a t i o n has been studied as an indicator of weak school involvement. Seeman (1975) i d e n t i f i e d s i x essential components of a l i e n a t i o n : powerlessness, meaninglessness, normlessness, s e l f - estrangement, s o c i a l i s o l a t i o n and c u l t u r a l estrangement. Finn (1989) saw s o c i a l i s o l a t i o n and normlessness as most c l o s e l y aligned with the valuing and belonging aspects of i d e n t i f i c a t i o n . Support for t h i s p o s i t i o n i s offered by Reid (1981) . He reported s i g n i f i c a n t differences between persistent school absentees and regular attenders for these two aspects of alienation. Normlessness and s o c i a l i s o l a t i o n were also linked with delinquent acts and dropping out by E l l i o t and Voss(1974). They concluded that "delinquent behavior and dropping out are alternate responses to f a i l u r e and alienation" (p. 202). Some support for the i d e n t i f i c a t i o n aspect of the model i s also to be found i n s o c i a l control research. Social control theory postulates that "t i e s (links, attachments, binds, and bonds) to conventional i n s t i t u t i o n s function to control or i n h i b i t the behavioral expression of deviant motivation" (Liska & Reed, 1985, p. 547). H i r s c h i (1969) stated that these bonds are comprised of four elements: attachment (concern with the opinions of others), commitment (a r a t i o n a l decision to behave i n acceptable ways), involvement (the expenditure of time and energy i n i n s t i t u t i o n a l l y encouraged behaviors; and b e l i e f (a view that the p r i n c i p l e s encouraged by the i n s t i t u t i o n are 30 v a l i d ) . Social control theory maintains that when children f a i l to bond appropriately to parents and school they are freed to engage i n delinquent behavior. Liska and Reed (1985) have challenged the capacity of schools to generate t h i s d i r e c t type of holding power. In a departure from the u n i d i r e c t i o n a l relationship between school bonding and delinquency they noted that: parents, not schools are the major i n s t i t u t i o n a l sources of delinquency control... Parental attachment a f f e c t s delinquency, which af f e c t s school attachment, which i n turn affects parental attachment, (p. 558) I d e n t i f i c a t i o n then was hypothesized as an i n t e r n a l state with two components, belonging and valuing. It i s associated with such behaviors as absenteeism, truancy, dropout, and delinquency. Finn (1989) saw t h i s d i s t i n c t i o n between the emotional (internal) and behavioral (external) dimensions as s i g n i f i c a n t . The two may develop i n d i f f e r e n t ways and are c e r t a i n l y manipulable to d i f f e r e n t extents. In fact, the a b i l i t y to manipulate p a r t i c i p a t i o n i n school a c t i v i t i e s may provide a handle through which increased l e v e l s of i d e n t i f i c a t i o n may become accessible, (p. 127) 31 P a r t i c i p a t i o n i n school. The p a r t i c i p a t i o n component of the model was discussed i n terms of four d i f f e r e n t l e v e l s . Level one was measured through behaviors l i k e attending class, being prepared and answering questions. Level two centered around students i n i t i a t i n g questions and displaying enthusiasm. The t h i r d l e v e l was a measure of s o c i a l , extracurricular, and a t h l e t i c involvement. Level four was hypothesized as a measure of school governance. Research offered c o r r e l a t i o n a l support for l e v e l one p a r t i c i p a t i o n and school success. Classroom observation studies (McKinney, Mason, Perkerson, & C l i f f o r d , 1975; Kerr, Zigmond, Schaeffer, & Brown, 1986) i d e n t i f i e d behaviors that included p a r t i c i p a t o r y measures. The McKinney framework, which was based on observations of second grade students, linked school success with "attending", "task-oriented in t e r a c t i o n " , constructive play", "constructive s e l f - directed a c t i v i t y " , " d i s t r a c t i b i l i t y " , and "aggression". Working with high school students, Kerr produced three scales that discriminated between successful and unsuccessful students: "class preparedness", "exhibiting an inter e s t i n academic performance" and "interacting appropriately with teachers". Level two p a r t i c i p a t i o n was hypothesized as academic intere s t and enthusiasm t r a n s l a t i n g into out-of-school subject-related endeavors (clubs, job shadowing etc.) While 32 no d i r e c t evidence l i n k i n g enthusiasm with t h i s type of a c t i v i t y has been produced, dropouts (Ekstrom et al.,1986) and delinquents (Hirschi, 1969) tend to do less nonrequired reading and less homework than t h e i r more successful peers (Ekstrom et a l . , 1986). The r e l a t i o n s h i p between the t h i r d l e v e l of p a r t i c i p a t i o n and extracurricular, s o c i a l , and a t h l e t i c a c t i v i t y i s c o r r e l a t i o n a l . Dropouts (Ekstrom et a l . , 1986) and delinquents (Landers & Landers, 1978; Schafer, 1972) p a r t i c i p a t e d less i n extracurricular a c t i v i t i e s and sports than t h e i r nondropout or nondelinquent peers. P a r t i c i p a t i o n , on the other hand, i s correlated with higher l e v e l s of self-esteem, higher educational aspirations, better grades for males, and a greater sense of control over one's l i f e (Holland & Andre, 1987). The authors' speculated that: P a r t i c i p a t i o n has effects because of what happens as a r e s u l t of p a r t i c i p a t i o n . . . P a r t i c i p a t i o n may lead adolescents to acquire new s k i l l s (organizational, planning, time-management, etc.), to develop or strengthen p a r t i c u l a r attitudes ( d i s c i p l i n e , motivation), or to receive s o c i a l rewards that influence personality c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s , (p. 447) The fourth l e v e l of p a r t i c i p a t i o n focused on student involvement i n school governance. Advocates of t h i s notion 33 (Ekstrom et a l . , 1986, Reid, 1981; Wehlage & Rutter, 1986) saw student empowerment as an e f f e c t i v e means of countering feelings of a l i e n a t i o n and resignation. To date no data exists that o f f e r s support for the merits of t h i s type of power sharing i n schools (Finn, 1989). The basic premise of the P a r t i c i p a t i o n - i d e n t i f i c a t i o n model i s that p a r t i c i p a t i o n i n school a c t i v i t i e s i s a prerequisite to school success. P a r t i c i p a t i o n was also seen as a possible means of fostering i d e n t i f i c a t i o n with school. Four l e v e l s of p a r t i c i p a t i o n were postulated and c o r r e l a t i o n a l support was offered primarily for l e v e l one. L i t t l e research has been conducted on le v e l s two, three, and four. A l i m i t a t i o n of the model i s i t s point of o r i g i n . Focused on school l i f e , t h i s conceptualization of dropping out f a i l s to take into consideration the role of the family i n dropout behavior. This i s a l i m i t a t i o n that Finn recognized that " Youngsters lacking the necessary encouragement at home may ar r i v e at school predisposed to nonparticipation and nonide n t i f i c a t i o n " (p.130). Research on the relationship of family dynamics to school success suggested that t h i s i s a s i g n i f i c a n t weakness of the model. As Finn pointed out, research has linked student p a r t i c i p a t i o n and i d e n t i f i c a t i o n with more 34 communicative families (Cervantes, 1966; Clyne, 1966; Reiss, 1951). Other studies found that dropouts' homes offered s u b s t a n t i a l l y less support than homes of more successful students. Some s i g n i f i c a n t differences were fewer study aids, less opportunity for non-school-related learning, lower parental educational expectations, and lower in t e r e s t i n and attention paid to students' school a c t i v i t i e s (Ekstrom et a l . , 1986; Liska & Reed, 1985). A model of disengagement needs to take these factors into consideration. The most i n depth commentary on disengagement was found i n Kelly's (1993) ethnographic comparison of two alternate schools. Four d i f f e r e n t disengagement styles were i d e n t i f i e d : (a) academic, (b) peer relations, (c) ex t r a c u r r i c u l a r a c t i v i t i e s , and (d) credential. Indicators of academic disengagement included poor academic progress, classroom withdrawal, grade re p e t i t i o n , suspension and expulsion. Disengagement related to peers involved f i g h t i n g , i n a b i l i t y to make friends, a l i e n a t i o n from school sanctioned peer groups, and membership i n marginalized school groups. Extracurricular disengagement included both lack of p a r t i c i p a t i o n i n and d i s l i k e of school functions. Credential disengagement centered around the usefulness or a t t a i n a b i l i t y of a high school diploma. The main thrust of t h i s study focused on how disengagement styles d i f f e r e d with respect to gender. By i d e n t i f y i n g and d e t a i l i n g r e c i p r o c a l influences involved i n the process of leaving school 35 prematurely, t h i s research constituted an invaluable beginning point to the question of disengagement. The purpose of the present research was to investigate how these and other influences come together i n the course of an in d i v i d u a l ' s l i f e . Furthermore, i s disengagement from school a uniquely individual experience or are there common points that make for a general theory of disengagement? Personal Reflections My inte r e s t i n student disengagement stems from my work as an educator and my experience as a father. Over the past 18 years I have worked as a classroom teacher, a v i c e - p r i n c i p a l , and a school counsellor. With the exception of a one year part-time elementary school counselling position, the bulk of my time has been spent at the junior high school l e v e l (13 to 16-year-olds). Over the past 16 years I have also helped raise our three children, twin 16-year-old boys and a 13 year old g i r l . My biases, prejudices, hopes, and dreams about the education system stem mainly from these two sources. My experience has given me access to both the public presentations and the private musings of students, teachers, parents, and administrators. The vast majority of the professionals I've known are well intentioned and caring. I've met only a few parents who didn't care; most, regardless of how incapable they were of parenting, had the best in t e r e s t s of t h e i r children i n mind. And, whatever 36 t h e i r public stance, a l l the children that I've known have wanted to learn. I have had three d i s t i n c t roles i n the school system. For my f i r s t 5 years I was a f u l l - t i m e classroom teacher. I then spent 6 years as a school administrator responsible for school-wide management and d i s c i p l i n e . Presently, I work as a counsellor-- focusing primarily on the needs of i n d i v i d u a l s . The l a s t two-thirds of my career has been spent working with students who are not well served by the educational system, or, from a d i f f e r e n t perspective, childr e n who couldn't f i n d success within the regular system. While i n the past I was more prone to ascribing blame, my interest here i s to describe what I've seen and to a r t i c u l a t e my b e l i e f s about the role of junior high i n the disengagement process. I see the t r a n s i t i o n from elementary school to junior high school as the single, most d i f f i c u l t schooling experience that children encounter. For too many i t i s a time of increasing chaos and self-doubt. I r o n i c a l l y , i t i s also a time when the school system starts to become less tolerant, more demanding, and less forgiving. I have come to understand that a large part of t h i s problem originates from the i n s t i t u t i o n a l i z e d assumptions that the system has about i t s audience. The structure, pace, and expected a c q u i s i t i o n of information assumes that children come to school capable of learning. A related assumption i s that the homes from which these children originate are stable, 37 supportive, and guiding. For a myriad of reasons, too often, t h i s i s simply not the case. Wherever there are gaps between our assumptions and students' r e a l i t i e s , we appear to have children at r i s k . I have come to believe that most of the children i n question cannot cope within the system as i t e x i s t s . It was my access to t h e i r s t o r i e s , i n my role as an administrator and a counsellor, that affected my b e l i e f s about the d e b i l i t a t i n g structure of schools. The more aware I became of the nuances of individuals' l i v e s , the less able I was to grade, evaluate, and ultimately to f a i l these children. Over time, I became convinced that the challenge with "at r i s k " students was not so much with what we taught them, but rather with how long we were able to hold on to, and ultimately educate, them. As t h i s attitude took hold I started to question the sanctity of the curriculum and our methods of evaluation. The Curriculum. My d i f f i c u l t y with the curriculum occurred p r i m a r i l y at the point where to follow the curriculum meant to lose contact, or to d i l u t e contact, with the audience. More and more, I started to choose the audience over the curriculum. I've come to the point where I believe that there i s nothing i n the grade 8 - 1 0 curriculum that cannot be altered, adjusted, or ignored. I'm not arguing for a curriculum free i n s t i t u t i o n , or for curriculum as just a f e e l good exercise, but simply for an ongoing judgment about the order and timing of events. For me the curriculum exists as a type of 38 smorgasbord from which to choose; the focus should be on generating engagement and finding student strengths which can translate into academic accomplishment. Evaluation Procedures At my best, I used evaluation to encourage, support, and challenge students. I see evaluation as but another t o o l , a l b e i t a very powerful one, i n the ongoing process of hooking children into learning. I do not believe that seeing evaluation as a part of an ongoing student-teacher dialogue about in d i v i d u a l progress reduces standards or d i l u t e s r i g o r . My b l i n d application of decontextualized standards resulted i n some of my most regrettable moments as a teacher. At my worst, I made decisions about childre n passing or f a i l i n g by adding up numbers i n a column and assigning a grade. For a while though, I believe that I managed to a t t a i n a balance between the legitimate rights and needs of the majority (children who are w i l l i n g and able to learn) and those deemed to be at r i s k . However, the price for t h i s balancing act was huge. I l e f t the classroom, i n part, because I was spending substantial amounts of time r a i s i n g other peoples' children while my own were becoming strangers. Over the course of my career as an educator I've never heard anyone ask whether a teacher's job (as defined i n practice) can be done. I arrived at the conclusion that while I could teach a subject to 200 students (a t y p i c a l high school teacher-student r a t i o i s about 1:200) I could 39 not teach 200 students. The more aware I became of the l i v e s of disengaging students, the more I detached from the system as a whole. My compromise solution has been to f i n d an enclave where, now and again, I can make a difference for an i n d i v i d u a l student. Approach to the Research Introduction Most previous research on dropouts has been conducted from a t h i r d person, objective perspective. The purpose of the present study i s to document the subjective, l i v e d experience of students who have dropped out of school. Many rigorous methods exist which enable researchers to c l a r i f y personal experience, some of which are ethnography, par t i c i p a n t observation, grounded theory, dramaturgical interviewing, and content analysis. The present study used a narrative case study methodology because narrative provides a means of retaining context. Narrative Narrative i s "the fundamental scheme for l i n k i n g i n d i v i d u a l human actions and events into i n t e r r e l a t e d aspects of an understandable composite" (Polkinghorne, 1988, p. 13). This composite i s story. According to Cochran (1986) : We l i v e i n story whether we l i k e i t or not. We experience l i f e as a narrative flow. We work i n story. Our l i v e s are punctuated by overlapping but 40 i d e n t i f i a b l e units with beginnings, middles, and ends. The human mode of existence simply i s narrative, from transient encounters to l i f e t i m e projects, from inward symbolic dramas to outward performances. We are born to drama, to the experience of a meaningful gap between what i s and what ought to be, that d i r e c t s our s t r i v i n g for a suitable completion. We portray ourselves i n story, (p. 3) Story then, becomes a means of framing i n d i v i d u a l experience so that the meaning of the experience can be better understood. Story provides a context for understanding human meaning. Context gives us a means to understand the essential elements of a l i f e . In the present study, narrative allows us to grasp the process of disengagement of young adults who dropped out of school. Case Study Case study "allows an investigation to r e t a i n the h o l i s t i c and meaningful c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s of r e a l - l i f e events" (Yin, 1984, p. 14). The present study u t i l i z e d a multiple- case study design which allowed for a case comparison i n order to i d e n t i f y commonalities i n the disengagement process. A multiple-case design i s si m i l a r to multiple experiments i n that both r e l y on r e p l i c a t i o n l o g i c (Yin, 1984). Within t h i s design: 41 Each in d i v i d u a l case study consists of a 'whole' study, i n which convergent evidence i s sought regarding the facts and conclusions for the case; each case's conclusions are then considered to be the information needing r e p l i c a t i o n by other in d i v i d u a l cases. (Yin, 1984, p. 57) Research Design Yin (1984) stated that the f i v e components of a research design p a r t i c u l a r l y important to case studies are: (a) the study's questions; (b) i t s propositions, i f any; (c) i t s unit(s) of analysis, (d) the l o g i c l i n k i n g the data to the propositions; and (e) the c r i t e r i a for i n t e r p r e t i n g the findings. The primary purpose of t h i s study was to explore the process of disengagement from school as experienced by those who l e f t school before they graduated. A secondary purpose was to explore the degree to which disengagement was a common as opposed to an unique process. Because of the exploratory nature of t h i s study no research propositions were u t i l i z e d . Instead, the researcher sens i t i z e d himself to the dropout phenomenon by: (a) reviewing the l i t e r a t u r e on dropouts and the l i t e r a t u r e on theories of dropping out; and, (b) drawing on his personal experiences as an educator. This information heightened the researcher's awareness of the phenomenon i n 42 question and prepared him to conduct interviews and to proceed with the larger investigation. Individual interviews about participants' experiences constituted the study's primary units of analysis. Interviews were conducted with the intent of e l i c i t i n g the interpretations, understandings, and meanings that p a r t i c i p a n t s associated with pertinent disengagement experiences. Written transcriptions of completed interviews constituted the data base. A l o g i c of r e f l e c t i o n was u t i l i z e d to process the data. For each case study the data was converted into a narrative so that i n d i v i d u a l experiences, meanings, and understandings could be embedded i n a meaningful context. By drawing on t h i s common context the researcher was able to i d e n t i f y three streams of movement that contributed to the larger process of disengagement. The researcher v e r i f i e d streams by tr a c i n g each to i t s point of o r i g i n i n individual interviews and t r a n s c r i p t s . Participants v e r i f i e d t h e i r i n d i v i d u a l s t o r i e s . Two independent judges had an opportunity to vali d a t e the l o g i c a l flow from o r i g i n a l data base, to story construction, and stream i d e n t i f i c a t i o n back to the data base. Judges were asked to answer two questions: (a) Did the researcher create a bias or d i s t o r t i o n during the interview process? and, (b) Did narrative accounts accurately r e f l e c t participants' verbalized accounts of di sengagement ? 43 C r i t e r i a for interpreting a study's findings are vague and the least developed part of case study research (Yin, 1984) .• This study r e l i e d on the accuracy u t i l i z e d i n stream i d e n t i f i c a t i o n . This multiple-case study was designed to document ind i v i d u a l experiences of disengagement from school. U t i l i z i n g data from interviews, narratives were constructed and three streams of disengagement were i d e n t i f i e d . Participants v e r i f i e d the accuracy of the s t o r i e s while two independent judges v e r i f i e d the accuracy of the study as a whole. 44 Chapter 3 Methodology The main steps of t h i s study can be summarized as follows. This study used an open ended interview format to gather i n i t i a l data. Interviews were transcribed and s t o r i e s which focused on the participants' l i v e d experiences of disengagement were constructed. Streams of movement which were extracted from these stories suggested a common range of experience across the participants' l i v e s . Interviews were terminated when a r e p e t i t i v e pattern of disengagement started to emerge. Design of the Study The study involved a multiple case study design using narratives of disengagement from school. Each case study was based on an individual narrative of disengagement. This study was based on r e p l i c a t i o n l o g i c as c l a r i f i e d by Yin (1984) i n which a pattern from one case i s r e p l i c a t e d i n other cases. The reasoning behind r e p l i c a t i o n l o g i c i s that s i m i l a r r e s u l t s from multiple experiments or case studies are considered more robust and compelling than findings from a single experiment or case study (Yin, 1984). In t h i s study central c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s from each narrative were examined i n order to i d e n t i f y r e p l i c a t i n g movements of disengagement. Replication of the i d e n t i f i e d pattern of disengagement across the 10 case studies enhanced confidence i n the study's r e s u l t s . 45 Participants Participants were recruited from a school d i s t r i c t data base. I n i t i a l contact was made by an alternate school p r i n c i p a l (B) - someone whom participants (and/or t h e i r parents) might be f a m i l i a r with. B. read prospective pa r t i c i p a n t s an outline of the study (see Appendix I) and provided them with my phone number. Once a p a r t i c i p a n t c a l l e d me I reviewed the nature and purpose of the study with i n d i v i d u a l participants and established a time to conduct the f i r s t interview. In order to p a r t i c i p a t e i n the study, in d i v i d u a l s had to meet two c r i t e r i a . F i r s t , individuals needed to have dropped out of school p r i o r to graduation. Second, par t i c i p a n t s were required to possess some a b i l i t y to a r t i c u l a t e t h e i r experience. No age c r i t e r i a was s t i p u l a t e d at the outset of the study. However, as a r e s u l t of the recruitment process, 8 of the 10 participants ended up being young adults. Two participants were 16 and 17-year-olds, the remaining 8 were between the ages of 21 - 23. Participant recruitment continued u n t i l a point of saturation had been reached. Saturation was determined to have occurred once individual narratives f a i l e d to o f f e r any novel information about the disengagement process. The recruitment process also generated a disproportionate gender representation i n the study. National Canadian figures indicate a 3:2 male to female dropout r a t i o (Gilbert et a l . , 1993). Of the 10 46 p a r t i c i p a n t s recruited, 7 were female and 3 were male. Two of the females and one of the males were parents, each had one c h i l d . Three of the participants were s t i l l attempting to f i n i s h high school, one of the 16-year-olds had given up altogether. The other seven were either studying a trade or applying to technical or business programs. One p a r t i c i p a n t was applying to graduate school. Interview Process The intent of the interview was to gather as much depth and breadth of d e t a i l as participants were capable of o f f e r i n g (Mishler, 1986). Evidence for the s t o r i e s that were generated i n t h i s study was c o l l e c t e d using an unstructured interview format. Establishing rapport and f a c i l i t a t i n g dialogue was challenging. At the s t a r t of the f i r s t case study the participants was asked to construct a timeline i n order to produce a chronological ordering of events involved i n the disengagement process. This approach to or i e n t i n g participants was abandoned early on i n the study as i t proved to be problematic. The f i r s t p a r t i c i p a n t dismissed the timeline exercise with the words "feels kind of l i k e school". Thereafter a more general ori e n t i n g procedure was u t i l i z e d . For example, at the s t a r t of the second case study the participants was asked: "What do you remember about being a kid"? This type of approach seemed to have a more relaxing effect on participants and was used for the remainder of the study. 47 The o v e r a l l strategy was to e s t a b l i s h a l e v e l of dialogue that might occur between two friends. Once part i c i p a n t s started t e l l i n g t h e i r story, the researcher would j o i n the dialogue i n whatever manner seemed appropriate. For example, i n the second case study the p a r t i c i p a n t seemed very nervous and was having a hard time f e e l i n g comfortable. Near the st a r t of the interview I reminisced about v i s i t i n g my birthplace a f t e r the pa r t i c i p a n t r e c a l l e d v i s i t i n g the v i l l a g e i n which her father was born. This introduced a conversational tone to the interview and appeared to help her to relax. On another occasion my response helped the participant to distance from his pain and to refocus. During the t h i r d case study the pa r t i c i p a n t reached a point where he seemed overwhelmed and appeared unable to continue: The divorce came and I just, l i k e I went into a s h e l l and I just didn't want anyone to touch me, nothing. I just, I just sat there i n school. I j u s t . Why? (c r i e s ) . Here, I attempted to bring him back to the interview by responding with empathic r e f l e c t i o n , "You were r e a l l y hurt, and there was just no w i l l " . The participant responded by c o l l e c t i n g himself and continuing with his story. Throughout the interviewing process, the researcher u t i l i z e d whatever attending, l i s t e n i n g , paraphrasing and empathy s k i l l s that seemed appropriate. 48 Establishing rapport and conducting i n i t i a l interviews required varying lengths of time. Some interviews were conducted within a 3 - 4 hour period while others required 7 - 8 hours to complete. Beyond establishing rapport, the interview process presented the researcher with two main types of challenges. Some interviews were so v i l e and f i l l e d with pain that I became very emotionally engaged. On these occasions I had to struggle to regain distance and balance i n order to check my i n c l i n a t i o n to move into a therapeutic r o l e . For example, i n the seventh case study when M. started explaining how she had been raped by her mother's boyfriend and then ignored by her mother, I distanced by seeking c l a r i f i c a t i o n about the time i n her l i f e when these events had occurred. On the other hand, i n other types of interviews, where participants seemed very f l a t , I had to work at engaging. In these sessions the partic i p a n t s were not able to a r t i c u l a t e t h e i r experiences e a s i l y , spoke i n a sparse manner, and had d i f f i c u l t y elaborating. Here my challenge was to remain patient and to stay with the partic i p a n t , while they attempted to explain t h e i r s t o r i e s . With these participants I would often paraphrase what had been offered, query how t h i s f i t into the o v e r a l l story, and seek confirmation for my understanding of what had been expressed. This tended to f i l l uncomfortable silences and helped to move the interview away from a question and answer format and into a dialogue. 49 Construction of Narratives Narrative construction followed a f a i r l y uniform routine. Once an interview was completed a process of content immersion took place. Taped interviews were turned into verbatim transcripts and read repeatedly while tapes were l i s t e n e d to regularly. Whenever I drove I would l i s t e n to an interview. Reading and l i s t e n i n g to the interviews enabled me to dwell on and f a m i l i a r i z e myself with in d i v i d u a l cases. This process helped to create an i n i t i a l ordering of events into general categories: beginnings, middles, and ends. The i n i t i a l order was then c l a r i f i e d through writing which used the participants' own words as much as possible. I added my own words to each emerging story i n order to: (a) add c l a r i t y to events, (b) make connections between events; and (c) make i m p l i c i t meanings more e x p l i c i t . V a l idation of Narratives During the construction of a narrative, I re g u l a r l y consulted with my advisor and two fellow doctoral students. Their suggestions, resulted i n changes that helped to add c l a r i t y and coherence to individual s t o r i e s . On a more personal note, these meetings were also an extremely useful way to maintain momentum. Two forms of narrative review, or ways to check on steps from the data base, through narrative construction, to i d e n t i f y i n g streams were used: (a) a parti c i p a n t review, and (b) an independent judges review. 50 Participant Review . Once completed, narrative drafts were submitted to pa r t i c i p a n t s to be reviewed. These meetings provided the opportunity to discuss and revise stories so that they more accurately r e f l e c t e d participants' l i v e d experiences. In each of the 10 case studies the i n i t i a l story draft had captured the essence of the participant's experience, and the changes required were a l l of a technical nature. For instance, i n the 9th case study the participant's name had been misspelled and i n the 8th case study the date that he moved out of the lower mainland needed to be changed. Each par t i c i p a n t decided when his or her story was completed. Independent Judges'Review Two counselling psychology doctoral students reviewed and evaluated the research process. Each reviewer l i s t e n e d to the audio-tapes, read both the transcripts and the f i n i s h e d s t o r i e s , and had an opportunity to comment on the accuracy of the i d e n t i f i e d pattern of disengagement. Reviewers were asked i n i t i a l l y to answer two questions: (1) Was the participant led, directed, c u r t a i l e d , or unduly influenced by the researcher i n the verbal account of his/her experience? and (2) Did the written account of each par t i c i p a n t ' s process of disengagement accurately r e f l e c t the o r i g i n a l account? With respect to the f i r s t question, both judges f e l t that the i n t e g r i t y of the process had been maintained. Each participant had been allowed to t e l l his/her story without 51 being directed or led. My interview style was described as respectful, open, curious, and at times p l a y f u l . Both judges also f e l t that the completed stories accurately r e f l e c t e d the o r i g i n a l accounts of disengagement offered i n each interview. Each f e l t the tr a n s l a t i o n from interview to completed story had successfully retained the d e t a i l , mood, and character of o r i g i n a l interviews. Comparative Pattern Analysis When the 10 stories were completed, they were systematically compared to i d e n t i f y commonalties i n the process of disengagement from school. The purpose here was to ascertain whether a common pattern or patterns of experience could be found across a l l or some of the par t i c i p a n t s ' accounts. Patton (1990) indicated that while there are no un i v e r s a l l y accepted rules about how to conduct analysis of q u a l i t a t i v e data, there are guidelines. Applying these guidelines however, requires judgment and c r e a t i v i t y . A central concern i s that the researcher's analysis t r u t h f u l l y r e f l e c t s participants' experiences. Once a story had been completed the researcher wrote a b r i e f commentary on each, o u t l i n i n g individual processes of disengagement. Commentary construction strengthened the researcher's grasp of individual s t o r i e s , required a s h i f t from concrete d e t a i l to low le v e l abstraction, and f a c i l i t a t e d a broader comparative analysis. The comparative analysis was conducted on a story by story basis. Completed stories and commentaries were 52 reviewed and experiences, events, and meanings that seemed to have contributed to the disengagement process were coded. This produced groupings of common types of primary d i f f i c u l t i e s . For instance, some participants had problems with t h e i r parents (1st, 3rd 6th case studies) others were troubled by shyness (2nd & 4th case studies), while a couple (7th & 8th) were undermined by the broader s o c i a l environment. Commentaries, on the other hand, indicated some si m i l a r kinds of feelings. For the f i r s t four case studies these feelings centered around a loss of trust and a desire to belong. Other commentaries (6th and 10th) revealed feelings of power and control. This process of s i f t i n g through the stories enabled the researcher to s t a r t to i d e n t i f y and a r t i c u l a t e how s i g n i f i c a n t experiences seemed to f i t into an o v e r a l l movement of disengagement. Common ingredients from each story were then compared on a story by story basis. Ingredients were compared not from a perspective of s i m i l a r i t y of d e t a i l but rather for s i m i l a r i t y of impact i n the disengagement process. From t h i s somewhat more abstract point of view, formerly d i s t i n c t categories started to merge into broader patterns of movement. For instance a common effect of i n d i v i d u a l s ' troubled backgrounds, regardless of the source, were feelings of v u l n e r a b i l i t y and aloneness. A sense of being abandoned, d i r e c t i o n l e s s , or unguided surfaced from relationships with parents. This process resulted i n the three movements that constitute the disengagement process. 53 Once a draft of the comparative patterns was completed, the researcher engaged i n a dialogue with his advisor and the two colleagues i n order to refine and c l a r i f y the three movements. F i n a l l y , common story components were checked against i n d i v i d u a l stori e s to see i f the movements adequately captured individual experiences of disengagement. Both independent judges were asked whether the three streams of disengagement accurately represented the 10 p a r t i c i p a n t s experiences of dropping out. Aside from suggestions about semantic choices, both judges agreed with the findings of the study. The following 10 chapters contain the p a r t i c i p a n t s ' s t o r i e s . Each narrative i s followed by a commentary which r e f l e c t s the researcher's understanding of i n d i v i d u a l s t o r i e s . A sample transcript i s provided i n Appendix I I I . Discussion of the results has been lim i t e d to the l i v e s of the p a r t i c i p a n t s . 54 Chapter 4 Case Study 1: M Introduction M. dropped out of high school i n October, 198 9. He was 16 years old and had completed grade 10. Leaving school without graduating was not a singular act i n M's l i f e . Rather, i t was the f i n a l step i n a process of disengagement which centered around his struggle to belong, his growing i n a b i l i t y to trust, and his continued lack of agency. This c o n f l i c t had i t s o r i g i n i n his family, i n t e n s i f i e d during grade 8 and 9, and culminated i n his dropping out. In retrospect, dropping out can be seen as an inevitable outcome. At the same time, M's academic a b i l i t y , his courage and tenacity provided moments of genuine wavering when a successful school experience seemed possible. In the end, disengaging from the experienced b r u t a l i t y of the school system however, was the best thing that young M did. Background One of M's e a r l i e s t family memories i s of being out of sync with family mores. As he explained i t : well I've always been very cold and self-centered. I've just been t o l d that through my entire l i f e . Like when I was 5 years old I can remember being t o l d I was self-centered and s e l f i s h . While t h i s experience would acquire a d i f f e r e n t s i g n i f i c a n c e i n his adult l i f e , as a c h i l d i t l e f t him with feelings of disapproval and self-doubt. Frustrated i n his desire to belong, " f i t t i n g i n " would become a task of central 55 importance. Heeding his parents' and grandparents' admonitions, M would at f i r s t attempt to accomplish t h i s task by playing according to the rules. Elementary school however only added to his need to belong. Enrolled i n a public elementary school i n grades 1 through 4, M's friendships came to a sudden end when he transferred to a Catholic school i n grade 5. This sense of loss was deepened by his parents' divorce and the subsequent scapegoating of his father by his mother and her parents. His aloneness was compounded by his mother's personal circumstance. She was a manic depressive a l c o h o l i c who was increasingly absent from M emotionally. T r a n s i t i o n to junior high then, found M l i v i n g i n d i f f i c u l t circumstances with his mother, ostracized from his father, and moving away from friendships that he had formed at the Catholic elementary school. The Beginning The move to high school marked, i n many ways, the beginning of M's disengagement from school. Saddled with an intense desire to belong and burdened with numerous experiences of not f i t t i n g i n , M now had to face the increased demands that adolescence brings to the struggle to define oneself. This task became more d i f f i c u l t to r e a l i z e i n the charged atmosphere of junior high where peer acceptance may well mark the difference between success and f a i l u r e . His f a i l u r e to f i n d a place during grade 8 and 9 would begin to sow the seeds of resignation. 56 Part of M's d i f f i c u l t y was his siz e . Short and angry he often found himself unable to back up a s i t u a t i o n that his "big mouth" helped create. Added to the d i f f i c u l t i e s that his stature presented was his appearance. My family, my grandparents and my mom...they dressed me...and they dressed me i n garbage. In grade 8 people are getting into these fashion things and stuff...and so I was a complete outcast. Grade 8 also brought a change i n school systems. Come grade 8, they shove me back into the school, public school system. So my brain i s just goop by now. You know, I've just been picked up and thrown around. You know, I have no secure relationships with anybody, no friends, no peers, you know, that I can rel a t e to. Then I get back into the school system and I'm just completely messed". Added to t h i s sense of displacement were experiences of betrayal. This i s what led me to the "fuck you" attitude that I have...And I figured B was my fr i e n d and then I'm walking down from 7-Eleven... t h i s guy sta r t s twisting my arm and sta r t s chasing me down the road, r i g h t . It's l i k e I'm such a l i t t l e runt so he can get away with it...And uhm, he did that and I pleaded to B and he didn't do anything so, you know, i t was just l i k e . . . f u c k t h i s . His summer time experiences also added to his d i f f i c u l t i e s . My grandparents and my mom are so stupid. What happened i s they took me and they sent me o f f during the summer so that they can have a break from me and my brother. They sent us to our uncle's... he's got four kids...and he knows how to handle kids r e l a t i v e l y well. So we'd have a stable environment where we'd a c t u a l l y be happy. I'd s i t up there...I wouldn't have to deal with my mother...her freaking out a l l the time...and then we'd come back and i t ' d just be h e l l . You know, I would just go through t o t a l anarchy within. 57 "Anarchy within" was defined as "a f e e l i n g of intense uncertainty to what 1s going to happen i n the next few minutes". During his second year i n high school, even his academic accomplishments seemed to distance him. In grade 9 M's performance, motivated by a $25 per "A" agreement with his grandparents, resulted i n the purchase of a much wanted computer. I r o n i c a l l y , r e a l i z i n g t h i s goal only added to M's aloneness. The computer offered him an escape from the d a i l y pain of home and school. It was "another world" which was "very safe" and which "didn't fight back". Angry and s o c i a l l y alienated from the sta r t , grade 8 and 9 only made matters worse. His own e f f o r t s to f i n d a place among his chosen peers f a i l e d . His r e l a t i v e s ' contributions confirmed that they were ignorant, not to be trusted, and further sabotaged his acceptance by the group. Peers whom he thought he could trust abandoned him. Pleasant summer time experiences ended up deepening his i n s e c u r i t i e s and made him more aware of the emptiness of l i f e at home. Academic accomplishments provided an escape from the system rather than the membership that he coveted. In the process, academic accomplishment i t s e l f was devalued as i t did l i t t l e to address his needs. Increasingly, school became a place to survive and guard against. The Middle While the f i r s t 2 years of high school were marked by struggle and e f f o r t , grade 10 and 11 brought about increased 58 resignation and inevitable withdrawal. The v i t a l i t y , vigor, and achievement demonstrated as a 13 and 14 year old started to be replaced by a growing numbness. Both home and school contributed to t h i s deadening of the s p i r i t . No longer l i v i n g with his maternal grandparents, M, his brother, and t h e i r mother were now l i v i n g alone. This move made an already bad s i t u a t i o n worse. I used to come home and my mom would be drunk on the couch...when you're that age and you see your mother having complete disrespect for herself and you know not caring about anything, drunk every single day, you know, p a r t i a l l y i t led me to be completely cold towards her...I didn't even want to come home when, you know you see your mother l i k e that you just, i t ' s crap. And, though he could escape her presence he could not escape her influence. L i v i n g with my mom, I just started not caring about anything anymore I guess. It wasn't worth i t . This deadening of s p i r i t and increased resignation were also occurring at school. S o c i a l l y unaccepted by his chosen peer group M was now "hanging around with grade 9's". Whereas academic achievement had some relevance i n the e a r l i e r years, i f only as a means to an ends, grades no' longer mattered. In part t h i s s h i f t was due to work. In grade 10 my grades went down the t o i l e t . I started working at Burger King. That's right, and I started going to work rather than coming to school. Burger King offered something that neither home nor school could provide, a sense of peace and agency. "Not 59 only am I earning my way, i t ' s that I don't have to deal with the garbage ( harassment at school) every day". Putting i n 24 to 3 0 hours a week, work became the main focus of his days. School, on the other hand, started to be seen as a place to raise havoc. In grade 10: Like I was climbing i n and out of windows i n my typing cl a s s . I was going home halfway through the class, you know I was c a l l i n g her a bitch, t e l l i n g her to fuck o f f . Most teachers were seen as people who could be dominated: My English teacher, my Consumer Ed. teacher, and my Typing teacher would, they could have no control over me whatsoever and as soon as they'd l e t me dominate, that was i t . On the other hand confrontation was equally as useless, only furthering the disengagement. I walked i n there (Drama class) and I had a big attitude problem I guess, and that day she said something to me and I t o l d her to "fuck o f f you dumb cow" and then I walked away and walked home. So...I got burnt (suspended), big deal. Accompanying t h i s experience of school as an exercise i n contempt, was a change of sought a f t e r peers. Near the end of grade 10 his desire to belong to the " popular group" dwindled. It died i n the sense that I didn't care about what other kids l i k e that, supposedly upper class kids, were doing. You know I started hanging around with other people who were, who would be defined as lower c l a s s . 60 No longer working at Burger King, f i l l e d with contempt for school and not interested i n f i t t i n g i n with those students for whom school had some meaning, M turned to crime and drugs by the st a r t of grade 11. Now I was s t a r t i n g to relate to people. Through the one a c t i v i t y which I was good at, which was being a criminal. I wasn't good at sports. I wasn't good at being with other people who were supposedly better than me. I could be a criminal. Besides the " t h r i l l and entertainment" value of crime, i t also provided i d e n t i t y and belonging. School on the other hand, was an emotional and i n t e l l e c t u a l death. Most of the time i n school I just s i t there l i k e a lump of s h i t . [Thinking] nothing at a l l . [Feeling] nothing. Several important changes occurred for M during t h i s period. Though b i t t e r l y painful and very much unresolved, his r e l a t i o n s h i p with his mother forced him to become more independent. In a s i m i l a r fashion, r e j e c t i o n by his "upper clas s " peers moved him towards the v i t a l i t y and instant g r a t i f i c a t i o n of the street. His seething and uncontrollable rage showed him that the adults i n the school system were la r g e l y powerless to stop him. The End M was expelled near the end of grade 11 for s t e a l i n g a teacher's purse. He returned to school next September and dropped out by early October. 61 Disengagement had several meanings for M. Withdrawal from school meant leaving an environment that was p a i n f u l , s t i f l i n g and increasingly meaningless. It marked the end of an emotional and i n t e l l e c t u a l emptiness that had become an everyday experience. Disengagement also meant moving from the p o s i t i o n of being a pawn to becoming an agent. Having f a i l e d to f i t i n and a t t a i n recognition through appropriate channels, M turned to crime on the street and disruptive behavior i n the classroom. This way of being provided i d e n t i t y , a type of security and a power over others. Perhaps the most s i g n i f i c a n t s h i f t associated with the process of disengagement though, had to do with M's e a r l i e s t memories. Somewhere i n the process M started to learn to put himself f i r s t - - e v e n to the exclusion of the needs of others. Now instead of denying and being ashamed of his "selfishness" he embraced i t as a philosophy. • Commentary. For M, disengagement centered around issues of membership, trust, and agency. Dropping out of school offered short term solutions to entrenched, long standing problems. A sense of belonging was denied f i r s t by his family; he had f e l t l i k e an outsider as early as age f i v e . M's separateness was made worse by his parent's divorce and his mother's i l l n e s s . This desire to belong was further f r u s t r a t e d by his early school experience. M repeatedly 62 experienced a cycle of hesitant connection followed by abrupt removal. The process resulted i n heightening hesitation, reluctance to form close connections to peers and mistrust of potential friends. Instead of providing a sense of security, his experience regularly deepened his need to f i t i n . By the time he l e f t elementary school that hazy f e e l i n g of being out of place that he had known as a preschooler, was beginning to c r y s t a l l i z e . High school increased his d i f f i c u l t i e s . Increasingly angry, short, and mouthy, M's e f f o r t s to connect only added to his growing i n a b i l i t y to trust and growing defensive stance. Rooted i n his family experience, and further exacerbated by his relationships with his peers, t h i s lack of trust encouraged M's alienation. Where others might be carefree and f l u i d M became increasingly cautious and suspicious. Opportunities for celebration and belonging (school success) only added to his aloneness. Slowly desperation turned to resignation. Withering i n an unpredictable, unreliable world where only r e j e c t i o n seemed certain, M developed a need for control. Increased agency came about through the employment of two strategies. He withdrew from the parts of his world that were painful and beyond his control (home, school), and gravitated towards those enclaves where he could e s t a b l i s h himself (work, the s t r e e t ) . Work offered a sense of control and some grounding. It also took him away from school. 63 Freed from his obligation and too bright to f i n d s a t i s f a c t i o n f l i p p i n g hamburgers, M turned to petty crime. Criminal a c t i v i t y provided exhilaration, power, and acceptance. In the end, disengagement from school not only added to M's sense of agency but also r e v i t a l i z e d his s p i r i t . 64 Chapter 5 Case Study 2: A Like a skein of loose s i l k blown against a wall She walks by the r a i l i n g of a path i n Kensington Gardens, And she i s dying piece-meal of a sort of emotional anemia. Ezra Pound Our s u r v i v a l and development depend on our capacity to r e c r u i t the invested attention of others to us. Robert Kegan Introduction In some ways, the significance of A's disengagement from school was captured i n her parting comment. At the end of a 3 hour interview she noted, "This was good for me you know, I mean, I'm just learning to t a l k to people". The magnitude of her task was evident throughout our exchange. Though she had volunteered to partake i n the study, a c t u a l l y t e l l i n g her story proved to be d i f f i c u l t . It was not "natural" for A to elaborate without being prodded. On the other hand, I didn't want to turn the interview into a question and answer session. I was more interested i n her story as she opted to t e l l i t . Together we produced a narrative which at times begs for more d e t a i l . Addressing the issue of vagueness became a p i v o t a l point i n the construction of the narrative. In the end I decided that the vagueness was a core component of A's experience. What better way to capture the aloneness, the s t i l l n e s s , the overwhelming sense of being abandoned, 65 repeatedly. On occasion however, A was d e l i b e r a t e l y vague. She didn't want to o f f e r any d e t a i l s about her f i r s t experience of abuse. This event though, needs to be distinguished from the physical abuse that she suffered at the hands of her brother. The issue of vagueness therefore, w i l l be addressed i n two ways. Wherever possible, i t w i l l be l e f t to speak to the reader. On those occasions where c l a r i t y i s required I w i l l o f f e r my comments. These w i l l appear i n parentheses. A never formally dropped out of school. Instead, she d r i f t e d into an emotional and academic s t i l l n e s s that had a coma-like q u a l i t y to i t . Over time, school would move from being a source of v i t a l i t y and discovery i n her l i f e to, at best, a d a i l y diversion or obstacle to be overcome. Her process of disengagement from school started early, continued steadily, and moved at a barely perceptible pace. This process was rooted i n her overwhelming shyness and was f a c i l i t a t e d by her experiences both at home and at school. Her disengagement from school, l i k e her growing disengagement from l i f e , was a product both of her i n a b i l i t y to engage and the world's (parents' and school's) f a i l u r e to notice. The Beginning According to her mom A "always walked to the beat of [her] own drummer. [She] always had a very strong sense of what was right and what [she] thought was r i g h t " . At times she would come across as f e i s t y and f u l l of bravado. As a 3 66 year old she didn't l i k e her grandmother's cooking and wouldn't eat i t . I nternally however, a d i f f e r e n t s e l f seemed to be taking shape. By the age of f i v e she had a taste of being alone and abandoned: My mom was working and my dad was working graveyard. And so, he'd be sleeping when I got home from school and we'd be there to take care of ourselves. Or we had a baby-sitter for awhile but she didn't pay any attention to me. And I f e l t alone a l o t of the time. And I talked to my parents about that and they'd say I wasn't alone that much but to me I was. It was t h i s aloneness that she associated with her independence: And so I had to learn, I had to learn my independence r e a l l y young. I had to take care of myself, set my own values and goals and t r y to figure things out. Naturally shy, her tendency to go i t alone increased a f t e r she was abused: That's (the abuse) part of why I became a loner, that's why I secluded myself. S t i l l , for the f i r s t three years school was a r i c h and rewarding experience which seemed to give her what she needed. Her grade 3 teacher was: Wonderful. He'd r e a l l y pay attention. He'd l i s t e n , he r e a l l y cared. I was shy...and he'd l i s t e n , he'd get me to give my answer out. He'd be patient. He'd never scream at us, he never made us f e e l stupid for not knowing. He'd just be patient and not demand i t and just be very relaxed about i t . Other parts of her world however, were not as encouraging. She and her older brother, with whom she shared a room, had a f a l l i n g out when she was seven. Over 67 the next eight years he became increasingly more p h y s i c a l l y and emotionally abusive. It was at the age of seven that she f i r s t remembered being v i s i t e d by a sort of sadness which would remain for years. In addition to the pain, "he was my older brother and I looked up to him", t h i s treatment eroded her confidence: Well, when you get put down at home then that i n t e r f e r e s with how you f e e l even i n school. Even i f you're not put down. In many ways grade 3 was the l a s t time that A was to be engaged i n school. Her grade 4 teacher was "mean and impatient". Shortly into the school year he had her placed into Learning Assistance: Probably because I didn't do my homework. Because I got i r r i t a t e d and I decided I'm not going to do i t and they put me into t h i s (L.A.) which made me more i r r i t a t e d , which made me want to do le s s . . . I was mad, I was r e a l l y mad cause I know I'm not stupid. A loved to read, loved to write, and was i n honors math by grade 7, but grade 4 started to d e r a i l her: I just remember f e e l i n g so bad because he'd make a comment...If I didn't know the answer he'd say "I'm not surprised you didn't know' or something to that e f f e c t . And when you hear i t enough you just don't want to hear i t anymore and you don't want to l i s t e n to what he has to say. While grade 4 was the worst, the next 3 years were almost as bad. Forced to deal with teachers whom she found mean and impatient A responded by saying as l i t t l e as possible, "I'd just be quiet and I wouldn't divulge anything 68 that wasn't asked of me". She also protested by doing only the work that she could f i n i s h at school: If I didn't have time to do i t i n class, then I just wouldn't do it...And because I figured, at school, that was school time but at home, that was my time. Of equal importance was her parents i n a b i l i t y to get her to engage i n her schooling. S t i l l i n elementary school, she knew that "They (her parents) couldn't make me do i t , they'd t e l l me to, but they couldn't r e a l l y make me". Through a mixture of her constitution and her experience A had developed some important and powerful s k i l l s . By the time she l e f t elementary school she had learned to handle her parents, her teachers and the school system. Obstinate and f e e l i n g under attack, she fended o f f her teachers and the school by l i m i t i n g her p a r t i c i p a t i o n . Her parents, she recognized, were lim i t e d i n t h e i r a b i l i t y to a f f e c t her. Shy by nature, traumatized by her abuse and f e e l i n g abandoned by her family, she was becoming increasingly more alone. I r o n i c a l l y , the very means that she had discovered to fend off the world would serve to entrap her. For though she was learning how to cope with and even control d i f f e r e n t aspects of her l i f e , A was l o s i n g her a b i l i t y to t r u s t . The Middle The move to high school represented a time of both increased r i s k and increased p o s s i b i l i t y . Some subjects allowed for genuine engagement: 69 I took the best class I ever had (Communications 8). The teacher was great. It was the f i r s t time I f e l t comfortable i n any class interacting with other students... F i r s t there was me and Jackie...And then there was a couple of other guys who we became friends with...and then i t just kind of grew. We'd go down to Kentucky Fried Chicken at lunch and bring back something for everybody. In other classes a sense of resignation seemed to surface and she continued on i n her d r i f t away from academics: Socials I've always been bad at. Math, I barely passed Math because of the jump from [grade] 7 honors to [grade] 9 honors...It was d i s t r e s s i n g . . . pretty hard to deal with...We (she and Jackie) were both kind of sinking. And we both knew there was something wrong with the class. So we just l e t i t go at that and we barely passed. I mentioned a few things at home here and there but nothing major. S o c i a l l y , A was making choices which would increase her i s o l a t i o n : I wasn't into group a c t i v i t y i n high school. I didn't j o i n any sports. I quit singing. I gave up the ukulele. I didn't j o i n band Almost as i f by accident she discovered a new power i n her quiet and unprovocative mannerisms which would, ultimately, move her deeper into her disengagement: The f i r s t time I remember skipping out was at a f i r e alarm. I was i n French (grade 8) and Jackie and I contemplated on the chances of getting caught. And so we decided to go for i t . And she got caught and I didn't. So i t was l i k e "Okay, t h i s i s cool' which kind of worked out right because we'd be t a l k i n g i n class and she'd get i n trouble and I wouldn't... because she was loud and I was quiet. And I could s t a r t and i n i t i a t e everything and s t i l l not get i n trouble. I learned r e a l fast that I could t a l k my way out of anything. It meant that I could skip out and I could go and t a l k to the p r i n c i p a l and once or twice I'd get busted but the rest of the time I'd just t a l k my way 70 out of i t . I learned that because I was quiet, they never r e a l l y noticed i f I was there. At the deepest and most secretive part of her being the struggles with her memories of abuse continued: Then i n grade 8 I started getting r e a l l y depressed, saying no i t didn't happen. It's something that I took out of my mind somewhere. [Even though] i t was always there I just said "No, I'm insane'. I thought I was insane for years. And then I started to get r e a l l y , r e a l l y depressed. Increasingly alone and unhappy, A attempted to fi g h t her growing depression by e n l i s t i n g her parents' help: [At 13] I started smoking too, probably cause I wanted my parents to catch me. I wanted confrontation of some kind. I was upset a l o t of the time. I was very depressed. And nobody ever asked me why. And I guess I got hurt, I got mad and wanted something that I knew would dig i n and get them. And I knew smoking was i t . It was for my mom because she was always so against i t . But they never, they never did. They, they caught me when I was 17. At other times her anger prevented her from engaging: My parents would fight...and I'd comfort her. But then again there was nobody there comforting me. And so for a while I was r e a l l y , r e a l l y angry. Yeah, my mom wanted, as I c a l l e d i t at the time, play family. And I was r e a l l y snotty about i t because the sense that I got was that she was too busy with work and we never r e a l l y did anything and then at thirteen, she got more time and, and she wanted to do things as a family. And at that time I was, I'd spent so much time on my own, I didn't want to be thi s family unit. The cumulative ef f e c t of her home and school l i f e resulted i n feelings of profound i s o l a t i o n . I r o n i c a l l y the i n v i s i b i l i t y that enabled her to manipulate situations at school was becoming a curse: 71 I walked around i n v i s i b l e . That's how I f e l t . I r e a l l y thought that people didn't see me. They saw through me. Yeah, my parents always said, "Well, why don't you t r y harder. You should get t h i s done'. And I always thought, 'Why bother'. Other than the b r i e f hiatus offered by Communications 8, the f i r s t few years of high school proved to be a continuation and a deepening of the disengagement that she f i r s t experienced i n grade 4. Academically, she was d r i f t i n g into doing less. She was just surviving i n subjects that she had formerly excelled at. S o c i a l l y she was becoming more isol a t e d . A c t i v i t i e s that she had been a part of (singing, band, choir) she no longer joined. L i f e at home was becoming more d i f f i c u l t as a resu l t of her relationships with her parents and with her brother. More than ever she was haunted by memories of the abuse., And perhaps most s i g n i f i c a n t l y , her e f f o r t s to contact her parents went unnoticed, an experience that was mirrored at school. The End A continued to sink into her aloneness. Somewhere during grade 11 she seemed to h i t bottom: I didn't want to f e e l anymore... I didn't want to care anymore... I didn't want to ta l k to anybody r e a l l y . . . I didn't want to become involved. I honestly didn't think I'd be around long enough [to get involved]. She would not move out of t h i s s t i l l n e s s u n t i l a f t e r she l e f t school, disclosed about the abuse and received help. While i n grade 11: 72 [School was] an annoyance or a d i s t r a c t i o n [from her pain] depending which class i t was. The degree and extent of her disengagement from school became most noticeable i n grade 12: Oh i t s t e a d i l y got worse. By grade 12, i f I didn't skip an hour out of the day i t was unusual. Usually, I'd go home at lunch and not come back. I never a c t u a l l y even thought of dropping out. It's just i f I showed up, I showed up. If I didn't, I didn't. Which i s b a s i c a l l y the same thing, because i n my school I never r e a l l y heard of people dropping out. There i s no point at which A formally disengaged from school. O f f i c i a l l y , she was recorded as having f i n i s h e d her grade 12 year without graduating. Invited back to re-take English 12, Socials 12, and Math 12, she declined. In many ways leaving school was a r e l i e f . As A explained i t : I didn't l i k e the whole system of school. I didn't l i k e the way i t was run. I didn't l i k e the people who ran i t . At the same time, her disengagement from school can be seen as the culmination of a way of being over which she appeared to have l i t t l e control: If you l e t someone get too close, they can hurt you. If you keep people at a distance then you may be surprised, shocked, but you won't be hurt. Commentary. A i d e n t i f i e d grade 4 as the start of her disengagement from school. This was the year when the vibrant, curious, and involved l i t t l e g i r l started to withdraw. Withdrawing 73 was both an extension of her shyness and a response to being abandoned. It also served to distance her from the pain of her abuse. By the time i t was employed at school, t h i s need driven capacity to control the world by withdrawing, was a potent, well established force. Mixed with the ever present sadness that entered her l i f e when she turned seven, A's soon to be habitual response to the world, would serve to confuse, distance, and i s o l a t e her. During her stay at elementary school A had developed a way of being, that l i m i t e d personal r i s k . With lim i t e d r i s k came l i m i t e d opportunity. Adolescence, instead of being a period of expansion and growth became a time of atrophy. Caught i n an encapsulating and d e b i l i t a t i n g silence that was fueled by her own defensiveness, A spent her ea r l y high school years cutting herself off from everything that could re-route her. Consequently, her confidence withered and her pain deepened into depression. Increasingly the world became a place that she could not tr u s t . Slowly her refu s a l to p a r t i c i p a t e became an i n a b i l i t y to p a r t i c i p a t e . Quiet, p o l i t e , and demure, she was assisted i n t h i s emotional asphyxiation by a school which didn't notice her and by parents who were out of touch with her. 74 Chapter 6 Case Study 3: R I'd be a l i t t l e k i d and I'd you know, you'd break a you know, a l i t t l e glass or something and he'd whack. And I'd look at her [his mother] and I remember now, but then I'm l i k e , "you bitch', why aren't you doing anything. And she'd just have her head down. Cause i f she stepped in, she'd get i t . I'd smoke a j o i n t i n the morning, before school. I had to, I couldn't go, I couldn't go straight. Right now I just have a l o t of anger towards my father. Like a l o t , even more than when I was a kid. Just cause now I r e a l i z e what he was doing and how he affected my l i f e . Introduction Interviewing R was not easy. Several times throughout our exchange he became so angry that he had to calm himself. In part t h i s anger came about because he was exploring aspects of his l i f e for the f i r s t time. As he explained, "the big joke i s that I have no feelings cause I r e a l l y don't t a l k about st u f f l i k e t h i s even to [my wife]" . Mostly however, his anger was associated with unresolved rage towards his father. Near the end of the exchange some bitterness towards his mother also surfaced. I found these points, i n the interview very d i f f i c u l t . While very interested i n a l l aspects of his story, I f e l t i t inappropriate to pursue some l i n e s of questioning. Certain queries seemed more suited to a therapy session than to our interview. At the same time he had contemplated his school 75 experience i n preparation for our meeting and wanted to t e l l h is story. Moreover, R's anger and his tendency to hold things i n constituted a s i g n i f i c a n t aspect of the context for understanding his disengagement from school. At 22, R described himself as someone who never found school easy. Success, when i t did come, was always connected to a sense of personal contact with his teachers. Personal contact was s i g n i f i c a n t for several reasons. On a p r a c t i c a l l e v e l i t enabled R to get one on one help with his school work. Given some extra time and i n s t r u c t i o n school became not only manageable but enjoyable as well. R experienced t h i s s h i f t from confusion and f r u s t r a t i o n to c l a r i t y and s a t i s f a c t i o n on several occasions during his school l i f e . It was just such an experience that would enable him to complete his grade 12 when he returned to school. Personal contact however, was perhaps even more s i g n i f i c a n t i n terms of the attention i t provided R. Inherent i n t h i s attention was a sense of caring. When he f e l t cared for R seemed capable of p e r s i s t i n g at his task. Often persistence translated into short term success and a budding b e l i e f that he "could do t h i s s t u f f " . He f i r s t learned to write when he was promised a "magic p e n c i l " by his grade 3 teacher. R explained how he (and his two friends) got taken "hook, l i n e , and sinker" by his grade 3 teacher who promised him a primary pencil i f R would behave and t r y to learn to write. 76 If we were good for a week we'd get a magic p e n c i l . Well he just did that for two weeks and kind of, we kind of smartened up aft e r two weeks and we just, a l l we did, we wanted to get that magic pen c i l , a l l of a sudden I'm done, I'm doing better, I can write now. A l l because of t h i s magic p e n c i l . But i t was me the whole time. At the heart of his e f f o r t to stay i n school was R's ongoing struggle to sustain his s p i r i t . The magic p e n c i l was associated not only with success and attention but also with hope and p o s s i b i l i t y . It wasn't just that he did succeed at learning to write, but more s i g n i f i c a n t l y that he could succeed. Unfortunately there were few "magic p e n c i l " moments i n R's school l i f e . There were even fewer i n his home l i f e . In many ways R's disengagement from school i s a story of a growing hopelessness. His home l i f e lacked support, kindness and d i r e c t i o n . It was a l i f e permeated with neglect and meanness. Indeed, much of his home l i f e existed i n stark contrast to the type of r e l a t i o n s h i p that he had with his grade 3 teacher. When relationships weren't established, hope dwindled and disengagement deepened. R dropped out of school when he was 15. His disengagement from school has i t s roots i n his father's a l c o h o l i c and abusive behavior and his parents' f a i l e d marriage. R's subsequent involvement with and dependency on drugs and the school's i n a b i l i t y to reach him are also key factors. 77 The Beginning R was born into an abusive home. The youngest of four children, he was the only c h i l d i n the household by the time he was nine. Each of his s i b l i n g s l e f t home when they turned 16 i n order to escape t h e i r father's emotional and physical abuse. When he was 10 his parents divorced and R ended up l i v i n g with his father for three years. He has a clear memory of the breakup: There I am and they (his siblings) a l l l e f t and I can remember they're (his parents) asking me [who I want to l i v e with]. My mom s t i l l , she regrets, l i k e she didn't, l i k e she wanted me but my dad just used the money, you know l i k e you can't play hockey i f you l i v e with your mom and you know when you're 10 years o l d what's more important... Hockey. Hockey was, for me, I mean, I loved hockey and he's t e l l i n g me t h i s and I can buy you t h i s and your mom can't, you know. And I'm thinking, I'm going to l i v e with my dad... and the f i r s t year was great. He kind of brainwashed me i n a way...he bought me a dog, anything, anything a 10 year old k i d wanted, I got. Even though the f i r s t year with his father was "great" there were s i g n i f i c a n t d i f f i c u l t i e s . We didn't r e a l l y talk. We did l i k e father son things (going to hockey games). At that time he wasn't drinking that I saw. He wasn't drinking i n front of me. He'd go out and then he'd come home drunk cause I'd be by myself, 10 years old, a l l night. Maybe that's why he bought me the dog. Like I mean you're 10 years old. I, you know, i t ' s 12 o'clock at night and your dad's not home. The f e e l i n g of being abandoned by his father was mirrored i n his school and s o c i a l l i f e . R was attending a new school and l i v i n g i n a di f f e r e n t neighborhood. What he 78 remembers most about grade 5 i s that he didn't have any friends. Sometimes he managed to cope. Grade 5, I was s t i l l i n shock of what had happened. I wasn't doing bad, you know, I was never r e a l l y good i n school but I wasn't causing any trouble, I'm getting s t u f f (school work) done. I'm seeing my mom every now and then. It was during t h i s period though, that a tendency to withdraw started to emerge, a tendency which over time would have a devastating effect on his chances of surviving the school system. When the divorce came I just, l i k e I went into a s h e l l and I just didn't want anyone to touch me, to help me, nothing, I just, I just sat there i n school. A l l of a sudden i t ' s l i k e I got stupid. I'd look at i t and I'd just go "I can't do i t ' . And I would, I'd just s i t there. No drive. Like see when I had the p e n c i l I had something to work for. L i f e took a turn for the worse i n grade 6. His father was drinking regularly, openly and becoming more abusive. R was becoming more withdrawn. I was i n my own world. I never talked. I was too scared. That's when he started getting, l i k e , i f I didn't rinse out my milk glass i t ' s "What are you doing? Smack! Rinse i t out'. R was also cut off from the refuge that his mother offered. When grade 6 and 7 came I never saw my mom at a l l . I was too scared to ask to go to mom's on the weekends cause I knew what he would do. So I just wouldn't, so I didn't see my mom for a good year, cause she'd c a l l and that. [He'd l i e , t e l l i n g her] He's at his friends and I'd hear him. At home, R was alone and t e r r o r i z e d . His primary sanctuary was hockey. 79 My only release l i k e , to get away was hockey. I think that's why I r e a l l y loved hockey when I was a kid, cause I was around other people. I wasn't allowed out, but the hockey, for an hour on the ice, that was just me. And I loved i t . Unfortunately the joy and comfort that R found on the ice didn't seem to help him i n other parts of his l i f e . At school,.R started to act out. Grade 6 i s when I kind of went out of control. I was just a mouthy kid. I had a Mr. F i e l d , he didn't l i k e me. I was just anything, anything to get a laugh. I remember the time but I l i k e I think back and I think and i t ' s just, I don't know why I just, I just, I just needed to do i t . I had to do something. It was more just to get attention cause I wasn't getting attention at home. Besides getting h i t . He did however f i n d some solace i n his new neighborhood. After grade 6 he and his father moved to a townhouse complex. No longer p h y s i c a l l y i s o l a t e d (they used to l i v e i n a shack i n a neighborhood bereft of children) R found support and understanding from his peers. Without i t ever being discussed, R's friends seemed to understand about his father's meanness. Like they knew, you know, they'd ask me to come out and play hide and seek and that's what we used to do. They knew, l i k e when I said "No I can't come out', that was i t , l i k e they knew there's no point asking me and I'd just s i t up i n my room and watch them playing. (Regardless of the day, the situation, the season, or his age, R's father never allowed his son to play outside a f t e r dinner - 6 pm. This was a family rule that could not be appealed). 80 Encouraged by his new friendships and drawn by t h e i r companionship, R learned an a l l important lesson. For the f i r s t time i n his l i f e he managed to escape his father's tyranny. Confined to the aloneness of his house, R learned to sneak out. They're just l i k e your normal townhouse complex, the bedrooms are up. I could go onto the garage roof and i t ' s only l i k e 8 feet. I'd kind of go downstairs and I'd see he's passed out. Well then I'd say, "Well I'm going to bed'. Go up, down onto the garage and I did that for a good couple of, well grade 6 and 7. That's how I got out of the house. Cause he'd be l i k e Friday and Saturday, he'd be passed out. Learning to sneak out of his home offered some r e l i e f but i t did l i t t l e to address his growing d i f f i c u l t i e s at school. Part way through grade 7 R got kicked out of his elementary school. In the f i n a l interview between his dad and the p r i n c i p a l , R's father demonstrated some of his c h a r a c t e r i s t i c b r u t a l i t y towards his son. (R was s i t t i n g outside the p r i n c i p a l ' s o f f i c e when his father walked i n ) . I ' l l never forget i t for the rest of my l i f e . He (his father) came i n , didn't say a word. (The p r i n c i p a l introduced himself and i n v i t e d R and his father into his o f f i c e ) . I got up and as soon as I was walking he (his father) grabbed my head and he just kind of moved me l i k e threw me into the o f f i c e and the p r i n c i p a l was a small guy, and I think he was more a f r a i d than anything. And he brought i n the vice- p r i n c i p a l who was a r e a l l y big man and then my dad kind of calmed down. Aft e r t h i s incident R ended up moving i n with his mother, with whom he would continue to l i v e . During the l a s t few months of his grade 7 year he attended his old elementary school (where he had gone for grades 1 - 3 ) and re-connected with o l d school friends. For awhile he s e t t l e d down, t r i e d 81 to work and seemed to f i n d some success. Though the year ended on a hopeful note, R finished elementary school i l l prepared for the t r a n s i t i o n to high school. R's l a s t 3 years i n elementary school did l i t t l e to improve his academic s k i l l s . The abuse and te r r o r that he experienced at his father's hands contributed to his f e e l i n g defensive and withdrawn. In contrast to the overly con t r o l l e d l i f e that he had come to know while l i v i n g with his dad, l i f e with his mother was marked by a lack of parental control. He quickly discovered that he could ignore his mother's directions and admonitions. Perhaps his greatest d i f f i c u l t y was that he had to continue to shoulder his pain alone. The Middle R's experience i n Junior High deepened his disengagement from school. Though he i n i t i a l l y made a sincere e f f o r t to do his school work, the d i f f i c u l t y of the task and some teachers' attitudes overwhelmed him. Once again he was l e f t f e e l i n g l i k e an outsider. I'm l i k e I'm trying, t h i s i s hard, l i k e t h i s i s r e a l l y hard. I mean I just could not grasp i t and I had the long hair and some of the teachers were prejudiced against guys with long hair cause I noticed my other friends who were longhairs, we wouldn't get the one on one as much as say the l i t t l e geeky kid over there i n the corner who couldn't get i t . Experiences l i k e these would add to his sense of being picked on and u n f a i r l y treated. It would increase his growing i s o l a t i o n and aloneness. On the other hand, the few 82 teachers that managed to esta b l i s h some rapport with R seemed to tap into a d i f f e r e n t person. I had a few teachers who did push me. Mr. M. was my Socials and P.E. teacher. He treated me l i k e a person. Like most of my teachers talked down to me. He always treated me l i k e an equal, and l i k e , I always did well for him i n Socials and that. I always t r i e d my best for him cause of how he treated me and that A complicating factor i n R's e f f o r t s to stay i n school was his growing f a m i l i a r i t y with pot. I didn't r e a l l y start doing acid and mushrooms and that u n t i l grade 9. Grade 8 was just smoking dope. I'd smoke every day at lunch. And then at night, not every night, but pretty much. R's use of drugs played a complex role i n his l i f e . The darker side of his growing habit presented i t s e l f f i r s t i n his relat i o n s h i p with his mother. It (drugs) was a l l I wanted to do. I'd do anything to get i t . That's when I started being a rea l asshole to my mom and I just, I'd c a l l her a f-ing b i t c h just, you know, I had no respect for her whatsoever. I'd just come home and you know 2 o'clock i n the morning and she'd be waiting there "Well, what are you doing? Coming home t h i s l a t e . You can't do that". And I'm l i k e , you know, "Yes I can'. There's nothing you can do. I come and go as I please. On the other hand, drugs seemed to provide a solution and a temporary escape from s o c i a l i s o l a t i o n . It would take me away from my problems. It would make me f e e l happy and I'd start being a goof and everyone'd laugh. Everyone l i k e d me cause I was funny. Cause I was stoned a l l the time. Though s o c i a l l y accepted, R was nevertheless, quite alone. 83 I was shy. I would never r e a l l y talk. Like s i t down and t a l k one on one l i k e with you, I always, I was never r e a l l y into that. I think that's why I was also bad i n school cause I could never express myself. Over, time his aloneness, i n a b i l i t y to express himself and d i f f i c u l t y with his school work translated into tremendous f r u s t r a t i o n . Coupled with t h i s f r u s t r a t i o n was R's "do as I please" attitude, made possible by his mother's helplessness and fueled by his drug habit. Alienated and out of control, R was most vulnerable when teachers t r i e d to control him. I was just, you know, a big knot t i e d i n there and I'm l i k e , somebody [try to] control me and I'd burst and fuck you and everything. R's reactions to the school's expectations and e f f o r t s had inevit a b l e consequences. The routine detentions, v i s i t s to the p r i n c i p a l ' s o f f i c e and suspensions served only to further disengage him from school. With the exception of one or two teachers, grade 8 and 9 constituted a p r i m a r i l y negative experience. While the work was getting harder his a b i l i t y and willingness to make an e f f o r t s t e a d i l y decreased. Describing himself as "stoned almost constantly", the notion of attending school to learn was v i r t u a l l y an a l i e n concept. The End By grade 10 detentions and suspensions turned to school expulsions. R started off his grade 10 year repeating most of his grade 9 courses. A month into his grade 10 year he had his f i r s t encounter with the new p r i n c i p a l . 84 I was l a t e for school and I got a detention and he was a r e a l prick. He says "You're doing garbage duty by the smoke p i t ' . And I said, "Hey, I ' l l do garbage duty anywhere on the school but I'm not doing i t i n the smoke p i t ' . And he goes "Well no'. And then I said "Well, fuck you'. (Cleaning up the smoking p i t was the most humiliating punishment that could be issued. Since R's friends' smoked they would witness his detention. Accepting t h i s punishment would r e s u l t i n a major loss of face. I n s i s t i n g that a student such as R clean up the smoking p i t would have been, i n my experience as an administrator, the easiest way to have him expelled i e . R's response was inevitable.) R was expelled from his high school a f t e r the exchange with the p r i n c i p a l . Since he was only 15 he had the le g a l right to attend another school i n the d i s t r i c t . His experience i n his new school only served to increase his disengagement. Af t e r I went to [my new school] I met some other guys, that's when I started r e a l l y getting into the bigtime. I was doing acid l i k e every weekend. Two doubles a night, I'd take a double, wait an hour, take the other double. And then I'd be smoking dope and i n the meantime I'd be drinking beer. I took mushrooms once and O'D'd. R lasted i n his new school for only two weeks. Suspended for a day for getting into a fi g h t , he and a f r i e n d decided to stop o f f at R's old school on t h e i r way home. I go there and I see a guy, and to t h i s day I s t i l l don't know why I did i t . I was on a double (acid), and I just we did him right there. I'm not blaming the acid, i t was me. And then my f r i e n d started kicking him, and I'm just standing there and l i k e holy fuck! 85 Like I'm just i n shock, I f i n a l l y r e a l i z e d , l i k e holy, I r e a l i z e d what I was doing. R was charged for assault and trespassing and was not allowed to attend another school i n the d i s t r i c t . That ended my schooling. In a way i t was the worst day of my l i f e . Though R o f f i c i a l l y dropped out at 15, he started disengaging from school as early as grade 4. Dropping out was the culminating event i n a process that started when R was i n elementary school. It was a process marked by R's struggle to sustain his hope i n the face of the ine v i t a b l e hopelessness that would engulf him. In grade 3 he was buoyed temporarily by his "magic p e n c i l " and the p o s s i b i l i t y to dream that such an experience offered. Over the next few years he would use hockey, friendships, and his wit to attempt to sustain his s p i r i t and keep t h i s hope a l i v e . In Junior High a few teachers gained his trust and helped to keep him going. Even his i n i t i a l use of drugs constituted an e f f o r t to support himself. These e f f o r t s however, paled i n comparison to the pain, confusion and b r u t a l i t y that he experienced regularly. When R started grade 4 his parents divorced. Frightened and confused, his a b i l i t y to concentrate withered which made school work even more d i f f i c u l t than i t had always been. The next three years, spent with his father, resulted i n l i t t l e academic success and much emotional and physical abuse. Feeling abandoned and overwhelmed he responded by withdrawing. Junior High increased his 86 aloneness and f r u s t r a t i o n and deepened his disengagement. He found the work extremely d i f f i c u l t and he had l i t t l e s k i l l or i n c l i n a t i o n to seek help. Most teachers were experienced as i n d i f f e r e n t or prejudiced which increased his already well established mistrust of adults. His growing drug habit distanced him both from school and from his mother. Abused, alienated and beyond the control of his mother, he lacked both the s k i l l s and the tolerance to meet the school's rules and expectations. By the time he l e f t his hopelessness was such that not even his much loved hockey mattered. I didn't care about anything else. Dope and hockey. That's i t . You know. After, towards the end not even hockey, i t ' s just dope. Commentary. R was born into an abused family that was t e r r o r i z e d by an a l c o h o l i c father. By the time he could speak R had an impression of adults as negative. His father was p h y s i c a l l y and emotionally abusive. His mother was constantly i l l at ease, increasingly withdrawn, and seldom protective. Instead of being driven by c u r i o s i t y and enthusiasm, R was increasingly cautious, frightened and d i s t r u s t f u l . These were his experiences of the world; t h i s i s what he brought to school. School did l i t t l e to dispel these feelings. Though there were exceptions (grade 3) much of his experience at elementary school was f r u s t r a t i n g and embarrassing. In part 87 t h i s was due to his lim i t e d a b i l i t y , i n part i t was due to his d eteriorating home l i f e . His parents divorce added to his i n s e c u r i t y . Abandoned by his mother he was l e f t alone to deal with his drunken father. As the beatings increased and the emotional i s o l a t i o n deepened, R's behavior at school became more disruptive and non-compliant. In an e f f o r t to cope, he took on the persona of a clown, a role that offered protection and acceptance. Drugs helped to buffer t h i s increasingly defensive posture; adolescence and high school only complicated matters. As school became more demanding R became more distant. A buffoon on the outside, the private R was angry, i s o l a t e d , and helpless. No one could control him, few offered d i r e c t i o n , and he lacked the means to a r t i c u l a t e his own needs. What was formerly a posture, now became a stance. To l i v e was to defend. R's actions were the re s u l t of his continual need to escape. His dreadful world of embarrassment and humiliation l e f t him constantly yearning for the s e l f he experienced only through hockey. His j o y f u l moments on the ice however, offered only a temporary res p i t e . No r e a l hope was available. As his energy to defend dissipated, and his drug intake increased, he gave i n and simply withdrew. 88 Chapter 7 Case Study 4: G I don't think my mom r e a l l y knew how I f e l t [about school]. I know when I dropped out she was r e a l l y disappointed. Cause she dropped out young, when she was young too. I think my dad dropped out young too. But they've always worked. Introduction For the most part, my interview with G was straightforward. She seemed cooperative and quite w i l l i n g to answer any questions asked. G described herself as driven by events. At the same time however, she offered l i t t l e i n the way of d e t a i l or elaboration. In an attempt to respect her story and her way of t e l l i n g i t , I hesitated to turn my probes into badgering. Over time G's matter-of- fact rendition of her experience started to f i t with her process of disengagement. Her story had a l i s t l e s s q u a l i t y to i t and r e f l e c t e d a lack of agency. Leaving school did not involve a dramatic break or complex t r a n s i t i o n point. G never went from being deeply engaged as a student to becoming a dropout. Rather, l i k e a poorly anchored ship, G started to d r i f t with the f i r s t change of ti d e . Though her d r i f t i n g was motivated by a desire to belong, her resources would f a i l her. Not able to dire c t herself and often unnoticed by both parents and teachers, she moved from student to dropout i n what appeared to be a rather uneventful fashion. In general, she found school d i f f i c u l t and boring. The success that she did experience was usually associated with 89 teachers that she l i k e d and with whom she f e l t comfortable. Though popular and active s o c i a l l y (she was always i n v i t e d to p a rties, went to a l l the dances, had an older boyfriend) she never r e a l l y engaged on an academic l e v e l . As she moved into adolescence her la c k l u s t e r academic involvement dissolved to disengagement with the aid of drugs. Drawing on her experience as a mother, (she has a 2 year old daughter), G mused that perhaps stronger boundaries between herself and her mother may have helped her to stay i n school longer. Dwindling parental authority and d i r e c t i o n , brought about by a divorce, contributed to G's disengagement from school. The Beginning G's memories of the f i r s t few years of elementary school are vague. The few incidents that she could r e c a l l were not p o s i t i v e . I was shy. I was r e a l l y shy when I was young and I remember I use to have to go to counsellors when I was r e a l l y young, cause I had a behavioral problem. I remember I use to stand on the back of my desk and get into l o t s of trouble a l l the time. I would just do r e a l l y stupid things l i k e standing up on a chair and y e l l i n g . By grade 2 the school had categorized her as a behavior problem. At t h i s time she was seeing a p s y c h i a t r i s t . These v i s i t s were i n i t i a t e d by her parents i n response to the abuse that G had suffered. She was molested by a male baby- s i t t e r e a r l i e r on i n the year. Beyond the i n i t i a l trauma 90 and the acting out at school, G didn't f e e l that there were any l a s t i n g e f f e c t s from the abuse. S o c i a l l y , G remembered herself as quiet and somewhat alone, e s p e c i a l l y during her f i r s t three years at school. I didn't get along with the other kids ever. I had my friends but I don't r e a l l y remember having close friends. In grade 4 G moved to a d i f f e r e n t elementary school where she remained u n t i l the end of grade 7. . These years were a marked improvement. She got along with her peers, her l a b e l as a behavior problem got l e f t behind, and she developed some close friendships. By the time she reached grade 7 G was accepted by the " i n crowd". We formed a l i t t l e clique. It was about 6 or 7 g i r l s and we were l i k e r e a l l y cool. I wasn't that bad. There's l i k e one or two that were bad out of us, that had done drugs and smoked and things l i k e that. And they kind of brought us, made us t r y these things and s t u f f . Academically, G found school d i f f i c u l t and uninteresting from the s t a r t . I just barely made i t by. Not in t e r e s t i n g at a l l . I found school boring, l i k e I r e a l l y did not l i k e school at a l l . In many ways G remembered elementary school as a manageable struggle. She found the work d i f f i c u l t and boring, and for the f i r s t few years she was quite alone. At a very early age she was labeled as a behavior problem. Even a f t e r she developed some close friendships she remained 91 shy and somewhat withdrawn. This tendency to withdraw would not leave her u n t i l she l e f t elementary school. The Middle G's e f f o r t s to f i t i n and ways of doing so. brought her to the periphery of being a student. The t r a n s i t i o n to high school served to deepen her disengagement. Prior to st a r t i n g grade 8 she discovered alcohol and drugs. That summer I guess that's when I started getting into drugs. The f i r s t time I drank was grade 7 summer. Drugs provided s o c i a l comfort. She discovered that while under the influence she would become less shy and even gutsy. At the same time G found her i n i t i a t i o n into t h i s world somewhat bewildering. Prompted by a conversation with a friend, G attempted to distance herself from the group by going to a d i f f e r e n t high school than a l l of her friends. I r o n i c a l l y , she had even greater access to drugs and alcohol at her new school. That's when I got heavily into drugs and drinking. I met t h i s other g i r l , M, and her mom, I guess sold [pot] a l l the time. So we used to steal i t from her and smoke pot and drink. Increasingly, school was becoming associated with "partying and having fun". Along the way G's w i l l seemed to have been seduced. Well I kind of, I remember always kind of knowing ri g h t from wrong. I knew what was right and I knew what was wrong and I always knew what I was doing was wrong. And I always thought, well maybe, you know, maybe I should stop. Maybe I should change t h i s or that but i t was just the drugs that you know. It was cool, kind of thing. It was kind of peer pressure and s t u f f . 92 Her introduction to high school was also marked by s i g n i f i c a n t d i s c i p l i n e problems. While short on s p e c i f i c memories G r e c a l l e d that i n grade 8 "she got i n a l o t of trouble". These types of experiences i n t e n s i f i e d her sense of school as an increasing hassle. Coupled with t h i s growing c o n f l i c t at school was an expanding freedom at home. Near the end of Elementary school, G's home l i f e started to change. Around grade 6 or 7, her grandparents moved out of G's house. Since both her parents worked, G and her s i s t e r would return from school to the freedom of an empty house. We'd just come home to the house, to ourselves which was fi n e . We'd have a l l our friends over and eat my parents, a l l the groceries (laughing). We got i n trouble for that kind of thing. When G did encounter resistance to her desire to do as she pleased she found ways to get around the rules. My g i r l f r i e n d Trina, she had more freedom than I did, so I'd sleep over and we'd sleep i n the basement and sneak out at night and go out with a l l our friends and things l i k e that. The ones that were allowed out l a t e . So, there was always, there was always a way of getting out of there. Somewhere during her t r a n s i t i o n from Elementary school to Junior High, her parents, who G described as "f i g h t i n g a l l the time" started divorce proceedings. I remember walking i n the house and there were banana boxes a l l over the house with our st u f f packed i n i t . and that's when I knew that was i t . At the time the divorce came as a r e l i e f . Her parents' r e l a t i o n s h i p had been disintegrating for some time. 93 "Screaming, shouting, and throwing cups and glasses" were common place. When her parents separated, G moved i n with her mother and her older s i s t e r . Over the next couple of years she and her mother developed a "pretty good friendship". In part, t h i s was due to G's new found freedom. I just got a l l the freedom i n the world as soon as they divorced, r i g h t . And I was kind of glad. But I missed my dad. While she grew closer to her mother her r e l a t i o n s h i p with her father started to wither. Blaming her father f o r the divorce, G became more distant. This distance played a role i n her increasing disengagement from school. The l a s t time I had a r e a l sense of boundaries was when I l i v e d with my dad and my mom (grade 7). Even though I was s t a r t i n g to push, push off but my parents, my dad had always been l i k e no, no t h i s i s not the way you act. And I was a f r a i d of him. Like I didn't want to get into trouble. I didn't l i k e him for i t but at least my homework got done, and I was at home at a c e r t a i n time. I wasn't t i r e d for school and things l i k e that. L i v i n g with her mother meant that G became completely responsible for her schooling. It was a r e s p o n s i b i l i t y that she often shirked. Well [my mom] was at work, right, and we didn't have baby-sitters or anything l i k e that. So I'd just come home and a f t e r school, watch T.V. or do whatever I wanted and when she came home, "yeah, homework i s done' or, I'd just say i t was done. The freedom and sense of abandon that G discovered during grade 8 increased i n the following year. For grade 9 94 G moved back to her neighborhood high school where her drug habit escalated. In grade 9 I was s e l l i n g i t for my boyfriend at school cause he [went to another school]. So we'd, at lunchtime, we'd get stoned and then a f t e r school we'd get stoned. That's when I started skipping school because he didn't go to my school so we'd skip out and go play video games at 7-eleven. Though G was st e a d i l y moving away from being a student, her school appears to have done l i t t l e to arrest or delay the process. Her only r e c o l l e c t i o n of any discussion about her behavior (skipping, coming to school stoned) occurred i n a d i s c i p l i n a r y context. Upon returning to school a f t e r a suspension she might get harassed. You know the p r i n c i p a l i s l i k e "Why are you doing t h i s , Why are you skipping, Why are you fighting'? Other than being chastised however, nobody ever a c t u a l l y talked to G about her behavior. She doesn't have any r e c o l l e c t i o n of a teacher or counsellor tr y i n g to reach her. On occasion, the school's response seemed to f a c i l i t a t e G's increasing disengagement. She r e c a l l e d one p a r t i c u l a r suspension. I got suspended for skipping out for three days. So I got suspended for three days which was kind of stupid, they're just giving me more time. Throughout Junior High however, G managed to stay a f l o a t academically. She enjoyed p r a c t i c a l subjects l i k e woodwork, cooking, and physical education. A couple of her teachers (Science and Socials) were seen as nice or cool and she therefore made an e f f o r t i n t h e i r classes. Other 95 subjects, l i k e Math and English, were very d i f f i c u l t for her. G's approach to school work enabled her to survive but did l i t t l e to prepare her to continue her education. I would cram for a test. The reason i s because I wouldn't get i t (in class) but I wouldn't put up my hand and say "Look, I'm not getting t h i s ' . So I'd just kind of study, study, study, just t i l I got past the test and then I'd completely forget what I'd just studied. I think I've always been that way. I'd learn something just for the test and then I'd forget. G's grade 10 year brought some changes but nothing that al t e r e d her steady movement away from school. While her dope smoking subsided (she had become r e a l l y sick of pot) G's s o c i a l l i f e was s t i l l increasingly engaging. School continued to diminish i n importance. ' I didn't have time to do the homework so I was rushing to get everything done, where I could have done better i f I took the time to do i t . At home, l i f e was becoming more complex. Though she L continued to get on well with her mother, t h e i r roles at times, seemed to reverse. This was p a r t i c u l a r l y true i n the c o n f l i c t that surfaced between G's s i s t e r and her mother. I could always pretty much tal k to [my mother] and when my s i s t e r beat her up and st u f f i t was l i k e , we kind of went through i t together. It was tough love. And I remember laying i n bed hearing my s i s t e r ringing the doorbell l i k e a hundred times and banging on the doors and screaming. And I r e a l l y found i t hard. So, I f e l t l i k e I almost had to protect my mom sometimes, from my s i s t e r i f she ever t r i e d anything again. Near the end of grade 10 G got pregnant and ended up having an abortion. She remembered i t as a very harrowing experience. 96 It was r e a l l y , r e a l l y hard on me. It was r e a l l y hard. I c r i e d a l o t . I have, l i k e dreams about l i t t l e babies. Like I always thought i t was a boy. Cause I'd have nightmares about a l i t t l e boy screaming. Like i t was a r e a l l y bad experience for someone that young. She never received any counselling or professional support with t h i s part of her l i f e . The End In the summer between grade 10 and 11 G discovered cocaine and acid. The following September she registered i n grade 11 at the l o c a l Senior High School. I remember i t was r e a l l y , r e a l l y hard. Like I found that Junior High didn't prepare you for Senior Secondary school. It's more fast paced. When I went to English and Socials i t was r e a l l y , r e a l l y hard for me and I was f a l l i n g behind more and more. I remember being i n Socials and urn, I didn't l i k e my teacher as i t was, but he went so fast and I remember going back looking i n my books and I had nothing done. G dropped out of school 2 months into the school year. I quit. And then I started hanging around with a d i f f e r e n t crowd. I just dropped out and I partied. Like a l l the time. That's a l l I did, for about 6 months. For G, dropping out was the f i n a l act i n a series of almost inevitable steps. Never well grounded as a student, she started to d r i f t with the f i r s t s o c i a l pressures that she encountered. While she was immersing herself i n the world of drugs and parties, her parents started ending t h e i r r e l a t i o n s h i p . At a time when she was f e e l i n g most buffeted, her primary source of guidance and di r e c t i o n , her father, disappeared. Teachers, counsellors and administrators 97 f a i l e d to reach her or never r e a l l y t r i e d . At home she had more freedom than she could manage; at school she had the choice between boredom and d i f f i c u l t y on the one hand and s o c i a l acceptance and f e e l i n g good on the other. D r i f t i n g and forgetting and indulging i n fantasy became the order of the day. I didn't even think. I didn't know what I wanted to do. I, T just thought, I've always had t h i s f e e l i n g I was gonna win the l o t t e r y kind of thing (laughing). There's got to be an easy way for me, that kind of thing. I always wanted the easy way out or marry r i c h or something. I never r e a l l y thought along the l i n e s of a career or anything l i k e that, t i l I had Taylor (her daughter). By the time she reached grade 11 the d i f f i c u l t y of the subject matter and the pace proved to be more than G could handle. Commentary. From the very beginning, G found i t d i f f i c u l t to f e e l that she belonged at school. Her f i r s t 4 years were associated with feelings of i s o l a t i o n , struggle and oddness. She was shy and therefor often alone. The subject matter was d i f f i c u l t and put academic engagement out of grasp. A v i c t i m of abuse, she started acting out i n class and was referred to counselling to address her inappropriate behavior. When she transferred schools at the end of grade 3, f i t t i n g i n remained an issue of s i g n i f i c a n t proportions: Though her s o c i a l l i f e improved over the next few years i t was not u n t i l grade 7 that a means of grounding herself 98 became available to G. Near the end of grade 7, G experienced a l e v e l of affirmation at school that she had never known. It came from a potent group of her peers and i t was fueled by behavior that the school would neither condone nor tolerate. Unfortunately, the acceptance that she received was rooted i n what would be seen as a stance of opposition, a stance which would simultaneously o f f e r her i d e n t i t y while i t continued to distance her from academic involvement. Moreover, i t came at a time when she was getting ready to leave elementary school and transfer to junior high. At t h i s c r i t i c a l juncture, when she was s t i l l very open to the more d i f f i c u l t task (working at school vs. d r i f t i n g towards partying) the lim i t e d support and guidance that her home offered, evaporated. G's grandparents were no longer available to supervise the children (G, her s i s t e r , and t h e i r friends) when they returned from school. Home became a hangout, a place where, for a few hours a day c u r i o s i t y and mischief had free reign. Shortly thereafter, her parent's divorced and G's experiment i n temporary carefree l i v i n g turned into a permanent r e a l i t y . This experience would help move G beyond the grasp of adult authority. When her father, the d i s c i p l i n a r i a n , moved out of the home he also moved out of her l i f e . In turn, G was given unfettered freedom and unmanageable r e s p o n s i b i l i t y . G's t r a n s i t i o n to high school then, was made more d i f f i c u l t by her lack of academic s k i l l s , a l e v e l of freedom that she couldn't 99 manage, and her s t i l l present shyness. At the age of 13 she found herself faced with a choice marked by struggle, hardship, pain and aloneness on the one hand and ease, comfort, acceptance, and recognition on the other. Though she f e l t i t was wrong, she lacked the w i l l to counter her d r i f t towards disengagement. She accepted the freedom and increasingly ignored the r e s p o n s i b i l i t y . High school quickly became a place to meet people who l i k e d to party and who had access to drugs. Not only d i d G l i k e these a c t i v i t i e s , she was also good at them. She discovered that under the influence of drugs she l o s t her shyness. Coupled with her physical at t r a c t i o n , t h i s new G found a way to be, i n an environment that had seldom offered her comfort, l e t alone acceptance. Now the shy, withdrawn, i s o l a t e d l i t t l e g i r l started becoming an outgoing, and popular adolescent. As her s o c i a l status increased and her i d e n t i t y as a party g i r l took form, her interest i n school decreased. Her grounding i n t h i s quick, e f f o r t l e s s , l i f e s t y l e was enhanced when she acquired an older boyfriend for whom she sold pot. So engaging and complete was t h i s world, that by grade 10 she was attending to school work only when she had the time. Once again her home f a i l e d her. Instead of being a source of guidance and d i r e c t i o n her mother, pulled her into a parenting r o l e . Her mother's need added to G's growing i l l u s i o n of being an adult while making her increasingly less connected to school. Accustomed to making her own 100 decisions, and now involved i n protecting her mother, G soon moved beyond the school's sphere of influence. When the school u t i l i z e d i t s power through suspensions, G's free time and disengagement increased. At the age of 16, G was needed and r e l i e d upon by her mother, valued and envied by her peers, and increasingly helpless when i t came to her schooling. The pregnancy, abortion, and depression that followed brought to a head the competing, though uneven forces i n her l i f e . Faced with the overwhelming d i f f i c u l t y of grade 11, G cut herself o ff from the ever increasing pain of the would-be student and cocooned herself i n an i l l u s i o n a r y world of drugs and parties. 101 Chapter 8 Case Study 5: L Some days I remember going into school thinking, okay, today I'm going to do r e a l l y , r e a l l y , good. And I'd think about i t a l l the time. But then I'd get there and i t wouldn't turn out that way. When I think about i t now, i t ' s l i k e yea, I wasted l o t s of time. Lots of time. [As to dropping out] I'd say probably 70% was my f a u l t and 30% was because of the school. No one ever r e a l l y came down hard and said l i k e , you have to show up and you have to do t h i s . And, I was just kind of floated up from grade eight to grade ten and then f i n a l l y , they, I guess said no more. Introduction L's open and honest manner made cer t a i n aspects of the interview quite easy. She r e a d i l y described and w i l l i n g l y acknowledged her role i n the process of disengaging from school. L was also very adept at a r t i c u l a t i n g parts of the system that f a i l e d her. She seemed to have a good understanding of the role that home l i f e played i n her school experience. In many ways L seemed very much at peace with her story. At the same time, I found her experience extremely f r u s t r a t i n g . Having worked as an educator for the past 17 years, I couldn't l e t go of the f e e l i n g that she should have made i t . L i s bright and energetic. As a student she was very interested i n sports, well accepted s o c i a l l y , and seemed to belong. Though she was not p a r t i c u l a r l y interested i n the subject matter, she could and at times 102 did, excel. Many teachers seemed to l i k e her. Very strong w i l l e d , L not only knew how to cope but also overcame several d i f f i c u l t i e s . Though she knew how to skip and get away with i t , L could and did r e f r a i n from skipping when she was engaged i n her schooling. Even though she had access to drugs and at times smoked pot excessively, L managed to curb t h i s desire when she decided to apply herself academically. When she f a i l e d grade 10 she changed schools, repeated the grade and had a successful year. This focused e f f o r t and engagement stands i n stark contrast to much of the rest of her academic experience. It demonstrates L's a b i l i t y , p o t e n t i a l , and capacity to u t i l i z e her w i l l . At the same time, L's f l a s h of success was not enough to counter the power of habit and ingrained b e l i e f . Much of her schooling (especially her Junior High experience) was an exercise i n disengagement and indifference. This force of habit was only temporarily halted by her successful grade 10 year. In many ways, L's disengagement i s the story of her f a i l u r e to become a student. The Beginning One of L's e a r l i e s t school memories i s of grade 5. Probably the f i r s t day i n grade f i v e , my dad came to school with me, took the teacher out i n the hallway and said that I had an attitude problem. Told the teacher I didn't l i k e being t o l d what to do and i f the teacher was having any problems with me to give my dad a c a l l . Contrary to her dad's point of view, L doesn't r e c a l l having an attitude problem. She did however, have some d i f f i c u l t y 103 with school rules, s p e c i f i c a l l y with issues of authority. School routines, l i k e needing to get permission to get a drink or to go to the bathroom, were irksome for her. At the heart of the issue was L's c h a r a c t e r i s t i c stubbornness. Routines therefore, always car r i e d the p o s s i b i l i t y of becoming encounters. On a general l e v e l she never seemed to take school too seriously. As she remembered i t , "School was just l i k e a place to joke around". Yet, L r e c a l l e d that she was a good student. Her teachers shared t h i s opinion. I read back on my report cards and they say that L i s a good student but she could apply herself better. L's memories of her elementary school educators are quite p o s i t i v e . Many were remembered as fine teachers whom she got along with most of the time. S o c i a l l y , L was popular and had l o t s of friends. She always excelled at sports. L also demonstrated a high degree of f l e x i b i l i t y . In t o t a l she went to three d i f f e r e n t elementary schools. These moves, brought about due to changing school populations and subsequent boundary adjustments, appear to have been handled with ease. I didn't mind i t cause one of my g i r l f r i e n d s came with me so i t wasn't a big thing at a l l . In short, l i f e at elementary school appears to have been a rather s a t i s f a c t o r y experience for L. She was well l i k e d by both her peers and by her teachers. Though her 104 strong w i l l could r e a d i l y help transform everyday events into problems, L managed to contain herself. A t h l e t i c a l l y , L was very active and successful; academically, she was seen as very capable though less than f u l l y engaged. L i f e at home was somewhat less stable. The d i f f i c u l t i e s i n her parents' relationship, which had been present for some time, were beginning to surface. They were always figh t i n g , a l l the time. I hated i t . I always stuck up for my mom. My dad had cheated on my mom, with my aunt. I guess i t went on for a long, long time. And I remember t e l l i n g my mom when I was probably i n grade 6 or 7 that I heard them (father and aunt) k i s s i n g . So she accused him and he denied i t , but I swore a l l along that I knew. Then I found out [that i t was true] and we moved out. It was the summer of grade 7 going into grade 8. The Middle In some ways Junior High was a continuation of elementary school. L was s t i l l i n French Immersion and she remained active p h y s i c a l l y through cheerleading and soccer. Academically, her involvement remained quite l i m i t e d and her grades quite low. Her l i f e at home, though d i f f e r e n t i n that her parents had s p l i t up, was i n some ways unchanged. [My mom] t r i e d to keep us i n a routine. She was pretty s t r i c t and I l i s t e n e d to her. This s t r i c t n e s s however, had never r e a l l y applied to school issues. They never r e a l l y gave me trouble for i t (teachers' t h i s , you have to apply yourself and, but they never ever, l i k e , took away the T.V. or grounded me or nothing. They were pretty lenient that way. Maybe i f they would have done more, I would have went right through (school). But you can't r e a l l y blame them. 105 It's more me. I should have applied myself when I was there. In contrast to her easygoing years at elementary school, grade 8 was associated with a heightened l e v e l of tension. Though much of the d e t a i l escapes her, L r e c a l l e d that grade 8 was fraught with s o c i a l turmoil. I was mean, I know that, r e a l l y mean. I always got into f i g h t s at school. Some subject areas and a couple of teachers proved to be p a r t i c u l a r l y troublesome. Though she often came to school determined to do well, math class was d i f f i c u l t to survive. I'd walk i n the math class and he would come i n or whatever and t e l l us to s i t down and say, he might say to me, L, s i t over there, cause I was never allowed to s i t with any of my friends. And I'd be l i k e , no, I'm going to s i t right here. Cause i n my head I'm thinking, okay, today I'm going to do what I'm supposed to do. But as soon as he'd come i n he'd say, no, you s i t here. Forget i t , I'm going to s i t here. And that would just start i t and then I'd y e l l at him and he'd y e l l back and he'd just, okay get out. So that didn't work. One experience verged on the bizarre. I don't know i f i t was just his attitude, but the whole class didn't l i k e him and I don't think he l i k e d us. One day he freaked out and I remember him picking up the back of my desk and f l i p p i n g i t backwards [with L i n i t ] and I went down to the p r i n c i p a l ' s o f f i c e and t o l d him. While L saw him as a mean teacher and though she f e l t stupid and humiliated by t h i s incident, she never discussed i t with her parents. She kept i t to herself because L f e l t that "she was probably being the class clown". Other classes started off well and ended poorly. I r e a l l y , r e a l l y , l i k e d my Consumer Ed. teacher and she r e a l l y l i k e d me. I was doing r e a l l y , r e a l l y good cause I r e a l l y l i k e d the teacher so I'd want to please the 106 teacher by doing good. I'd always do my homework, I'd always do what I was supposed to do. And she l e f t f or a while and we had a substitute. The substitute used to phone my mom a l l the time and say, I r e a l l y l i k e L, I think she's l i k e t o t a l l y nice but we have a personality c o n f l i c t . And she'd always kick me out of class, always. Getting kicked out of class became a common experience for L. Unlike i n the past however, her academic e f f o r t s were now a f f e c t i n g her a t h l e t i c pursuits. When the time came to go on, l i k e the team t r i p s , I could never go.. But they would never say you can't go u n t i l the day before we were supposed to be leaving. I guess, i n my head I would think, oh, t h e y ' l l l e t me go. Like they need me, more or less kind of thing. But no, I never got to go. This d i f f i c u l t y i n recognizing that consequences existed continued to be a problem. When L f a i l e d grade 8 the school offered her a choice of repeating grade 8 French Immersion or going into the grade 9 English program. She opted for grade 9 and carr i e d on with increasing disengagement. Her grade 9 year and her f i r s t t r y at grade 10 were marked by a growing indifference about school. It (junior high) was a l l more or less the same. You just kind of went and i f you didn't f e e l l i k e going you'd leave. Sometimes I'd skip the whole day, sometimes maybe a couple of classes. L's disengagement was deepened by her experimentation with drugs. I'd just sleep i n some of my classes cause you'd get so stoned at lunchtime you'd just sleep. Sometimes before school too. 107 During t h i s 2 year period her parents never learned that L was skipping. The school, i n turn, never discovered her drug habit. L managed to make i t through grade 9 but ended up f a i l i n g grade 10. It was a painf u l experience that shook her out of her indifference and provided her with a r e a l opportunity to engage. I hated f a i l i n g . It was embarrassing and i t was more embarrassing that a l l my friends were a l l leaving and going to a d i f f e r e n t school (senior high). And I didn't want to be with a l l the, l i k e the grade nines going into grade ten. That's why I l e f t and went to a d i f f e r e n t school. I seemed to apply myself there. L did very well her second time through grade 10. She stopped skipping, seldom indulged i n drugs and applied herself academically. So complete was her turnaround that she overcame one of her biggest academic hurdles--math. She c r e d i t s her teacher for t h i s success. Like I'm useless at math, l i k e i f I have money I can count i t but that's about i t . But he (her grade 10 teacher) took the time and he'd explain i t step by step i f you didn't understand i t . He'd do i t again and again and again u n t i l you understood i t . And I got i t and I got an "A" i n Math. Repeating grade 10 proved to be a p o s i t i v e experience. In addition to math, L did very well i n her other subjects as well. At long l a s t she was using her strong w i l l to her benefit. When she finished grade 10, L moved on to Senior High with genuine hope and p o s s i b i l i t y . Academic success appeared to be within her grasp. 108 The End During her f i r s t month of grade 11 L worked very hard. I'd say for the f i r s t month I was doing, l i k e , school a l l day long and then I was doing night school. I was going to school during the day and at night cause I wanted to t r y and get everything and get into grade 12 and graduate with the rest of my class. Her success and her e f f o r t were short l i v e d . By the end of L's f i r s t month i n senior high she was running into d i f f i c u l t i e s . I was i n math and I couldn't, I hated the teacher, I couldn't stand him. You'd ask him to explain i t and he'd be l i k e , I already did. So I just gave up. Though she had always found Math d i f f i c u l t , the deeper issue was the relationship between L and her i n s t r u c t o r s . Impatient teachers tended to defeat L quickly. Just the way they're talking, explaining i t to you. Then you f e e l stupid cause you've already asked once and you don't want to ask again cause you can t e l l that they're thinking in' t h e i r head "Well, why don't you understand t h i s Yet? Everyone else seems to get i t , why don't you?' You just f e e l dumb asking anymore. So then i t ' s l i k e , forget i t . I'm not even gonna ask. L's experience i n math brought her back to her course of disengagement. The d i f f i c u l t y of the subject coupled with her perception of the teacher's attitude, unhinged her. Somewhere during the second month of school she stopped going to Math. Since the same teacher taught Consumer Education, she stopped going to t h i s class as well. 109 As i n the past, the school didn't seem to notice. Nobody ever said anything to me about missing these classes. Well, at f i r s t the computer that used to phone home for not being there would phone home but I'd just hear i t and hang up. Increasingly discouraged, L also dropped her courses at night school. With t h i s , her s l i d e towards disengagement ra p i d l y turned into a f r e e f a l l . Just before I dropped out I started partying a l l the time and doing drugs. Somewhere during her t h i r d month into grade 11 L decided to leave school. I phoned my mom at work and said I quit today. She's l i k e why and a l l t h i s s t u f f . And i t ' s l i k e I'm not doing i t . Forget i t . I'm not going to pass anyway so I'm not going to do i t . Though capable and at times interested, L spent most of her time at school as an observer. P a r t i c i p a t i o n when i t did occur, was usually the byproduct of a re l a t i o n s h i p . When she found teachers with whom she could connect L applied herself. To often though, she occupied a p o s i t i o n of indifference. In the end t h i s established way of being proved to d i f f i c u l t to overcome with mere intention and desire. Commentary. L's story of disengagement has a s i m p l i s t i c , straight forwardness about i t . She did not l i k e school, had a hard time taking i t seriously and never managed to get beyond the 110 bad habits (limited e f f o r t , skipping, predictable confrontation) one might associate with such an approach. At the same time, L's f a i l u r e i s about l o s t opportunities. These went hand i n hand with an emotional f r a i l n e s s , a t h i n skinned, too e a s i l y generated defensiveness. When she experienced opposition and c r i t i c i s m she became stubborn, argumentative, and ultimately s e l f - d e s t r u c t i v e . When she could develop a rapport she engaged and found success. Both her parents and the school, a l b e i t inadvertently, played a r o l l i n L's f a i l u r e s . Her story of disengagement i s about L's defensive and stubborn tendencies and the q u a l i t y of her relat i o n s h i p s . This combination of a way of being and relationship, to often translated into an oppositional stance on L's part. Sometimes those who cared offered her a self - d e f e a t i n g stance. When she was only 10, her father signaled his f r u s t r a t i o n and resignation with L through his i n v i t a t i o n to her grade 5 teacher. Rather than helping L with her "attitude problem" he was. determined to defeat i t . His implied threat though proved to be hollow. Her home l i f e was s t r i c t , but t h i s s t r i c t n e s s didn't pertain to matters of school. Beyond ta l k i n g to L about her lack of e f f o r t , her parents did l i t t l e to foster a d i f f e r e n t approach to school. On other occasions, opportunities for contact were l o s t through a lack of imagination. At a c r i t i c a l juncture i n her school l i f e (grade eight) the high school bumbled an opportunity to entice her to belong. Instead of using L's I l l a t h l e t i c a b i l i t i e s to p u l l her into the system, the school's "do or die" approach provided her with another oppositional opportunity. Numerous teachers played out the same role thereby increasing her defiance. While the source of L's defensive stubbornness remains ambiguous, her parents and the school's i n a b i l i t y to help her overcome t h i s drawback i s clear. Over time, the oppositional stance became a habit that she couldn't get beyond. 112 Chapter 9 Case Study 6: B I had a wonderful teacher i n grade 5. Of course I got pulled out of grade 5. She was great. She was just wonderful. She was just uhm, there was enough of a strong hand, so there was enough of a c o n s t r i c t i o n and stu f f and yet enough freedom, c r e a t i v i t y , you know, not just do what you want but do what you want within these guidelines. No, I s t i l l believe that i t was my parents f a u l t . Not, not that they were bad parents but I think i f I hadn't gone through a l l that uhm, I t r u l y believe i f I had stayed i n grade s i x and gone on to grade seven l i k e , l i k e , you know. I was pulled out of so many of my c i r c l e of friends, so many times. And so many di f f e r e n t programs, I just, I think i f I had stayed with that group who a l l graduated and went on to, you know, do lovely things. I s t i l l look at i t and you know, a l l those people did i t , why couldn't I. I s t i l l f e e l that way. It's l i k e why couldn't I graduate. Everyone else did. I could have done i t , I should have done i t , but I didn't. Turning and turning i n the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things f a l l apart; the centre cannot hold (The Second Coming W.B.Yeats) Introduction Though she was honest and forthright, interviewing B was not straightforward. Often her responses were strewn with p a r t i a l sentences, musings, and thoughts i n the process of being developed. At other times, she was clear, precise and to the point. On a few occasions B offered a perspective of her l i f e as a student only to dismiss i t as too a n a l y t i c a l . This mixture of c l a r i t y and ambiguity, sureness and uncertainty captures her struggle to make sense 113 of that period of her l i f e . She accepts, i n part, her r e s p o n s i b i l i t y for the outcome. At the same time, there i s a sense of somehow, having been inappropriately launched. Her story i s somewhat akin to a spark bouncing between the two poles of " i f only" and "I should have". B dropped out of school when she was 15. There was no singular issue or event that caused her to leave. To t h i s day, she finds her f a i l u r e to graduate f r u s t r a t i n g , even somewhat puzzling. B i s bright and a r t i c u l a t e . She has led a r i c h and i n some ways even p r i v i l e g e d l i f e . At the same time, she was anything but cocooned. In many ways B's l i f e experience was well beyond her age. Capable, at times haughty, and always more vulnerable than her presentation would suggest, B never established roots that would sustain her. Ungrounded, her a b i l i t i e s and experiences often f a c i l i t a t e d her disengagement. The Beginning B 1s memories of her early school experiences were very p o s i t i v e . I did kindergarten, grade 1 and 2 back east. School was great. -Got straight A's. Came out her and was a l i t t l e bored. S t i l l got straight A's though. I s t i l l l i k e d school. I was very s o c i a l . Had l o t s of friends. When she entered grade 5 her grades dropped to C's and D's (from straight A's) and the school decided to have her tested. 114 So they pulled me out of grade 5 and figured out that I was quite bright and put me into grade 6 right away. I got straight A's again that year. It wasn't a great year. They a l l thought, the grade 6's a l l thought I should be i n grade 5. Over time B worked through the other kids' resentment and by the end of the year " i t was a l l fine and dandy". No sooner had she s e t t l e d i n than i t was time to move. Then my mom decides that French Immersion would be a r e a l l y neat idea. And, none of these decisions were mine. I didn't say, I didn't get to choose whether I would be i n grade 6 or grade 5. They just put me into grade 6. Anyway, my mom decided that t h i s would be a r e a l l y n i f t y thing for me to do and so I had to do grade 6 over again and I'm l i k e , well why did you make me do grade 6, so that, at that point I got a l i t t l e , I got a l i t t l e , you know. I'm with a t o t a l l y d i f f e r e n t group of people, and i f you check that class, t h i s i s sort of interesting, that grade 6 class, the French Immersion one, four people graduated, out of 23 students. So I mean there were some problems. Once again though, B excelled (straight A's). She enjoyed the year and found " i t was neat learning a new language". Grade 7, on the other hand, presented some d i f f i c u l t y . We had a teacher who was quite h o r r i b l e . I mean I got a "B" i n Math but we never opened a math book. I mean, never. Not once. She was just very, umh, she couldn't control herself at a l l . I mean she would run out of the classroom crying and she just, she didn't do a l o t of teaching that year. It was r e a l l y tough when we went into Junior High. Towards the end of grade 7 B's s o c i a l l i f e started to change, as did her relationship with her parents. I remember I started l y i n g to my parents i n grade seven, cause I mean the older kids went out and drank and s t u f f and so. You know we wanted to, so we did. You know I'd say we'd been to the movies but we didn't. And i t was only very mild i n grade 7, you know you're only 12. How much alcohol can you get, eh? 115 While she was r e l a t i v e l y innocent and naive s o c i a l l y , i n other ways B was quite experienced. Though she couldn't f u l l y a r t i c u l a t e i t at the time, B was the f i r s t member of the family to openly recognize and address her mother's alcoholism. I just remember not wanting to go home. Like I would walk home crying. I didn't want her to be home.Probably at 11 or so I started t e l l i n g my mom that she had a problem. I used to take care of her when she got home and she was drunk. If I asked my brother for help he'd just leave. If I asked my dad for help he'd just say "Oh she's f i n e . Just put her to bed, she's not f e e l i n g well'. And so, no one would admit i t except me. I handled her for years. You know, you become the parent. Only when she was drinking. B parented her mother for the next 4 years. Painful and often bewildering, the experience forced on her a l e v e l of independence and r e s p o n s i b i l i t y far beyond her age. Other aspects of B's upbringing also required her to be very independent. My parents were always very, and t h i s i s not a gripe against them. They weren't home a l o t growing up. So that we (she and her brother) were very independent. They were there when we needed them. When we moved out here, we didn't have s i t t e r s , we were just that independent. We made dinner for ourselves. Yea, we had a l o t of freedom. Maybe too much, I'm not sure. By the time she l e f t elementary school, B was, i n many ways, her own person. Her upbringing and the experience of looking a f t e r her mother fostered a sense of independence and bravado. Success at school validated her b e l i e f and trust i n her i n t e l l i g e n c e and a b i l i t i e s . Poised, confident, and at times, very mature she appeared well prepared for her 116 t r a n s i t i o n to junior high. At the same time her grade 7 year was a poor preparation for grade 8. Her troubled teacher's incompetence created an environment which lacked order. Once again her experience made s e l f reliance a natural option. The surface image that was taking hold b e l i e d the twelve year o ld that resided within. I've always been a goody two-shoes on the inside. You know what I mean, I'm just so honest. The Middle B started junior high with the t y p i c a l apprehensions shared by most grade 8's (bigger kids, new teachers, unknown s i t u a t i o n s ) . She was s t i l l i n French Immersion which meant she was with many of her friends from elementary school. While t h i s group provided comfort and security, i t also had ce r t a i n drawbacks. We were a rougher crowd than the rest of the school and that was bizarre cause of course you were the select group. I mean there were some, guess you'd c a l l them goody-two-shoes but the rest were pretty rough. And, we started the drugs then. I don't know how or why. I guess cause we always hung around older kids. Of course they were doing i t . With the drugs came a more la c k a d a i s i c a l approach to school, some skipping and routine detentions. Confronting teachers also started to become routine. I was a troublemaker. I was r e a l l y mouthy, r e a l l y mouthy, very cheeky. If the teacher was causing me some di s t r e s s I just got very cheeky and i t didn't matter to me i f i t was i n front of everybody or not, whether i t was appropriate or not. 117 Her willingness and a b i l i t y to confront authority made B a formidable challenge to any adult. Exercising t h i s power i n the classroom had inevitable consequences. Instead of l e t t i n g f l y , I'd make fun of them. I knew I was i n t e l l i g e n t that way. If I just y e l l and c a l l them asshole, i t doesn't do much to a teacher. But i f you can make them look stupid. Well, I had control of the s i t u a t i o n (confrontation) but I s t i l l had to leave the classroom. A contributing factor to B's d i f f i c u l t i e s with authority was her view of respect. I think for me, the problem was most people look up to t h e i r teachers. For me, I don't think everybody, I don't care how old you are, I mean I don't look down on people who are younger than me and I don't look up to people who are older than me. I just think, you're on the same l e v e l . You should st a r t there anyway. Like, teachers, they a l l want respect. Right? Well, why should I give i t to you, i f you, you know, you're not going to have any for me. The turmoil of grade 8 was increased by unexpected academic d i f f i c u l t i e s . I've always been sort of f a i r l y confident i n my i n t e l l i g e n c e . But i n Math, I don't understand. When we were doing l i k e Algebra i n grade 6, cause we had a special group, I was fi n e . And then I started to do Algebra i n grade 8 and I couldn't, I couldn't grasp i t and I don't understand cause I used to be able to do i t . B's d i f f i c u l t i e s i n math were compounded by her impatience. Normally I learn things very quickly and i f I can't, I don't want to. Like i f I don't get i t the f i r s t time, I don't want to learn i t . So when we got to that, my dad and I would just get into arguments because I got back into Algebra and I couldn't do i t . I couldn't understand why. I'd get very mad and frustrated and get mad at him but of course i t wasn't his f a u l t . So he stopped teaching me. 118 While B was having some d i f f i c u l t i e s i n the classroom, s o c i a l l y she was very engaged with school l i f e . I was i n band, I was i n choir, I was a tomboy so I played a l l the sports. I was never embarrassed about the things that I was involved i n . Like, most kidsweren't involved i n band and that kind of s t u f f . But I always enjoyed i t . I could be gay, you know, i t didn't matter. This exuberance and "can do" s e n s i b i l i t y was also prevalent at home. Uhm, i n grade 7, I l i e d to them. So i n grade 8 I re a l i z e d I can s t i l l do these things. They can everything which I'm not sure whether i t was a good or bad thing for them. There's the drugs, you know, I smoke, I drink, you know. Hey mom, I had sex. So I t o l d them everything. I never hid anything from them from that point on. Not much anyway. And you know, l i k e I went out and they said stay home, and I went out a l l night, you know. I would phone and t e l l them where I was, you know, even though I wasn't supposed to be there. Like goody-two-shoes. Hey mom, piss on you but here's the phone number where I ' l l be. Overall, grade 8 turned out to be a d i f f i c u l t year, e s p e c i a l l y academically. B's budding s o c i a l l i f e and growing disengagement from school was r e f l e c t e d i n her grades. The f i r s t term I got A's and B's. And then the next I got B's and C's. And then I just barely passed the year. At the end of grade 8 B decided to leave French Immersion and enrolled i n an English program for grade 9. In September she attended another school. Quick to make 119 friends, she soon had access to a constant supply of free drugs. Grade nine, we did drugs the whole year. I don't remember much of grade 9. We'd smoke i n the morning, at lunch, a l l the time. It's so weird, I don't have that, I mean, I don't see myself as that kind of person. In addition to further disengaging her from school, B's drug use seems to have had a more devastating e f f e c t . What's r e a l l y bizarre i s that I used to be very, very, outgoing i n terms of, you know I could go up and sing i n front of people and i t didn't matter. Like a f t e r the drugs things started to change, I know that for sure. Like grade 8, I s t i l l remember doing a s k i t and being f i n e . I h i t grade 9 and I lo s t i t . I mean I'd give up a percentage of my mark just cause I didn't want to say anything. I just remember being, a l l of a sudden, t h i s person who wouldn't speak i n front of a group. While t h i s new fear prevented B from speaking'in front of a group i t didn't c u r t a i l her behavior. Two months a f t e r school started, she was asked to leave. B remembers i t as a pai n f u l experience. Well inside i t was, I was upset. How could t h i s happen You know, although I was always a troublemaker, I was always thought of as a f a i r l y good person. But on the outside i t was always kind of cool, you were hanging around with a rough crowd, you got kicked out of school, you know. B returned to the school she had attended the previous year. At the end of the school year she was, once again, kicked out. Academically, grade 9 turned out worse than grade 8. I f a i l e d two classes. I did summer school. I got 98% i n both classes and went on my merry way. And so I was 120 l i k e , well, how come I"can do that and I can't do i t i n school. It just, you know, ba f f l e d my mind. The other s i g n i f i c a n t development i n B's l i f e was that she moved out of her home. She was 14 years old. The i n i t i a l move occurred when she went to summer school and didn't r e s u l t i n any acrimony between B and her parents. Classes would be easier to attend i f she stayed at a friend's place. From t h i s point on she would move i n and out of her home at w i l l . Other moves were f i l l e d with tension and c o n f l i c t . I mean i t wasn't them (parents). I think i t ' s just, you know, the arrogant attitude. Conquering the world. A teenager. I know everything. And they didn't have much control. Cause I figured out, they t e l l me I'm . grounded, I go out. More grounding, I mean ground me t i l l I'm dead, who cares. By the time she had finished grade 9, B was beyond the control of any adult i n her l i f e . Though she had managed adult r e s p o n s i b i l i t i e s , she lacked the patience, perspective, and s e n s i b i l i t y that sometimes come with age. What she could do for her mother she could not do for herse l f . Though many teachers l i k e d her, she was hard to tole r a t e i n class. Her i n t e l l i g e n c e and s k i l l s were a pale substitute for emotional maturity and security. Her independence and s e l f - r e l i a n c e , which helped her to cope at home and thrive at school (when she applied herself) contributed to her a b i l i t y and willingness to confront. At a time when she was desperately i n need of guidance, she was on her own. Lacking direction, her energies were re g u l a r l y 121 misspent and often resulted i n forced change. The s e c u r i t y and belonging that comes with a predictable, safe environment never materialized. Over time the gap between the cool, controlled veneer and the goody-two-shoes inside her was widening. Most frightening and d e b i l i t a t i n g of a l l , she was losing her public voice. The End B went to another school for grade 10. She stayed for 4 days. I don't know why I had ever enrolled. I skated on a team. So we were close. A l o t of them went there so that's why I thought I'd go. But, outside of skating I didn't r e a l l y have much i n common with them. Even though she had been kicked out i n grade 9, B returned to her old school. The p r i n c i p a l r e a l l y l i k e d me, even though I was a troublemaker. And I went back and pleaded my case. Like, you know, I was a l l gung-ho i n doing school and being so good. You always start out that way. You've got your notebook, you know. This time around there was a marked improvement i n her behavior, although her s p i r i t seemed to be withering. I wasn't as mouthy or cheeky. I was more shy, I was more refined. Like I wasn't, no, not refined, more strong. I'm not sure i f the drugs did that to me or what, but I wouldn't speak i n front of my classes anymore. I didn't raise, you know, any trouble cause I was too shy. But my grades were h o r r i b l e . Part way through the year B was moved to another school. She can't remember how i t came about, but i t wasn't her 122 decision. It was the f i f t h time she had changed schools since she l e f t elementary school. At her new school, B applied herself and made i t on the honor role for the next reporting period. She couldn't r e c a l l why she had suddenly found more success other than the fact that she didn't have any established friendships. Her success didn't l a s t . It's r e a l l y stupid. One day I wanted to go home, I was not f e e l i n g well or whatever. I said, you know, I'm going to go home. And he says, no you're not. And I said, yeah, I'm going home. And he said, i f you go home, you can't come back. And I went home and I never came back. It's r e a l l y stupid. Like even then I knew i t was stupid. But I wasn't angry. You know, oh fine, that's your decision. I can move to another school. That's when I dropped out. Then I moved out, again. B's process of disengagement from school i s i n some ways the story of her unbridled independence. A l o g i c a l extension of her home and school experience, her s e l f - r eliance became a l i a b i l i t y as she moved into the confusion of adolescence. Though she could adjust s o c i a l l y , and achieve academically, she never learned to trust adequately. Not since her short stay i n grade 5 had she encountered an educator whose d i r e c t i o n she would accept. Trusting others was much more d i f f i c u l t than relinquishing control. As she put i t , "I always have to be i n control but I don't think I l i k e being c o n t r o l l i n g " . The more control that she mustered the less able she was of taking d i r e c t i o n . Alienated by circumstance and blinded by the i l l u s i o n of her own 123 omnipotence, she managed to stay at the wheel u n t i l she drove her ship ashore. Commentary. B's disengagement from school i s rooted i n her premature independence, her parent's d i f f i c u l t i e s , and her substantial a b i l i t i e s . Elementary school provided her with experiences of success and feelings of insec u r i t y . The former she took for granted; the l a t t e r she t r i e d to overcome. This imbalance between her academic accomplishments and her emotional needs was complicated by her mother's alcoholism, her father's denial of the problem, and her parent's i n a c c e s s i b i l i t y . These factors fostered a l e v e l of confidence and competence that was fa l s e , unsustainable and well beyond her emotional development. Before she started high school B had developed an intolerance for personal f a i l u r e , an independence that was daunting, and a sense of adults as her equals. Her mother's keeper and her father's l i t t l e g i r l , she entered adolescence unfettered and unguided. Alone, i n charge, and confused, she f i l l e d the void with a c t i v i t y . When drugs were available she took them, as sex became possible she participated, and i f teachers bothered her she confronted them. Though active, she was not engaged. Very capable, she was st a r t i n g to f a i l . Her d i f f i c u l t i e s i n math added to B's f r u s t r a t i o n while further distancing her from her father. The many school changes added to the sense of being groundless and started to sap 124 her s p i r i t . As the meaninglessness increased she became more alienated and u n c h a r a c t e r i s t i c a l l y s i l e n t . By the time she dropped out, leaving made as much sense as staying. 125 Chapter 10 Case Study 7: M I can only remember bad things when I was a l i t t l e g i r l . I had so many ideas and I was just walking around and there was a smile on my face and me and my mom were always so good to each other. I can remember my mom hugging me and holding me and t e l l i n g me she was always going to be there for me. And then when I h i t nine, nothing mattered anymore. I always wanted to be so c a l l e d normal. Have a normal l i f e , a normal house, a normal dog, and a normal family. But i t doesn't ever work out anymore. Don't get married i f you're going to get divorced. Don't have children i f you can't take care of yourself. You know. I don't want fucking kids. I don't want to bring somebody into t h i s hell-hole when I don't even want to be here. I'm at the point i n my l i f e where I'm not going to go out and meet people because I don't r e a l l y enjoy being hurt. I don't r e a l l y have the patience to go through a l l the b u l l s h i t with people and I think my l i f e has made me that way. I have no friends now. Not one. I've got a boyfriend. I've got my mother. I've got a cousin. And that's i t . That's a l l the people I ever t a l k to. It's pretty fucking lame at 16 years old, you know. I f e e l l i k e I'm fucking 4 0 or something. Introduction Listening to M's story was a numbing experience. Her l i f e was so r i d d l e d with ugliness, cruelty, and pain that on several occasions I caught myself withdrawing from the interview. This attempt to protect myself by retreating, mirrors i n some ways, M's e f f o r t s to cope with her l i f e . When the insanity that was her l i f e started to s p i l l into school, she reacted by escaping to the street. Running to the street was more than the l a s t step i n her process of 126 disengagement from school, i t was primarily, the necessary act of a c h i l d t r y i n g to s h i e l d herself from an unbearable existence. M entered the world as the f i r s t and only c h i l d of a single, 17-year-old mother. Ostracized by her parents over the pregnancy and already a v i c t i m of incest, M's mother had l i t t l e more to o f f e r than good intentions. At times even these were lacking. Caught up i n her own problems and driven by her u n f u l f i l l e d needs, she would often f a i l to nurture or even protect her daughter. Born into t h i s l i m i t i n g household, the notion of attending school, l e t alone learning, often presented i t s e l f as a cruel hoax to M. For a b r i e f period of time, she appeared to have a chance to survive i n the system. This p o s s i b i l i t y though, was short l i v e d . In the end disengagement was more of a necessity than a choice. The Beginning • M's e a r l i e s t memory i s of a near death experience. She and her mother were at Circus Circus i n Los Vegas. I was f l o a t i n g with my cousin and I was i n one of those tubes and I wedged off and I floated a l l the way to the bottom, or I sunk a l l the way to the bottom. And I couldn't breathe and my cousin swam down and got me. He saved my l i f e cause my mom didn't know how to swim. She was just screaming. It was so weird. In many ways, t h i s avoidable incident captured the f l a v o r of what l i f e and school had to o f f e r M. My second memory was when I was molested. It was my 1 mom's boyfriend's l i t t l e brother. He was a teenager. 127 I don't know I always looked at him l i k e , l i k e family or something. Cause I grew up with my mom's boyfriends. I c a l l e d him dad and everything. And I didn't t e l l anybody cause he was l i k e family. And I didn't r e a l l y understand at the time what was going on. And I forgot i t . And then I saw him (several years later) and the memory came back. M was i n grade 1 when she re c a l l e d the event. Her memory was triggered by a v i s i t she and her mother paid to mom's old boyfriend. Though she re c a l l e d the incident, she s t i l l didn't attach any meaning or significance to i t . When she started kindergarten then, M acted i n many ways l i k e a t y p i c a l c h i l d . I remember walking i n the doors with my lunchkit and smelling glue. We always used glue, that white paste s t u f f . You had to use popsicle s t i c k s to do i t and macaroni's and stuf f l i k e that. I just remember that i t was a fun time i n my l i f e Grade 1 was even better. Here she encountered a l e v e l of care, compassion and competence that she had never known. She was my favorite teacher ever. And, we would have to pray on our desk before we started work. And, at the end of ..the year, we a l l went to her house and she made us bouillon. And I learned what a "couple" and what a "few" meant. She was always interested i n , i n everything. We did a project with chicks and they were a l l running around and everything. When I l e f t there, she sent me a Christmas card. In addition to being kind and giving, her grade 1 teacher also picked up on M's academic needs. She put me into learning assistance class because I was not r e a l l y a l l there. For my reading and s t u f f . Cause I just wasn't interested i n doing i t . 128 Two weeks into grade 2 M changed schools. She remembered i t as a dis o r i e n t i n g experience. They moved me to JR. JR was l i k e lower class compared to HS and a l l my friends from HS didn't l i k e me any more cause I went to JR. And everybody at JR c a l l e d me a snob cause I was from HS. (Sarcastically) So I had l i k e , just so much fun i n grade 2. M did not adjust quickly. What started out as di s o r i e n t a t i o n ended up as fear. ( I got scared when I went there cause HS was l i k e , a l l the r i c h kids went there. Like, a l l Persian k i t t i e s and I mean everybody l i v e d i n that, that area, everybody had t h e i r own houses and, and you could walk to your friends house and I mean i t was just a t o t a l l y d i f f e r e n t atmosphere and then when I went to JR everybody was l i k e , you know, playing with f i r e and getting into trouble and, you know, smoking. I mean i t was just too much. In time M would adjust. Whatever "Persian k i t t e n " aspirations she had soon vanished. Poorly prepared to attend school from the start, she now found herself i n an environment where being an attentive student was frowned upon by many of her peers. While numerous experiences would play a part i n t h i s t r a n s i t i o n , the single most s i g n i f i c a n t event occurred when she was nine. The Middle Alone for some time, M's mother returned home one day with a new boyfriend. She had met him at a Hell's Angels party. She started going out with t h i s biker guy. And I t o l d my mom I don't l i k e him. He's weird. Even from the very beginning, the very moment I met him I knew there was something wrong. And she never r e a l l y l i s t e n e d to 129 me about i t and then, and then the guy's screwing me. But, I kind of blame my mom for i t I think. It would take 2 years for the court system to address the assault. Both the event and the due process of law had a devastating ef f e c t on M. At school, i t affected her a b i l i t y to learn. Ever since I was molested I had problems, ever since I was molested I've had problems i n school. My grades slipped. Big time slipped. Whoosh. You know, i n subjects I was normally good at. Uhm, my lack of concentration, my lack of tru s t . S o c i a l l y , s t o r i e s about the abuse turned her into a freak. I guess i t got around that I was molested and I walked into the g i r l s ' bathroom and these g i r l s were t a l k i n g about i t . And I was s t i l l i n elementary [school]. It was embarrassing. Even the process of going to therapy had i t s price, e s p e c i a l l y with her peers. I remember him [the therapist] giving me bubble gum. But I was always d i f f e r e n t a f t e r that. And I was l i k e , every single time I remember I was l i k e "Why do I have to go mom'? I'm okay, I'm normal." You know. But I knew I wasn't. But I didn't want to, I didn't want to wait i n t h i s o f f i c e with these crazy people, you know. I f e l t crazy. And at school l i k e , i t was always, where are you going, M? No where. Well why do you always leave school at two, you know, two half hours early every [week]? Because. Well because why? Fuck you! And that's why I started f i g h t i n g . Because people were always prying. People always wanted to know everything about me. On a broader scale, the experience took from M any vestiges of innocence that remained. Yeah. Yeah. When I, when I was nine, that's when I re a l i z e d that the system was not there to protect you. 130 The system i s there to fuck you over. That's when I knew that I had no reason to l i v e because, because they say that they're there to help and protect you, why do they l e t these things happen to you then? Like my mother! She said she was there to help me and protect me. Why'd that happen to me then. There i s no excuses. I don't care what anyone says. It should not have happened but i t did anyway. So who's to blame. Sure as fuck not me! I was just a t o t a l d i f f e r e n t person. In school I mean, I f e l t older than the rest of my peers because I, I mean I had already gone to court, I'd already, you know. The process of j u s t i c e added to and prolonged her pain. Even those who t r i e d to help ended up traumatizing her. It was h e l l . It was h e l l . Well, I, okay I remember, these are the memories I have about that whole scenario. Okay. My f i r s t Pap test when I was nine years old. I'm s i t t i n g i n the hospital for hours and hours. Uhm, s i t t i n g i n the police s t a t i o n because he threatened to blow our heads o f f . Being at school and being taken away from hop-scotch and skipping because there was a man of his description around the playground and I wasn't allowed to be outside because he had threatened that he was going to chop off my fingers and my tongue. At a time when she most needed people the world abandoned her. Rather than moving to support her, M's grandparents reacted with shame and concern about the family name. And my grandparents t o l d her [my mother] to put i t i n the closet. You know, keep i t i n the closet. And i t was h e l l , with my family. And they were a l l embarrassed because of i t and my mother's friends were embarrassed. The biggest hurt though, came from her mother. Once again, M's needs took on a secondary role to her mother's needs. The experience l e f t M f e e l i n g alone and abandoned. Well my mom brought her friends to court and I hated her for that. Fucking hated her for that because I d i d not want them there. Hey man I had to s p i l l my guts. 131 Why should she bring her fucking friends. But i t was an open courtroom so anybody could go. His family was there. The guy's family who molested me was there. So, whatever. That was fine, my mom said she needed her support too. Nobody fucking cared about me, you know. I know that the night that i t happened my cousin was crying, Diane (mom's friend) was crying. My mom was crying. I was just s i t t i n g there. Like, why i s everyone crying. It didn't happen to them, i t fucking happened to me. That's why I got t h i s rage. I was sad for grade 5 and I was a good l i t t l e g i r l because I was scared for my l i f e too. Because he was threatening to k i l l us. Even though her l i f e was i n turmoil, M managed to survive grade 5. Near the end of her grade 5 year the case went to court. Between the end of her court case and the st a r t of grade 6, M entered puberty. Accompanying her phys i o l o g i c a l change was a profound s h i f t i n attitude. Like grade 6, you know, I got my f i r s t bra, I got my period, I was going to be a real woman now, r i g h t . So I had to act l i k e a real woman. I had to do re a l woman things. And I just changed the way I looked at l i f e p retty much. Grade 6, that's when I got my f i r s t boyfriend and I started f e e l i n g grown up. The quiet and withdrawn M of grade 5 was now f i l l e d with contempt and rage. She dropped old friends' and made new ones. She was no longer an outsider i n the school that had once frightened her. I remember I got into a l o t of f i g h t s . I was getting into f i g h t s l i k e a l l the time, a l l the time. And I was just "So fucking what! You going to suspend me? Fuck you! You're going to do t h i s , you're going to do that, go fucking ahead. Big fucking deal." You know. That was my whole outlook. It was just l i k e "So fucking what! I don't care." And that pissed them off r e a l bad. Her behavior generated a l i t a n y of detentions and suspensions. M's metamorphosis though was not yet complete. 132 As the year wore on she became increasingly preoccupied with sex. I thought, everyone i n t h i s world only thinks about sex. And then I started screwing around with everyone because I thought that that's how I got attention. I l o s t my v i r g i n i t y w i l l i n g l y when I was 12. T remember t e l l i n g my mom "Mom I l o s t my v i r g i n i t y l a s t night." She was drinking, ah, I know, t h i s i s so tacky but she was drinking t h i s drink at Knight and Day and she had a cherry i n i t , and she says "Do you want your cherry back?" And I was l i k e "Oh oh." I was dead, (laughing) My mom always raised me to t e l l her everything. When they got home her mother responded by grounding M for her sexual a c t i v i t y . Her mother's e r r a t i c responses were part of a long established pattern. Family l i f e sucked because my mom always had d i f f e r e n t boyfriends and i t was never stable. We were always moving and I r e a l l y hated i t , because i t seemed l i k e every year or every couple of years there would be a new guy and he'd be i n there t e l l i n g me what to do Part of M's d i f f i c u l t y was that she would become attached to these men only to be abandoned by them. In the absence of a boyfriend M's mother increased the hurt and pain i n her daughter's l i f e as she behaved b r u t a l l y towards She was crazy. She'd treat me l i k e s h i t because I was the closest person to her. She'd l i k e , throw everything around the house and scream and y e l l and "What the fuck are you looking at?" I'd cry and I'd run to my room. I'd be scared and everything. She was abusive, not sexually but verbally, emotionally. But I didn't know, I didn't r e a l l y see i t then. I thought i t was normal. I thought everyone did that. I didn't know that they didn't. And I got spankings since I was l i t t l e . I got the be l t . The belt r e a l l y hurt. I didn't think that was very f a i r . 133 On the other hand, M's home was often unpleasant even when her mother was with a man. My mom was violent with her boyfriends. Like, I remember with Mike, they were f i g h t i n g and she had one of those butcher knives, those square ones, and she s l i c e d him on the face, l i k e , on the forehead. And he had a big cut across his forehead and that scared me so bad. I was l i k e s i x or seven. That was the f i r s t violence. I ever saw. And then there was Gord. Gord was l i k e an al c o h o l i c . Gord was a biker. And then my mom got vio l e n t with him and i t was a nuthouse that we're l i v i n g i n . They were fi g h t i n g and I was there and umh, my mom took sci s s o r s . She grabbed anything she could see, l i k e , and I was standing right there and she stabbed him. Right i n the vein [pointing at her wrist] there and blood squirted out everywhere and i t got on me and on the door. And I was so scared and I was c a l l i n g the cops and stu f f but everyone got mad at me, and the phone got broken. Gord was with my mom when I got molested. Then I saw my mom stab somebody else, I think i t was Leroy. Leroy beat the fucking s h i t out of my mother. Leroy was an ecstasy head. Leroy was the guy who stalked me and my mother. When she turned 12 M responded by moving i n with a fri e n d . Between grade 6 and grade 8 she moved back and for t h between her mom's house and her friend's house. She went to several d i f f e r e n t schools during t h i s period. M r e c a l l s t h i s period of her l i f e with c h a r a c t e r i s t i c frankness. My mom l e t me l i v e [at my friends] because she knew I was growing up, I needed some freedom. But I wish I never moved there. I don't know, I kind of wish I was never born. I fucked up a l o t . I got taken advantage of a l o t . By the time she reached the end of elementary school M was well on the way to h i t t i n g the street. Brutalized and humiliated throughout her e a r l i e r years she had learned to lash out, almost habitually. By grade 6 she t e r r o r i z e d 134 those who feared her, and frustrated and i n f u r i a t e d the few who might have helped her. L i f e at home added to M's d i f f i c u l t i e s and hardened her resolve to l i v e f or the moment. With no future orientation, the purpose and meaning of school escaped her. Academically, she was so fa r behind her peers that she couldn't manage to r i s k making an e f f o r t . At the same time she was desperately alone. P h y s i c a l l y mature and emotionally starved she used her body to f i n d human contact. Soon, t h i s e f f o r t to cope would also be undermined. The End M was 12 years old when she started high school. Near the end of grade 7 she had convinced her mother to sign her up for a new experimental program i n September. The high school was tr y i n g out a p i l o t project (a school within a school) with about 60 grade 8's. M wanted to attend because she l i k e d the idea of going on the "big f i e l d t r i p " scheduled for early i n the school year. (Secondary school counsellors had explained t h i s when they promoted the new program i n feeder elementary schools the previous May/June). She also l i k e d the idea of being with t h i s group of people, though she f e l t out of place from the s t a r t . They were a l l kind of just, d i f f e r e n t , not l i k e me. They were just l i k e "good gracious". Like, you know, they were a l l just l i k e normal. You know, l i k e the people that went there had l i k e , good families and stu f f l i k e that, that wanted them to l i k e , you know, go far. That was how i t was. So I wanted to go cause I wanted to f i t i n with that good crowd and everything, r i g h t . 135 In part t h i s difference had to do with the at y p i c a l fear that M ca r r i e d with her da i l y . While most grade 8's were concerned about the t r a n s i t i o n to high school, M's was a deeper, more permanent a l l encompassing fear. Violence, that's a l l I've ever been scared of was violence, being beaten up, or pushed around, or anything. Just abuse. That's a l l , that's a l l I ever thought of. I didn't care i f I had friends or not. As long as they didn't beat me up I was fi n e . She was also out of sync i n terms of her s o c i a l mores. When, during the f i e l d t r i p she was chastised by a female teacher for her overly provocative swim a t t i r e , M responded by s t r i p p i n g . I seem to remember thi s incident l i k e i t was yesterday because i t pissed me off so bad. I was wearing a black body su i t and i t looked exactly l i k e a bathing s u i t but i t wasn't. And I was more developed than the rest of the g i r l s . And t h i s one teacher pulled me aside and t o l d me that, l i k e probably I should put on a jacket because the boys were young and they've got hormones raging and t h i s and that, and I t o l d her " i t ' s not my f a u l t " . And I, I've just been secluded l i k e , taken out of the group, l i k e I f e e l l i k e an a l i e n . Like a l l my l i f e I've f e l t l i k e an a l i e n because people made me fe e l l i k e an a l i e n . So I ended up taking a l l my clothes off and jumping i n the lake, just to pis s them o f f . In what was becoming a t y p i c a l fashion, M's response simultaneously drew complete attention to her and painted her as odd. Her mother echoed t h i s oddness by complaining to the school board that her daughter had caught "a bad cold" as a resu l t of the teacher's behavior. In class M 136 stood out because of her sporadic attendance and her obvious indifference. I wasn't there a l o t and I walked into math class and I never brung anything with me and I never did anything. I just walked to the back of room and sat down and put my feet up on the desk and they're a l l l i k e "Oh, what's your name? l i k e they didn't even know me. Outside of school, M was also out of control. Her home environment (she was once again l i v i n g with a friend) offered no d i r e c t i o n or guidance. M described her friend's mother as a woman whose "eyes were closed". Given free reign M did as she pleased even though i t frightened her. Like once I started getting into l i k e sex and drugs (at high school), l i k e , whoa, I'm fucked up, you know. I don't know how to react to anything. Because I started getting myself into things I couldn't necessarily get myself out of and i t scared me. Just drugs and the people I was hanging out with, just low l i v e s . People who were a l o t older than me and knew a h e l l of a l o t more than I did and could persuade me into anything. Like stupid things I would never have done on my own. Like smoking i n the hallways. Things started being l i k e , l e t ' s see i f we get caught. And i t was just e x c i t i n g and s t u f f . As her l i f e continued to spin.out of control she started to d r i f t into a meaner and u g l i e r world. I started hanging around with t h i s chick and her and her boyfriend jumped people for t h e i r s t u f f . So I was st a r t i n g to jump people for t h e i r things, and l i k e , we had knives and s t u f f . And I remember t h i s one kid. We followed him from Metrotown. He was walking and i t was so sad because i t was a brand new jacket and I remember him crying and he was probably l i k e my age now (16) and he was crying and he was "please don't, I just got t h i s jacket yesterday". And I was l i k e , holy fuck, I ac t u a l l y did that. You know. Like i t made a big difference i n somebody's l i f e . And I f e l t so bad actu a l l y . It was just l i k e , power. Soon the ugliness that she was l i v i n g turned on her. 137 I was 12 r i g h t . I t o l d my mom that I was going to a movie with a fr i e n d or something and then I went to t h i s guy's house and he got me r e a l l y fucking stoned and I was just t o t a l l y out of i t r i g h t . And a l l of a sudden there are three of them and I was with one of my g i r l f r i e n d s but she had to go home. So she l e f t and I was just by myself with these three guys and I just thought, they're teenagers, they won't be able to do nothing to me. And they were just l i k e , they just jumped on me and they wouldn't l e t me go. And I kept thinking l i k e , what happened". And I got my clothes on and I ran andran and I took a bus and when I got home quickly had a shower. And my mom's l i k e "What's wrong with you"?. "Nothing don't worry about i t " . Right, l i k e what a weird night. M's assailants were 16 and 17 year olds who attended her high school. Proximity, rather than causing them any concern about t h e i r behavior, seemed to i n v i t e more of i t . They'd always come up to me [at school] and l i k e "Hey M, how's i t going. What are you doing a f t e r school. Let's go to the mall". I was so scared of them and t h i s lasted for 2 months. They'd just follow me everywhere. And rape me, regularly. And I was just too insecure and I was, I couldn't t e l l no one because I couldn't believe that t h i s was happening to me again. They would take me wherever and i t would happen. I was raped by four d i f f e r e n t guys. I could go to court again, that's why I didn't t e l l anybody. M transferred to, another school aft e r being asked to leave due to her skipping. Though attendance had been a d i f f i c u l t y ever since she started school, skipping out was now also a means of protecting herself. If they couldn't f i n d her they couldn't rape her. After transferring, M attended three high schools over the next 2 months. From there she went to l i v e on the street. M informed her mother 138 about the rapes 3 years l a t e r when she was h o s p i t l a i z e d a f t e r a suicide attempt. Commentary. Though her story i s horrendous, M process of leaving school i s r e l a t i v e l y straightforward. Disengagement i s rooted i n her homelife. Grounded i n a r a d i c a l l y d i f f e r e n t ethos, the school's role i n M's disengagement i s confined l a r g e l y to an i n a b i l i t y to redress long standing family d i f f i c u l t i e s . Born to a mother whose own needs were always placed above her daughter's, M started l i f e with a d i s t i n c t disadvantage. Not only did her home f a i l to provide any security, i t was also the source of her ongoing neglect and abuse. By the time she was nine, M had concluded that her mother could not be trusted, that people she c a l l e d "dad" did not stay, and that the world was, at best, i n d i f f e r e n t to her p l i g h t . S t i l l i n grade 3, M was bewildered, groundless, and without guidance. Confusion rather than hope f i l l e d her days. Lacking anything akin to a future orientation, she ended up l i v i n g for the moment. Longing for emotional contact, she gravitated toward sexual a c t i v i t y . As she entered puberty, her body became a commodity and rage became an ever present emotion. Frenetic unacceptable a c t i v i t y (skipping, stealing, intimidating) as well as sex and drugs offered the best defense against a consciousness of her l i v e d experience. Alone, constantly a f r a i d , and completely s e l f - r e l i a n t , she became increasingly 139 incapable of accepting d i r e c t i o n or help. Pessimism had replaced confusion. When the amoral world i n which she spent most of her time turned on her, M started to become desperate. A vi c t i m i n her home and an a l i e n i n the world of school, she d r i f t e d to the comatose comfort of the street. 140 Chapter 11 Case Study 8: S Everything I can remember has been good. My mom's brought me up with morals and b e l i e f s and s t u f f l i k e that and I've done church when I was younger. My mom did the best that she could. When my brother's dad was around, he dealt, dealt weed and s t u f f l i k e that. That was, I remember when I was a l i t t l e kid, l i k e when I was three or four years old, f i v e years old that, I'd pass the j o i n t around the room, you know. Like, I remember i t , l i t t l e things l i k e f i l l i n g up a glass with smoke on the coffee table r i g h t . Having the glass turned upside down, doing a hot knife of hash into the glass or something l i k e that and then sucking i t out of the glass. I remember l i t t l e things l i k e that. They'd give me the j o i n t to pass around the room. It'd be l i k e here S, hand t h i s over to so and so across the room. And my baby-sitters would smoke i t and s t u f f l i k e that. My mom didn't l i k e that and that's why I think they divorced. It's kind of been a l i f e s t y l e . A l o t of things seemed to revolve around i t . Like, I notice I keep ta l k i n g about things and that, that one thing (marijuana) keeps reoccurring i n the subject. It wasn't that I decided to stop going [to school]. It kind of slowly dropped off you know. Like, I would go one day here or a day there but i t would be l i k e the whole week I didn't go except for that one day. The weeks would pass by and I'd go a day and i t just slowly dropped o f f to the point where I just didn't go anymore. Introduction My interview with S was straightforward. He was very honest and open about his past. S's dwindling int e r e s t i n school, his r e l a t i v e freedom, and neighborhood mores played a part i n his process of disengagement. At the same time c e r t a i n aspects of his story struck him as novel. For instance, he seemed surprised by the role that drugs played 141 i n his premature departure from school. Starting out as a pre-adolescent c u r i o s i t y , drugs became a major focus of his everyday l i f e . Marijuana and cocaine affected his relationships, changed his habits, and l i m i t e d his e f f o r t s at school. The Beginning S's elementary school experiences were mainly p o s i t i v e . Elementary school from kindergarten to about grade 5 was pretty much, seems l i k e i t was a l l the same. I was a l l i n one school. I remember I had fun. I was i n the sports s t u f f . My mom put me i n a soccer league. I was playing soccer and baseball i n those years. His younger years were p a r t i c u l a r l y productive and hopeful. With his mother's support, school was both enjoyable and fun. It was more of a fun thing back then, In kindergarten i t was fun. You didn't have to do work. [Grades] one, two and three, my mom would teach me s t u f f at home, you know. She'd have these books at home that I could work on to do schooling. My mom always helped me out with that. I didn't have a problem between kindergarten and grade 5 and. Everything was pretty much f i n e . For grade 6 S went to a d i f f e r e n t school because the family moved. The only significance that S attached to t h i s period of his l i f e was that "his grades were going down". The move however, exposed S to a segment of society that presented him with a r a d i c a l l y d i f f e r e n t l i f e s t y l e to what his mother wanted for her son. We moved behind t h i s apartment building. Those apartments are more l i k e run down places, [where a number of my friends l i v e d ] . Almost a l l the drug dealers and s t u f f l i k e that happens there. You know, 142 cops are always showing up there, domestic disputes and stu f f l i k e that r i g h t . That's the kind of area that I grew up i n ri g h t . Playing i n the playgrounds there, doing whatever, having fun, playing, r i d i n g our bikes. S o c i a l l y , s i g n i f i c a n t changes started to occur i n grade Up u n t i l grade seven I was just a normal k i d you know. Playing hockey cards or doing whatever. In grade 7, about half way through the school year we had t h i s guy named Ron, and he came to the school and, I guess he f a i l e d a year. So he was an older kid, came i n with jeans, the jean jacket, long hair, t o t a l , t o t a l , looked l i k e an outcast i n the room. Just didn't look l i k e he'd f i t i n . I put up my hand and decided that I'd show him around the school. Let him know where everything was and so got to be his fri e n d . He was a smoker and so because of him, you know, I was going to be friends with him so I started smoking and whatever. We smoked, we used to smoke drugs and he had two older brothers and they were 17 and 19 and they were always doing drugs and acid and stu f f l i k e that r i g h t . So that's how I got into that scene. Because of t h i s person and wanting to impress him and be his f r i e n d and you know afte r that I started dressing the same way, you know. Wearing the jean jacket and wearing the jeans with r i p s i n i t . So that kind of divided me from the other people i n elementary school. It was just more me and R af t e r that. Once his interest was sparked his access to drugs increased s u b s t a n t i a l l y . I remember one time, we had t h i s l i t t l e Indian k i d [in the neighborhood]. He's about nine or ten at the time and I was about 12 or 13, when I was i n grade 7. And I guess t h i s l i t t l e kid's dad was a dealer and he'd (the son) r i p him o f f . Like he'd take a whole ounce and he'd take a l l his money and he'd come over to my house f i r s t thing i n the morning and he'd bring t h i s big bag of weed and a l l t h i s money. And I'd l i k e s e l l him my toys and stu f f l i k e that. And he'd pay me for i t . It was l i k e nothing to him cause i t was stolen money so I had l o t ' s of money. The kid would give me l o t s of weed so I had l o t s of free weed a l l the time and t h i s happened for a long time. I was getting free weed and money. So I'd have money to go out and buy beer and [video] games. 143 As a v a i l a b i l i t y and usage increased, his approach to school changed. I'd skip out, not very much because i t was just s t a r t i n g into that phase of l i f e , you know. It wasn't, I wasn't that type of person who'd go out and just skip. It started because of the weed and i t ' s l i k e you'd get high i n the morning and you wouldn't want to go to school. By the end of his grade 7 year S's grades had dropped to D's and E 1s. Both his approach to school and his growing preoccupation with drugs were factors i n S's l i m i t e d e f f o r t . These d i f f i c u l t i e s were made worse by his mother's return to school. His mother's focus on work and school meant that S had more unsupervised time. As S f i l l e d his days with a c t i v i t i e s of his own choosing, he started his d r i f t away from school. The Middle S remembered the t r a n s i t i o n to high school as "just moving on". He wasn't p a r t i c u l a r l y concerned other than maybe getting "beat up by a grade 10". The onslaught of adolescence only served to deepen his disengagement. It seemed to me that I had a whole l o t of trouble when I was at B. I used to take a l l of my friends out back during school time. It would be l i k e , I'd show up at school, I'd have a l l t h i s weed and I'd go across the street to where the catwalk was where a l l the rockers hung out and smoked cigarettes. And I'd go, just to make friends you know, I'd o f f e r whoever was there to smoke a j o i n t . You know, hey guys you want to smoke a join t ? We'd a l l walk across the street to where the park was. And so i n a way that helped me to make a l o t of friends. You just want to be known. You want people to recognize you, you know, who you are, you just f e e l important. 144 Making friends was important to S. Though he wasn't a loner, he had experienced some d i f f i c u l t y finding a niche. I wasn't always the best at making friends. I'm not an outgoing person. I f e e l more outgoing than I used to be, but then at that time I had r e a l l y bad z i t s and s t u f f l i k e that. I had r e a l l y bad self-esteem and because of that I probably t r i e d harder to have more friends. That was b a s i c a l l y the reason for doing that (offering drugs to everybody), just to f e e l important and wanted, you know. The most important event i n grade 8 was meeting D. Over the next 5 years they developed a friendship which S remembered was l i k e having "the brother that I always wanted". This friendship was also s i g n i f i c a n t because of the increased freedom that i t afforded S. In a l o t of ways I'd say his mom didn't r e a l l y care. Like she was never there. It was always D.'s s i s t e r . That was the cool thing, hanging out at D's. Come the weekend, the minute they (D's parents) got home a f t e r work they'd start packing t h e i r s t u f f , gone within a half hour. They'd leave, they wouldn't come home t i l l Monday night. They'd just go straight to work from where they l i v e d (on the weekend). And his s i s t e r was there, and his s i s t e r was older so we'd get her boyfriends to go out and bootleg for us. D's house was l i k e a party house. In a l o t of ways I don't think that his parents cared. S's l i f e s t y l e quickly affected his approach to school. He f a i l e d grade 8. His f i r s t year i n high school was a whirlwind of drugs, parties, and skipping class. He took a i s i m i l a r approach to school the following September. I went back the next year and t r i e d to do i t again. Got through the f i r s t month l i k e , and I was just skipping out, smoking weed s t i l l , you know. Wasn't going to make i t that semester, and so I transferred myself out of school without my mom knowing. What happened was, I met t h i s guy named T and he was another 145 rocker, long hair, jean jacket, the whole b i t . He took me to Whalley just for the day, and I kind of hung out with him at the school for the day. And i t was l i k e , I was just i n s t a n t l y popular when I got there. It was just l i k e , me and Terry would walk down the h a l l and we'd be wearing our ripped up jeans and our jean jackets and a l l the chicks would be eyeing us. We're walking down there and people are t a l k i n g to us and s t u f f l i k e that and i t was l i k e r e a l l y cool. It was l i k e being popular, you know. People l i k e d me at that school. I wanted to go to that school just because I had a l o t more friends and s t u f f l i k e that. Wanting to be wanted. So I transferred myself i n there and my mom wasn't too happy about that but either way I managed to do i t and everything stayed that way. S's d i f f i c u l t i e s at school were compounded by his growing distance from his mother. She's t r i e d extra hard cause there was only one of her to do i t . So she, our relationship was good but I, I wouldn't ta l k to my mom, you know. I guess my mom was female or whatever. I had my friends to t a l k to. I didn't have my mom to t a l k to. I wouldn't t e l l my mom personal things. I'd with-hold information from my mom and s t u f f l i k e , so we had a good rela t i o n s h i p but I think I've been the one to with-hold i t from my mom. In a way i t hasn't been l i k e a very personal re l a t i o n s h i p u n t i l recently. On those few occasions when he t r i e d to explain his feelings, they f a i l e d to connect. Like I think at one time I would say I have low s e l f - esteem and my mom would be l i k e , "well why do you have a low self-esteem, you know, you've been i n baseball, you've been i n soccer, I put you i n guitar lessons. You've got friends. What's the problem?" That's what she couldn't understand. She didn't think I had a low self-esteem. When I went inside I knew how I f e l t , r i g h t . So I just l e t i t s l i d e and wouldn't t r y to explain i t to her. As he moved into his adolescent years the balance of power i n S's rel a t i o n s h i p with his mother seemed increasingly, to be a matter decided by his d i s c r e t i o n . 146 Well, i f l i k e my mom punished me or something l i k e that, i f I got grounded uhm, nobody r e a l l y accepts i t but, you know, I went along with the rules, you know. My mom had power only because I respected her. Like, my mom's not a big person and I mean, there's been times where my mom said "hey stay home". I remember when I was i n West W, one night I was super choked about something and I came home and my mom was by the f i r e p l a c e and she was l i k e "no, you can't go out." She t r i e d to stop me. She grabbed my arm and I just said "Let me fucking go". You know, and t o t a l l y kind of pushed her away. My mom r e a l l y doesn't have power other than the fact that I respect her for who she i s and I respect the consequences of my actions. Respecting the consequences of his actions however, did l i t t l e to d i r e c t his choices or a l t e r his behavior. With each experience his disengagement from school deepened. When I was i n W I hooked up with another guy named R and R's brother had big bags of weed, you know, and he'd steal i t off his brother and he'd bring i t to school. He'd be l i k e "six bucks for a gram". You know, what's l i k e s i x bucks, ri g h t . And so again I had l o t s of weed and was able to say, "hey guys, l e t s go into the park, smoke a j o i n t " . You know, a l l the time, r i g h t . I was there from about November t i l l about January and they kicked me out, expelled me because yeah, I'd been skipping out so much. S was forced to transfer schools half way through the year. L i f e at his t h i r d high school did not s t a r t off well. Soon a f t e r he started, S got caught smoking hash. He remembers i t as another emotional moment i n his l i f e with his mother. I remember her picking me up from school, d r i v i n g home. It was another one of them emotional times. I don't think there was a punishment for i t . I think my mom was understanding. It was okay, he's t r y i n g drugs, you know, she did i t i n her time too, you know so, she was understanding about i t . I don't think I got punished because of i t but I think i t was another emotional time. I think me and my mom were r e a l l y close i n that 147 way. I'm emotional l i k e my mom i s . We were d r i v i n g home and another emotional issue--how come you're smoking drugs and so on and so forth. The school responded by r e s t r i c t i n g his freedom. A ti g h t e r r e i n translated into academic success for the f i r s t time since grade 5. They put me on a school suspension where I had to go to school but at lunch time and before school I had to report to the o f f i c e and s i t there t i l l the b e l l and st u f f l i k e that. The basic moral to the story i s I passed out of grade 8 on the B honor r o l l . It was because there was nobody there that I r e a l l y knew. I wasn't tr y i n g to be popular. I wasn't tr y i n g to impress nobody. I was, i t was my l a s t chance. I was ac t u a l l y trying. And when I act u a l l y t r i e d , that's when I managed to accomplish. This was S's f i r s t and l a s t real experience of success i n high school. He passed into grade 9 . The End When he returned to school the following September, he reverted back to his old ways. Grade 9, went back to GP, f a i l i n g badly again. Got trough l i k e the f i r s t month and then didn't have much, didn't have anything [completed] b a s i c a l l y . Went to the counsellor, he said that I wasn't going to pass that semester. Same pattern. Just skipping out. GP was a l i t t l e ways away so I always had to catch the bus. It'd be l i k e , wake up i n the morning and I'd only have l i k e f i v e minutes to get to the bus stop. You know get ready, ahhh the h e l l with i t , you know. Find something better to do today. My mom was never around during the days so i t was easy just to stay home andnobody would know, righ t . Cause she'd go to school. She l e f t the r e s p o n s i b i l i t y to us. You know, i t ' s your decision, you're the one who has to l i v e with the consequences. 148 Bored with school and increasingly i n charge of his time S started to engage i n petty crime. Along the way he d r i f t e d into using cocaine. It's just one night, you know, i t ' s l i k e we got no money. Well, l e t ' s go out and see what we can scam. You know, go check out sheds and s t u f f l i k e that. With J. i t was l i k e you could pawn off power tools, s t u f f l i k e that. J. was my friend's mom, the dealer. The one that would s e l l us weed at the ages that we were. Like I don't think that normally most people would be l i k e okay we'll s e l l t h i s kid weed, cause we were so young. But we had an inside connection, and i t was l i k e , people would come over to her and they'd, stolen goods went through that house and s t u f f l i k e that, r i g h t . She l i k e d c r y s t a l , so i f we ever got our hands on c r y s t a l , or something l i k e that she'd be w i l l i n g to take i t . Forty bucks for a power saw, here's an eighth. Wow a bonus, smoke, smoke weed a l l day, so we'd go out. We'd steal whatever, you know, weed eaters, lawn mowers, you name i t . You could pretty much get away with anything. Right around then, I said, pot wasn't seeming to do i t , so started slowly getting into coke. Part way through grade 9 S transferred to a d i f f e r e n t school, one that allowed S to attend part time and work part time. Somewhere around 15 S replaced his petty thievery (for awhile) with part time work. His attendance at school however, was s t i l l very sporadic. In three years he f a i l e d to make any progress. When he quit his job he went back to stealing, only now he was more serious. In part t h i s was due to his drug habit. It was nice to do i t (coke) every now and then. We ended up ripping off Darcy's mom for about 10,0 00 d o l l a r s worth of gold and jewelry, emeralds and rubies and s t u f f l i k e that. My mom and the gold that she had, i t ' s no longer there. 149 When his mother found out he had been ste a l i n g from her she kicked him out of the house. S ended up on welfare l i v i n g at a dealer's house. School slowly faded from the picture. A year l a t e r S moved to a smaller c i t y , got a part-time job and t r i e d his hand at school. This arrangement lasted for a month. When S l e f t school as an eighteen year old he had successfully completed grade 8. Commentary. S's disengagement from school was f a c i l i t a t e d by his mom's absence, neighborhood mores, and his increasing i n t e r e s t and ultimate preoccupation with drugs. These factors would provide him with an inordinate amount of freedom, numerous inappropriate ways to spend his time, and an anesthetic to d u l l his pain and confusion. L i v i n g with a single working mom who was also attending school meant that too often S was l e f t to fend for himself. Given the time to wander i n a neighborhood where delinquency was. the norm , i t was only a matter of time before he adopted the ways of his environment. Before he l e f t elementary school S was dabbling i n behaviors (skipping, stealing, drugs) which would serve to overwhelm him. His biggest problem would come i n the form of drugs. S's engagement with drugs was very much l i k e his disengagement from school. Each process f e l t natural, developed and took hold slowly and seemed to be recognized only a f t e r the fact . As a toddler he passed j o i n t s for his father. His mother only stopped using drugs because her 150 second husband disapproved. S f i r s t experimented with marijuana i n grade seven. By the time he entered high school the experiment had become a habit. In his world drugs and school had a reciprocal relationship, the more S engaged with drugs the more he disengaged from school. Drugs f i l l e d an emotional void, were used as a currency f o r procuring acquaintances, and provided him with a purpose. Near the end of his school career, by which time he had graduated to cocaine, attaining his chosen form of escape was the major preoccupation of his existence. By t h i s point school had about as much meaning as the spent ash at the t i p of his cigarette. 151 Chapter 12 Case Study 9: B L i f e , l i k e at home, i t was good u n t i l grade 8. No. T i l l grade 7, we got into things l i k e do the dishes - no I don't want to. Well go to your room. Mostly my mom but then once things got out of control and he heard i t , then my dad would jump i n and that would be the end of me. My mom always t r i e d to help me with my school work but I had ADA, ADD or whatever i t ' s call e d , my entire l i f e , so I wouldn't l i s t e n pretty much when she'd' l i k e , t r y to s i t down with me and I'd do i t [school work] for about ten minutes and then she'd think that I got i t and I'd just forget i t . That would be i t . They didn't f i n d out u n t i l , they didn't figure that out u n t i l probably about two years now. But my mom figured that I've had i t pretty much ever since I was born. Introduction At 17 B was well on the way to putting her l i f e back together. She was l i v i n g i n her own place and had returned to school. For the f i r s t time i n a long while there was s t a b i l i t y i n her l i f e . This s t a b i l i t y was a marked contrast to her l i f e experience during her early teen years. Between the ages of 12 to 15, B's world was chaotic; she was alone and l a r g e l y out of control. Engulfed i n t h i s confusion school became an impossible task to manage. B was kicked out of school near the end of her grade 10 year, she was 15 years old. The Beginning B's f i r s t two years i n school were quite s a t i s f y i n g . She loved her Kindergarten and her grade 1 teacher and did well both i n and out of class. Her f i r s t negative experience was associated with grade 2. 152 She was ho r r i b l e . We were i n a s p l i t grade 2-3 cla s s . My cousin was i n my class with me and the teacher was just h o r r i b l e . She was a wicked teacher. I can't remember what my cousin did, but she got so mad she threw a chalk brush at her and she had a real temper problem. She wasn't mean to me but other kids she was mean to. Like, troublemaker kids. You'd have to be p o l i t e or else she'd be mean to you. Even though she was apprehensive around her grade 2 teacher, the year turned out fi n e . It wasn't u n t i l grade 4 that B ran into any serious d i f f i c u l t y . I passed i n everything except for Math. I passed but just barely. I was r e a l l y bad i n math. It was l i k e • embarrassing pretty much cause, there's s t u f f everybody else knew how to do except me. L i f e at school continued to deteriorate i n grade 5 and Grade 5, Mr. C. was pretty much one of my worst teachers. When i t came to Math, he sometimes would write s t u f f on the board and you'd have to go up and do i t . Well, I remember one time he picked on me to do something and I couldn't figure i t out. I got i t wrong and uhm, he l i k e kept on making me do i t over and over and over again. I couldn't do i t and he just got me so upset that I crie d . Like he raised his voice cause I couldn't do i t , l i k e he got mad cause I couldn't do i t . And so he took me down to the paper room and he apologized and everything. And he's l i k e I ' l l never do i t again. I ' l l never t r y to embarrass you and then he comes back into the class and ten minutes l a t e r he picked Meghan to go up. He made Meghan cry. He was just h o r r i b l e . And then I had him for grade 6 again. He was the same way. He c a l l e d a meeting with my mom just to t a l k about my schooling and he made my mom so upset, l i k e he was c a l l i n g me stupid and I was just holding i n my tears. And he made my mom cry. I hated him. I t o t a l l y despised him. My mom knew that I hated him. We both hated him. Grade 7 was a better year. Her teacher was kind and they got along. L i f e at home was s t i l l quite stable. 153 I l i k e d grade 7. Mr. B. was a great teacher. I don't know, school work was pretty good except for math. I can't r e a l l y remember doing very much homework at a l l . I wasn't into the homework thing. I'd rather do something else. But my mom, she'd make us do a half hour of homework before we could go anywhere. S o c i a l l y , B's l i f e was s t i l l very uncomplicated. We decided we'd get a l i t t l e airband because the boys that were ahead of us always had airbands i n the summertime, so we decided we'd get one going. So that's pretty much what we did a l l summer of grade 6 and grade seven. We just got out my tape recorder i n my room every day, and I forget which song i t was, but we did l i t t l e dances to i t and everything. We never got into trouble. B's elementary school experience did not prepare her well for high school. Math had c r y s t a l l i z e d as a subject to be avoided. One of her teachers had l a b e l l e d her stupid. And, regardless of her mother's e f f o r t s B remained a reluctant student. As early as grade 4 I think that I just gave up, not gave up but just l i k e slacked o f f . The exact role that her ADD played i n B's work ethic i s d i f f i c u l t to surmise. She did r e c a l l that p r i o r to being diagnosed and medicated she "couldn't concentrate". The Middle B's t r a n s i t i o n to high school involved both anxiety and some unexpected comfort. Yeah pretty scary at f i r s t . I don't know, I was expecting some huge school. A f r a i d of, just l i k e , the new people, so many new people. I wasn't sure i f I'd get along with the new people. But uhm, the f i r s t day uhm, was pretty good actually. I couldn't f i n d a couple of classes but that was no problem, just ask somebody. The teachers were a l l good and i t was pretty good. Like I l i k e d i t actually. I l i k e d i t a l o t better than elementary school. 154 While B may have l i k e d the students and f e l t comfortable with teachers she had l i t t l e i n t e r e s t i n her school work. What started out as comfort quickly turned to buffoonery. I was pretty mouthy towards the teachers. Like I wouldn't swear at them or anything but I would piss them off on purpose. I was pretty much the class clown. Cause I thought i t was funny. I thought i t was a r i o t to piss teachers o f f . Some teachers seemed to play into B's idea of fun and were treated as i f they were part of the game. Others, she regarded with much more caution, even respect. Like Mr. R., he was funny. Like he'd take i t at f i r s t , and he'd just get so angry I just thought i t was a r i o t . He'd get so mad he'd just kick me out into the h a l l . Like whoopeyding. I'm not i n class, good. That's a l l I pretty much wanted. I didn't l i k e school. I was lazy I guess. A d i f f e r e n t B emerged with Mr. K. Well i n Math, I was with Mr. K. and me and him didn't get along. But I never caused trouble with him. He was a pretty s t r i c t teacher. Cause he doesn't take nothing. It'd be l i k e straight to the o f f i c e . Straight to the o f f i c e . Like barely ever he'd say s i t i n the h a l l cause he just didn't put up with me cause he knew how I was. Yeah I worked, I worked i n his clas s . Beyond math class though, B did very l i t t l e school work. She could not r e c a l l ever doing any homework during her f i r s t year i n high school. While her academic e f f o r t s at school were coming to a s t a n d s t i l l , her l i f e at home was spinning out of control. Grade 8, that's when my parents just couldn't handle me any more. I was just, I didn't care about anything at home. Like I chose my friends over home. It was just stupid things l i k e , do the dishes, no. Or I'd just s i t 155 there and keep on watching T.V. and my dad would get r e a l mad and that's when he started h i t t i n g me and s t u f f . He'd just give me a slap i n the head and whatever and I'd get pissed off, right, and I'd swear at him and he'd h i t me more and he'd l i k e drag me to the dishes and say do them. So I'd do them or else I'd just take o f f to my room and p u l l the dresser i n front of the door so he couldn't get i n . I don't know, my dad, me and him have the same temper. What started off as incidental arguments quickly turned into a way of being. Most weeks there were "three of four" v i o l e n t exchanges between B and her father. I remember one time I was s i t t i n g there, M. some friends were v i s i t i n g me. We were just standing outside and I was eating an orange and they were leaving and I can't remember i f my dad came by or he was just there or something. And I threw orange peels of f the balcony. He's l i k e go pick them up. And I was l i k e , why? Why bother picking them Up? The birds are going to eat them and t h e y ' l l just disintegrate. He's l i k e go pick them up now. And I kept going on with l i k e why. So he grabbed my hair and dragged me down the s t a i r s and l i k e pushed my face i n them and t o l d me to pick them up. Once she started f i g h t i n g with her parents the opportunities for c o n f l i c t seemed endless. Me and N. were the head cheerleaders for our team and we t o l d everybody to meet a the park for a 7 o'clock meeting. My mom didn't want me to go that early for some reason. And I was l i k e have to go, I t o l d the whole team to be there. And she said, no, no, no, and I was f i g h t i n g with her. And she said that's i t , I'm going to get your grandmother. And I went and grabbed my lunch and my grandmother beat me to the door. Beat me to the door and t i e d me to the rocking chair with these scarves and she's l i k e that's i t . And I kept on y e l l i n g and she's that's i t , I'm going to get the s t i c k . Tied to the chair. My arms and feet were t i e d to the chair. And l i k e , thank god, N. came by, l i k e when my grandmother was outside [getting the s t i c k ] , N. came by and untied me and we ran out the front door. 156 Part way through grade eight one of B's friends c a l l e d Social Services. Shortly thereafter B moved out. For awhile she.lived with a friend. It was the s t a r t of a very unsettled existence. I moved from M.'s back to my parent's place. My parent's lasted about a week and then I think I moved into my boyfriend's house. I stayed with him for about a month. His mom was never around. She'd leave us money for dinner and things were good, but uhm, he cheated on me. And I was right downstairs. He was l i k e my f i r s t real boyfriend that I cared about and I thought I had something serious with him. And so I phoned up my [paternal] grandparents and they, l i k e everybody was worried because nobody knew where I'd been for about a month. So I didn't go to school much around the end of grade 8. I missed l i k e maybe two or three months. B moved i n with her grandparents and l i v e d there for the rest of grade 8. Academically, grade 8 was a very d i f f i c u l t year. She barely passed the year. B r e c a l l s her mother's reaction to the report card. She wanted me to get a tutor but I was t o t a l l y against i t , I thought I had better things to do. It was more the fun years.- Like, screw school. L i f e with her grandparents quickly became problematic. I moved i n with my grandparents and things were good there at f i r s t . Cause my grandparents they, they used to s p o i l me, they're r i c h and everything. But once I moved i n there they didn't s p o i l me as much. They treated me l i k e I was t h e i r own kid. Except for they'd never give me money, ever. Like I was always broke. So I was pretty bummed for money. I remember I t o l d my grandpa that I was going to go ice skating so I could get money. There was a whole bunch of us and we a l l just decided we'd go eat at McDonald's or something. So I spent my money on a pack of smokes and McDonalds and I got busted. They were upset for me l y i n g . They didn't want me l y i n g . I guess that's when things got a l i t t l e rough at my grandparents. My grandma always hated a l l my friends. She'd always bicker about my friends. Friends t h i s , friends that. Stop hanging 157 around with them and I'd be l i k e Mind your own business. So that's what we always fought about, my friends. At the star t of grade 9 B was again l i v i n g with her parents. Academically, she continued to d r i f t . Grade 9 was pretty much a l l the same [as grade 8]. I was s t i l l pissed off with teachers and s t u f f . Getting suspended and s t u f f . Shortly a f t e r the start of the school year B l e f t home and continued moving from place to place. I loved i t . I could do anything wanted to except for, when I was l i v i n g under a friend's roof I'd always l i k e , go by the parent's rules and everything. I'd always, l i k e I t o t a l l y respected them and everything and would l i s t e n to them. I'd be l i k e t h e i r dream c h i l d pretty much, l i k e I was r e a l l y good to whoever l e t me stay. These l i v i n g arrangements were usually good for a few weeks. When she wasn't staying with friends B l i v e d i n group homes. The f i r s t group home that I moved into was WH so I was pretty much late every day for school. If I even showed up, I'd show af t e r lunch or at lunch. I was l i k e scared at f i r s t to move into a group home cause i was expecting l i k e t o t a l juvenile delinquents. Like I thought I'd get beat up and s t u f f . When I got there they introduced me to t h i s g i r l S. She was r e a l l y nice to me. And they took me downstairs and they're l i k e t h i s i s D. and she looks up and i t ' s DT. So i t ' s l i k e , r i g ht on. I hadn't seen her i n two years. I was supposed to be there for a month but I was there for l i k e three or four months. Then I moved to L. house. I loved L. house. There was a g i r l named S. She was l i k e a biker chick. She went around with an older biker type guy. Grade 9 ended i n much the same fashion as i t had started. B barely passed the year. During her f i r s t two years i n high school B spent much of her energy harassing 158 teachers, getting kicked out of class, and generally goofing o f f . As her school had a "no f a i l " p o l i c y she was advanced to the next grade l e v e l . Her approach to school was further complicated by her ever-changing l i v i n g arrangements. Having severed, i n a very p r a c t i c a l way, the bonds with her parents B was la r g e l y under her own d i r e c t i o n . Her stewardship took her further away from school. The End At the star t of her grade 10 year B was again l i v i n g at home. In early September she went camping i n a l o c a l park with a group of her new friends. My mom didn't want me to go out that night. It was a Friday night, I didn't understand why. We'd go sleep at a friend's I was t e l l i n g her and uh, so I took o f f and she said i f I took off I was getting kicked out. And I t o l d M. t h i s and she's l i k e oh you can come stay at my place. The next night a f t e r we stayed i n the park I went to M.'s house and we talked non-stop for l i k e 6 or 7 hours. It was just l i k e unbelievable that I'd be able to s i t down and tal k to somebody for that long. Like we were, l i k e s i s t e r s reunited l i k e , together a l l the time. That's when the stoner club got started, a f t e r that night, a f t e r the camping t r i p . The camping t r i p marked the start of the "stoner club" and B's increasing use of drugs. It was also the st a r t of her l a s t s t i n t at home. She was now l i v i n g with M. who had l i m i t l e s s freedom and had l i v e d on the street as a 12 year old. The stoner's club soon influenced her'behavior at school. Going to school now seemed to be an extension of her camping t r i p . We would smoke dope a l l the time. A l l the time. We'd go to classes once i n a while but we'd pretty much, we 159 were a l l i n di f f e r e n t grades so we'd say we'll meet i n the bathroom at one o'clock or whatever. That was the l i f e I thought except that school went t o t a l l y downhill. We were just always partying. Like that was the party year. A l l we did was party, party, party. We'd go to school, we'd meet up, we'd smoke j o i n t s i n the morning, then we'd go home early. Probably I think we'd wander the h a l l s for the f i r s t period and then we'd go out on break and smoke another j o i n t and lunch, we'd just s i t there smoke j o i n t s , and l i k e we were always stoned. B continued to d r i f t from home to home. The only constant i n her l i f e was drugs. I was into acid a l o t i n grade 10. We were acid freaks on the weekends. Like we loved the s t u f f . Most of the time she got her drugs free from friends who stole acid and grass from t h e i r parents. When these sources dried up she turned to her own resources. I pawned l o t s of s t u f f . We'd break into cars and we'd stea l tapes and l i t t l e things and we'd pawn them. B l e f t school shortly a f t e r Christmas of her grade 10 year. She was 16 years old. Commentary. At the age of 16, shortly af t e r she was diagnosed, B started taking medication for Attention D e f i c i t Disorder. Her a b i l i t y to concentrate improved dramatically. B's medical condition affected both her school l i f e and her home l i f e . The degree to which ADD affected her a b i l i t y to learn and her a b i l i t y to cope i s d i f f i c u l t to surmise; that i t had a negative influence on her l i f e seems cert a i n . B's story of disengagement started i n grade 4. This was the f i r s t year that she f a i l e d Math. It was also the 160 f i r s t time that she started to "slack o f f " at school. By the time she l e f t elementary school Math had become a problem to be avoided, school work was only done under duress, and some teachers had been experienced as mean and untrustworthy. Before she became an adolescent she was s t a r t i n g to d r i f t away from school. High school accelerated B's disengagement exponentially. Once she got over her i n i t i a l fear of being i n high school, B became a prankster. While l i f e at school was becoming a joke, l i f e at home was spinning out of control. Part way through the year she was removed from her home by Social Services. Whatever vestiges of control had been present i n her l i f e vanished. The vagabond l i f e s t y l e that followed started to put school out of reach. Any chance of surviving i n the system vanished when her c u r i o s i t y about drugs became a habit. 161 Chapter 13 Case Study 10: C I was the type of person, who i f he [vice-principal] had anything to say to me that was derogatory towards what I'm doing or tryi n g to do or anything, I would jump right back.- Anytime I was caught smoking or whatever, he'd give me a lecture, he'd be screaming at me about something, I'd be screaming right back at him. Like I didn't stand, I didn't take i t s i t t i n g down. I was very mouthy I guess you'd say. Introduction Capturing C's story of disengagement was d i f f i c u l t . In part t h i s was due to a lack of d e t a i l . A w i l l i n g p a r t i c i p a n t , she at times couldn't r e c a l l s p e c i f i c s and therefore some of her narrative remained vague and unclear. The nature of the events r e c a l l e d also contributed to the d i f f i c u l t y . For the most part they were ordinary, t y p i c a l , age appropriate experiences, a sort of "every student's" l i f e at school. Missing, are any overt disturbances that might explain her f a i l u r e to graduate. C was a good student i n elementary school, had some d i f f i c u l t i e s and some successes i n junior high and dropped out af t e r her f i r s t semester i n senior high. The nondescript nature of t h i s s h i f t from success to f a i l u r e made her story a challenge to a r t i c u l a t e . The ease with which f a i l u r e came about was disturbing; i f C could f i n d the system overwhelming so could any student. 162 The Beginning C's elementary school experience was mainly p o s i t i v e . Although her memories of the f i r s t few years were vague she remembered l i k i n g school and getting along quite well. I remember being teacher's pet i n grade 1. That was about the best thing about the whole thing. She'd get me to do things for her. Usually l e t me get away with things. She had something set up about rules i n the classroom. Uhm, l i k e speeding, stopping and you know l i k e regular t r a f f i c rules that were put together i n the classroom and she l e t me get away with a l o t of that. Grade 2 provided a sim i l a r l e v e l of comfort. It was not u n t i l grade 3 that C experienced any d i f f i c u l t y at school. I was i n a s p l i t class i n grade 3. Grade 2 and grade 3 i n one class. I remember that was r e a l l y d i f f i c u l t . I don't know i f t h i s classroom was any bigger than normal but you know i t was, you had to follow your own l i t t l e path even though something else was going on. I mean I could follow i t but she was doing something with one group while I'm l e f t to do something on my own. Her other memory of grade 3 was that the teacher wasn't warm or f r i e n d l y . C's grade 4 teacher was equally unimpressive. The teacher was, she wasn't cold, she wasn't warm, she was just sort, sort of there I guess. Grade 4 was also s i g n i f i c a n t because i t was the year that the family moved. I didn't change schools but I changed the area that I l i v e d i n . That made a big difference. The friends that I would walk home from school with were going i n the opposite d i r e c t i o n . I did get to know people that were i n the area that I moved to but the people that I knew from the previous place didn't, they sort of kept to themselves. It was hard being far apart, from one friendship to the other. Also, l e t t i n g go was hard. I didn't have much of a problem making friends. L e t t i n g go of the old ones that was about the only problem. 163 Over the next few years school l i f e c a r r i e d on at about the same pace. Grade 5 was remembered fondly. My grade 5 teacher was r e a l l y nice. She was nice to everyone. She got to know everyone and sort of dipped a l i t t l e into personal l i v e s or whatever. She was more involved. The next year had a si m i l a r f e e l of easy comfort. The teacher that we had she wasn't very f r i e n d l y but between her and the class, she was, she was r e a l l y fun. I remember turning off a l l the l i g h t s , hiding behind her desk, the whole group of us and she walks i n the room. She was l i g h t hearted about i t a l l . I know i t got to the point where i t got to be too much, but she laughed through the whole thing Grade 7 stood out as an enjoyable year. I had a r e a l l y good teacher that year. He was, he joked a l l the time. He was young. Not too young but younger he was always laughing, always joking always, you know, always having a good time. Putting his humour into what we were learning as well. It was also a good year s o c i a l l y . I got a l o t of new friends that year. One faded away and another came up. Just something that happened. It was interesting, fun. Meeting new people. That was when, I guess at that point was, I had given up on my friends i n the old neighborhood. Academically, C had always been a good student. [At school] I was doing well. I did what I had to do. I think everything was measured i n numbers at that point. From 1 to 6. I was usually i n the high one's or two's. The success and comfort that she experienced at school seemed to be matched at home. She remembered her parents as stable, supportive, and predictable. L i f e at home was good. Yeah, i t was, you know, getting around the dinner table, what did you do today, that sort of thing. Other than every year, t r y i n g to t r i c k my mom, she i s very g u l l i b l e , that I f a i l e d a l l the grades. I'd do that every year. But my mom f e l l f or 164 i t every year. It was dumb but well,..1 had always done well, so at that time, i t was never an issue. The summer between grade 7 and 8 was the start of a substantial t r a n s i t i o n . I got into a l o t of trouble that summer before school. I got into smoking, drugs and that sort of thing. I started out with one fr i e n d and sort of moved on with others. I was more of a follower. The s h i f t that started during the summer continued when she started grade 8. That year t o t a l l y changed me. I was good i n school i n elementary school but high school was t o t a l l y d i f f e r e n t . I didn't have a l o t of problems but I guess my interests were elsewhere for that point i n time. So I ended up with Cs, C+s. For the whole year, yeah. I was more interested i n friends and s o c i a l i z i n g and that sort of thing than going to school. While she was making new friends and finding new in t e r e s t s C encountered some s o c i a l d i f f i c u l t i e s . I was always the one that was picked on. They were a l l i n the same area. Walked home the same way. There was a church next door to the school and parking l o t which was where we used to gather, you know, and have our lunch and whatever. She would harass and threaten me, to the point where i f she came around I'd be t r y i n g to sneak out the back door sort of speak. What made matters worse was that C's appeals for help were not acted on. Unfortunately there wasn't a l o t they [the school] could do. They were sympathetic but i f I got into a fig h t , the rule was that both of us would get suspended. There wasn't l i k e an i n s t i g a t o r penalty or anything l i k e that so there wasn't a whole l o t that they could do without, without proof. I remember missing school, not wanting to go. [So that l e f t me feeling] helpless. You know there wasn't that much I 165 could do. Except change my ways or you know, go a d i f f e r e n t way to school every day or something. Her parents were not e f f e c t i v e i n addressing the s i t u a t i o n either. Well they'd drive me to school. For them i t was common because of my brother. You know he, boys get into f i g h t s a l l the time. For them i t ' s , you know, i t sort of f l a t t e n s i t s e l f out as time goes by so I guess that's what they were expecting. They cared but that's about a l l they could do at that point. This s i t u a t i o n went on for the entire year. It was f i n a l l y resolved because C grew t a l l e r and therefore was not as easy to intimidate p h y s i c a l l y . While physical maturation resolved some of her d i f f i c u l t i e s , other problems surfaced. Although I think the only reason why she did i t , she was more of a user. There were a l o t of things that I had that she wanted, that she got. So I think that was the only reason why she became friends. She didn't see any reason to pick on me anymore. She found other things that I was useful for I guess. Other friends also l e t her down. My g i r l f r i e n d set me up to test my friendship. And I guess I f a i l e d . She put me through a tes t . Just to see i f I'd l i e to her. I can't r e a l l y remember exactly what i t was about but obviously I f a i l e d the t e s t . you know i f you i f you have p a i r of pants, you go to your friend, your r e a l l y close f r i e n d and say well how do these pants look. If they look hideous on you, you'd hope that they'd say something instead of saying they look okay on you. Well that was sort of the s i t u a t i o n and she took i t that I l i e d to her. And so I ended up, she beat me up pretty badly she and her friends. They both did. That was tough. She was the one I got to know i n grade 7. She was a close f r i e n d . In some ways however, grade 8 was a good year. I went to every dance. I was involved i n the track team and I think I was involved i n basketball. 166 Academically, C's interests were limited. Math was a strong subject for me. But as fa r as English and Science, I never l i k e d those subjects. Her grades dropped to C's and C-'s, but C was perceived as tr y i n g and her report card comments indicated that she was making a good e f f o r t . I had a l o t of G's [good effort] so my parents saw low grades but a "G", they were happy. Yeah, They weren't r e a l l y s t r i c t parents. They weren't expecting A's and B's out of me. You know, I guess they sort of understood what i t was l i k e . [And I was] sort of, ah who cares, i t ' s not a hassle so I won't think about i t C's attitude towards school was also s l i p p i n g out through some of her behavior. Me and a g i r l f r i e n d , well there were three of us and we'd s i t together. We'd s i t there long enough for r o l l c a l l to be taken and then we'd sneak out the door and go on our way. The teacher was so, he was very old, very slow, he didn't pay much attention to what was going on around him. You know, he just sort of gave us directions and that was i t . He didn't even notice. We just t r i e d to see how far we could get away with t h i s . If we could get away with i t - fi n e . Before the year ended, C was suspended several times for skipping school and for smoking on school property. These suspensions had several repercussions. Each suspension was accompanied with a grounding from home, usually executed by her mother. For the most part t h i s tended to be a short term a f f a i r that c u r t a i l e d her s o c i a l a c t i v i t y . A longer l a s t i n g consequence came about through her r e l a t i o n s h i p with the v i c e - p r i n c i p a l , the person who suspended her. 167 The v i c e - p r i n c i p a l , he tended to make things out to be a l o t worse than they were. And between my mom and I we'd catch him l y i n g to her about things that I had done. The sense of i n j u s t i c e that C experienced added s i g n i f i c a n t l y to her growing disengagement. It was a problem that would grow worse i n her grade 9 year. For the time being however, l i f e went on r e l a t i v e l y undisturbed. C passed grade 8 with C's and C+'s. While t h i s was a s i g n i f i c a n t drop i n her l e v e l of performance, i t posed no rea l problems at the time. The Middle During the summer between grade 8 and 9 C's s o c i a l l i f e became more active. Her c i r c l e of friends and acquaintances increased as did her consumption of alcohol and drugs. As the pace and breadth of her s o c i a l l i f e increased her major concern centered around the l i m i t a t i o n s to her freedom. I mean, my parents, l i k e probably didn't trust me cause of a l l the problems I had i n school but, but that was about the only problem area I had. It bothered me, that my parents didn't trust me, because I f e l t that I was trustworthy. When I was going to school, that was a t o t a l l y d i f f e r e n t thing but, they didn't trust me on anything. In practice t h i s lack of trust translated into rules about dating. Strong w i l l e d and resourceful, C found i t rather easy to get around these expectations. I was good at l y i n g . My mom's g u l l i b l e so, she f e l l for i t every time. I'd t e l l her, l i k e I wasn't allowed boyfriends u n t i l I was 16 or something so I had make believe friends l e f t right and center that I was going to and uh, my mom never said anything. She sort of, rather than asking me why my friends never came over to 168 the house, she'd sort of, she'd never bother me about that. I was, I guess, just accepting i t the way i t was and hiding my boyfriends a l l over the place. Although her father represented more of a d i s c i p l i n a r y force, she had to deal with him only occasionally. My dad wasn't around. Like, my mom would deal with me and ground me or do whatever she had to do but she would, sometimes she wouldn't even t e l l my dad. She would sort of keep i t from him and there were times when she would t e l l him and you know, he'd come out and he'd y e l l and scream at me, that would be i t . The r e l a t i v e freedom that C acquired allowed her to pursue her s o c i a l i n t e r e s t s . She became more involved with boys, continued to increase her c i r c l e of friends and attended most of the s o c i a l functions. At the same time, C managed to keep her party a c t i v i t i e s quite separate from her school l i f e . Most of her drug and alcohol consumption was l i m i t e d to weekends. Although her marks deteriorated s l i g h t l y , she did not attribute t h i s to her increased freedom. Increasingly uninterested i n school, success seemed to ̂ depend most on the q u a l i t y of her relationships with teachers. I enjoyed typing and I enjoyed band. the teacher was a l i t t l e Chinese man. I can't remember his name but he was r e a l l y nice and r e a l l y , you know, always, I don't know, he had personality, you know, he was r e a l l y quick, r e a l l y , you know, always happy and always. He was easy to, to learn from, easy to be i n the room with. He always gave us sort of outside projects to work on to help our grades, that sort of thing. other teachers p o t e n t i a l l y p o s i t i v e experiences turned and feed her sense of i n j u s t i c e . 169 I had a science teacher, not a science, s o c i a l s , who, he accused me of doing something that I didn't do. I took too long between breaks between classes to get to his class and he accused me that I was s o c i a l i z i n g with my friends or something and I l i k e d him at that point and then once I realized, I think he even swore at me at that point and at that point for me, that, you know. I was r e a l l y shocked and af t e r that I hated him throughout the whole year. Her biggest problem though was the v i c e - p r i n c i p a l . The vice p r i n c i p a l took every person who had ever been i n trouble with him i n grade 9 and made the math c l a s s . I was not pleased. I could not stand t h i s guy and he made i t so that we couldn't get out of the class, we couldn't switch or anything, we were stuck. And for me I guess math was one of my better subjects and I guess because of what he had done, i t was forced upon us, I hated i t . I t o t a l l y hated i t , I hated going, I hated pleasing him, I hated everything. I f a i l e d i t , I think I f a i l e d i t . Yes I did, I f a i l e d i t . In addition to f a i l i n g math, C was suspended f i v e times throughout her grade 9 year. Her offences once again were smoking on school property and skipping school. She re c a l l e d that during grade 9 she would skip class a l i t t l e more often. Like grade 8, C's grade 9 year was a mix of po s i t i v e and negative experiences. S o c i a l l y , she was increasingly successful. New friendships were formed, parti e s and dances were attended regularly, and the freedom desired was made available. Academically, C continued to s l i d e . Her main academic interest (math) was undermined as a r e s u l t of her antagonistic relationship with the vice p r i n c i p a l . Other subjects and teachers f a i l e d to capture her i n t e r e s t . Academic engagement was increasingly dependant on the qual i t y of her relationships with teachers. 170 A l b e i t at a barely perceptible pace, grade 9 furthered her disengagement. The summer between grade 9 and 10 added to her s o c i a l l i f e . I was involved, there was a boy's and g i r l ' s club and I guess a couple of friends, we ended up going there. You know, video games, pool tables, things l i k e that. The most s i g n i f i c a n t event of the summer centered around a new r e l a t i o n s h i p . I met t h i s guy. It affected me big time. Cause that was the f i r s t relationship, the f i r s t love sort of thing. On the strength of t h i s relationship C transferred schools. In addition to being with her boyfriend, C rekindled o l d friendships. A l o t more friends. There were a l o t of friends I had had i n elementary school that I never saw through grade 8 and grade 9 that were at my new school that I got to know again. Probably a group of about 8 0 people that a l l knew each other. So i t was a l o t more fun. The sta r t of grade 10 also presented a genuine p o s s i b i l i t y for academic engagement. While C's academic inte r e s t s were dormant, there was a new resolve to attend regularly. Well attending school was something that my boyfriend and I a c t u a l l y agreed that we would, we would go to school a l l the time together. We knew the importance of i t so we made an e f f o r t . I always knew school was important, i t depended on whether I cared or not. 171 Unfortunately, when her relationship ended so did C's resolve to attend regularly. She went back to skipping once i n a while and here and there came to school under the influence of drugs. Nevertheless C s t i l l managed to pass the year. Near the end of grade 10 she met a new boyfriend and once again attempted to change her l i f e s t y l e . It just happened. Well the guy that I was with, he was, I wanted to walk away from i t [alcohol and drugs]. It's just d i f f i c u l t when you're constantly around i t . And he wanted me, you know he wanted to make sure that everything was clean and you know that sort of thing. Like not into drugs, he didn't l i k e alcohol, didn't l i k e anything l i k e that. Even though they argued regularly about her drinking, the rel a t i o n s h i p gave C a sense of being s e t t l e d and she found the summer a l o t more relaxed. The End When she started grade 11 t h i s p o s i t i v e tone accompanied her. I don't think that I had any classes to star t with that I didn't l i k e . I did a guitar class just for a point of i n t e r e s t . That was fun. I had an economics class that I r e a l l y enjoyed. It was int e r e s t i n g . It was the f i r s t time i t was, I guess i t was a s o c i a l s studies class, and i t was, i t was fun, I could understand i t . It was, the person teaching i t made i t very i n t e r e s t i n g . Before long however, things started to crumble. The f i r s t academic d i f f i c u l t y that arose was her foods class. I was not a morning person. I didn't l i k e to get up early i n the morning, that sort of thing and I was l a t e for her class a few times. And I remember she t o l d me that i f I was ever late again, not to show up, so I was 172 l a t e every day. So I never showed up to any of the rest of her classes. I ended up dropping her c l a s s . S o c i a l l y , l i f e was not as comfortable as i t had been i n the past. Her new school was a senior high with a population three times that of her previous school. C f e l t l o s t and confused. It was just too big of a change I think. I think i t [feeling l o s t and confused] started almost right away. I was just so overwhelmed to see people that I hung out with who wouldn't even acknowledge me. You know people would be hanging with people that I didn't even know, you know, i t just seemed so strange cause everything [used to be] so nice and t i g h t l y k nit. I mean everyone was doing t h e i r own thing. I had my close f r i e n d and my boyfriend but neither of them went to school. C's school experience ended i n confusion. In her f i r s t semester i n grade 11 she f a i l e d every class except guitar. I have no idea what happened. It just, everything f e l l apart I guess. It was so d i f f e r e n t I guess, such a big jump. Like t h i s school, i t ' s three l e v e l s , i t ' s huge and I went from a small one l e v e l school. I dropped out halfway, i t was the star t of the l a s t semester. During what turned out to be her l a s t school meeting the counsellor informed C's parents that t h e i r daughter was the type of person who couldn't stand school and refused to work with anyone. C agreed with t h i s analysis. I didn't l i k e the rules. I didn't l i k e the way everything was set up so perfectly, you know with a l l the blocks and you get an hour here, and 5 minutes between classes. I just, I didn't l i k e i t . Just the structured system and the teachers, the way they treated you, I mean you're, just about, you're very close to being an adult and you're not quite there but as far as you're concerned you are and they're t r e a t i n g you l i k e l i t t l e kids. You've got to bring i n your l i t t l e note from your mother, you know, and that sort of thing. 173 At the st a r t of grade 11 C didn't have a class that she didn't l i k e . Four months l a t e r she dropped out, completely- overwhelmed. Commentary. C's story of disengagement has an eerie, i l l u s i o n a l q u a l i t y about i t . On the surface she appeared academically capable, and, for the most part, s o c i a l l y successful. Her home seemed stable and supportive. At d i f f e r e n t times, C presented as quite mature and independent. The nature of her demise and departure as a student however, suggests that she was never r e a l l y quite grounded. Her academic a b i l i t y was most evident i n elementary school. Here she was a better than average student. C's waning academic interest and s o c i a l preoccupation explained her l i m i t e d academic accomplishment i n junior high. Her f a i l u r e and premature departure i n grade 11 was more a matter of s o c i a l a l i e n a t i o n than academic l i m i t a t i o n . It i s i n her s o c i a l l i f e however, that the f i r s t crack i n t h i s veneer of success started to appear. In grade 4 she moved and found i t d i f f i c u l t to leave her old friendships. In grade 8 C seemed both to have many friends and to be picked on regularly. Popular and s o c i a l l y very active, she, nevertheless, changed schools so that she could be with her boyfriend. When she reached grade 11 she was ostracized even though she knew many people, and had previously experienced them as part of a t i g h t l y knit group. Combined 174 these episodes present the p o r t r a i t of a person who was more needy and alone than grounded and i n charge. This aloneness originated i n C's home and was the greatest source of her d i f f i c u l t i e s . C's father was often absent. When he was available his involvement was c u r t a i l e d by his wife's interpretation of what was prudent. According to C, her mother was most concerned that tension r e s u l t i n g from her daughter's behavior at school not impede on the rel a t i o n s h i p between father and daughter. C's mom, on the other hand, was g u l l i b l e and e a s i l y managed when C desired more freedom. The parents' l i m i t e d s k i l l s translated into an inordinate amount of control and freedom being placed into C's inexperienced hands. Unguided and l a r g e l y responsible for her own a f f a i r s she grew increasingly dependent on friendships and boyfriends for emotional support. When she found herself i n a school without t h i s support she l o s t her w i l l to make an e f f o r t . The only way to bring the reigning chaos to an end was to withdraw from school. 175 Chapter 14 Introduction Narrative accounts were analyzed i n order to compare disengagement patterns and the meanings derived from these experiences. The central question was whether premature departure from school followed common patterns of experience or uniquely i n d i v i d u a l ones. I n i t i a l and follow up interviews, the co-authored stories, and the researcher's r e c o l l e c t i o n s were u t i l i z e d i n t h i s process. During the i n i t i a l interviews, there was a q u a l i t a t i v e difference i n participants' accounts. For instance, some st o r i e s were r i c h i n d e t a i l , delivered with passion, and often contained images and metaphors that encapsulated the narrator's experience. Other speakers were not as a r t i c u l a t e . These renditions were at times bland, more often delivered i n a monotone, and tended to lack c l a r i t y and p r e c i s i o n . Another general d i s t i n c t i o n was the p a r t i c i p a n t s ' p o s i t i o n i n g i n r e l a t i o n to t h e i r narratives. Those whose language allowed for a r i c h e r narrative appeared more i n control and seemed to have come to terms with some of t h e i r memories. These participants presented as i f t h e i r process of disengagement was an h i s t o r i c a l event. They would r e c a l l a p a r t i c u l a r moment, capture and present the poignancy of the experience, and continue with the story. A c e r t a i n sense of peace accompanied t h e i r s t o r i e s even though some 176 confusion and pain remained. Others, who were less a r t i c u l a t e , seemed i n some way to be s t i l l struggling with the past. Some would describe an incident and appear to get caught up i n t h e i r own musings. Memories would generate powerful feelings and cause participants to become agitated. Gestures, sighs, reddening of the face, and swearing were evident u n t i l appropriate words could be found (often with the help of the researcher) to describe t h e i r memories. At times they would l i n g e r i n the moment, become quite sad, and end with a shrug or an "oh well". Interviews also varied i n terms of the magnitude of the events described. Most of the more passionate, a r t i c u l a t e , p a r t i c i p a n t s had stories with gruesome, v i o l e n t episodes. The less a r t i c u l a t e group's narratives tended to follow a less v o l a t i l e plot l i n e . The degree to which t h i s was a matter of language as opposed to experience i s a question that remains to be answered. Narrative styles and a b i l i t i e s coupled with the nature of actual events and the relationships formed during the study provided t h i s researcher with a v a r i e t y of challenges. The f i r s t three participants (case study 1,2,3) offered d e t a i l e d interviews which re a d i l y translated into s t o r i e s of disengagement. D i s t i n c t memories of s p e c i f i c events allowed for r e l a t i v e l y clear-cut paths to be charted quickly. This sense of progress generated feelings of s a t i s f a c t i o n and accomplishment. At the same time there was some confusion and awkwardness. Several times during the i n i t i a l 177 interviews, narratives i n v i t e d probes that would have led the conversation into areas of the p a r t i c i p a n t s ' l i v e s well beyond the scope of t h i s research. At these intersections there was the potential that research would d r i f t into the domain of l i f e planning, personal counselling, or psychotherapy. Such moments were made even more d i f f i c u l t by some par t i c i p a n t s ' willingness to engage i n a more formal therapeutic r e l a t i o n s h i p . Since my research rekindled t h e i r p a i n f u l memories I f e l t drawn to p a r t i c i p a t e i n any movement towards a resolution. Although these situations were addressed appropriately (refe r r a l s , discussions about the l i m i t e d nature of our relationship) remnants of d i s s a t i s f a c t i o n remained. On a research l e v e l however, these f i r s t interviews were most encouraging. In contrast to the sense of s a t i s f a c t i o n accrued from the f i r s t three interviews, the next two (case study 4 & 5) generated i n i t i a l feelings of f r u s t r a t i o n i n me. Having completed interviews with more a r t i c u l a t e speakers, I had to adjust to participants whose narratives were more d i f f i c u l t to gather. These interviews required me to draw on my counselling s k i l l s (paraphrasing, c l a r i f y i n g , probing) much more often. Being a more active l i s t e n e r helped bring c l a r i t y and d e t a i l to general statements. For instance, what started off as "grade 8 was boring" might have been fleshed out into a context that included academic d i f f i c u l t i e s i n various subject areas, confusing events unfolding i n the home, and a compromised sense of s e l f as a 178 12 year old. This process sometimes helped p a r t i c i p a n t s make connections between what had formerly been disparate parts of t h e i r l i v e s . For me these experiences generated mixed emotions. While t h i s more detailed story helped meet my needs as a researcher, I struggled with questions of invasiveness. E s p e c i a l l y during these two interviews, I had an almost constant desire to seek permission and approval for my l i n e of inquiry. It took some time to accept that the type of narrative being offered had more to do with the speaker's narrative style and r e l a t i v e inarticulateness as opposed to reluctance or desired privacy. As might be expected, these experiences s u b s t a n t i a l l y increased my range as an interviewer. By the end of the f i f t h story, I was more cle a r about which issues were mine and which were the p a r t i c i p a n t s ' . I had learned to be more t r u s t i n g of my a b i l i t y to pursue d i f f i c u l t questions without f e e l i n g invasive. And perhaps most importantly, I had learned to trust i n the participants' a b i l i t i e s to take care of themselves. Some narratives brought problems that were harder to address. Of the 10 interviews the most d i f f i c u l t to conduct was the seventh. M's narrative (case study 7), f i l l e d with so much ugliness and pain, was overwhelming. She seemed destined to be a dropout s t a t i s t i c while she was s t i l l i n kindergarten. The lack of hope conveyed through her narrative reminded me of the many others I'd witnessed i n my 17 years as an educator. Afte r t h i s interview I f e l t 179 saturated and withdrew from the study. Unlike other unproductive times i n the course of the research, t h i s withdrawal was a deliberate act of s e l f - p r o t e c t i o n . The f u t i l i t y and lack of hope that f i l l e d her l i f e caused me to question my work as an educator and my e f f o r t s as a researcher. I lingered for months. After several attempts I was able to review my interview with M. This time around I was more aware of M's anger than her pain. I used her anger to rekindle my interest i n the process and re-engaged in the study. When I did attempt to write her story i t came quite quickly. The l a s t phase of the study, comparing the narratives, reminded me about how d i f f i c u l t i t was to hear somebody else's story. Working through the narratives I had developed a bias i n favor of the more a r t i c u l a t e speakers. Their experiences I associated with greater pain, truthfulness and worth. I imagined that leaving school was somehow less s i g n i f i c a n t for the quieter group. This process of being misjudged mirrored the i n d i g n i t i e s that some of the participants had suffered while disengaging from school. Too often, inappropriate motives had been att r i b u t e d to t h e i r behaviors. For instance, f a i l u r e to complete an assignment might be attributed to low career as p i r a t i o n . A r r i v i n g late for class was e a s i l y associated with poor attitude or indifference. Assumptions of t h i s sort often exacerbated an already problematic s i t u a t i o n . The ease with which I was w i l l i n g to ascribe a f a u l t y motive 180 to behavior constituted my most embarrassing moment i n the study. Left unchecked, my assumption would have minimized several p a r t i c i p a n t s ' experiences. On the other hand, recognizing t h i s bias helped bring c l a r i t y and focus to the analyses. Through t h i s struggle some common ground to the p a r t i c i p a n t s ' disengagement process started to emerge. While the 10 participants' stories of disengagement constituted unique individual experiences, three overriding movements towards dropping out were discovered. Each of the pa r t i c i p a n t s experienced: (1) an escalating cumulation of problems; (2) increased school maladjustment; and (3) an increased engulfment i n a spoiled i d e n t i t y . These three movements were grounded i n family and environmental circumstances, individuals' interpretations of experience, and the nature of the school system. The circumstances of the individual p a r t i c i p a n t s ' l i v e s contributed to the attitudes and behaviors that they l i v e d out at school. Family d i f f i c u l t i e s undermined parents' a b i l i t i e s to guide and support t h e i r children which i n turn had a d i r e c t e f f e c t on t h e i r sons' and daughters' chances of surviving and t h r i v i n g i n the school system. Participants' interpretations of l i f e events and t h e i r inherent makeup also played a role i n t h e i r school experience. For instance, some would respond to t h e i r school experience by becoming angry and h o s t i l e , while others faded q u i e t l y and seemed to accept t h e i r l o t . The destructive contribution that p a r t i c i p a n t s ' interpretations played i n t h e i r demise as 181 students was f e l t p rimarily at the secondary l e v e l . During t h e i r elementary school years most were managing to.cope. Some were very successful. In part, t h i s can be a t t r i b u t e d to the softer, more protective and watchful atmosphere that i s often a part of elementary school culture. Another factor that made elementary school l i f e manageable was the age of the children. Though a number of indiv i d u a l s had experienced and witnessed substantial pain and disappointment, much of th i s was s t i l l buried. Few had ventured into the world yet. Poised to embark on t h e i r sojourn into adolescence and high school, they were i n d i f f e r e n t stages of preparedness. Some were academically s k i l l e d and had known success; others were not as fortunate. A l l however, were quite alone. Though i t had not yet become manifest, each of the individual participants was charged with a degree of r e s p o n s i b i l i t y and freedom that would prove to be overwhelming. Their e f f o r t s to manage and to make sense of t h e i r i n d i v i d u a l circumstances would increase t h e i r d i f f i c u l t i e s at school and would resu l t i n the creation of spoiled i d e n t i t i e s . The end result was personal f a i l u r e . This f a i l u r e c r y s t a l l i z e d i n the part i c i p a n t s ' premature departure from school; i t was the f i n a l act i n a long and at times p a i n f u l process. Escalating Cumulation of Problems As children, each of the participants experienced a v a r i e t y of problems that, over a period of time, escalated i n scope and in t e n s i t y . These d i f f i c u l t i e s had a number of 182 sources, and became manifest i n d i f f e r e n t ways. Some (l i k e physical and sexual abuse) were obvious and were experienced as immediately devastating. Other d i f f i c u l t i e s (lost friendships, moments of neglect, inappropriate role models) lingered i n the background v i r t u a l l y i n v i s i b l e ; these were taken i n f i r s t as l i t t l e hurts and confusions, but often ended up becoming powerful forces of disruption. One group of problems emanated from t h e i r parents 1 l i v e s . Six participants (case study 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, & 8) came from homes where adult relationships had f a i l e d or were badly f a l t e r i n g . Other issues arose out of drug and alcohol abuse. M (case 1) has v i v i d memories of coming home to f i n d his mother passed out on the couch. R's (case 3) father would become vio l e n t when he drank and he did so often. Well before she entered adolescence, B (case 6) remembered tending to her mother's drunken body. One of S's (case 8) e a r l i e s t memories i s of passing a l i t j o i n t from adult to adult. A key problem area for some, was t h e i r parents' preoccupation with career. B's (case 6) successful parents often l e f t her i n the hands of s i t t e r s u n t i l well into the evening. A's (case 2) parents were unavailable to her when she needed them. S t i l l other unresolved parental d i f f i c u l t i e s involved sexual abuse and mental i l l n e s s . M's (case 1) mother was schizophrenic. M's (case 7) mother had been sexually abused and raped. These adult problems created numerous, s p e c i f i c hardships for t h e i r children. Some participants f e l t 183 neglected and abandoned. Others became protective and took on the roles of parents. Feelings of confusion, fear, and uncertainty were common. Regardless of the s p e c i f i c nature of the family problem, each participant was exposed to an environment where the parents' a b i l i t i e s to o f f e r guidance and d i r e c t i o n were compromised. The convergence of individual tendencies, mannerisms, shortcomings, and a b i l i t i e s within the school milieu, generated another set of d i f f i c u l t i e s . Being short statured made school l i f e more d i f f i c u l t for M (case 1). A (case 2) and G (case 4) both suffered from extreme shyness. B's (case 6) academic success resulted i n her skipping a grade, an experience that led to feelings of displacement. Limited academic a b i l i t y l e f t R (case 3) and G (case 4) f e e l i n g exposed and vulnerable. By the age of 10, L's (case 5) father had labeled her as a problem c h i l d who needed d i s c i p l i n e . In some circumstances school engagement was l i m i t e d by influences beyond the control of parents, teachers, or the participants themselves. A number of participants (case 2, 4, & 7) were sexually abused. Others suffered physical or emotional abuse. R (case 3) was often h i t by his drunken father; his mother was beaten regularly. M (case 1) was ostracized and neglected. The q u a l i t y of guidance and support available, through peer friendships also contributed to some pa r t i c i p a n t s ' d i f f i c u l t i e s . The socioeconomic environment that they resided i n affected both S's (case 8 )and M's (case 7) views 184 of school. Each grew up i n neighborhoods where violence and drugs were commonplace. School success c a r r i e d l i t t l e status i n t h i s culture. A lack of sustained friendships made the world more frightening for those who moved regularly. B (case 6) was s h i f t e d from group to group because of her parents' desire to expose her to d i f f e r e n t experiences (French immersion, g i f t e d programs). M's (case 1) e f f o r t s to f i t i n were undermined by changing schools and by his uncle's summertime e f f o r t s to rescue him from his mother. M, (case 7) and C (case 10) reported f e e l i n g displaced due to relocating. In short, a lack of appropriate and sustained friendships added to p a r t i c i p a n t s ' escalating cumulation of problems. Left unsettled, time only served to compound pa r t i c i p a n t s ' o r i g i n a l problems. Dysfunctional backgrounds translated into inordinate degrees of personal freedom and r e s p o n s i b i l i t y . Lacking helping relationships, c h i l d r e n f a i l e d to learn how to resolve personal and school re l a t e d d i f f i c u l t i e s . Thrust into roles that required f a r more maturity and cap a b i l i t y , participants became increasingly overwhelmed and confused. Progressive incapacitation and d i s i n t e g r a t i o n of t h e i r l i f e structure resulted i n a li n g e r i n g personal chaos. This had a detrimental or at least s t u l t i f y i n g e f f e c t on t h e i r tr u s t , confidence and security. Its expression took a v a r i e t y of forms. M's (case 1) early r e c o l l e c t i o n s are f i l l e d with feelings of being an outsider i n his own family. 185 By the time he l e f t elementary school he had developed a deep and desperate need to belong. A (case 2) saw her seeming bravado and independence as an acquired means of addressing her aloneness and sexual abuse. Over time she became caught up i n her own facade, a process that deepened and i n t e n s i f i e d her alienat i o n . R's (case 3) major escape from his father's alcohol-driven violence was the hockey rink. Other forms of escape came i n the form of drugs and the r ole of the class clown. Molested, assaulted, raped and exposed to the court system by the time she was ten, M (case 7) f i r s t withdrew and then became increasingly defiant. By the time she was twelve, only l i f e on the street could o f f e r her comfort and support. Others responded to t h e i r personal circumstances i n quieter less noticeable ways, some by withdrawing, some through chronic and misdirected rage, others through drugs. Their experiences placed each of the par t i c i p a n t s into a uniquely paradoxical position. To varying degrees they were overly d i s t r u s t f u l of adults and very much i n need of adult d i r e c t i o n . As they entered high school the e f f e c t s of t h e i r increasingly troubled personal circumstances started to appear. In general, participants' d e b i l i t a t i n g experiences resulted i n feelings of reduced agency and increased v u l n e r a b i l i t y . Their exposure to the world's vagaries l e f t them with a reduced a b i l i t y to t r u s t . Subsequent manifestations of t h i s reduced trust came i n the form of an increased s e l f reliance or a more defiant 186 attitude towards authority. At school, success would depend more often on the q u a l i t y of t h e i r relationships with teachers than on academic int e r e s t s . These relationships offered the emotional support that t h e i r backgrounds had f a i l e d to provide. Contact provided a temporary sense of belonging and fostered academic engagement. A lack of r e l a t i o n s h i p on the other hand, fostered disengagement. Poor or weak contact made for a somewhat more complicated, s l i g h t l y more vulnerable and d i f f i c u l t to reach adolescent. Within the classroom context they might be characterized as overly d i f f i c u l t , argumentative, or b e l l i g e r e n t (case 1, 5, 6, & 9) on the one extreme or withdrawn, lo s t or unknown on the other (case 2, 3, 4, 7, & 10) . Each stance, though fueled by a desire to engage and belong, was clothed i n a distancing manner. Although i t existed outside of t h e i r realm of control, t h i s manner added to t h e i r school problems and decreased t h e i r chances of success. While manifested i n d i f f e r e n t ways, over time there was a d i s c e r n i b l e pattern that emerged. It started with a generalized f r u s t r a t i o n that grew into fear and ended i n resignation. This withering of hope, endemic to the disengagement process, was fostered by the escalating cumulation of problems. During the f i r s t movement then, there was a sustained loosening of the supportive backdrop that makes school success a p r a c t i c a l p o s s i b i l i t y . 187 Increased School Maladjustment The p a r t i c i p a n t s ' strained personal foundations were further complicated and r u f f l e d by the nature of the school system, the locus of the second movement. Regular public schools have a task to accomplish and a time within which to complete i t . Regardless of t h e i r good intentions, schools can only tolerate a l i m i t e d amount of personal ambiguity on the part of students. What systemic tolerance exists i n the secondary school system i s present only as an i s o l a t e d phenomenon. Personal uncertainty and confusion therefore, have a l i m i t e d time i n which to be resolved. Each of the p a r t i c i p a n t s ran out of time; the demands of the system outstripped the participants' a b i l i t i e s to adjust. Their t r a n s i t i o n from childhood to adolescence therefore, was marked by growing f r u s t r a t i o n and self-doubt. These troubles were now added to the already present uncertainty and confusion. Sorting out who they were and i d e n t i f y i n g , finding, or creating t h e i r niche i n the school system became a task of major proportions. From one perspective i t can be viewed as a question of balance. The need to f i t i n and belong was out of proportion to the patience, trust, support, and f l e x i b i l i t y required to sustain the search and successfully complete the task. Nonetheless, numerous e f f o r t s to ground themselves were made. One type of e f f o r t involved academic engagement. At various points during- t h e i r high school years each 188 i n d i v i d u a l attempted to devote him/herself to school work. Some did so because they were threatened with expulsion i f they didn't change t h e i r ways. Others would apply themselves i n subjects where they had established comfortable and tr u s t i n g relationships with teachers. A few had known academic accomplishment when they were younger and found i t easy to excel when they managed to apply themselves. Various l e v e l s of success were r e a l i z e d as a re s u l t of these e f f o r t s . Some improved or even excelled i n a p a r t i c u l a r subject. Others made i t on the honor r o l e . These achievements however, were at best, temporary. Regardless of the individual nature of t h e i r success, none were able to sustain i t . Success f a i l e d to generate or promote any long standing sense of membership. The p o s i t i v e associations (approval, recognition, praise) which accompanied academic achievement, somehow f a i l e d to be in t e r n a l i z e d . In part t h i s f a i l u r e can be attr i b u t e d to circumstance. For some participants, e f f o r t and achievement were not part of a deeply rooted attitude nursed and c u l t i v a t e d by family mores. With others, although academic success was expected, there was no supportive structure to f a c i l i t a t e t h e i r e f f o r t s . E f f o r t and achievement therefore had the appearance of a free f l o a t i n g phenomenon seemingly drawn upon at w i l l one day but inaccessible the next. In actual fact, school success was a contextualized experience,- i t came about when other factors (friendships, teacher's 189 support, temporary peace at home) were taken care of. As t h e i r emotional context changed however, t h e i r success started to wither. Regardless of t h e i r accomplishments, partic i p a n t s continued to have a pawn-like r e l a t i o n s h i p with achievement. No internal mechanism had developed which would enable them to act with agency. Over time t h e i r p o s i t i v e academic experiences decreased, t h e i r f a i l u r e s increased and t h e i r resolve to achieve weakened. Other e f f o r t s to ground themselves had a s o c i a l orientation. Here, school clubs, a c t i v i t i e s , and a t h l e t i c s were some of the vehicles to membership. Several of the part i c i p a n t s took these routes and for a time seemed to s e t t l e i n . Others never explored these avenues or never f e l t welcomed when they made an e f f o r t . Whatever t h e i r immediate experience, a sense of belonging was not attained. In the long run the common f e e l i n g was emptiness. These f a i l e d e f f o r t s to adjust need to be considered i n the context of the participants' troubled l i v e s . In an e f f o r t to cope, over time each participant adopted a defensive posture. Regardless of t h e i r a b i l i t i e s or successes therefore, each strove to make sense of his/her world within the context of a reduced emotional r e s i l i e n c y . Where other students might bounce back from the d a i l y barbs (real or imagined) that f i l l adolescent school l i f e , the part i c i p a n t s could not do so s u f f i c i e n t l y to a t t a i n a sense of peace and belonging. Instead of being a new st a r t , a l l too quickly high school became a continuation of t h e i r 190 troubled past. Grounded i n a problem-riddled story l i n e and lacking access to a perspective that might help to absorb, deflect, or interpret some of t h e i r pain i n a more useful manner, participants learned to expect, anticipate, and • often prepare for the worst. Successes f a i l e d to r e g i s t e r , whereas f a i l u r e s deepened t h e i r pain and reduced t h e i r resolve to t r y . Making an e f f o r t at school became increasingly d i f f i c u l t . Since success was as void of meaning as f a i l u r e , indifference took hold. Lacking external support and guidance, t h i s indifference became insurmountable. "Whatever" became the a r t i c u l a t e d , philosophical bottom l i n e and the best means of defending against the system's request for e f f o r t and commitment. Mood ruled the day. Simultaneously, they were too often interpreted by t h e i r educators as lazy, unconcerned or i n d i f f e r e n t students. Behavior was regularly and inappropriately translated into motive. Now, feelings of i n j u s t i c e were added to the long standing pain and the growing confusion. Lacking adequate intervention and d i r e c t i o n , t h e i r defensive postures started to s h i f t into what would become more permanent, defensive styles., Some began to experiment with an aggressive s t y l e . B (case 6) became increasingly rude and b e l l i g e r e n t . She started to s p e c i a l i z e i n humiliating teachers by making them look stupid. M (case 1) moved from challenging teachers to berating them. Others started to adopt a more passive s t y l e . R (case 3), G (case 4), S (case 8), and B (case 9) 191 used drugs to distance themselves. A (case 2) learned to become more s t i l l , making i t increasingly d i f f i c u l t for the system to notice her. C (case 10) was b e l l i g e r e n t when confronted and i n d i f f e r e n t when ignored. Considered as a whole, the second movement was a period of wavering. At i t s most obvious l e v e l , the wavering was captured through overt behavior. Hope was withering, problems were increasing, and defiant and distancing tendencies were c r y s t a l l i z i n g , yet most parti c i p a n t s were s t i l l managing to hold on. They attended school most of the time; once i n a while they made an e f f o r t . To a degree t h i s was a matter of habit. They had gone to school for most of t h e i r l i v e s ; there was nowhere else to go. At the same time, t h i s habit r e f l e c t e d t h e i r hopes and desires. Raised i n a world where education was valued, they yearned to belong and to succeed. At a deeper l e v e l t h i s habit constituted t h e i r f i n a l and most desperate defense. Worse than the sense of f a i l u r e and defeat that would accompany dropping out, was the ter r o r of freedom. They had been students ever since they could remember; they had no other i d e n t i t y . An Increased Engulfment i n a Spoiled Identity The t h i r d movement involved a c r y s t a l l i z i n g of previous experiences and attitudes within the context of increasingly complex personal demands. These demands involved a deeper and ever Tpresent desire to belong and a yearning for meaning, both of which manifested themselves i n a s t r i v i n g 192 for i d e n t i t y . Couched i n fear, rage, and r e a c t i v i t y , t h i s process of becoming was incapable of meeting the increased demands of the system. At the same time, each pa r t i c i p a n t needed a resolution of the troubles i n which they were embroiled. The spoiled i d e n t i t y that was brought into being was the best available solution to the reigning chaos; i t was the only available means of preserving dignity. In an attempt to make sense of t h e i r l i v e s , p a r t i c i p a n t s interpreted and f i l t e r e d t h e i r home, school, and street experiences. By early adolescence, most f e l t exposed, unprotected, and alone. E f f o r t s to f i t i n f a i l e d to reap the sense of belonging desired. Experiences i n academic f a i l u r e resulted i n personal distancing from mainstream school a c t i v i t y . Out of t h i s arose a search for other types of membership. This change of d i r e c t i o n however, was not a deliberate act of agency. Rather, t h e i r actions were more i n keeping with a r i v e r that has overflown i t s banks; unleashed, the water i s merely looking for a new place to s e t t l e . As t h e i r disengagement from school deepened and took hold, p a r t i c i p a n t s employed a v a r i e t y of means to manage the pain associated with a f a l t e r i n g i d e n t i t y . Many opted for drugs. Crime often accompanied t h i s choice of anesthetic. Beyond providing money, criminal a c t i v i t y also offered excitement and belonging. New i d e n t i t i e s became available through membership i n fringe groups (thieves, dopers, street people). More time became available for personal 193 relationships and sexual involvement. Skipping class became a useful way to minimize the d a i l y pain of school. Whatever the chosen means of distancing from school (physical, emotional, or i n t e l l e c t u a l ) , the common e f f e c t was an increased sense of security, a l b e i t a f a l s e one. Distance made school success less l i k e l y . With decreasing p o s s i b i l i t y came a saving of face. Failure could now be associated not with an i n a b i l i t y to cope but rather with a l i f e s t y l e . One simply had better things to do. The i n i t i a l pain (embarrassment, f a i l u r e , s o c i a l rejection) was managed through various l i e s (indifference, anger, drugs, crime) which i n turn resulted i n a deadening of the s p i r i t . This deadening of the s p i r i t was by now synonymous with attending school. Like refugees, they had to leave i n order to l i v e . Where they ended up s e t t l i n g varied. The course of least resistance was a major factor for S (case 8). He f i n a l l y gave way to the world of drugs which he had f i r s t encountered as a toddler. G's (case 4) success and popularity as a party g i r l was too d i f f i c u l t to r e s i s t . In t h i s role she was comfortable, successful and powerful. At a party she knew no shyness. M (case 1) and M (case 7) took t h e i r rage to the street. A (case 2) withered into v i r t u a l nonexistence. B's (case 6) acerbic tongue l o s t i t s gunslinger q u a l i t y but her rage was not tamed. Given a choice to either comply or leave, she opted to leave. C (case 10) simply buckled under the weight of her aloneness. Regardless of the individual variations, the i d e n t i t y each 194 person forged was s i m i l a r i n that i t was spoiled. A spoiled i d e n t i t y had several common features. F i r s t , i t was marked by a sense of resignation. The positions adopted were void of any sense of s t r i v i n g , there was no sense of having arrived. Survival had replaced accomplishment as a goal. Second, t h i s new i d e n t i t y was often buttressed by f a l s e fronts which c a r r i e d an i l l u s i o n of agency. Drugs, sex, and common-law relationships supported t h i s f a l s e agency for some. A sense of abandon and l i v i n g by one's wits gave those who had turned to the street t h e i r sense of potency. The a c t i v i t i e s that each became immersed i n buffeted participants temporarily from the pain of f a i l u r e and the horror of t h e i r new found freedom. F i n a l l y , t h i s spoiled i d e n t i t y can be seen as the c r y s t a l l i z a t i o n of a process that had started when t h e i r parents relinquished or l o s t control of t h e i r children. In most cases t h i s break had occurred before the confusion and anxiety of adolescence had set i n . As the p a r t i c i p a n t s moved into t h e i r adolescent years and started to rebel or redefine relationships with t h e i r parents, they met with l i t t l e e f f e c t i v e resistance. What should have been a struggle turned into a rout. Confused by t h i s premature agency, yearning to belong, and unable to make the sustained e f f o r t which school required, they f e l l into i d e n t i t i e s that would undermine t h e i r a b i l i t i e s to cope. Out of t h i s personal chaos emerged i d e n t i t i e s that at least enabled them to survive. 195 The Meaning of Dropping Out Dropping out of school ca r r i e d with i t a host of meanings. It was both a beginning and an end. Dropping out was associated with hope and p o s s i b i l i t y as well as shame and defeat. For some i t was the continuation of a s l i d e into a pawn-like existence, for others i t was the point at which a re-positioning into agency started to occur. S t i l l others used i t as a temporary resting place i n a long, meandering, and s t i l l present confusion. Where school had been a painful experience, leaving was welcomed pr i m a r i l y as r e l i e f . M (case 1) was glad to leave an environment which for him was l i k e a tomb. A's (case 2) existence at school had become empty and shadow-like. For her, leaving c a r r i e d with i t the p o s s i b i l i t y and hope that she might become v i s i b l e again. To C (case 10) leaving meant an end to feelings of aloneness and confusion. In these cases though, dropping out also offered a new opportunity. A f t e r they finished with what had become t h e i r ordeal of high school, each of the three p a r t i c i p a n t s c o l l e c t e d t h e i r energies, addressed t h e i r problems and, a f t e r some time, took charge of t h e i r l i v e s . For some, dropping out resulted i n feelings of inadequacy, increased self-doubt, and a growing sense of shame. For these students premature departure was linked with personal f a i l u r e . R (case 3) remembered the day he l e f t as the worst day i n his l i f e . In some cases the regret and pain took some time to take hold. Here, premature 196 departure brought instant r e l i e f , followed l a t e r by a deeper, more poignant fear and confusion. When M (case 7) l e f t school she could stop f e e l i n g l i k e , and l i v i n g the l i f e of a freak. On the street she found acceptance and a r e l a t i v e , though temporary peace. When the b r u t a l i t y of her new l i f e became overwhelming, she was stuck between two impossible worlds. She s t i l l resides i n t h i s "neither here nor there" lo c a l e . In A's (case 4) s i t u a t i o n , being freed from the unrealizable and embarassing demands of the system translated into a rather lengthy streak of e x h i l i r a t i o n . Her denial lasted u n t i l she became a single mother. Faced with the r e s p o n s i b i l i t y of r a i s i n g her daughter, A (case 4) started to face her past f a i l u r e s and i s making an e f f o r t to f i n i s h her education. At t h i s point i n her l i f e dropping out i s associated with shame and regret. In some circumstances dropping out was associated most with compulsivity and bewilderment. Neither B (case 6) nor L (case 5 ) could quite believe how t h e i r f i n a l departure came about. B (case 6) f e l t her behavior was stupid; L (case 5 ) said she would have returned i f somebody had c a l l e d her back. Both l e f t on the spur of the moment. Neither has come to terms with how or why they dropped out. With B (case 9), dropping out i s associated most with her raucous, drug rid d l e d behaviour. Recently, she has started to wonder about the role that Attention D e f i c i t Disorder may have played i n her experience. 197 Of the 10, perhaps the most confused and overwhelmed i s S (case 8). He sees himself as the prime, i f not the sole architect i n his demise as a student. When we l a s t talked, he was thinking of giving school another t r y . C h a r a c t e r i s t i c a l l y , his tone beli e d his intention. 198 Chapter 15 Discussion Introduction In t h i s study the researcher interviewed 10 part i c i p a n t s i n d i v i d u a l l y on two separate occasions. Participants varied i n age from 16 to 22. The research product was twofold. F i r s t , i t resulted i n 10 s t o r i e s of disengagement from school which captured i n d i v i d u a l p a r t i c i p a n t s ' l i v e d experiences of dropping out. Narratives provided a context for the numerous variables involved i n the process of disengaging and offered some insight into the culminating act of dropping out. Second, a comparative analysis of the 10 stories yielded three common movements or patterns of disengagement: (a) escalating cumulation of problems, (b) increased school maladjustment; and (c) an increased engulfment i n a spoiled i d e n t i t y . These indicated that the multifaceted complexity involved i n disengagement i s perhaps best understood from a broader ecological perspective. Disengagement originated from a loosening of supportive structures and increased through an i n t e n s i f i c a t i o n of private confusion and growing academic demands. Disengagement culminated i n a process best described as a s t r i v i n g for dignity that went awry. The three movements involved home, school, and community experiences and included a combination of circumstance and in d i v i d u a l acts 199 of in t e r p r e t a t i o n . Dropping out, the f i n a l public act i n th i s process, held a vari e t y of meanings. Aloneness, coupled with a dwindling sense of personal agency, was a common intrapersonal experience. Relationships with parents and friends resulted i n feelings of increased helplessness and confusion. As the need to f i t i n and belong at school increased, dependence on the q u a l i t y of rapport with teachers became a touchstone of a tentative i n s t i t u t i o n a l existence. Increasingly unprotected from the external world, individuals became overwhelmed and opted to leave. Limitations of the Study This study generated and c l a r i f i e d three streams of movement that resulted i n premature departure from school for the ten part i c i p a n t s . The degree to which these themes captured the disengagement process warrants further inv e s t i g a t i o n . More research i s required i n order to confirm, broaden, or revise the stated patterns. The study was also l i m i t e d by partic i p a n t s ' a b i l i t i e s to a r t i c u l a t e t h e i r i ndividual experiences of disengagement. Some appeared to have a firm grasp and a clea r r e c o l l e c t i o n of t h i s portion of t h e i r l i v e s and provided r i c h , d e t a i l e d accounts. Others were far less a r t i c u l a t e and offered s t o r i e s that were more sparse. On the other hand, a l l narratives were affected by participants' biases, l e v e l s of self-awareness, and memory. 200 Another l i m i t a t i o n was the number and the source of p a r t i c i p a n t s . A l l 10 participants were recruited from a lower mainland suburb of Vancouver, B r i t i s h Columbia. How representative t h e i r s t o r i e s of disengagement are of the general population of dropouts, remains to be established. The study was also l i m i t e d by the researcher's perspective. The research t r i e d to address p o t e n t i a l biases by u t i l i z i n g the following procedures. Each narrative was reviewed by the individual participant, by two external reviewers, and by the supervisor. Through t h i s process corrections were made, some biases were removed and s t o r i e s were v e r i f i e d as accurate portrayals of i n d i v i d u a l l i v e s . Implications for Theory The present study supported the broad range of reasons associated with dropping out that have been documented i n previous research. Across the 10 stories there i s evidence l i n k i n g dropping out with low socioeconomic status (Ekstrom et a l . , 1986; Kolstad & Owings, 1986; Rumberger, 1983), family structure (Astone & McLanahan, 1991; Ekstrom et a l . , 1986; G i l b e r t et a l . , 1993), family functioning (Page & Joyce, 1994), and parenting st y l e (Dornbusch et a l . , 1987; Lamborn et a l . , 1991; Rumberger, 1995; Steinberg et al.,1989). Dropping out was also connected to a number of school related factors such as poor achievement, low test scores, poor attendance and unacceptable behavior (Gilbert et a l . , 1993; N a t r e i l l o et a l . , 1988). Other school experiences that participants said contributed to 201 disengagement included a l i e n a t i o n from peers (Newman, 1981), perceived lack of teacher interest (Wehlage & Rutter, 1986), school p o l i c y and classroom structure (Fine, 1987). As with previous research (Wehlage & Rutter, 1986), the r e l a t i o n s h i p between self-esteem and dropping out was mixed. Some of the narratives indicated a loss of self-esteem as a r e s u l t of leaving school, other individuals experienced leaving as a pos i t i v e , s e l f - a s s e r t i n g act. In a s i m i l a r fashion, the present study offered l i m i t e d support for two theories of disengagement: (a) the frustration-self-esteem model, and (b) the p a r t i c i p a t i o n - i d e n t i f i c a t i o n model (Finn, 1989). The need for a theory of disengagement has been a r t i c u l a t e d by various researchers (Finn, 1989; Rumberger, 1987). A framework of disengagement would help illuminate how various personal, s o c i a l , and educational factors contributed to premature departure from school. The three movements towards disengagement i d e n t i f i e d i n t h i s study offered some q u a l i f i e d support f o r ex i s t i n g theories of disengagement. S p e c i f i c a l l y , support was found for relationships between disengagement and di f f e r e n t categories of factors but not for either theory as a whole. The frustration-self-esteem model postulated that 3 general categories contributed to the act of dropping out: (a) school performance (Bloom, 1976; Ford & Nickols, 1987;), (b) s e l f view (Ford, 1987; Bloom, 1976; Byrne, 1984; Gold & Mann, 1984; Hansford & Hattie, 1982 and Shavelson & Bolus, 202 1982), and (c) oppositional behavior (Ford, 1987; Gold & Mann, 1984, Polk & Halferty, 1972). The three movements indicated that associations exist between school performance and s e l f view (Bloom, 1976; Ford & Nickols, 1987; Hansford & Hattie, 1982); between school performance and the influence of family and peers (Shavelson & Bolus, 1982); and between oppositional behavior and s e l f view (Gold & Mann, 1984; Ford, 1987; Polk & Halferty, 1982). This study also offered q u a l i f i e d support for the two general categories of the p a r t i c i p a t i o n - i d e n t i f i c a t i o n model: (a) i d e n t i f i c a t i o n with school (Firestone & Rosenbloom, 1988; Gold & Mann, 1984; Polk & Halferty; 1972), and (b) p a r t i c i p a t i o n i n school (Ekstrom et a l . , 1986; Kerr et a l . , 1986; McKinney et a l . , 1975). The second and t h i r d movements supported the role of i d e n t i f i c a t i o n with school (Gold & Mann, 1984; Firestone & Rosenbloom, 1988) and p a r t i c i p a t i o n i n school (McKinney et a l . , 1975, Kerr et a l . , 1986, and Ekstrom et a l . , 1986) as contributing factors i n the disengagement process. While my study did support the general categories as being important to the disengagement process, i t questioned several assumptions i n such research. F i r s t , t h i s study raised doubts about the p o s s i b i l i t y of separating various influences l i k e school, community, and peers. Second, i t indicated that though a search for factors and categories may be an ecomomical way to conduct research, i t i s p o t e n t i a l l y misleading. 203 It i s not easy to separate the influences of school, community and peers on the disengagement process. For instance i n the f i r s t case study M, during a grade 10 drama class, aggressively confronted his teacher and ended up getting suspended. Outbursts of t h i s type played a s i g n i f i c a n t role i n M's premature departure from school. To what degree t h i s moment (or many others) can be att r i b u t e d to anger towards his mother or his school as opposed to the p u l l of his friends on the street though, i s d i f f i c u l t to say. At the same time i t i s v i r t u a l l y impossible to see th i s exchange as the result of anything other than the influences of the various relationships i n his l i f e . He was disgusted with his mother, and school was experienced as meaningless and abusive. The street, on the other hand, was a l l u r i n g , i n v i t i n g , and exciting. A l l of his relationships contributed to a reigning sense of what he described as "an anarchy within". Within the context of t h i s anarachy a l l causes or influences are fused. An analysis of the various influences as separate e n t i t i e s can only occur outside of the anarchy, that i s outside of M. Like d i f f e r e n t types of grapes that have been made into a wine, the in d i v i d u a l contributions are s i g n i f i c a n t but no longer d i s t i n c t . In order to understand the moment i n question, M's behavior and the influences of his d i f f e r e n t relationships must be considered and taken as a whole. Just as with metaphor, the experience can only be grasped i n i t s entirety. Beyond the d i f f i c u l t y of attempting to p a r t i t i o n the process into 204 various influences or factors there i s also a danger with such an approach. The problem with factors or categories i s that they cannot convey the story. Without the story there i s a loss of i n d i v i d u a l experience, understanding, and meaning, a l l of which are required i f disengagement i s to be understood and i f engagement i s to be given an opportunity to occur. Moreover, a focus on any given category or factor i s apt to be misleading. Take for instance the idea that poor academic achievement i s a cause of students dropping out of school. Several part i c i p a n t s ' stories indicated that while poor academic achievement furthered t h e i r disengagement process, a number of these same participants (case 1, 6, 8, and 10) r e a l i z e d substantial academic success. During d i f f e r e n t points i n t h e i r high school careers each of these students excelled academically (GPA of 3.00 or b e t t e r ) . Three of the four students demonstrated t h i s academic a b i l i t y shortly before they dropped out. At the same time each of them went through bouts where they presented as i f they were poor students. Only within the context of an in d i v i d u a l l i f e , conveyed through story, i s i t possible to make sense of how t h i s mix of accomplishment and growing disengagement could co-exist. A focus on factors alone might l i n k disengagement with poor performance which would be misleading, or, from a d i f f e r e n t perspective disengagement could also be t i e d to academic success--which s t r i k e s one as absurd. 205 The s t o r i e s c o l l e c t e d i n t h i s study indicated that a comprehensive theory of disengagement must be b u i l t on a h o l i s t i c perspective. To be understood, dropping out needs to be seen as the cumulation of a whole l i f e up to the point of premature departure. Beyond the events and experiences that constitute an individual existence, questions of i n d i v i d u a l i n t e r p r e t a t i o n and meaning must also be considered. This study set out to capture l i v e d experience i n the hope that i t would be r i c h e r i n context than the cumulation of constructs. In fact t h i s turned out to be the case. Capturing t h i s context requires a broader eco l o g i c a l approach that includes family, school, and community. The multigenerational relationships within and between these d i f f e r e n t systems are a l l part of the 5-year- old kindergarten student entering school. Comprehending, for instance, why one student responds to d i s c i p l i n e with renewed vigor and a determination to t r y harder while another moves towards resignation requires, at the very least, a substantial tolerance of ambiguity. A theory of disengagement must have the p l a s t i c i t y to hold and illuminate a multifaceted, l i v i n g e n t i t y that i s grounded i n in d i v i d u a l comprehension and construction of r e a l i t y . Implications for Practice A c r i t i c a l feature i n the disengagement process was the q u a l i t y of part i c i p a n t s ' relationships with both parents and teachers. Sound relationships with teachers were often accompanied by academic success and the p o s s i b i l i t y of 206 finding a sense of belonging at school. Poor relationships with teachers were linked with decreased academic performance, growing behavior problems, and increased indifference. Weak relationships i n the home generated a fal s e agency that led to confusion, f r u s t r a t i o n , and resignation. Establishing rapport and building relationships provide a major vehicle for entry into p o t e n t i a l dropouts' s t o r i e s . Increasing the q u a l i t y of teacher-student contact could be accomplished through various means. The significance of teacher-student relationships to learning could be explored and a r t i c u l a t e d through the development of a comprehensive guidance program. The design and implementation of such a program would have several goals. F i r s t , the l i v e d experiences of some of today's youth should be col l e c t e d so that t h e i r diverse and complex needs might be better understood. Such information would enable us both to understand the nature of the problem and the scope of the challenge. Second, the program would aim to inform teachers about how best to address the emotional needs of t h e i r students. For instance, i t would be useful for teachers to become aware of which situations to address d i r e c t l y , which situations to address i n d i r e c t l y , and which to r e f e r to other professionals. F i n a l l y , the existence of such a program would legitimize special t r a i n i n g so that teachers could be provided with the s k i l l s to address some of the diverse needs that they encounter i n the classroom. 207 Towards t h i s end, teachers' t r a i n i n g programs might include courses i n l i s t e n i n g s k i l l s , group processes, career counselling, and family dynamics. Another way to f a c i l i t a t e r e lationship b u i l d i n g i s by c o n t r o l l i n g school size. With a t y p i c a l secondary school being 3 - 4 times the size of an elementary school, p o t e n t i a l dropouts have an increased chance of going unnoticed. Limiting the size of secondary i n s t i t u t i o n s enables school personnel to invest more time i n engaging students instead of c o n t r o l l i n g them. Also, a smaller structure allows for more immediate contact among adults. For instance i n a school of 500 the needs of a p a r t i c u l a r student or group can be dealt with immediately, whereas i n a school of 1500 issues are more often addressed through a bureaucratized, time consuming process. Having the capacity to address students' needs as they arise increases adults' opportunities to make and sustain contact. In the case of pot e n t i a l dropouts, t h i s contact i s a l i f e l i n e . Another way to address potential dropouts' needs for contact and guidance i s by recognizing the si g n i f i c a n c e of the teacher-student relationship to student success. At the secondary classroom l e v e l a more h o l i s t i c , c h i l d centered approach to teaching, learning, and evaluation i s required. Teachers need to f i n d ways to create more tangibly caring and supportive structures l i k e those offered to elemenatary school students. P a r t i c u l a r l y at the junior high school l e v e l student engagement, belonging, and security need to 208 become more of a p r i o r i t y . A common goal might be increased student agency. Building relationships that foster student agency would require a s h i f t i n focus among educators, a re- balancing of p r i o r i t i e s and a better understanding of the audience. Such changes could only come about with the active support of both counsellors and administrators. Counsellors could f a c i l i t a t e changes of t h i s type at both an i n d i v i d u a l and a group l e v e l . A touchstone of such support i s the q u a l i t y of the relationship between counsellors and individual teachers. This r e l a t i o n s h i p must be grounded i n the l i v e d experience of the classroom teacher. Whatever ideas, comments, or suggestions that counsellors make, they need to take into account both the personality of the in d i v i d u a l adult and the makeup of the p a r t i c u l a r classroom. A respectful approach b u i l t on an understanding of the strengths and challenges of the audience, models the type of p l a s t i c i t y required to meet the needs of some of today's students. Counsellors could also play a useful role i n the construction of group norms and practices at the classroom l e v e l . In conjunction with teachers, counsellors could help construct and implement group practices that would serve to meet i n d i v i d u a l student needs of belonging, safety, and security. School administrators could f a c i l i t a t e r e l a t i o n s h i p b uilding through goal setting and timetable manipulation. By a r t i c u l a t i n g the qu a l i t y of teacher-student contact as a 209 legitimate school goal, the significance of r e l a t i o n s h i p to students 1 success and sense of belonging could be better understood. Once the p r o f i l e was raised, opportunity for improved and increased contact could be provided through timetable manipulation. A goal here might be to reduce the number of students that a high school teacher i s responsible for (eg. from 200 to 100). Such a structure would enable interested adults to forge more meaningful relationships with at r i s k students. The p a r t i c i p a n t s ' stories also have implications for the s t r u c t u r a l l y l i m i t e d relationships that exist between i n s t i t u t i o n s . Since engulfment i n a spoiled i d e n t i t y often resulted i n problems with the law, the r e l a t i o n s h i p between the j u s t i c e system and the education system i s worthy of consideration. Structurally, each i n s t i t u t i o n i s quite s i m i l a r . Both conduct business i n a specialized, d i f f i c u l t to access language. Neither i s known for i t s h o s p i t a l i t y towards or acceptance of outsiders. Overall, each can be characterized as f a i r l y r i g i d and engulfed by v i r t u a l l y impenetrable boundaries. If these boundaries were more permeable, the needs of potential and actual dropouts could be more e f f e c t i v e l y met. For example rather than asking youth to form new relationships with j u s t i c e personnel, previously established school relationships could be drawn upon. Informed counsellors could help contextualize criminal a c t i v i t y by providing the j u s t i c e system with an understanding of the dropouts' l i f e story. By drawing on 210 the established relationship, counsellors could f a c i l i t a t e a dialogue, perhaps even understanding, between the young offender and the legal system. At the very least, counsellors could o f f e r troubled youth much needed support and understanding at such a c r i t i c a l juncture i n t h e i r l i v e s . More permeable boundaries then, would help disengaged youth by stemming growing alienation, by i n s t i l l i n g hope and p o s s i b i l i t y , and by becoming a centerpiece i n the process of engagement. Implications for Future Research Further research i s required i n order to e s t a b l i s h whether the accounts of disengagement gathered i n t h i s study are representative of a broader population. Dropouts from d i f f e r e n t school d i s t r i c t s and provinces need to be interviewed, t h e i r s t o r i e s collected, and a process of disengagement a r t i c u l a t e d . Beyond additional case studies, findings of the present research need to be queried and extended through surveys. For example, a survey could be designed to c o l l e c t data about the context of disengagement. Questions would need to generate data about s i g n i f i c a n t relationships, meaningful experiences, and in d i v i d u a l interpretations of events. If the res u l t s of the present study are replicated, intervention e f f o r t s need to be implemented that would allow researchers to evaluate and validate data while providing po t e n t i a l dropouts with support. 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The information gathered i n t h i s study w i l l be included i n my Ph.D. d i s s e r t a t i o n . P a r t i c i p a n t s : I am seeking volunteers to p a r t i c i p a t e i n t h i s study. The requirements are that he or she l e f t school before graduating, and i s w i l l i n g and able to discuss the experience. Time: The study w i l l consist of two interviews. These are private interviews with only the participant and the researcher present. The location and time w i l l be arranged to be convenient for the participant. The two interviews w i l l take 3 - 5 hours. Volunteers are free to withdraw from the study at any time. 225 For further information please contact: Researcher: Mel Loncaric Telephone: 936 8513 (H) 588 1248 (w) 226 Appendix B Participant Consent Form Research Study about the Process of Disengagement from Secondary School I_ , agree to p a r t i c i p a t e i n a research project about my experience of dropping out of high school. I understand that p a r t i c i p a t i o n i n t h i s study i s voluntary, that I am free to withdraw at any time and that I may refuse to answer any questions. I am aware that the researcher w i l l answer any questions that I may have at any time concerning the research project. I understand that t h i s project w i l l require me to t a l k with the researcher for about three hours about my experience of dropping out of high school. In addition I w i l l be contacted for a follow up interview to confirm the researcher's findings. The t o t a l time commitment w i l l be three to f i v e hours. I also give permission to have these interviews audio taped with the understanding that the contents of the interview w i l l be kept co n f i d e n t i a l and used for research purposes only. These taped interviews w i l l be labeled with a randomly selected number and erased upon completion. I understand that the research project i s being conducted by Mel Loncaric as part of his doctoral d i s s e r t a t i o n . Signature of Participant Telephone Signature of Researcher Telephone Date Random # I hereby acknowledge the receipt of a copy of t h i s form. Thank you for your assistance Mel Loncaric (Researcher and PhD Candidate i n Counselling Psychology) Dr. Larry Cochran (Advisor:Dept. of Counselling Psychology, UBC) 227 Appendix C Sample Transcript M: Where were you born? And what do you remember about being a k i d and a l l that? C: Okay, I was born i n England and... M: Whereabouts? C: In Ledes, Yorkshire. M: Okay. C: And then I guess for the f i r s t couple of years we l i v e d i n Ireland. M: Uh-huh. C: And then we came back to Canada. Cause that 1s where my dad's from. M: Okay. So were your brothers born here or back i n . . . C: No. Uhm, my oldest brother was born i n London i n the h o s p i t a l . Duncan was born i n Ireland, and I was born i n Ledes i n my grandmother's house. M: Ah, neat. C: Yeah, they s t i l l have the same house too, so when I went back i n 83, I think. I went and I saw the room that I was born i n which was kind of neat. M: Yeah, I was born i n Yugoslavia i n a, i n a l i t t l e v i l l a g e , l i t e r a l l y f i v e houses and I remember going back there, oh gees, when I was about 19. It was wonderful and a l l sorts of memories flashed i n . I remember b i t i n g into a f i g and just a flood of memories came back. C: (laughter) M: It was r e a l l y , r e a l l y weird, but neat. C: Yeah. I didn't have any memories but i t was inc r e d i b l e to go and v i s i t the castles and the countryside. 228 M: A d i f f e r e n t world eh. C: T o t a l l y . It's r e a l l y neat there. M: Yeah. So you were born, when were you born, what year? C: Uh, 72. In the summer. And we moved here when I was three. M: Okay. C: We came over by boat. M: Do you remember anything of the t r i p ? C: No, not r e a l l y . I knew we came by boat and then by t r a i n . M: Uh-huh. C: And that we were a l l well behaved. M: (laughter) C: Which my mom was very proud of. M: So those were stories you've heard. That you were well behaved. C: Yeah. And I saw a picture and i t looked l i k e we had fun. But I myself don't remember i t . M: Okay. So then you landed i n Montreal. C: Yeah. M: Okay. C: Or...I think i t was Montreal. M: Back east somewhere, i t could have been Halifax. C: Yeah. M: And you took a t r a i n out to...? C: Out to Surrey. M: Oh r e a l l y ! C: We l i v e d with my dad's parents for a while. 229 M: So, you took a t r a i n out to Surrey. C: Yeah, somewhere, we got out to Surrey. Lived there for 6 months, which apparently was dreadful. M: Yeah. What was dreadful about i t ? What story did you hear about that? C: Uhm. Well I didn't l i k e my grandmother's cooking to begin with and I wouldn't eat i t . M: Uh-huh. C: And my grandmother used to get r e a l l y mad and my mom would s t i c k up for me and she would bring me something to eat every once i n a while. M: Do you get any memories of that or i s that a story s t i l l ? C: Those are st o r i e s s t i l l . But I can believe i t because I've gone back and I s t i l l don't l i k e her cooking. M: (laughter) Does she s t i l l hold i t against you? C: Uhm. Not that. She t r i e d to get us to be r a c i s t . M: Oh,, okay. C: Cause she has t h i s strong b e l i e f that oh, probably anybody who's not i n the immediate family i s e v i l . M: Okay. C: So, I didn't go for i t , and my older brother didn't go for i t , but the middle one did. M: So t e l l about, t e l l me about that, that's i n t e r e s t i n g , about what do you remember about her t r y i n g to make you r a c i s t . C: Oh God, uhm...East Indians are bad, Catholics are bad. Uhm, I have a cousin who married someone who's Catholic. M: Uh-huh. C: And she wouldn't go to the wedding unless they got married i n a C h r i s t i a n church. They couldn't have a Catholic wedding. 230 M: What's Christian, cause Catholic i s C h r i s t i a n too, i n my mind. C: Uhm. M: What would she think was Christian? C: Protestant, Lutheran or.. M: Oh, okay. C: Something that's not Catholic. M: Non-roman, right, right, r i g h t . C: (laughter) Yeh, and uh,... M: So do you remember any s p e c i f i c s t o r i e s of her t r y i n g to sort of turn you into a r a c i s t . Do you remember any incidents or events? C: When I was 17 or 18 I was dating a man who was black. And my grandmother didn't know t h i s . And up u n t i l that point she had heard about him and she said "Well, he sounds l i k e a wonderful person" and t h i s and that. And I don't know how i t got out but somehow i t got out that he was black, and she said "Don't bother, h e ' l l cheat on you, he's no good for you, he's just worthless." And I didn't speak to him for, er speak to her for about a year. M: Okay. C: And then I went back and she mentioned something else and I t o l d my dad to t e l l her that i f she wants to have a grand- daughter or t h i s p a r t i c u l a r grand-daughter, she can't go making comments l i k e that. M: Yeah. C: Cause that's just not ri g h t . M: How did she take that, how did she take you standing up to her? C: Uhm, well I think she expected i t from me. M: How come? That's interesting, she suspected, she expected i t from you? 231 C: Yeah, because uhm, I guess because I used to stand up to her and wouldn't eat her cooking uhm, I didn't understand how she could be r a c i s t when I was l i t t l e . M: Uh-huh. C: Like I was, l i k e what? Why i s that person bad just because of t h e i r color, why? M: Oh, so even when you were l i t t l e you.. C: Yeah, I never, I never understood i t , got the grasp of i t . M: It didn't make sense. C: No. M: Okay. So you're i n Surrey and you're l i v i n g with your grandmother who's cooking you don't l i k e , who's t r y i n g to turn you into a r a c i s t . And you're there for 6 months? C: Yeah. And then we moved to Aldergrove. M: So what were you now, about 3 1/2, 4 or? C: Three and a half probably. We moved just before I turned -three. M: Okay, so what's your e a r l i e s t memory of Aldergrove? C: Uhm, probably when I was 4, I didn't want to wear any clothes and so I was walking outside with no clothes on and the neighbor was over. M: Uh-huh. C: And my brother was talk i n g to the neighbor and I go t r o t t i n g up to them cause I wanted to ta l k too, and my mother y e l l e d at me to come back i n the house and put my clothes on and I go "No, why mommy, why?" M: So "Why mommy, why?" was that, were you always a kind of questioning sort of child? Like you describe with your grandmother you kind of stood up to her and... C: Yeah, yeah. Well my mom described i t as I always walked to the beat of my own drummer. I always had a very strong sense of what was right and what I thought was ri g h t . 232 M: Okay. When you s i t there and you think of that memory, can you see i t c l e a r l y ? C: Yeah. M: Sunny day? Foggy day? C: Oh, i t was sunny, i t was summer. I was walking with no shoes. I can s t i l l f e e l the grass between my toes. M: Is that right? C: Yeah. M: Now d i d you l i v e i n the suburb or i n the country? C: In the country. Very much country. There was l i k e , l o t s of land. We used to go playing i n the woods, picking huckleberries and blackberries and i t was great. M: So you're 4 years old and that's your e a r l i e s t memory. What do you remember about, when did you st a r t kindergarten or d i d you go to Sunday school? C: No, I went to a preschool. M: Okay, how old were you when.. C: Four. M: What was that li k e ? T e l l me about preschool. C: I l i k e d preschool. I l i k e d my preschool teacher, Mrs. Peacock, I think her name was. No, Petrie, Peacock was grade one. Mrs. Petrie, she was wonderful. She would take us out and show us things out i n the, i n her back yard or something. M: M-hmm. C: And I s t i l l have, i t ' s just a piece of bark with 2 mushrooms on i t . And I was so proud of i t because I went and I c o l l e c t e d i t myself. M: Yeah, yeah. C: So I had i t up u n t i l I think about a year ago. M: Wow! Really a meaningful thing for you. C: Yeah. Yeah, and I also met my f i r s t best f r i e n d there. 233 M: Who was, who is? C: J u l i e . M: Okay. C: And I kept i n touch with her up u n t i l grade 3. But we didn't go to the same school. She went to a school a few miles away. M: What made J u l i e a best friend? C: Uhm....we talked, we had fun. We related as young children do. M: You just c l i c k e d together. C: Yeah. M: So you're, how often did you go to preschool? C: I don't remember. If feels l i k e every day. But I think i t was only 2 or 3 times a week. M: Okay. Any negative memories of preschool? C: No. M: It was a good time. C: Yeah. Yeah, preschool was fun. I l i k e d preschool. M: Right. And then you went from preschool to kindergarten? C: Yeah. M: What was that l i k e . C: Uhm. ... kindergarten was okay. Kindergarten to grade 3 was good. M: What do you remember about that? Do you remember the school? C: Yeah, yeah. M: Where did you go? C: I went to County Line Elementary. It was right up the road, so we could walk back and forth. It was a good 234 school. It was small, very intimate, the classes. My class had 17 people at the most,. I think. M: And what did you l i k e about i t , what made i t good? C: Uhm, the teachers. They were very nice, the f i r s t couple that I had and... M: Now what does nice mean? When you think back or when you remember the feelings, what's nice amount to? . C: They listened, they cared i f you had a problem. Uhm, M: So there's a f e e l i n g of being attended to and, and. kind of s e c u r e . . . . C: Yeah I remember, uhm. '. .. a c t u a l l y I didn't remember t h i s u n t i l recently, when I was i n grade 2, I didn't l i k e to wear shoes and socks. M: Okay. C: And I'd go out i n winter i n shorts and walk up to school l i k e i t was nothing and so I was i n grade 2 and I took o f f . my shoes and socks and I l e f t them i n the cloakroom. And Mrs. Erisman, my teacher at the time, she found them there and asked who's they were. I didn't say anything, I was just kind of hiding i n my seat and M: Yeh, yeh. C: And she noticed that I had no shoes on and she asked 'me why. And I r e a l l y didn't have an answer. It's just, I ; didn't l i k e them. And I never r e a l i z e d that I did that u n t i l , u n t i l my mom mentioned i t because she was t a l k i n g to my school teacher. - M: Uh-huh. C: And I thought that was r e a l l y neat. M: How did your teacher respond to your not having shoes on? Did she take i t any further than what you just said or..? C: No, because I was very stubborn and I think I s t i l l am. But I wouldn't have put them on i f she had asked me to. M: So, i t feels neat just that you didn't have these shoes on cause you didn't want to have them on and you didn't r e a l l y have a reason for i t and that feels nice, you l i k e that. 235 C: Yeah. M: Yeah. What do you l i k e about that? I l i k e i t too, but. . . C: Because, because i t ' s my decision. Because i t ' s something, i t ' s not a f f e c t i n g anybody else, i t ' s not hurting anybody i f I don't wear them and.... M: You did i t and i t f e l t right and that's a l l the reason you need. C: Yeah. Nobody else did i t . M: Yeh, yeh. Okay. C: I wasn't causing anybody else to do i t . I didn't see any harm i n i t . M: Okay. Did you have any r e c o l l e c t i o n of the teacher's response? Was she okay with i t or...? C: I think she was. Yeah. I think she just l e t i t go. She said "Oh, okay." and l e t i t go.... I was just that way. I'd go and make up stories and have the other kids act them out and.... M: Very imaginative. C: Yeah. Yeah, I was. We had a trampoline and there was a, I made up a bunny game. M: Uh-huh. C: Where you'd go up, I don't know i f you remember the trampolines they had big holes i n the corners, M: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. C: You'd hop up. M: Oh yeah, okay, okay. Like a bunny coming out of the ground. C: Yeah. Yeah. M: Yeh, oh neat. C: And there's a l l sorts of l i t t l e things that I made up. Me and my friend, when i t was frosty, we were at her house 236 and you know how there's big i c i c l e s that form on the ground, i n the mud. M: Yeh, yeh. C: We had, we had whole towns and castles and c i t i e s made up and a dog came tromping into our l i t t l e world and we got so upset because our l i t t l e world was gone. M: This monster dog.. C: Yeah, (laughing) M: crushed your world. C: Yeah, we started screaming at the dog cause he was hurting the people and k i l l i n g the homes and... M: So those are very clear memories for you. C: Yeah. M: So you were what, 7 years old, 6 years old? C: Yeah. M: That's grade 2. C: Yep. Yeah. Grade 3 was good too. Mr. Sawatsky. Everybody thought he was gay and at the time I didn't know or didn't care. I just knew he was a great teacher, he was wonderful. He'd r e a l l y pay attention. He'd l i s t e n , he r e a l l y cared. M: M-hmm. How did you know he cared? What did he do that, when you think about i t , what do you? C: Uhm. Well, I was shy believe i t or not. Even though I was imaginative, I was shy. And he'd l i s t e n , he'd get me to give my answer out. He'd be patient. He'...he never screamed at us, he never made us fe e l stupid for not knowing. M: M-hmm. How did he help you to get your answers out. How did he do that? C: He'd just be patient and not demand i t and just be very relaxed about i t . M: So, was he the sort of person who, you know, would say "A, what did you think of that story?" and then just give 237 you the time to'come to your answer. You kind of.got used to, t h i s i s okay I can... C: Yeah. M: I can be who I am here. I don't have to be r e a l fast or. . . C: Yeah. M: Are you cold? Do you want me to get the heater? C: I'm a l i t t l e b i t cold. M: Let me just get the heater. Okay, so, grade 3 you l i k e d the guy cause he was patient and helped to p u l l you out of yourself. C: Yeah. M: Cause you were shy. C: When I went to grade 4 and Mr. Anthony, he put me i n Learning Assistance. M: How come? C: Uhm. Cause I didn't do homework. Cause he thought that I was stupid. M: How did that feel? C: I was mad. I was r e a l l y mad. Cause I know I'm not stupid. M: Yeah, yeh. How did that come about? Do you remember how a l l that came about? Like when did you go into learning assistance, was i t i n the beginning of the year, Christmas or... . C: Shortly a f t e r school started. I think he didn't l i k e me right away because both my brothers, he had taught both my brothers and I guess they were a problem and... M: Yeh, yeh. C: He just didn't l i k e me right off the bat. And I could t e l l and so I didn't want to work for him so he put me i n learning assistance. 238 M: How could you t e l l ? That'he d i d n ' t . l i k e you? What did . he, what .... C:. It was just a f e e l i n g . I don't know, just a f e e l i n g . . , - M: Uh-huh. C: But I uh, my mom was r e a l l y mad that' I was i n learning assistance. Because she knows that I was a bright k id. M: Yeah. C: And uh, she phoned my t h i r d grade teacher and he said • "That's just r i d i c u l o u s . " That I should never have been put i n that. M: Now d i d he put you i n before your mom knew or? C: Yeah. M: What do you remember about that. C: I came home... M: Do you remember the day you went- i n and a l l that? Can you take me through that? C: Uhm. M: Was i t a Monday, a Wednesday? What do you remember? C: I don't know the day of the week. M: Okay. C: It was probably i n the middle of the week though. M: Morning, afternoon, a f t e r recess? C: Af t e r recess. I was t o l d uhm, M: So you came back from outside from recess and you go to your desk or does he stop you as you're coming in? C: I was stopped. I don't think I went, to s i t down. He said that I was supposed to go and tal k to somebody and so I went down to the L.A. room .and.-..''; M: What are you thinking as you're going down to the L.A. room? 239 C: Jush, "Why am I going down?" It's l i k e , "What did I do now?" M: M-hmm. Am I i n trouble sort of thing? C: Yeah, yeah. And the teacher down there or counsellor said that she thought I'd been having some problems and i f I wanted to come i n once a week or she said i t would be a good idea. Not that I had a choice i n the matter. So that's how I started. M: What did you say to her? C: I just said "Okay." M: And how were you feeling, at that point? Did you know what was going on? C: No, I didn't r e a l l y think about i t . I didn't want to know. And then I started to think about i t and i t r e a l l y made me f e e l bad. I r e a l l y didn't deserve to go there. M: It made you f e e l bad. What does bad mean? C: Like there was something wrong with me. Because we were shut out from the rest of the school. Even i f i t was only 1 day, we were s t i l l put i n a classroom and everybody knew that we were i n here because we had a problem and... M: Right. So there was a sense of being i s o l a t e d and cut off from your friends. C: Yeah. Yeah. And there was only 3 of us from our cl a s s . M: Okay. C: One because uhm, she couldn't pronounce " r " . She'd pronounce i t "w". M: Okay. C: Peter, he was i n there probably for the same reason I was. Just because he wasn't l i k e d . Because, Mr. Anthony didn't l i k e him. M: So Mr. Anthony wasn't patient with you. C: No! He had a very nasty temper. Oh. Even at the sports day or fun day or whatever the schools c a l l i t now. M: Do you remember anything about that sports day. 240 C: If things weren't going right, i f we didn't l i n e up right , i f we, i f we didn't work hard enough, he'd be mad. M: Do you remember a s p e c i f i c incident of anything? Of him? C: No. I do remember him y e l l i n g . I don't know what about. M: Okay. Okay, so you end up i n learning assistance and you're there for, that's your f i r s t day. And you go home and you t e l l your mom or? C: I don't even think I t o l d her the f i r s t day. I think I waited a l i t t l e while before I t o l d her. Cause I wanted to get i t straight i n my head before I talked to her about i t . M: You're f e e l i n g confused and angry and i s o l a t e d . C: Yeah. M: So how long before you t o l d her? C: Probably a week. M: Do you remember what you were doing during that week? C: Ah, just going on doing my work. M: How are you f e e l i n g while you're i n there day a f t e r day? C: Actually, I thought i t was f i n e . A f t e r a while i t didn't bother me cause I'd work at my own pace and I wouldn't get asked i f I knew the answer. It wasn't...you worked for a l i t t l e b i t and then you stopped. You can work the whole way through. M: Yeah. C: So, that I didn't mind. And then, what at Halloween, I think we got a big b a l l of popcorn, colored popcorn, and nobody else i n the class got i t but us three. So we were f e e l i n g pretty happy about that. M: Yeh. So then you t e l l your mom at some point. What happens then? C: She went up. She went up to t a l k to Mr. Anthony. M: M-hmm. 241 C: And he kind of said that she, well, she's staying i n . And t h a t ' s i t . " M: Were you there when she was talking? C: No. No, she went up by herself. She didn't say too much about i t . She, she just said that she was mad and he was an i d i o t . M: You remember her t e l l i n g you that? C: Yeah, yeah. Oh, for years, she's said he was an i d i o t . I can t a l k to her about i t now and s h e ' l l s t i l l say that he's an i d i o t . M: That he's an i d i o t . C: (laughing) M: So that's grade 4. C: Yeah. M: Anything else happen i n grade 4 that, that, how long were you i n there, for the whole year? C: Yeah. I was i n there up u n t i l I l e f t . M: Left the school? C: Yeh. M: And so, t i l l grade 7. C: Yeah. M: Wow! Did you ever get any more, did anyone explain ever along the way why you were i n there? C: No. No. They never said that. M: And you s t i l l don't know today why you were i n Learning Assistance. C: No. Probably because I didn't do my homework. Because I, I...1 got i r r i t a t e d and I decided I'm not doing i t and they put me i n t h i s which made me more i r r i t a t e d , which made me want to do i t less. 242 M: Yeh, yeh, yeh. Have you ever had any problems i n school? Do you ever remember having d i f f i c u l t y with anything i n elementary school? C: Learning? M : Yeh. C: No! I was i n honors math i n grade 7. M: (Laughing)!! And you're i n learning assistance. C: Yeah. Yeah, that made no sense. M: Yeh, yeh. C: One thing I didn't l i k e was French. I didn't l i k e speaking French. M: M-hmm. What about reading? Did you l i k e to read? C: Oh, I loved to read. M: You loved to read. So you could read well, you could do math, you were i n honors math. What about writing? Did you l i k e to write? C: I ah...once I got over the p r i n t i n g to writing thing and ac t u a l l y learned to write, I l i k e d writing. M: But composing stories, making things up, you, you? C: Oh, great. M: You loved that. C: Yeah, great. M: Yeh, yeh. And you're s t i l l i n learning assistance for 4 years. C: For nothing. So. M: When you think of i t now i t s t i l l . . . C: It, i t s t i l l . . M: Your face. C: Yeah, i t s t i l l makes me mad. 243 M: Yeah, yeah. C: Cause there 1s no reason for i t . I was smart. I knew what I was doing. M: Yeh, yeh. C: When i t came to tests, I did good. M: Yeh, yeh. C: I just didn't do my homework. Because they made me mad. M: Yeh. Now did they make you mad before they put you i n there? Was there something about? C: Oh, oh Mr. Anthony always made me mad. He'd make a l i t t l e comment and I'd be gr r r ! M: So, the guy i n grade 3, could he get you to do your homework. C: Yeah, I always did my homework. We had the phonic book and I'd do that. M: Uh-huh. So grade 3 i s not a problem, you do your homework. C: No. M: Love your teacher i n grade, what's the d i f f e r e n c e . . . I ' m your teacher i n grade 3 and I'm your teacher i n grade 4. What's the difference i n me? As you see i t , as you remember i t ? I'm loud or I'm mean or I'm not as patient, i s there anything else? C: Uhm, I didn't get put down. M: The grade 4 teacher put you down. Do you remember any of that? C: I just remember fe e l i n g so bad because he'd make a comment. M: Like what? C: And just based at me. Uhm....if I didn't know the answer, "I'm not surprised you didn't know." Or something to that e f f e c t . And when you hear i t enough you just don't want to hear i t anymore and you don't want to l i s t e n to what he has to say. 244 M: So that was a real sense of, of an affront, a put down, a slap i n the face. C: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I didn't l i k e him. M: But you didn't take him on l i k e you did your grandmother. C: No. Because i t was nothing that I could take him on about. M: Okay. You couldn't fight back. C: No. M: It must have made you crazy with anger. C: Yeah, yeah. It r e a l l y . . . there was nothing I could do about i t . I remember i n grade 2, I had uh, I was up at the playground with my friends, and a bunch of older guys, I don't know, grade 8, they came up to the playground and they wanted to throw me o f f . And so I clung to the thing, uhm, just a wooden plank that was at the top of the playground, or the top of the jungle gym, and I held on. And there was these 3 guys tr y i n g to get me off, and I wouldn't budge. And I was just holding on, and I was just holding on and f i n a l l y a f t e r 10 minutes, they said "Okay, forget i t , you can go down." So I l e t go and then they t r y and pounce on me again and I just held on and I held on and I waited u n t i l they were down before I'd come down the s l i d e . M: (Laughter) C: And I star t walking home and my frie n d who went to get help was bringing her dad up. And meanwhile I was just walking down, but I was scared. But at least then I f e l t powerful cause they couldn't get to me. They couldn't.. M: They couldn't budge you. C: Yeah. M: Yeah. You also f e l t powerful on the way home, i s that what you're saying? C: Well not so much on the way home, because I was shaking at that point. M: Yeh. C: Because, you never know. 245 M: But when you were up on the swing and that, or on the s l i d e , that's where the fe e l i n g of power came because they couldn't budge you. C: Yeah, yeah. It's l i k e , nobody's going to move me. I'm not moving. M: The look of determination on your face i s l i k e you're right back there. C: (Laughter) M: You're not moving, that's great. So that's, so here you're r e a l l y powerful i n one way and i n grade 4 t h i s guy i s putting you down but you're, you don't know how to be powerful with him. C: Yeah. I guess, I guess verbally. M: Verbally you can't fight back. C: Yeah. M: But you remember, so how, so you're response to him would be. . . C: Wouldn't say anything. M: Okay. And i n terms of work that he gave you and s t u f f l i k e that, your response would be? C: Well, i f I didn't have time to do i t i n class, then I just wouldn't do i t . And because, I figured, at school, that was school time but at home, that was my time. M: Okay. C: And he wasn't going to inter f e r e i n my time. M: Now, he wasn't going to int e r f e r e because he was a jerk? C: Yeh. M: And the grade 3 guy, would you l e t him interfere? C: Yeah. I didn't mind doing homework. M: For him. Or the grade 2 or the grade 1 teachers. C: Yeah. 246 M: Okay, a l r i g h t . Okay, so, anything else i n grade 4. This i s great. C: (Laughter) M: It r e a l l y i s . It's fascinating. C: Uhm. Grade 4....I don't think so. I know I started choir or music i n grade 4, and I'm t e r r i b l e at music. I just r e a l l y suck. M: (Laughter) C: And we had to play the Ukelele. M: Uh-huh. C: And I was no good. And then on top of that, there was singing. I went into the choir and I couldn't sing. And the choir teacher, she said that. But me and my friends, we got together and we started singing together as a group, and she comes by and she goes "Oh, that's wonderful. Very nice, wonderful, I've never heard i t sound so good." And you know we're just mocking the song. M: (Laughter) C: And so we're thinking that she's r e a l l y stupid. M: Yeh, yeh. That was grade, the end of grade 4? C: Yeah. Yeah. M: So what's grade 5 lik e ? What happens i n grade 5? C: Oh, another wonderful teacher. He used to get mad, he used to throw chalk or erasers, big erasers. So i f you turned your back and were tal k i n g to somebody behind you, you'd get whapped with a piece of chalk or something. M: Wonderful - you're being sa r c a s t i c . C: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Very sarcastic. M: A l r i g h t . What was his name. C: Mr. M. M: Mr. M. So what was A l i k e i n grade 5? 247 C: Uhm. Just very quiet. Pretty much a loner. I'd go o f f and walk by myself. Well that was half the time and the other half of the time I'd be with my friends playing k i c k b a l l or, or bugging the boys or something. M: The loner part, when did that start? Or were you always a loner. C: Uhm. I was always a loner. Yeah. In grade 1, I had, I was o f f on a walk and one of my friends said to another of my friends, "Go play with her, she's lonely." And she said "No." This other one said "No. She wants to be by her s e l f . " And she goes "Go play with her. I'm going to get my brothers to beat you up." And she's l i k e , "No." And I didn't want any company. I was happy on my own. M: The, the aloness, did that exist i n your family too? Were you alone i n the family? C: Oh, yeah, yeah. My brothers... I don't know, I think Duncan was jealous, because I was into a l o t of a c t i v i t i e s . I was into dancing and uhm, soccer, and so mom spent a l o t of time taking me here and there. M: M-hmm. C: And so he quit some of his sports and a c t i v i t i e s because he didn't want the competition. So he started c a l l i n g me fat and ugly and a cow. And i t just did wonderful things for the self-esteem there. M: So how old were you when he started c a l l i n g you that? C: Eight. M: Eight, and you remember i t very c l e a r l y . C: Yeah. M: That r e a l l y hurt. C: Yeah. M: And how would your mom respond? Would she, or your dad, or... . C: Well my dad, he sometimes made fun of me too. But i t ' s not that he was t r y i n g to hurt me, he was just t r y i n g to have fun and... M: What would he say to you? 248 C: Uhm. I don't know. Uhm...The only thing that I c l e a r l y remember him saying was, I had ripped jeans that were comfortable and I l i k e d them and they were my f a v o r i t e jeans, and he said something, that I had nothing better than ripped jeans or something to that e f f e c t . M: So i t was pretty l i g h t s t u f f . It didn't C: It was l i g h t but I s t i l l took offense to i t . M: Okay. C: Because.. M: Because i t was your dad. C: Yeah. M: So Duncan c a l l i n g you a cow and ugly and a l l of t h i s s t u f f , meanwhile you're into a l o t of a c t i v i t i e s . C: Yeah, yeah. M: How i s your mom handling Duncan and you? C: Uhm, well, mom had a hard time. She was working and she was doing her courses. I always remember her doing courses, and she always freaks out about her courses. I remember her running down the h a l l , or down the s t a i r s with her hands on her head because Duncan and I were squalling. She was running down the s t a i r s with her hands on her head screaming and ah. We thought she, we just started laughing. M: (Laughter) C: We started laughing and that made her even more mad. M: What kind of courses was she doing? C: Uhm, she's a nurse and she was taking something to do with nursing. M: Okay. C: I don't know, there's been so many courses that... But i t ' s good, i t keeps her busy. M: Yeah. So grade 5, you've got some dorky teacher who throws chalk and erasers, and what else do you remember about grade 5? 249 C: Uhm, grade 5...I remember dancing i n front of another school. Something I started a few years back. And I didn't l i k e doing i t because i t was i n front of the whole school. It kind of makes you nervous. And...uhm, everybody watching, i t r e a l l y makes you nervous. M: You didn't l i k e that at a l l . C: No. I l i k e d performing, I l i k e d performing when we went to o l d age homes or, when there was a few of us, but me being alone, on stage, I didn't l i k e i t . M: In front of a l l the kids, yeah, that would be hard. C: E s p e c i a l l y when i t ' s i n front of a l l your schoolmates. M: Yeah, yeah. C: I mean, when i t ' s with, at the old age home, you don't know anybody. You go around and say h i , but you're never going to see them again u n t i l next time, so that's f i n e . M: Yeah, yeah. So what was grade 5 l i k e academically? You're s t i l l i n learning assistance? C: S t i l l i n learning assistance. Uhm, i t was pretty much the same. M: S t i l l not doing your homework? C: S t i l l not. No. Doing i t more, but, but not a l l the time. M: How come you're doing i t more? That's i n t e r e s t i n g . C: Well, cause you get detentions and you don't r e a l l y want to stay a f t e r and when you get too many you get known as being, well, I didn't want to be the one with the most detentions. M: Right, r i g h t . C: So.. M: So you started doing i t . What's your mom l i k e , and your dad l i k e , as far as your homework and that goes? What are they saying to you? C: Well, they'd always say that I'm smart and I never apply myself and that i f I did i t I could be a straight A student 250 and I always remember my mom saying I was a smart cookie. But they couldn't make me do i t . They'd t e l l me to, but they couldn't r e a l l y make me. M: M-hmm. When did you know that they couldn't make you? C: Oh, I'd always known. M: You always knew that. C: I always knew. And I didn't, i f I needed help I didn't want to go asking for help anyway. M: Ask teachers or your parents? C: My parents. Oh, I wouldn't ask the teachers, cause... M: Cause he's a jerk. C: Yeah. I didn't want to t a l k to him any more than I r e a l l y had to. M: Okay. Why wouldn't you ask your parents? C: Uhm. For a while with my dad, I t r i e d . Because he's a teacher himself and...he knowing how smart I am, got very impatient very quickly. M: Okay. C: So. He's a great teacher, just, not for his own kids. M: Other kids. C: Yeah. M: So patience i s an important thing to you or seems to be. People being patient with you. C: Yeah, I guess so. Because I need time to think things out i n my own head before I say them. And i f somebody doesn't give me the time then, I just spurt off nonsense and I don't know what I'm t a l k i n g about so nobody else i s going to know either. M: Okay. Anything s t i c k out i n grade 5 i n p a r t i c u l a r , i n any shape or form? C: Uhm, just spending a l o t of time with my friends. M: So you've got l o t s of friends? 251 C: Yeah, well i t was such a small class and there can be as less as 13 people. So we a l l knew each other very well. M: Uh-huh. C: And everybody pretty much stayed from kindergarten r i g h t up to grade 7. M: Right, r i g h t . Meanwhile, you're doing okay i n school other than the learning assistance junk? C: Yeah, passing. M: Passing. C: Passing i n everything. M: Okay. So what's grade 6 like ? What happens i n grade 6? C: In grade 6 we had the p r i n c i p a l for the teacher. M: Okay. C: And uhm, she had these big bug eyes. But i f you did something wrong she'd just spout. M: (Laughter) C: Oh, you didn't want to make her mad cause she'd just b o i l and her face would a l l go, blow up and her eyes would be popping out. But, she was a good teacher, she was good. M: What made her good? C: Well, comparative to the l a s t two teachers, she was good. M: Oh, okay. C: Uhm, we didn't l i k e the fact that she was a p r i n c i p a l because, I don't know why. It was just something about that, that didn't seem right to us. M: M-hmm. How did you l i k e her? Yourself? C: We got along. I did l i k e her. Uhm, she was pretty understanding when you didn't push her too far. M: So what were you l i k e as a student? 252 C: I was better. I was doing my homework more regularly. Uhm, I was happier i n that grade. Uhm, i t was, i t was a good year, i t was a good year. Nothing r e a l l y s t i c k s out about i t . M: Okay. What about grade 7? C: Grade 7 and Mr. M. Uhm, well, we a l l thought that he was a pervert. M: Because? C: Uhm, because he would look up and down at the more developed g i r l s . And we didn't think that was r i g h t . M: Okay. C: We didn't approve of i t . Uhm,.. M: When did you guys become aware of i t ? Was i t a rumor that you heard of before, f i r s t day, or..'. C: No, he was a, he was a new, he was a new teacher to our cla s s . M: Okay, okay. C: F i r s t year. Uhm, we just saw i t . M: It was obvious real soon. C: Well yeah. Real soon. That and picking his beard, I don't know what he was doing but, M: (Laughing) I should have shaved. C: (Laughing) M: Okay. What do you remember about grade 7. You've got t h i s pervert now. C: I got put i n honors math. High math. M: How did that come about? C: I was one of the best students i n math. There was three of us put up. M: M-hmm. How was that, how did that feel? C: Fel t great. 253 M: You l i k e d i t . C: Yeah. M: So what are you doing i n learning assistance, what are you l i t e r a l l y doing i n grade 7 i n learning assistance, at t h i s time? A t y p i c a l day i n there, you do what, for a period? C: Go i n and read. If there i s any work to be done, I ' l l do the work. There's nothing that I r e a l l y did i n there. M: You did what you wanted to b a s i c a l l y . C: Yeah, yeah. M: No one i s t e l l i n g you "Do t h i s . " or "Do that." or t r y i n g to put you through a special program. C: No. There was r e a l l y no reason for me to be there. M: And how are you f e e l i n g about being i n there now? C: Well I didn't mind cause me and Peter would ta l k or, we'd, that's b a s i c a l l y i t , we'd tal k . Cause usually i t was just the two of us. Andrea learned how to pronounce the l e t t e r " r " . M: (Laughter) C: So she got bumped out. So, there usually wasn't work to be done, or some, i f there was, we'd do i t then. But i t wasn't anything major. I didn't mind going anymore. M: M-hmm. So did anything happen i n grade 7 that s t i c k s out? C: Uhm....Just that I r e a l l y didn't l i k e Mr. M. M: Did you have any run-ins with him? C: No, no. He was just a pervert. M: Was he creepy f e e l i n g to you? C: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, he'd have no book and he'd be scratching himself. M: Scratching his beard or his moustache? 254 C: No! Uhm, his genitals. M: His ge n i t a l s . C: And so we'd just kind of back away and not want to hand anything i n , cause that's kind of disgusting. M: Yeah. So did you t a l k to your parents about t h i s guy or did anybody t a l k to the parents? C: I don't think so. I know I never mentioned anything. We talked about i t amongst ourselves. M: M-hmm. C: I don't think anyone t o l d t h e i r parents. M: What about homework, are you doing homework now, more or less or the same? C: Probably more, yeah. M: So are you less stubborn i n grade 7 ? C: Uhm, I don't think so. I think I maintained being stubborn. M: And you're doing your homework though. C: Yeah. M: You're doing more of i t . C: Yeah, yeah. But I figured I'd do i t on my terms. M: Okay. C: But I was, I was r e a l l y proud to go up i n math. M: In math. C: That was r e a l l y good. M: Do you remember your parents response or other people's response. C: Oh, my dad was proud. Yeah, my mom was too. M: It f e l t good. F i n a l l y someone sees that i n t e l l i g e n c e . 255 C: Yeah. We were supposed to go up to 8 honors math. But the class up i n high school was 9 honors, so we had learnt for 8 honors but got bumped up an extra year. And that teacher didn't do anything either. He was tr y i n g to teach us u n i v e r s i t y l e v e l s t u f f and he'd t e l l us that t h i s was univ e r s i t y . . . M: Material? C: Material. Thank you. And he was tryin g to prepare us or something. There was 2 students who got i t . One was an absolute genius and the other one was r e a l l y smart. He worked hard. But i t was the kind of st u f f you don't teach grade 8's. M: M-hmm, m-hmm. Or grade 7's. C: Yeah. M: Hmmm. So, anything else i n elementary school or i n grade 7 that s t i c k s out as a memory? C: Uhm...the only thing, our farewell song. I remember that. We a l l got together as a class and sang "Up Where We Belong". And that was neat. Everybody coming together and t r y i n g to get t h i s thing together. It was neat. M: So, i f you had to sort of sum up elementary school, how was i t for you? C: Uhm...for the most part I l i k e d i t . I guess when I had a good teacher, I had a good year. M: Okay. C: And when I had a bad teacher, I had a bad year. M: And s o c i a l l y you were okay. You had friends. C: Yeah. More friends than I r e a l l y wanted. M: Okay. C: Or needed. M: Cause being alone was quite comfortable for you. C: Yeah. M: If you could change anything i n elementary school, what would you have changed. 256 C: Uhm...Mr. Anthony. M: And he was the grade... C: The grade 4 teacher. M: So he was the worst. C: Yeah. Yeah, I found out years l a t e r that my brother, who also had problems with Mr. Anthony, who then again had a great teacher, Mr. Justice, who r e a l l y , was r e a l l y s t r i c t and r e a l l y gave him back his s e l f confidence. M: M-hmm. C: But Mr. Anthony screwed up A l too. M: Okay. C: But by the time I got to grade 5, Mr. Justice was gone. M: Okay. Now where were you i n terms of confidence and a l l that kind of st u f f i n elementary school. C: Uhm. I didn't have too much. I was very shy. Very nervous c h i l d . Very jumpy. M: And where i s that, uh, what sense do you make of that C: Why was I jumpy? M: Yeah, how did you get to be jumpy? Like I mean, you were bright, you were capable, where does the jumpiness come from? C: Uh, I've always been jumpy, nervous energy. M: Okay. Did that present many problems or any problems? C: No. Just when somebody unexpectedly appears, I ' l l jump. M: Okay. C: It scares them more than me. My reaction to i t . M: But that didn't have any effect with how you got along with people or what people thought of you. C: No, no. 257 M: And yet you had a f e e l i n g of being, you say, not confident? C: Well, when you get put down at home then that i n t e r f e r e s with how you f e e l even i n school. Even i f you're not put down. M: Can you t e l l me about that, about being put down at home? Like that seems to be something that looms rather large. C: Well, Duncan and I started squabbling probably i n grade 2. Before that we were the best of friends. And then we started squabbling and fi g h t i n g . I broke a Rubick's Cube over his head. He pushed me into the side shelves. Uhm. . . M: He's c a l l i n g you names. C: Yeah. Which r e a l l y hurt because I looked up to him. He was the middle c h i l d but he was my big brother. We shared the same room. I looked up to him. And i t hurt. M: How long did i t go on for? C: T i l l I was 15. M: Wow. So what's l i f e l i k e with Duncan when you're i n grade 7? C: Uhm, very physical. He was a punchy sort of person u n t i l my dad threatened to kick him out, I think. Or was going to hi t him back because he uhm, he kicked me i n the stomach and I'd l o s t my breath and I couldn't breathe. M: How old were then? C: Uh, twelve. M: Twelve. C: Thirteen. M: Grade 7 or 8. C: Yeah. M: He kicks you i n the stomach and you can't breathe, and then what happened. C: My parents come home and I was s t i l l gasping and my dad saw me and I was i n tears and I was gasping and he l o s t i t . I don't know. And then he h i t me a couple of times a f t e r 258 that and dad just said "That's i t . If you do again you're out." sort of thing. And since then he didn't do i t . M: So that's, you're around 14 or 15 when your dad said that. C: Yeah. M: And what kind of things i s he saying to you when you're 13, 14, 15? How i s he putting you down? C: Uhm, same s t u f f . The same s t u f f . You're ugly, you're f a t . Uhm... M: Did you believe him? C: Yeah. Yeah, I s t i l l look at myself and think "holy, I'm f a t " . M: Really, wow. C: And I quit smoking so I gained a l i t t l e b i t of weight, so I'm contemplating s t a r t i n g again so I'd lose the weight. Cause I'd rather be skinny and smoke than be overweight. Because i n my family i t was such a s i n or something. M: To be overweight, or to smoke. C: Oh, both. M: Both. C: But, I, I don't know, I started smoking to, probably cause I wanted my parents to catch me. For the stupidest reason, I think. M: Why did you want them to catch you? C: To confront me. I wanted confrontation of some kind. I don't know. M: And you are, how old were you then. C: Thirteen. M: So you're i n grade...you started smoking cause you wanted your parents to confront you. C: Yeah. 259 M: Where does that come from? What sense do you make of that? TURN TAPE M: So you're i n grade 8 and you want them to confront you because they were...ignoring you or? C: Yeah. I don't know. M: T e l l me about that. C: I was upset a l o t of the time. I was very depressed. And nobody ever asked me why. And I guess I got hurt, I got mad and wanted something that I know would dig i n and get them. And I knew smoking was i t . It was i t for my mom, because she was always so against i t . But they never, they never did. They, they caught me when I was 17. And that's 4 years, so I'm not going to quit just when they t e l l me to af t e r that. M: What were you depressed about.? C: Uhm, l i f e i n general. M: If I'm asking you things that you don't want to t a l k about just say I don't want to tal k about that. So that we f e e l very free. I mean I'm interested i n everything but I don't want to cross a boundary. And the other thing i s i f you ever say something and you think about i t l a t e r and say take that out, l e t me know and I ' l l just take i t out too. Okay. C: Okay. M: So you're the editor completely. Okay. " L i f e i n general", when did you star t getting depressed. C: Uhm, thirteen. Thirteen, yeah. M: When you turned 13? C: No, i t ' s around about then. I couldn't say exactly. I'd been sad for a long time but... M: You had been sad, so were you sad through elementary school? C: Yeah. M: Do you remember when you f i r s t started being sad? 260 C: Uhm, probably grade 2. M: Why, what made you sad? C: Uhm...well I was abused when I was younger and that's something I don't r e a l l y want to get into. M: Okay. C: But uhm, that's a part of why I became a loner, that's why I secluded myself. M: M-hmm. C: Uhm...sometimes I don't want to, no description nothing l i k e that. M: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Of course, of course. Okay. So you want to t e l l me about that i n whatever way you want to? C: Okay. Oh, i t happened as far back as I can remember. Uhm, s t i l l elementary, other than cer t a i n memories are r e a l l y vague. Like there's parts that I don't remember anything up u n t i l hmm, grade 6, other than l i t t l e blotches here and there which i s what I've been t e l l i n g you. M: Yeah. Can I ask was i t within the family? Or i s that a question you don't want to deal with? C: I don't want to deal with that. M: A l r i g h t . Uhm...okay go on. C: And then i n grade 8, I started getting r e a l l y depressed,, saying no i t didn't happen. It's something that I took out of my mind somewhere. M: You started remembering i t ? Did i t st a r t coming back to you or was i t always a memory? C: It was always there. And I just said "No I'm insane." I thought I was insane for years. Uhm, and then I started getting r e a l l y , r e a l l y depressed. I contemplated suicide. And... M: Did you st a r t believing that i t was true i n grade 8? Or were you s t i l l saying "No, I'm insane". C: No, I'm insane. 261 M: I'm insane. C: Yeah. But I guess deep down I believed i t because I didn't want to l i v e i t , I didn't want to...I thought i f i t was so bad then....I don't know. It's just uhm... M: It's r e a l l y hard st u f f for you. C: Yeah. M: Yeah. C: I mean I don't mind ta l k i n g about i t i f i t w i l l help somebody else. M: Have you dealt with i t . C: I've seen a counsellor, I went to S.A.R.A. M: Right. C: Which i s a great program. M: Good. C: A wonderful program. M: And that helped. C: Yeah. M: When did you go to S.A.R.A.? C: When I was 17. M: Okay. C: A c t u a l l y a f t e r uhm, my f i r s t r e a l l y bad car accident. I was l i k e , I've got to tal k or I'm going to go crazy. M: Yeah, yeah. C: So I t o l d mom that I want to see a p s y c h i a t r i s t and she goes why, and I go, well I just want to tal k . Because she had asked me before i f something had happened and I l i e d , I l i e d . M: She was suspicious. C: Yeah. 262 M: So you're i n grade 8 and you're r e a l l y depressed and you want them to pay attention and they're not paying attention. They don't pay attention and you're remembering a l l these things more and more or? C: Yeah, yeah. And spending more time alone. I had my best f r i e n d i n grade 8. I had r e a l l y good friends e a r l i e r but they went t h e i r way and Jackie and I went our way. We were s t i l l a l l friends but...And Jackie was from an a l c o h o l i c background. M: Okay. C: And although I didn't know a l l of her past and she didn't know my past, we s t i l l knew enough that we related to each other. M: A bond of misery. C: Well no, no. We both whipped on that l i t t l e smile and everything was wonderful and hide behind the laughter. M: But underneath i t I mean. C: Yeah, yeah. M: What, what pulled you together? Do you have any sense of that? C: Well, we went to elementary school together. And we, we weren't r e a l l y friends, and I asked her about that years l a t e r . A c t u a l l y I think that was just about a year ago and she said she always thought that I was above everybody. That I had an a i r of something that I was, I was above. M: Aloofness sort of thing? C: I'm not sure i f i t was aloofness. Uhm...she just thought that I was better and I never understood that because I didn't think that I portrayed that. M: M-hmm. And you didn't f e e l that you were better. C: No, not at a l l . M: So d i d you guys have a sense of each other's, you said that you had a p a r t i a l sense of each other's background, l i k e did she know that things had happened that were bugging you and you knew that she was from an alc o h o l i c family or did you have any sense of that? 263 C: No. No not i n the beginning. After a while I learned that her mother was an alcoholic, and how bad i t was. And years l a t e r I t o l d her what happened. But that was years and years l a t e r . M: Okay. C: I was so happy for her when she moved out. M: M-hmm. C: I had been t e l l i n g her for years to stand up to her mother cause her mother would get drunk and she'd take care of her and get her dressed and showered and put to bed and everything. And i t ' s just too much for a c h i l d to do. M: It's not f a i r . C: Yeah. So when I learned how bad i t was and I said "Just don't do i t . You can't." She had to stand up to her mom. M: Yeah. So what else happened for you i n grade 8? I mean you're depressed, what's i t l i k e schoolwise? C: School? Uhm...I took the best class I ever had. M: Which was? C: Communications 8. M: Okay. C: And... M: What was so good about i t ? C: Uhm, i t was a very inte r e s t i n g class to begin with. The teacher was great. It was just f a n t a s t i c . It was, i t ' s the f i r s t time I f e l t comfortable i n any class i n t e r a c t i n g with other students. M: Oh. Okay. Now how did that come about? How did you st a r t f e e l i n g comfortable? C: Well f i r s t there was me and Jackie and we had talked back and f o r t h . And then there was a couple of other guys i n the class who we became friends with and then that was, i t was the four of us and then i t just kind of grew. M: Oh, okay. So there was rea l bonds and friendship happening. 264 C: Yes. M: Was t h i s right from the beginning of the year? C: Uhm, pretty close, yeah. Yeah, we'd go down to Kentucky Fri e d Chicken at lunch and bring back something for everybody or something for the teacher or... M: Wow, so rea l group thing happening. And i s t h i s a junior high or a high school. C: High school, 7 or 8 to 12. M: 8 to 12. Okay. So Communications 8 i s great. What else do you remember about grade 8. C: Shop. M: Shop? C: I loved Shop. I hated sewing and I hated cooking cause I already knew how to cook. I didn't want to learn to sew but I loved Shop. I was great at i t . M: Yeah. What did you love about i t ? C: I loved, uhm, I loved playing with the machines. I loved d r a f t i n g . I loved woodwork. I just, i t was great. M: Using your hands and your mind. C: Yeah, putting everything together. M: Yeh. What about math? How are you doing i n math? Are you s t i l l doing great i n math? C: Uhm...1 barely passed math because of the jump from 8 honors or 7 honors to 9 honors. M: Oh, so you were i n 9 honors now? C: Yeah, which jumped to the un i v e r s i t y l e v e l and the teacher didn't take the time to explain, what we needed to. M: How did that feel? C: Uhm...it was d i s t r e s s i n g . We, we couldn't explain i t to him, that he needed to slow down because there was two students who could keep up to him. 265 M: M-hmm. How did you f e e l as a student i n math, though, I mean you were here, you were a year ago i n honors math and... C: And now I'm not getting i t . M: What was that lik e ? C: That was pretty hard to deal with. M: So what did you do with that? Did you t a l k to anybody about i t ? How did you process that? C: Well, Jackie was i n the same class. Same honors class, and we were both kind of sinking. And we both knew that i t wasn't right , the class, there was something wrong with the clas s . So we just l e t i t go at that and we barely passed. M: You didn't say anything to anybody? C: I mentioned a few things at home here and there. But nothing major. M: Did they respond? C: Not too much, no. No, there wasn't much to r e a l l y say. They couldn't r e a l l y go to the teacher and say "Well, you're teaching way ahead of what these kids are doing." Because he would know us and he was a v i c e - p r i n c i p a l and a bigshot and he was going to do things his way. M: Okay. What about the other subjects, how are you doing i n English and Socials? C: Socials, I've always been bad at and the History part. Geography I was good at. Science, I was good at. Uhm... M: Communications, i s that English? C: Uhm, i t ' s separate. English, English was okay. M: Okay. So what were you doing i n Communications? Like what kind of s t u f f would you do i n there? C: Uhm, current a f f a i r s , we kept a journal, s t o r i e s up to date. It was a great class. M: Okay. What about s o c i a l l y , what are things l i k e for you s o c i a l l y i n grade 8? 266 C: Good. I didn't spend as much time alone. Because there wasn't usually anywhere to go that you could be alone. I'd s i t i n the hallways sometimes but there was always people coming by. M: M-hmm. Did that bug you that you couldn't be alone or was that okay? C: Uhm, i t was okay. I hung around with Jackie a l o t . We went out for lunch. Hung out i n the smoke h a l l . M: Were you playing any sports? Did you have any extra- c u r r i c u l a r stuff? C: No. M: Didn't l i k e that? C: No. I wasn't into group a c t i v i t y i n high-school. M: Okay. C: I didn't j o i n any sports. M: Are you s t i l l doing your singing? C: No. I quit singing. I gave up the ukelele. I didn't j o i n band. M: M-hmm. What about dances and stuff l i k e that? Are you doing any of, going to dances or are there any dances? C: The sock hops? M: Sock hops? C: Yeah M: How are those? C: Lonely. M: Because? C: Because being so quiet people didn't r e a l l y r e a l i z e I was there. M: Okay. C: And Jackie being so outgoing, she was automatically a magnet 267 M: So she's a magnet, she's got a l o t of attention and you, you're not getting much attention. C: Yeah. M: What about boys? Are boys beginning to happen for you? C: Not for me, no, no. M: But are you noticing them? Are you... C: Yeah. Yeah. M: Yeah. So what's that li k e ? C: Uhm, I don't know. In grade 9, there were guys bugging me saying that there's one that wanted to go out with me. And they were doing t h i s i n class and I was, I was embarrassed. And by the time that he f i n a l l y asked me out I said no because the whole class knew and I'd been bugged so much about i t . I r e a l l y f e e l bad. M: You s t i l l f e e l badly? C: I s t i l l f e e l bad. M: That you said no.] C: Yeah. Cause he was such a nice guy. And I mean, I think he was embarrassed too. But he wanted some way to, to t a l k to me without f e e l i n g as vulnerable as he would normally. And I just, I didn't handle i t very well. I just kind of "No, I don't r e a l l y have the time." Which wasn't very nice, but. I wasn't experienced at rej e c t i n g people either, so. M: How are you at tal k i n g about i t now, what's i t l i k e f or you as you s i t here going through t h i s stuff? C: I s t i l l f e e l bad. I mean, I've seen him, I saw him a few years ago i n where he was working, the store. And I said "Hi, how's i t going." and we talked but i t was s t i l l , oh I fe e l bad. (Laughter) Cause he was a r e a l l y nice guy and I did date somebody i n grade 10. M: Okay. What was that li k e ? C: Uhm....not good and I found out l a t e r that i t was a bet. Two people f l i p p e d a coin to see who was going to be the one to ask me out. 268 M: Okay. C: I didn't f i n d t h i s out u n t i l l a t e r . M: What did that f e e l l i k e ? C: Uhm...1 was f l a t t e r e d that they were interested i n me but I didn't l i k e the way that i t was approached. Uhm...we only went out I think for 2 weeks. My choice and for 1 week I sat i n the h a l l and said "No, I don't want to go anywhere, I don't want to do anything." "No, I got homework to do." So he got the hint pretty quick. M: So when did you drop out of the regular system? C: I went right to grade 12, and I was a few cr e d i t s short because grade, as soon as I got my car I started missing a whole l o t of school. M: Oh, okay. So you didn't graduate from grade 12, you were short when you finished. C: Yeah. There was classes that I was r e a l l y good i n , typing and shop, and journalism. M: When did you switch from the regular program to Brian's" program. Is that where you went to pick up the.. C: Credits. M: c r e d i t s . C: Yeah. M: Okay. C: Yeah, that was 91. M: So what's, so you're i n grade 8. Take me through grades 9, 10, 11 i n terms of school and what's happening to you as a student. C: Grade 8 uhm, the f i r s t time I remember skipping out was at a f i r e alarm. There was a f i r e alarm. I was i n french and Jackie and I contemplated on the chances of getting caught. And so we decided to go for i t anyway. So we went down to the store and she got caught and I didn't. So i t was l i k e "Okay, t h i s i s cool" which kind of worked out right because we'd be tal k i n g i n class and she'd get i n trouble and I wouldn't. 269 M: M-hmm. C: Just because she was loud and I was quiet. And I could sta r t and i n i t i a t e everything and s t i l l not get i n trouble. M: So what did you learn from that? What would that whole? C: I learned re a l fast that I could t a l k my way out of anything. M: Okay. And how did that play i t s e l f out i n terms of school. C: Uhm, i t meant that I could skip out and I could go and t a l k to the p r i n c i p a l and once or twice I'd get busted but the rest of the time I'd just t a l k my way out of i t . M: What kinds of things would you, how would you t a l k your way out of i t ? Do you remember any s p e c i f i c times? C: No. Saying I don't f e e l well, I'm going to go home. M: Signing out. C: Yeah. Signing out. Or just going home for lunch and not coming back. Or, going to the mall and not coming back, and just going home on the bus. M: So you were, were you skipping much i n grade 8. C: Once i n a while. I learned, I learned that because I was quiet they never r e a l l y noticed i f I was there. M: Okay. C: Well not too much anyway. M: Okay. What was grade 9 l i k e , as far as skipping and that? C: Oh i t s t e a d i l y got worse. By grade 12, i f I didn't skip an hour out of the day i t was unusual. M: So what's school l i k e for you now, grade 12? C: Uhm...it's okay. It was kind of lonely. But I had my friends. Barb Falahehe. She was from Tonga. She was a r e a l l y neat woman. M: Um-hmm. 270 C: And her brother Maca. We went to volunteer together, only I made i t and he didn't. But that was in t e r e s t i n g . M: And how are you doing i n your subjects? C: Science, not so good. English, not so good, just because I didn't do my homework. Uhm, shop, I showed up for and I did pretty good. I think B's. Uhm, typing, I did good. I got an A. M: Uh-hmm. C: Uhm. Socials, not good. M: What about Math. Are you doing Math? C: Algebra 11, yeah. M: How are you doing i n that? C: Uhm, well I l o s t a year. I think I l o s t , yeah, at least one year. M: How did that come about? C: Uhm, well I was i n 10 honors and I didn't pass that. M: Okay. C: So I went down to 10 regular, which i s where I l o s t the year or where I went back to normal. And then Algebra 11, I didn't pass the f i r s t time around. So I went down a year. M: So what's happened i n Math for you? Like where i s t h i s bright k i d i n Math? C: If I'd been shown the proper steps to take I would have done r e a l l y well. But because there's a huge gap that I was never taught, uhm, that just interfered with everything i n Math. M: And what about your parents? How are they responding to this? Like here i s t h e i r daughter who i s , they know i s bright, who's done well... C: They just said study and I t o l d them to stop nagging. M: What's your relationship l i k e with them at t h i s point when you're i n grade 10, 11, 12? 271 C: Uhm, well I knew how to get what I wanted. I said that I wanted the car just to go to school because I wasn't going to take the bus and i f they wanted me to go school then they'd give i t to me. M: Okay. C: And so they did. M: And how did that feel? C: Well i t f e l t good but I know I went about i t wrong. M: What do you mean? C: I shouldn't have demanded that they give me the car. I shouldn't have bribed them. M: How did you bribe, oh I ' l l go to school i f you give me the car. C: Yeah. M: Why shouldn't you have bribed them? You got what you wanted to. C: Yeah but that also put them out. If they needed the car for some reason then i t was a hassle because I was not going to take the bus. M: To your stubbornness, kicking back. C: Yeah. Uhm, l e t ' s see. I was very tough on my mom. She'd just want me to do good i n school and I'd just t e l l her that i t wasn't her business i t was my l i f e and i f I wanted to do i t , I'd do i t . So I was very hard on her. M: So, on the one hand you want them to notice you, to make contact with you and on the other hand you're very much i n charge and " i t ' s my l i f e and I ' l l do what I want". T e l l me about that, that seeming paradox. C: Uhm, I've always been very independent and at the same time I always wanted t h e i r approval. So I guess sometimes my independence led over me needing approval. A l o t of the time i t did. So... M: So the independence overpowered the need for approval? C: Yeah. 272 M: But the need for approval was s t i l l there. C: Yeah. M: How would that play i t s e l f out i n the family. For you. C: For me schoolwise, I would do my homework...1 would do i t a l o t of the time. Some of the time I wouldn't turn i t i n . M: M-hmm. C: Cause I was a p e r f e c t i o n i s t . M: Ah, okay. C: Which, and a procrastinator and those two don't go together very well. M: When did you become a pe r f e c t i o n i s t and when did you become aware that you were a per f e c t i o n i s t ? C: I became aware of i t i n grade 10 when I'd have an assignment done or an essay done and i t wouldn't be good enough or the s p e l l i n g wasn't right or, or something needed to be added and I'd be forever changing i t u n t i l i t was too l a t e . M: M-hmm. And so did anyone pick up on that, that you were a p e r f e c t i o n i s t ? C: My mom. Cause she's the same way. Everything has to be perfect with her. M: And how did she handle that with you. C: Uhm, she didn't know how to. She, she was a procrastinator too. M: M-hmm. C: And a p e r f e c t i o n i s t . And she was forever saying that she was going to f a i l her courses and she'd always get an A. And that used to drive me nuts! M: Why? C: Because she'd be saying, "I'm going to f a i l . I'm going to f a i l . I'm going to f a i l . " Meanwhile she's got 96%. I mean i t ' s l i k e i t makes no sense. But to her i t does because i t ' s a motivator I think. 273 M: Okay. So how are your teachers response, are you getting, are there many assignments that you're not getting handed in? C: For Science and English, yeah. For Socials, a l o t of the time. M: You're not getting them i n there either. C: No. But for Math or something, I usually could do i t i n class. M: Okay. C: So I'd always have that done. M: So are you passing grade 9, 10, 11, are you passing a l l of your s t u f f , or some of your st u f f or? C: Most of i t . Socials Studies I don't think I passed one year. M: They just kept pushing you on? C: Mmm, I'd have to go to summer school. I think I went to summer school every year for Socials. M: Oh, okay. So what's that doing to you as a student, l i k e what's school becoming for you, what's i t li k e ? C: I t ' s more a chore. I mean I l i k e , I l i k e d learning but I didn't l i k e the fact that I had to take Socials. I didn't l i k e the fact that I had to take anything because I wanted to choose and i f my choices were the same as what they were t e l l i n g me then at least that's my choice. M: M-hmm. C: But Socials wasn't something that I l i k e d . It wasn't something that I was good at. It wasn't something that I needed or I f e l t that I needed. So I didn't f e e l that I should have to take i t . M: Okay. What about English? C: English I was good at. I was very good at writing s t o r i e s , at punctuation, at etiquette for language. M: And how were, but you weren't doing very well i n English or were you? 274 C: Uhm, what I did, I did very well on. M: Okay. C: But I just didn't do enough to give me a good grade. M: And why didn't you do enough? C: Uhm, I don't know. In English i t was, I l i k e d English enough. I just, I guess I figured i t was my time and they didn't give me a spare period to get my homework done. M: My time. Home time i s my time. C: Home time, yeah. M: So that's an ongoing thing, right from when you were a l i t t l e g i r l . C: Yeah. M: Home time i s my time.-' C: It's just l i k e at work. Work i s work. And you don't interact the two. M: Okay, okay. So you're capable of doing t h i s s t u f f but you're just not managing to get i t done because i t ' s at home and "I'm not going to do i t at home". C: Yeah. M: What are you doing at home when you're not going to school? C: Uhm, M: Like when you're not doing school work. Did you do much school work at a l l or? C: At home I'd do i t sometimes but I'd play on the computer, I would read, watch t.v., make dinner, go to my friends. There was always something to do instead of doing... work. M: M-hmm, m-hmm. Uhm, so when you fini s h e d grade 12, you were short courses. C: Yeah, 3 courses. M: What were you short? 275 C: Socials, English, uh....I don't know what the t h i r d course was. Maybe Math. M: Math. C: Or Physics, i t could have been Physics. M: Did you pass Algebra 11? In high school? C: Yeah, yeah, second time around I did. M: Second time around in? C: In high school, yeah. M: Okay. So you never r e a l l y , you didn't drop out. C: No, no. M: But you became more disengaged from i t a l l as you were going along. C: Yeah. I never ac t u a l l y even thought of dropping out. M: M-hmm. C: It's just i f I showed up, I showed up. If I didn't, I didn't. M: Okay. C: Which i s b a s i c a l l y the same thing. Because i n my school I never r e a l l y heard of people dropping out. M: Okay. C: I heard of people getting expelled. M: A l r i g h t . What would you have to do to get expelled? C: Uhm,' vandalism. M: Okay. C: Uhm, I don't know, I guess i f you missed too much school you would get expelled. M: How much school did you miss i n grade 12, roughly? You'd skip how often, every day? 276 C: Yeah. Usually, unless, l i k e usually, I'd go home at lunch and not come back. M: Okay. And that wasn't enough to get you kicked out? C: No. Like I said they didn't r e a l l y notice me because I was quiet. M: Okay. C: I would come back and act u a l l y teachers would watch me come back because I knew the teachers and I'd wave at them and say "how i s i t going" and they're l i k e "shouldn't you be i n school" and I'd be l i k e "yeah, I should be." M: So what kind of sense did you make of that? Like what did that t e l l you or? C: That nobody cared. Nobody cared. Well some of the teachers did. Some went out of t h e i r way to help me and now I appreciate i t . M: But at the time you.. C: At the time I didn't. There were some r e a l l y good teachers but then again there were some teachers who didn't care, they didn't want to know, they didn't want to deal with i t . M: Okay. So how old were you when you, when you, when you disclosed over the abuse stuff? Was that, that was? C: Seventeen. M: That was a big thing for you? C: Yeah. M: Who did you disclose t h i s to? C: Before I went to a counsellor I talked to a f r i e n d and he was very understanding. M: And then you went to a counsellor? C: Yeh. Then I went to a counsellor and he said he'd have to c a l l Social Services. M: Right. 277 C: And so a l l that dragged i n . And I stayed away from home for a couple of days and I c a l l e d mom and said "Hi", and she asked me to come home and I came home and we talked. M: Okay. How did a l l that work out for you? C: Uhm, i t worked out for the best. I was no longer keeping secrets. I no longer wanted to keep secrets. I no longer had to be alone with or, yeah, I didn't have to alone because i f I said something then i t ' s not something I'd get i n trouble for. Uhm... M: Was there a time when you'd get i n trouble for saying things? C: No, not r e a l l y . But with something l i k e t h i s , then...you don't r e a l l y know, you don't know what to expect. You don't know i f you're going to get blamed or how psycho somebody i s going to become when they learn of i t . M: Okay. And so how did that affect your relationships with teachers i n school or did i t , did i t ? How did a l l that play i t s e l f out for you when you look at i t now? C: Uhm, M: The not knowing, the secretness, the being alone? C: The not knowing didn't r e a l l y affect anything. At school i t was just, I was dealing with my own things. I didn't need school to i n t e r f e r e . It's more, school was more a d i s t r a c t i o n . M: Okay. So t h i s was quite a preoccupation i n your l i f e . C: Yeah. M: Like every day. C: Yeah. Well i t ' s not something that was talked about so i t ' s something that I had to, i t was sort of l i k e t a l k i n g with myself. M: Yeh, yeh. And school i s a d i s t r a c t i o n from that pain, or that confusion? C: Yeah. M: Or my craziness or whatever. ,278 C: Yeah. An annoyance or a d i s t r a c t i o n depending which class i t was. M: M-hmm, m-hmm. When you look at high-school was there much that you were engaged, I mean you l i k e d woodwork and you l i k e d metalwork, and you l i k e d shops and you l i k e d typing, on a sort of scale of 1 to 10 i n terms of engagement were you r e a l l y engaged, p a r t i a l l y engaged, you know? C: In school? M: Yeah. With school. C: Uh, p a r t i a l l y . M: P a r t i a l l y . C: Yeah. M: And that sort of dwindled as you went along from 8 to 12? C: Yeah. M: So the l a s t time you were r e a l l y engaged i n school was? C: Grade 3. M: Grade 3. C: Yeah, Mr. Anthony pissed me off for the next four years. M: Okay. C: And a f t e r that I was on my own. Pick and choose what I, what courses I l i k e d what I wanted to stay around for and what I didn't. Nobody ever gave me g r i e f about i t . Couple of detentions here and there. And that was i t . M: So you r e a l l y learned how to handle people i n the system quite well and at a young age. Is that true? You look almost embarassed. C: (Laughter) M: Is that true? C: Yeah. Yeah. M: And yet there's an inte r e s t i n g mixture there of handling and a desire to be contacted happening for you. 279 C: Yeah. M: Like you're alone with t h i s st, your own s t u f f , with the abuse s t u f f . You're alone i n terms of shyness, and yet... C: But I was very giving with my friends. If they ever needed help I was there for them. If they needed a couple of bucks I'd have i t for them. M: M-hmm. C: I was very open i n a sense with them. M: In a giving sense. C: In a giving sense. Yeah. M: That was quite easy for you to do. C: Oh yeah. Yeah. I care a l o t about people and who they are. M: Okay. If you could redo grade 8 to 12 and you had a magic wand to just pop things i n however you wanted to, what would you switch? C: Uhm....I'd do my work. I r e a l l y would. M: Because? C: Because right now I see where not doing my work has taken me and how much further ahead I would have gotten. M: But that stubborness. You couldn't handle your stubborness, i s that what kept you from doing your work? C: I think i t was stubborness. It's not that I was lazy, cause I wasn't lazy. M: Ah no, nothing you've said suggests laziness. I mean you were very active upstairs. C: Yeah. M: You're not slow, you're not d u l l , you're not, were, were you into a l o t of dope or stuff l i k e that? C: Experimenting but I think every kid goes through that. M: Yeah, yeah, but you weren't stoned 6 months i n a row. 280 C: Oh no, no. M: Yeh. So you were never f r i e d i n school, l i k e I mean regularly. C: No. M: You weren't a stoner. C: No. No. M: Yeh. But you were a d r i f t somewhere on your own. C: Yeah. I'd go to school and I'd be looking out the window and I'd be a m i l l i o n miles away. And nobody would notice that I wasn't paying attention. M: And you wanted someone to notice? C: Yeah. M: Someone l i k e your grade 3 teacher? C: Yeah. M: He could have pulled you i n . Would that have worked? C: Yeah. I think so. M: And your parents. You wanted them to notice too. C: Yeah. If I had someone to ta l k to, someone to be open with, then I think things would have changed. But now, l i k e a l o t of kids, there's not too much communication within the family. M: M-hmm. C: And that's too bad. It messes up a l o t of children. M: Yes. Yeh. You look sad over that. Is i t a sad memory. C: Oh I was just thinking about a l l the kids who don't have anybody to t a l k to. And don't get me wrong. I think Southwest i s a wonderful school but i t ' s just sad that so many have to end up there because they don't anybody to t a l k to. Or nobody to care about them. M: Did you f e e l that you had people who cared about you i n grade 8, 9, 10? 281 C: At the time I didn't think so. At the time I f e l t alone, I f e l t abandoned, I f e l t sad. But looking back I know that there were always people there that cared. M: But there, but that aloneness, that f e e l i n g of aloneness, of being abandoned, that kicked i n at a very young age? C: Yeah. Five. M: At five? Can you remember that, can you remember that sense of loss of security or whatever i t f e l t l i k e ? C: Yeah. M: What happened? C: See, okay. My mom was working and my dad was working graveyard. M: Uh-huh. C: And so, he'd be sleeping when I got home from school and we'd be there to take care of ourselves. Or we had a babysitter for awhile but she didn't pay any attention to me. And I f e l t alone a l o t of the time. And I talked to my parents about that and they'd say that I wasn't alone that much but to me I was. M: You f e l t alone. C: Yeah. To me I remember taking care of myself a l o t of the time because my brothers were off doing t h e i r thing, they were older. They were off doing guy things because they were boys. Whatever i t was and I was the only g i r l , I was alone. M: M-hmm. C: And so I had to learn, I had to learn my independence r e a l l y young. I had to take care of myself, set my own values and goals and t r y to figure things out. But they said that I wasn't alone that much but how much, how much i s a l o t to a c h i l d . M: That's right and the other thing i s who cares what they say, i t ' s what you know. C: Yeah. M: And you f e l t alone. 282 C: I know that they r e a l l y t r i e d . M: Yeh, yeh. C: Of course a l l parents are going to make mistakes and everything. And that's how I perceive i t . But there's s t i l l a part that's hurt because I was alone. M: So you developed t h i s independence, t h i s r e a l l y strong stubborn, capable, even manipulative person as you get older. C: Yeah. M: And I don't mean that i n a negative sense. C: I don't l i k e to think of i t as manipulative. But I guess i t i s . M: I'm not thinking of i t i n terms of the ugly side of the word but just that you could handle things, you could handle people, you could handle the system. C: Oh yeah. I could, I could handle my parents too. M: Yeah. You handled everybody. C: You t a l k to them the right way and... M: It happens. C: Yeah. M: So i t ' s kind of, there's t h i s interesting, my sense i s that there's t h i s i n t e r e s t i n g mixture of t h i s l i t t l e alone g i r l on the inside and on the outside t h i s quite capable person handling the world and i r o n i c a l l y somehow keeps the world away from her and yet she needs the world to contact her. Does that f i t ? C: Yeah, yeah. And then l a t e r I got that from, I made friends with people who needed something, who were missing something. M: M-hmm. C: Either somebody to t a l k to, somebody to l i s t e n , somebody to just to be there. M: Yeh, yeh. 283 C: And I found that I could provide that and that sense of being needed f i l l e d a gap, I guess. M: But i t didn't take care of your aloneness C: No. No. M: When d i d that happen? When did your aloneness s t a r t being taken care of or has i t ? C: Tod has helped me a great deal. M: With what? C: With a l o t . And I'm not as shy as I used to be, I'm not as insecure as I used to be. I've learned how to be open and honest. Not that I wasn't honest before. M: M-hmm, m-hmm. C: I'd just be quiet and I wouldn't divulge anything that wasn't asked of me. M: M-hmm. C: But S.A.R.A. also helped too. The group. I wasn't ta l k i n g too much i n the group but being a part of i t , i t r e a l l y helped. It was a wonderful program. M: Is there anything on your l i s t that we haven't gone through? My sense as I l i s t e n to you i s , i n a sort of a nutshell i s , part of what I'm doing i s putting the story together i n part of my brain, i s that, here's a ki d who's capable, bright and has a l o t of a b i l i t y , has, your story as you. t e l l i t i s quite animated i n the f i r s t couple of years. Your face was animated, you had l i t t l e worlds that you were building. C: (Laughter) M: You know, that goes along r e a l l y n i c e l y u n t i l you h i t t h i s guy i n grade 4 and something, I mean he's, you know he does t h i s learning assistance thing and a l l the rest of that but somehow i n there you r e a l l y get whacked hard and you don't get crushed by i t but i t just kicks into that resentment that independent, that stubborness i n you. C: Yeah, he's l i k e the boogeyman or something. M: Yeh. The next 3 or 4 years, you're kind of, I have a sense of an increased aloneness for you a l l the way along. I mean does that f i t ? 284 C: Yeah. M: I mean you've got friends and a l l that but you're s t i l l within a very private world. C: Yeah. I had l o t s of friends but at the same time I was isol a t e d . M: Yeah. Was, were there feelings of wanting to break out of that. C: Oh yeah. A l l the time. M: A l l the time. But you didn't know ho.w? C: I didn't know how. I didn't know how people would react, I didn't know how they would take i t . M: So, the breaking out has to do with the abuse, t a l k i n g about a l l of that. C: Yeah. M: So that's r e a l l y a core for you, a l l the way along? C: Yeah. M: And you can't break out without ta l k i n g about that, i s that, i s that what i t ' s lik e ? C: Yeah. I used to think that I couldn't get into a rela t i o n s h i p unless somebody knew. M: Okay. C: Because then I'd be bringing up my messed up feelings into a rel a t i o n s h i p . M: M-hmm. C: And I'd freak out at them and they wouldn't know why. M: M-hmm. C: Whereas I figured i f they knew, then i f I freaked out at them then they'd know why. M: Okay. C: Or i f they said something that I didn't l i k e or... 285 M: So i s i t f a i r to c a l l that l i k e a rea l sense of deep self-doubt? C: Yeah. M: Does that f i t or not? C: Uhm....doubt about the world, about...I don't know. I questioned l i f e i n general, I questioned my place i n l i f e . If I was r e a l l y there because sometimes I f e l t l i k e I was walking around but nobody was seeing me. M: Felt i n v i s i b l e . C: Yeah. M: Doubt about the world. T e l l me about that, doubt about the world. C: How people can hurt children, how somebody can l e t that happen. M: Who l e t that happen? C: My parents for not knowing, I guess., I was angry for a long time because I was hurting and they never knew. M: They didn't protect you. C: Yeah. M: They l e t you down. C: Yeah. And when my parents would have a fi g h t I'd go and comfort them and help them along because my mom would sometimes be r e a l l y upset and I'd go and I'd comfort her. M: M-hmm. C: But then again there was nobody there comforting me. M: Yeah. Yeah. C: And so for a while I was r e a l l y r e a l l y angry. M: When were you, when were, when were you that, when i s that angriest period? C: Thirteen. 286 M: Thirteen. It r e a l l y kicked i n at thirteen. C: Yeah, my mom wanted, as I c a l l e d i t at the time, play family. And I was r e a l l y snotty about i t because the sense that I got was that she was too busy with work and we never r e a l l y did anything and then at thirteen, she got more time and, and she wanted to do things as a family. And at that time I was, I'd spent so much time on my own, I didn't want to be t h i s family unit. M: It was too l a t e . C: Yeah. And my brother f e l t that too. Because we talked about that. M: Duncan. C: Yeah. M: Okay. C: Only I grew out of i t and he didn't. M: Can you take me through your family l i f e a l i t t l e b i t , just i n terms of those kinds of things for you? That kind of be aloneness, the way that one day ????? C: Uhm, Duncan and I, we used to be r e a l l y close. When we had problems we'd run away together. I remember one time we were running away and we ran up and we hid i n t h i s big green mailbox. A, a newspaper box, and we went and we both knelt down i n i t and we hid and we saw my parents drive up and my dad get out of the car and start walking and we were snickering behind t h i s thing and i t was neat because i t was something we were doing together. M: M-hmm. C: And a f t e r that, well, I don't know, as time goes on we got farther and farther apart. M: You and Duncan. C: Well Duncan and the whole family. M: Okay. C: Now we've always been close and we're closer than anybody else, well he's closer to me than anybody else i n the family. Which i s good but we s t i l l don't t a l k that often because he's got st u f f that he's not ready to deal with. 287 And I don't want, I know that and I don't want to force him to deal with i t . M: Yeah. C: But at the same time I want to give him a l i t t l e b i t of a nudge. M: Yeah, yeah. Does he have your courage or gutsiness. C: Uhm, I don't think so, I uh, he, I think he l e t s things get to him a l i t t l e b i t more than I do. M: He doesn't know how to protect himself. C: No. He held i t i n too much, i n a d i f f e r e n t way then I did. He withdrew and that also comes from his schooling and how his friends teased him and he l e t that get to him a l i t t l e b i t more than I did. M: Were you teased at school much? C: Yeah. I was teased about my name, about my clothes because I used to wear these ugly brown courduroys that were handed down from my brothers. So I got bugged about that. M: When, what year was t h i s at? C: Grade 1 and 2. M: 1 and 2, okay. C: Yeah. They were the u g l i e s t pants I've ever seen. They worked, I mean. M: But high-school. You didn't get bugged i n high-school, you didn't get teased i n high-school? C: Not too much, no. M: It doesn't s t i c k out as a memorable sort of thing? C: No. There was a couple of guys who bugged me. M: What were they bugging you about? C: Uhm. Nothing i n p a r t i c u l a r . They just bugged. M: Was i t mean or just goofing around? C: Goofing around. 288 M: Okay. C: No, nobody was r e a l l y mean. They said I was a snob because I was r e a l l y quiet and they didn't understand that. M: You didn't understand that? C: No, they didn't understand that I was just quiet and I wasn't a snob. M: Oh cause you were probably the l a s t thing - (tape change) You'd be w i l l i n g to tal k to anybody i f they came up and talked to you. C: Yeah. M: But you didn't know how to i n i t i a t e ? C: No. No, I was very within myself. I didn't, I didn't f e e l comfortable going up and st a r t i n g a conversation. I didn't, I didn't understand small talk. M: M-hmm. C: Because i t ' s not something our family ever engaged i n . M: M-hmm. C: And so I didn't know what to go up and say, I couldn't go up and say "Hey, how's i t going?" cause I didn't understand that that's what you do. M: Yeah. And yet you wanted to. C: Yeah. M: Yeah. C: And Duncan i s the same way. He doesn't know how to, to go up and ta l k to people. He, h e ' l l help anybody, h e ' l l t a l k to anybody but they have to start i t . M: Okay. C: I mean Duncan's the most generous person i n the world. I've gone out, uhm, I went to Playland with him, I went to a car show and I was going to pay my own way but he decided he's treating, he's taking me. M: M-hmm. 289 C: And I never knew that about him u n t i l we got older and we got I guess closer i n that respect, and we started t a l k i n g about the past a l i t t l e b i t . M: M-hmm. C: But we never r e a l l y got into anything. M: Yeah. Does he know about your past. C: No, no. M: By your choice obviously? C: No, no. I figure, well I would hope that i t would help him to open up i f he saw that I could open up. M: But you haven't t o l d him about yourself? C: No, uhm....I keep wanting to, but I guess I don't have the guts or I don't have the courage because i t always seems l i k e i t ' s not the right time, i t ' s somebody's birthday, i t ' s Christmas coming up and you don't r e a l l y want to rock the boat and... M: Yeh, yeh. Are there things on the l i s t that we've l e f t off or that you haven't mentioned. C: Uhm. I don't think so. The l a s t thing I have written out there i s moved out. M: When did you move out? C: The f i r s t time I moved out was i n 91. M: How old were.. C: No i n 92. M: How old were you? C: Nineteen. M: Okay. How was that? C: Awful. M: Because? 290 C: Uhm, my room-mate. I've known her since I was four years old, we've been r e a l l y good friends. I move out with her, a couple of months l a t e r , she becomes a p r o s t i t u t e . M: Oh, wow. C: A l i t t l e side street that I never even knew about. M: Yeh. C: Dreamed about. M: Wow. C: So, and there were some problems. M: I ' l l bet. C: Yeah. She had her boyfriend move i n . He was her pimp, which was r e a l cute. M: Yeah. C: And uh, just before I moved out, well that's what I just, when I just decided to move out, I was raped and her and her boyfriend were i n the next room, and they l e t i t happen. So that kind of k i l l e d that friendship. M: That's h o r r i f i c . C: And uhm, i t ' s unbelievable. M: Yeah, I'm stunned. C: Yeah. You wouldn't think that somebody you've grown up with your whole l i f e , somebody who has been there and protected you and I've protected her...we're l i k e s i s t e r s . Or we were. And something comes up l i k e t h i s . And the sad thing i s , she wouldn't stand up for me. I went to the p o l i c e and she was angry. Uhm, I went to court and I asked her i f she would come and t e s t i f y for me and she wouldn't. And then she comes oh, a year l a t e r and says "I'm sorry, w i l l you forgive me.". And I said, well she's r e a l l y changed then, I ' l l forgive her. So we go and she's taking her hairdressing and she's doing t h i s and she's doing that and then I f i n d out that she's gotten back into i t , and she s t i l l won't come to court with me and...that just did i t . I wouldn't t a l k to her, I wouldn't accept her phone c a l l s , I wouldn't c a l l her back. And so i t ' s been, almost two years since I've seen her. M: Wow. Did i t ever go to court? 291 C: It went to court, or i t went to p r e - t r i a l . And i t was going to go to court because they wanted his statement taken out because he confessed and they wanted his statement taken out and the judge wouldn't do i t and they said that they're going to plead g u i l t y . So i t didn't go through court, i t went through p r e - t r i a l and i t went to sentencing. He got a year and a half. He was up for parole, November. And declined. Because he's not a model c i t i z e n . He doesn't believe that what he did was wrong. Uhm, well he's from A f r i c a where they treat women as objects and I dont' know, I guess where he comes from i t was r i g h t . And, he doesn't get i t . M: God almighty! C: So that was my f i r s t move out. Then my next moving out, I moved out with another f r i e n d who had changed without me knowing. He, I l i v e d with him for three months. A l i t t l e while a f t e r we moved i n he started dealing drugs. I didn't know about i t for awhile. And he had friends coming over and he had t h i s and that and the other and....One of his friends stole money and I said "Forget i t . I'm not dealing with the b u l l s h i t anymore." And I had my parents take my T.V. because i t was the only valuable thing that I had and well, along with a few other things that I didn't want taken. And my friends came and moved me out shortly a f t e r . M: So, there's a re a l sort of series of being l e t down by people i n your l i f e . The abuse stu f f , the grade 4 teacher, C: Yeah. M: By your parents, i n t h e i r own unintentional way, your brother Duncan, l o t s of people have l e t you down. C: Yeah. M: So that the world as you put i t , the world out there i s hard to t r u s t . C: I don't think so. Because everybody i s d i f f e r e n t . Everybody was raised d i f f e r e n t l y . Not everybody i s bad. M: So you s t i l l manage to, to have hope. C: Well without hope, what i s there. M: Yeah, yeah. That's great. I, i t ' s just that there's so, you know there's so many di f f e r e n t incidents of, 292 C: Well I've, I've been through h e l l and back and i f I don't have hope then, I wouldn't have made i t through. M: Yeah. C: And now I have Tod and I'm very lucky and he's wonderful. M: And you have your courage and your experiences. C: Yeah, and I can write a book. (Laughter) M: Yeah, you can. Wow. C: But I figure my experiences, no matter how bad, or how good, they a l l help me become the person that I am. They a l l taught me something. And obviously i t was a lesson I needed to learn i f I had to keep being bashed. Keep being bashed and keep going back i s something you r e a l l y have to learn. (Laughter) M: (Laughter) Is there anything else that you want to t a l k about, i n terms of school or r e l a t i o n s or anything, that you think f i t s with the whole idea of again disengaging, d r i f t i n g away? C: Uhm, when I went to Southwest i t was great, i t was wonderful. M: What was great about i t ? C: We could move at our own pace. The teachers r e a l l y cared. They listened, they came up and they talked and they wanted to hear what you had to say. They, they were wonderful. They l e t me be. They l e t me do my work and they didn't hound me. They l e t me go at my own pace. They were r e a l l y wonderful, r e a l l y supportive. M: And that was a l o t d i f f e r e n t than your teachers i n high- school? Were you d i f f e r e n t or? C: No, the school was d i f f e r e n t . I didn't l i k e the structure system i n high-school. M: Okay. C: I didn't l i k e that you had to raise your hand to go to the washroom or answer a question. Uhm, i n Southwest we didn't have to do that. M: So what was, was there a f e e l i n g of being co n t r o l l e d i n high-school? 293 C: Yeah. Yeah. It's l i k e we couldn't talk, we couldn't chew gum, we couldn't move from our desks unless we asked. M: And that just was very much against that independence that you... C: I didn't l i k e i t , I didn't l i k e , I didn't l i k e the whole system of school. I didn't l i k e the way that i t was run. I didn't l i k e the people who ran i t . M: But does that f i t , that i t , that i t kind of went against the grain. I mean you were a very independent person by force i n some ways. C: Yeah. M: And so, here's these people running around t e l l i n g you, you have to do t h i s , you have to do that, and that bothers you. C: It doesn't, i t doesn't work. M: It doesn't work with A. So, so i f I was your teacher i n grade 11, I could have been successful with you i f I took a low key, "How do you want to go about doing t h i s , okay A, I mean we've got English 11 here, you know i n order to get through you need to do X amount of things, how do you want to go about doing t h i s ? " If I took that approach could that have worked with you? C: Yeah. M: And that would have... C: Or say you have to have 4 essays by the end of the year. M: Okay. C: And have a deadline for each one, that's okay. I ' l l go do i t . M: You would have done that. C: Just leave me alone and... M: Okay. C: I ' l l read my books, I ' l l do my work. M: But don't bug me. 294 C: Yeah. M: You r e a l l y resented that. C: Yeah. I was very relaxed. Very quiet and very relaxed but you just didn't push i t . M: And very alone at the same time. C: Yeah. M: Yeah, yeah. Was i t a f r a g i l e existence or not? You don't s t r i k e me as f r a g i l e at a l l but I'm wondering i f there's any of that i n there for you. C: Well, being breakable? There are times, there was times when I f e l t that I was teetering on the edge. I was walking a tightrope and on either side was the big c l i f f . M: When was that? C: About the same time that I was depressed, at about th i r t e e n . M: Okay. So grade 8, thirteen, t h i s i s one of the hardest times i n your l i f e ? C: Yeah, th i r t e e n to probably f i f t e e n . M: Yeah. And i s that when the whole sort of thing of the abuse thing was r e a l l y h i t t i n g hard i n your mind? C: Yeah. M: And, and the desire to be contacted by your parents which they didn't see. C: It's just everything. Home l i f e , I wasn't happy at home. M: What, what was making you unhappy at home? I mean beyond what you've said? C: Uhm, I'm not sure why I was unhappy. I guess I figured that everybody else had i t better than I did. M: You were resentful. C: Yeah. Yeah, I'd go to my friends places and they'd be eating dinner together and set the table and have the whole family scenario and ta l k and everything and when I'd get 295 home, everybody cooks for themselves, everybody eats at di f f e r e n t times. M: So you r e a l l y didn't have a sense of a family unit. C: No. M: And you wanted that. Or did you? C: I d i d but I didn't. M: You wanted the connection but not the interference. C: Yeah. Well my parents had a curfew for awhile for me but af t e r that, no, because I'd go off on my own anyways. M: When was the l a s t time your parents had control over you? Did they ever? C: Complete control? M: No, when you f e l t i t was going to be t h e i r way not your way. C: Seven. M: When you were seven. C: Yeah. M: Was that frightening? Or was that anger provoking? C: I don't know i f I was r e a l l y angry about i t . I just decided that I was doing things my own way. If I l e t them know or i f I didn't l e t them know, then i n my mind i t would s t i l l be my way. And i f I gave into something i t would be i n my terms. M: And was there during a l l of that a desire for someone to break through and just grab A. C: Yeah. M: And embrace her with warmth and kindness? C: Yeah. M: D i s p e l l the aloneness? C: Yeah but at the same time I was always scared of that too. 296 M: Because? C: If you l e t someone get too close and they can hurt you. If you keep people at a distance then you may be surprised, shocked, but you won't be hurt. M: Does that go back to the abuse? C: I don't, I don't think so, I don't think so. I mean, you just . M: Where did you learn that? C: Well, i f people l e t you down enough, you learn to depend on yourself. M: So, i t goes back to that. This sense of not, you were l e t down a l l the time by people. C: Yeah. M: But you knew t h i s by the time you were seven or did you? When di d you have that sense of "I can't l e t people too close to me." C: It was r e a l l y early. It was r e a l l y early. M: So where did you learn that? You said i f you're l e t down enough. So by seven you were already l e t down that much? C: Well, by my brother. Being beat up, by him t e l l i n g me the things that he t o l d me and hurting me that way. It was, I don't know. And then, and then the friends that I had, they were. Some of them were s u p e r f i c i a l and they'd go from one f r i e n d to another fr i e n d to another fr i e n d . M: Now how old are you when t h i s i s happening. C: It started off i n grade one. It's l i k e the class has always been l i k e that. M: Okay. C: And so for awhile there would be a few people who would be your f r i e n d but the rest wouldn't. M: M-hmm. C: And then I'd move to another person and another person. 297 M: M-hmm. C: And, people were just f i c k l e . Bouncing back and f o r t h . M: You weren't f i c k l e . C: No. M: But i t was, i t was, with your brother, i t was that that r e a l l y kind of C: Yeah. M: That r e a l l y cut deep. C: Yeah, well he was my best friend. M: Yeah. And he l e t you down. C: Yeah. M: You look sad. You thinking about him. C: Yeah. I miss the way that we used to be. And i t ' s hard sometimes. But hopefully i t , i t ' l l get back. Enough patience, and i t ' l l work. M: M-hmm. C: H e ' l l grow up too. He needs a l i t t l e b i t of time. M: I kind of have a sense that we've come to an end. How do you feel? Or are there things that you haven't talked about that you want to bring up? C: No, not r e a l l y . M: Okay. M: When did you drop out from l i f e , or how did you, when did you become aware that you had dropped out of l i f e ? C: Probably sixteen. I just, I didn't want to f e e l anymore I didn't want to care anymore. So, other than the few r e a l l y close friends that I had, I didn't want to t a l k with anybody r e a l l y . I didn't want to become involved. 298 M: You were just shutting down everywhere. C: Yeah. Well that was l i k e at the beginning of school, I never joined any programs. M: M-hmm. C: Even though there were ones that I would have been interested i n . I didn't r e a l l y want to get involved. M: Because? C: Uhm, I honestly didn't think I'd be around long enough. M: You thought you were going to k i l l yourself. C: Yeah. M: Okay. C: And I knew that I wouldn't but there was always that thought. M: What's the point, I'm not going to be here anyway. C: Yeah. M: Wow. C: Well I didn't f e e l I'd k i l l myself at that time. I always thought I'd die at 23. M: Because? Where did that come from? C: The age 23? M: Well, yeah. C: I don't know. I guess I had a l o t of time to think about i t . And I never thought that I'd get into a r e l a t i o n s h i p . I never thought that I'd have children. And when I was young I thought 23 was old. You had fi n i s h e d school, you had begun work and everything would become r e p e t i t i o n a f t e r that. M: I never thought I'd get into a rel a t i o n s h i p because I can't t e l l anybody who I r e a l l y am? C: Well actually, I kind of thought that I was too ugly. M: Okay. 299 C: And I never thought that anyone would want to be with me. M: Uh-huh. C: Or i f they did then they'd be crazy so why would I get involved with them anyway. M: Right, r i g h t . So i f I'm not worthy of a r e l a t i o n s h i p , l i f e i s n ' t worth anything anyway or...? C: Yeah. I didn't want to l i v e alone. I don't want to die alone. I don't want to be alone. M: Cause I've been alone for so long, I hate t h i s . C: Yeah. M: Yeh, yeh. So engaging with l i f e was a re a l challenge for you. C: Yeah. Well l i k e I said before, I walked around i n v i s i b l e . That's how I f e l t . I r e a l l y thought that people didn't see me. They saw through me. So... M: So school was never, school i s kind of a passing diversion. C: Yeah. Yeah, my parents always said, "Well, why don't you t r y harder. You should get t h i s done." And I always thought "why bother". M: What's the point. C: Yeah. So...I mean I had some fun. There were some good classes. But other that that there was, I saw no re a l point to i t . M: But now with Tod i n your l i f e i f you could go back you'd be a very d i f f e r e n t student i f you... C: Yeah. M: had t h i s understanding. C: But then again i f I went back and changed, i f I changed anything, then I would have never been where I was i n order to meet Tod. So I think I'd rather, then go through i t a l l again just the way i t was and be where I am now and who I am now. 300 M: Cause you l i k e who you are. C: Yeah, yeah, f i n a l l y . M: Yeh, yeh. C: So...it was a l l worth i t . M: Yeh, yeh.

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