School dropout may represent the ultimate in low student academic motivation. A key motivation index is choice of activities, and dropout represents choosing not to attend school. In the United States, about 11% of students drop out of high school; the figure is much higher among minority students in urban areas (Hymel, Comfort, Schonert-Reichl, & McDougall, 1996).
Most research on school dropout has concentrated on nonsocial factors (e.g., academic, familial, school), but peers also play a role. As postulated by Ryan and Powelson (1991), feelings of relatedness contribute to motivation and learning. Students’ relations with peers are part of this influence.
Hymel et al. (1996) suggested that students’ involvement and participation in school depend partly on how much the school environment contributes to their perceptions of autonomy and relatedness, which in turn influence perceptions of competence (self-efficacy) and academic achievement. Although parents and teachers contribute to feelings of autonomy and relatedness, peers become highly significant during adolescence. The peer group creates a context that enhances or diminishes students’ feelings of relatedness (i.e., belonging, affiliation).
Hymel et al. (1996) identified four critical aspects of peer influence.
- One is prior social acceptance within a peer group. Students rejected by peers are at a greater risk for adjustment problems than those who are socially accepted (Parker & Asher, 1987). Research also shows that students who are not socially accepted by peers are more likely to drop out of school later than are those with greater social acceptance (Hymel et al., 1996).
- A second factor is social isolation versus involvement. It is true that not all socially rejected youth drop out of school. What may be more important is students’ perception of rejection or isolation within the peer group. Students who are socially rejected but do not perceive themselves that way are at lower risk for dropping out.
- A third factor is the negative influence of peers. Recall the earlier point that the peer crowd can affect students’ motivation (Newman, 2000). Students who quit school are more likely than others to be part of a crowd that is at risk for dropping out (Cairns et al., 1989). Apparently the crowd collectively disengages from school. Even when students are not socially isolated, they are affected by negative peer influence.
- Finally, aggression and antisocial behavior contribute to dropping out. Compared with students who graduate, those who drop out are rated by teachers and peers as displaying more aggressive behavior (Hymel et al., 1996). The latter students also have a higher incidence of alcohol and drug use and are more likely to have a criminal record.
We discuss familial influences on motivation in the next section, but it appears that a combination of familial, academic, school, and social factors contribute to school dropout. The peer group becomes especially influential during adolescence (Steinberg et al., 1996), which is the time when dropout occurs. Various influences likely contribute to dropouts’ lack of school involvement and feelings of relatedness with the dominant school culture.
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