Language Barriers

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May 1994 | Volume 51 | Number 8 Educating for Diversity Pages 50-54 Why Some Parents Don't Come to School Margaret Finders and Cynthia Lewis Instead of assuming that absence means noncaring, educators must understand the barriers that hinder some parents from participating in their child's education. In our roles as teachers and as parents, we have been privy to the conversations of both teachers and parents. Until recently, however, we did not acknowledge that our view of parental involvement conflicts with the views of many parents. It was not until we began talking with parents in different communities that we were forced to examine our own deeply seated assumptions about parental involvement. From talking with Latino parents and parents in two low-income Anglo neighborhoods, we have gained insights about why they feel disenfranchised from school settings. In order to include such parents in the educational conversation, we need to understand the barriers to their involvement from their vantage point, as that of outsiders. When asked, these parents had many suggestions that may help educators re-envision family involvement in the schools. The Institutional Perspective The institutional perspective holds that children who do not succeed in school have parents who do not get involved in school activities or support school goals at home. Recent research emphasizes the importance of parent involvement in promoting school success (Comer 1984, Lareau 1987). At the same time, lack of participation among parents of socially and culturally diverse students is also well documented (Clark 1983, Delgado-Gaitan 1991). The model for family involvement, despite enormous changes in the reality of family structures, is that of a two-parent, economically self-sufficient nuclear family, with a working father and homemaker mother (David 1989). As educators, we talk about “the changing family,” but the language we use has changed little. The institutional view of nonparticipating parents remains based on a deficit model. “Those who need to come, don't come,” a teacher explains, revealing an assumption that one of the main reasons for involving parents is to remediate them. It is assumed that involved parents bring a body of knowledge about the purposes of schooling to match institutional knowledge. Unless they bring such knowledge to the school, they themselves are thought to need education in becoming legitimate participants. Administrators, too, frustrated by lack of parental involvement, express their concern in terms of a deficit model. An administrator expresses his bewilderment: Our parent-teacher group is the foundation of our school programs.... This group (gestures to the all Anglo, all-women group seated in the library) is the most important organization in the school. You know, I just don't understand why those other parents won't even show up. Discussions about family involvement often center on what families lack and how educators can best teach parents to support instructional agendas at home (Mansbach 1993). To revise this limited model for interaction between home and school, we must look outside of the institutional perspective. The Voices of “Those Other Parents” We asked some of “those other parents” what they think about building positive home/school relations. In what follows, parents whose voices are rarely heard at school explain how the diverse contexts of their lives create tensions that interfere with positive home/school relations. For them, school experiences, economic and time constraints, and linguistic and cultural practices have produced a body of knowledge about school settings that frequently goes unacknowledged.

Diverse school experiences among parents. Educators often don't take into account how a parent's own school experience may influence school relationships. Listen in as one father describes his son's school progress: They expect me to go to school so they can tell me my kid is stupid or crazy....
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