Expanding the concept of parental involvement

Rather than restricting parental involvement to school activities, Geraldo Lopez, University of Missouri/Columbia, encourages educators to expand the concept by being sensitive to other ways parents may be involved in their children’s educational development.

Lopez describes a migrant family he knows, the Padillas, who viewed their involvement as significant, although it was outside what most schools would see as parental involvement in schooling.

The Padillas understood their role as instilling in their five children the value of education. Lopez reports that by allowing their children to work in the fields, the

Padillas taught them important real-life lessons that demonstrated the importance of hard work and the benefits of education. While the Padillas were rarely able to attend school functions and could not help with homework, they taught their children that without an education, underpaid field work would be their future.

In many migrant or immigrant families, the traditional school-involvement roles may be outside the cultural repertoire of parents or parents simply may not be free from work to attend school functions.

Parents can play important, less traditional roles

Lopez believes that while traditional roles may not an option for these parents, schools must not judge them as unconcerned or uncaring. These parents may, in fact, be involved in important ways in encouraging their children’s academic success.

Most parents from different cultures express a deep interest in being involved in their children’s education, but this puts demands on schools to meet the complex needs of diverse families.

Research with schools that have effective parental involvement programs finds that such schools create a climate of caring, respect, egalitarianism, collaboration and a steadfast belief that all children can succeed.

The rapid demographic changes projected for U.S. schools indicate that children of color, especially children from immigrant backgrounds, will soon be the largest population in our schools.

Lopez contends that schools must recognize that marginalized parents may already be involved in the educational lives of their children in ways the schools have not understood.

Although these parents may not be involved in traditionally sanctioned ways, the unique contributions they make to their children’s learning need to be recognized if relations between schools and parents are to become more productive.

The Padillas’ children were highly successful in school — both academically and otherwise. By understanding how these parents were so successful in inspiring their children, educators can gain an alternative model of parental involvement that may be more culturally acceptable to currently marginalized parents in their schools.

The Padillas were examples of industriousness to their children. The children participated in migrant work during the summers so that they would truly understand the alternative to getting a good education.

The parents were scrupulous about ensuring that their children asked for extra work when they left a school so they would not fall behind before arriving at their next school, and they registered their children for school on the first day they arrived at a new work location. The Padillas defined involvement in their children’s education in much broader terms than most schools do. They viewed involvement as teaching their children to appreciate the value of education through the medium of hard work.

The Padillas were strategic about exposing their children to work. Although they took their children to work in the fields, they never gave them work that was too hard for them.

Recognizing that hard work was the foundation of success in any context, the Padillas were determined that their children would know how to work hard. Despite their parents’ lack of formal involvement in their schooling and the constant migration and interrupted schooling they endured, all five Padilla children graduated in the top 10 percent of their class and continued in post-secondary education.

Shaping children’s work ethic

While there was little formal interaction between the Padillas and their children’s schools, and they were unable to help with school lessons, the Padillas were highly involved in shaping their children’s work ethic and positive orientation toward school.

Parents, particularly immigrant or migrant parents, may perceive the concept of involvement in a radically different way than educators in schools. Instead of trying to get marginalized parents involved in traditional ways, schools should begin to define the unique ways they are already involved and to search for creative ways to capitalize on these.

To build effective partnerships, Lopez asserts, schools need to recognize and validate the culture of the home, including the knowledge and belief systems that have positive effects on children’s education. This may require educators to relinquish predetermined involvement strategies that cause marginalized parents to be labeled “uninvolved.”

“The Value of Hard Work: Lessons on Parent Involvement from an (Im) migrant Household” Harvard Educational Review Volume 71, Number 3, Fall 2001 Pp. 416-437.

Published in ERN, December 2001/January 2002, Volume15, Number 1.

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)