Gaby Chavez: Parental Involvement and Privilege: Evening the Playing Field with Cultural Psychology?

 

Ansenia Valenz: I liked the class cuz they helped a lot because like they made me realize that I really need… I need to go to college and if I really want to change and help people… but what can they do? The media, the, what’s that word? I can’t say it.

Cami Nieto: Hegemony?

Ansenia Valenz: Yeah, that word. It prevents people from believing that things can change. People are scared to speak because they think if they make noise or shine the light someone will get them. But after awhile my family, even my mom started to be different. Anyways, my family and me now [we] see things different, and yeah I’m going to be somebody, but somebody who helps. (Romero 2008a, 246) (Arce, Cammarota, Romero 227)

In Augustine Romero, Sean Arcea and Julio Cammarota’s “A Barrio pedagogy: identity, intellectualism, activism, and academic achievement through the evolution of critically compassionate intellectualism,” students discuss how their ethnic studies classes inspired them to achieve great things. However, upon further inspection, it is not only the students who were inspired by these classes. Ansenia Valenz states that her whole family was also inspired by her education. It is important to note that the students in these classes were mainly Latino students from lower income backgrounds. Many of their parents are not literate and some do not speak English at all. However, here a family was excited and involved in their daughter’s education, regardless of what assumptions might be made about their involvement in their child’s education.

Unfortunately many low-income, non-literate and non-English speaking parents feel like they are unable to contribute and get involved with their school. This cannot just be blamed on teachers or school officials because it is very difficult to know how to deal with these issues that are not always apparent. However, it is the school’s responsibility to involve parents. In Jeri LaBahn’s piece, “Education and Parental Involvement in Secondary Schools: Problems, Solutions, and Effects,” the author quotes A. Dixon who states, “Parental involvement, in almost any form, produces measurable gains in student achievement.” And indeed it would seem that parental involvement could improve how education is viewed at home and therefore how much effort is put in by both parent and student. However, the argument that parents who cannot be involved with their child’s education are bad parents over generalizes the issue and makes assumptions about parents. LaBahn states that there are parents who do not have the time or resources (many times financial) to be more involved in their children’s education. Therefore, it could be that they are not able to come to conferences or back to school nights because of early/late work hours. They cannot accept a child’s disability because they feel they have done something wrong. Or they might struggle to accept certain American educational practices. Additionally, sometimes “another reason for lack of involvement is embarrassment. The parents may be illiterate or unable to speak English. This could make communication difficult if not impossible. Another source of embarrassment is memories of the parent’s failure in school. The parent would not have much desire to return to a place that only served to remind him of his own failures” (LaBahn). Therefore, I believe that schools must use culturally relevant approaches to not only for the children’s education, but also for involving parents in the education process. Understanding the culture and societal factors of a families’ community is essential for creating a community between parents, teachers, administrators and students within the school. Therefore, my main suggestion that I will make to help improve parent involvement is a school’s hiring of a psychologist (or psychologists) trained in cultural psychology (and training for teachers and administrators) to help understand where the families are coming from and why they maintain certain beliefs and practices. This will help the school with developing other policies that are also important to help even the playing field of parent involvement, such as rethinking of the traditional timings and formatting of events (conferences, Back to School nights), having translators available for parents or discussions where teachers and administrators talk with parents to figure out how they view certain situations.

In his paper, “Toward a Cultural Psychology of African Americans,” James M. Jones offers a couple definitions to help the reader understand cultural psychology, stating that,

“Shweder & Sullivan (1992) define cultural psychology as the “…comparative study of the way culture and psyche make each other up.” (pp. 497,498). Since culture and psyche are interchangeable, changes in one imply changes in the other. Culture evolves over time as it influences the outcomes of adaptation-coping sequences and is transformed by them. Fiske, Kitayama, Markus and Nisbett (1998) offer three specific objectives of cultural psychology: 1) to characterize varied cultural meanings and practices and the psychological structures and processes to which they are linked; 2) to discover the systematic principles underlying the diversity of culturally patterned socialities and psyches; 3) To describe the processes by which psyches and cultures construct each other” (Jones).

Then Jones offers his own definition that he inferred from these other options, that cultural psychology is the “symbolic representations that condition and follow from behavior, giving rise to characteristic ways of perceiving, understanding, anticipating, valuing and behaving for members of a socially defined group.” These definitions are the ones that were kept in mind when coming up with this reform idea.

It is important for this form of psychology to be present in schools. Some schools (elementary, secondary and high school) have psychologists present to support the students. However, it would help to expand their role and have them help the whole family. They would not only help the family with issues they face but also this could help the school administration and teachers understand aspects of the cultures and societies that their families are coming from. This brings me to why it is important for the psychologist to (at least) have cultural psychology training. In order for this person to be able to support both the families and the school in understanding each other and to facilitate conversations between the two parties, it is extremely important to have someone who understands the cultural and societal implications that something has for families. If someone does not understand the thought processes of the families, trying to communicate important concerns across cultural lines can be very difficult.

For example, in the school in which I worked, a child was suspected of having a mental or learning disabilities that was causing difficulties for her/him in class. When tests were performed, the school psychologist and the school nurse concluded that the child indeed has a disability. However, when parents were told, they did not want to acknowledge the issue or pursue it further. The nurse, psychologist and teacher were of course very upset because they wanted to help the child. However, without a cultural context, they could not understand why the parents were reacting in this way. This was the child of a family that had emigrated from Mexico. In some Latino cultures, mental illness is said to come from something that a mother did wrong herself while her child was still in her womb, either not taking care of herself or receiving the curse of the evil eye. Therefore, the fact that the child had this illness caused the family, in particular the mother, to feel ashamed. They felt they had done something to harm their child. Without these types of culture context for the emotional states of the family, it makes it very difficult to get the child the help she/he needs. Having a cultural psychologist would encourage a fruitful conversation that would allow both parties understand each other’s points of views and also how to best help the child.

In order to have more parental involvement in schools that normally have a problem getting parents to even attend one event, it is firstly important to understand the parents. This is why I believe the presence of a cultural psychologist who understands the cultures that are being dealt with could be a very important asset to the school. There are other suggestions that I definitely have in mind to help improve parental involvement and attention to school issues. For example, there could be an adjustment the school’s schedule to the working class parent’s schedule. Current schedules for events such as parent-teacher conferences, school performances, and Back-to-School Nights/Open Houses have been set according to times when the traditional nine to five day starts and ends. However, some parents work hours that require them to be busy early in the morning or at night. Perhaps a survey could either be sent home or phone calls could be made to parents so that times that work for them could be scheduled. Or it could also be possible to pay teachers to hold these events on weekends to make it them more accessible to families. Another idea would be to have discussions between parents, teachers and administrators to figure out how to deal with certain educational issues or questions. LaBahn states that communication is extremely important but that “two-way informal exchanges between teacher/parent are much more effective than one-way communication from the teacher.” I think these discussions (perhaps facilitated by the psychologist, community members and a translator (for populations that have non-English speakers)) would be very helpful in making teachers and administration approachable to parents and in turn, also help the teachers and administration understand their students’ parents. La Bahn also suggests having “Good Parenting Skills” classes or workshops. I think this could a great idea but it has a downfall that makes me wary. “Good Parenting” has a lot of cultural connotations to it and if there is an attempt to label “Western, American” type of parenting as the correct way to be a parent, it could put off parents who are not from this culture. Additionally, some parents might be offended because they could feel that they are being told that they are bad parents. This again leads to why I think the presence of a cultural psychologist who understands the culture of the community is so important. All of these suggestions could work, however, one must know if the community would react well to them or not. Of course there is always the question about parents who actually just do not want to be involved with their children’s education and do not find it important. If someone does not care, can we get them to care? In these cases, there unfortunately does not seem to be a way to address this issue other than supporting the child as best as possible at school. But the best thing we can do to increase parental involvement in education is to open the doors to parents who are interested because many, if not most, are. It should not be merely a privilege to have your parents involved in your education and therefore, we must work to find ways to welcome all parents into our schools.

Works Cited

Arce, Sean, Julio Cammarota, and Augustine Romero. “A Barrio pedagogy: identity, intellectualism, activism, and academic achievement through the evolution of critically compassionate intellectualism.” Race Ethnicity and Education. 12.2 (2009): 217-233. Print.

Jones, James. “Toward a Cultural Psychology of African Americans.” Online Readings in Psychology and Culture. W. J. Lonner, D. L. Dinnel, S. A. Hayes and D. N. Sattler eds. 2002. Web. 5 Dec. 2012 <http://www.wwu.edu/culture/jones.htm&gt;.

LaBahn, Jeri. “Education and Parental Involvement in Secondary Schools: Problems, Solutions, and Effects.” Educational Psychology Interactive. (1995): n. page. Web. 5 Dec. 2012 <http://www.edpsycinteractive.org/files/parinvol.html&gt;.

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