What Does Parental Involvement Mean???

Yesterday, I posted an annoyance over the political educational shunning of parents in the dialog to improve schools. Over and over I used the term “parental involvement.” The intent of that post was that parents–the very people who know their children and the children’s needs better than anyone else–are excluded from major educational discussion and decisions.

The response below was posted earlier today, and I realized that I was using “parental involvement” as professional jargon, without adequately explaining what the term means. This particular individual began to touch on areas that academics consider part of the idea of “parental involvement.” I’ll continue after you read what this individual has to say.

Needing parental involvement just means that teachers are not doing their job well enough. Being raised in China and America gives me an unique perspective into the education culture of both countries. In my opinion, American teachers rely too much on parents to encourage students, teach moral values, and completing homeworks. As an elder sister to a very young teen, I must protest for parents that teachers are shifting the burden of education onto busy parents. Students spend the bulk of their waking hours in school, how in the world can parents fit another 8 hours of “together” time after work and meals? It is a simple fact that while parents are important influences in a student’s life, teachers are a much more powerful force in education if they choose to do their job to the full extend. Parents are not professional educators, that’s why they need teachers. It is not fair to ask them to pick up the slack when teachers can do so much more.
(Posted SEPTEMBER 28, 2010 1:29 PM)

Although not a parent, this sibling definitely meets the criteria exemplifying “parental involvement.” Aside from family expectations, this individual represents cultural expectations as well. Although not Asian, I came from a culture in which I was expected to contribute to my sister’s upbringing, even though I was trying so hard to be more “American,” as defined when I was growing up. I had a foot in two cultures. However, when I was attending school, there were no services provided to help students 1) whose first language was not English, and 2) came from a social unit that differed from the typical American/Western European model of–well, of Americanism. Parental involvement back then meant that the parent was expected to attend PTA meetings and parent/teacher conferences, to appropriately punish their children for misbehavior during the school day, and to make sure the child was doing their homework.

So what is it that academics teach to pre-service teachers about the meaning of the phrase “parental involvement?” In American culture, the traditional parenting parties are the child’s mother and father (or guardians). It is a dyad that works together to help the child grow up into a contributing citizen. Many Asian cultures the responsibility for raising a child to the extended family–grandparents, aunts and uncles, older siblings and cousins, and other blood relatives. Families often have cultural traditions which require the family patriarch or matriarch to make all important decisions for the family and to participate in important events, including those related to school.

Just as “family” means different things to different people, depending on their own circumstances, so too the phrase “parental involvement” depends on a child’s “family” composition. Unfortunately, for many inner city teens, “family” can easily become the local turf gang. For the purposes of discussion about education, I will exclude the gang from the definition of “parental involvement.”

Another point of interest to me in this reply is the following sentence:

“In my opinion, American teachers rely too much on parents to encourage students, teach moral values, and completing homeworks.”

I would like to address this statement in another post. As a parent and grandparent, former teacher and current mentor of educators, this statement rankles on many levels.

For now, keep the discussion going on issues of parental and teacher involvement in educational decisions. Please also feel free to add your own interpretations of “parental involvement” and “teacher involvement.” Thanks for reading! Come back soon for more.

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