Through a Limiting Lens: Comparing Student, Parent, and Teacher Perspectives of African American Boys' Support for School

Article excerpt

Abstract

Three qualitative case studies of elementary school African American boys demonstrate differing perspectives of the school-related support that students experience. Three boys, their teachers, and their parents/guardians identified various individuals as supportive in the boys' schooling. These individuals included co-residential family members, other family, and unrelated significant adults. Interviewees reported various forms of support, including encouraging talk, instrumental help, and non-school activities that serve to develop positive personal qualities. However, the cases suggest that individuals can frequently differ in their recognition of school-related support, dependent upon the lenses through which they view it. In particular, limited notions of "family" and involvement can constrain the support that school staffidentifies. These findings have significant implications for schools' promotion of school-related support and for home-school relations.

Key Words: African American boys, Black male students, elementary schools, parents, teachers, perspectives, supports, relatives, family, case study, education, involvement, engagement, home-school relationships, youth development

Introduction

"All perceiving is also thinking, all reasoning is also intuition, all observation is also invention." -Rudolf Arnheim

Research in recent years has demonstrated that the involvement of parents and family in the educational process holds some promise in closing persistent achievement gaps (Epstein & Dauber, 1991; Jeynes, 2003, 2007; Muller, 1995). However, there is still much to learn about the nature and diversity of school-related support that students experience from their families. Studies have generally defined and operationalized "involvement" from the perspective of the schools and have focused involvement efforts on meeting the needs of school staff(e.g., insuring homework completion; Graue & Oen, 2009). To date, research still explains little about how families, and low-income and racial-ethnic minority families in particular, view the support they provide for their children's education and how this compares to institutionalized notions of parent involvement. Even less attention has been paid to how children perceive and experience school-related support that is provided outside of the school.

Without a broader understanding of the school-related support that children experience and that families provide, schools may be limited in their ability to encourage and enhance positive involvement. In this paper, I compare student, teacher, and parent perspectives of the school-related support three African American boys experience. Through these case studies I seek to provide insight into the variety of forms and sources of support that students experience and into how such support can be differently perceived by students, parents/guardians, and school staff. I draw implications from the data on the importance of the schools' perceptions to their capacity to promote positive involvement and to general family-school relations.

Parent Involvement

Widespread attention to research in parent involvement in schooling began over three decades ago, and studies have examined involvement in settings from early childhood (e.g., Bronfenbrenner, 1974; Castro, Bryan, Peisner-Feinberg, & Skinner, 2004) to higher education (e.g., Perna & Titus, 2005). Researchers have examined differences in parent involvement and its influence by socioeconomic status (Clark, 1983; Lareau, 1989) and race and ethnicity (e.g., Cooper, 2003; Jeynes, 2003, 2007; Lopez & Rodriguez, 1995) and have described various ways in which parents' involvement takes shape, both in home and school settings (e.g., Shumow & Miller, 2001). In a model frequently referenced in current research as well as in school policies and programs, Epstein (1995; Epstein et al., 2008) identified six forms of school-related involvement: parenting, communicating, volunteering, learning at home, decision-making, and collaborating with the community. …