Can Special Education Teachers Create Parent Partnership with Mexican American Families? ¡Si Se Pueda!

By Salas, Loretta; Lopez, Eric J. et al. | Multicultural Education, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview
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Can Special Education Teachers Create Parent Partnership with Mexican American Families? ¡Si Se Pueda!


Salas, Loretta, Lopez, Eric J., Chinn, Kathleen, Menchaca-Lopez, Eva, Multicultural Education


Introduction

Creating partnership between special educators and parents who are Mexican American often poses unique challenges for all involved. Historically, the fact that these parents may not share mainstream values, traditions, and customs has often been perceived by special education teachers as part of the problem and not as valuable new sources of information. This view has also been associated to other families who come from low socio-economic backgrounds, limited English proficiency, and/or racial and ethnic minorities, often leading to an eradication of the parent-special education teacher partnership.

Mexican American parents have been underrepresented in school-related decision-making and other traditional schooling activities (Lian & Fontanez, 2001; Pena, 1999). We believe that in order for effective partnerships to take place with these parents special education teachers must go beyond creating comfortable and welcoming environments.

Although creating these environments are necessary and a good starting point, the call for true partnerships requires that special education teachers come to know the cultural aspect surrounding how these parents perceive schooling. In addition, expanded parental involvement as suggested by the law requires that special educators learn: how parents from diverse background affect student learning; how to include all parents from diverse backgrounds; and how to minimize barriers between schools and these communities.

This article explores good practices in creating parent partnerships between special education teachers and Mexican American families.

Mexican American: Population

Mexican Americans are a unique group-a group that Mendoza (1994) writes is at a crossroad in regards to ethnic identity. We are not all Latinos nor Hispanics. In fact, many Mexican Americans have generational ties to the United States that go back hundreds of years while some of us have only been in this country for short periods of time (Oboler, 1995: Valdés, 1996).

For many of us, our loyalties and cultural references are intertwined with that of the United States. Some of us do not speak Spanish and have never been to Mexico, while some of us do speak Spanish and travel to Mexico on a regular basis. We possess a culture that is distinct in that we are both American and Mexican.

Mexican Americans are the youngest, largest, and fastest growing sub-group within the United States Hispanic population (Winzer & Mazurek, 1998). Currently, 59% of all Hispanics are of Mexican American origin. It is estimated that by the year 2080 the Mexican American population will account for approximately 13 percent of the total U.S. population. The Mexican American population is also a very young group with the average age being around 24 years of age (U.S. Bureau of Census, 2000).

Through the early 1900s, Mexican Americans were mainly a rural and agricultural people, but today over 90 percent of this population is estimated to live in metropolitan areas throughout the United States, which makes Mexican Americans and their young children more urbanized than the U.S. population as a whole (National Council of La Raza, 1998; U.S. Bureau of Census, 2000; Valdivieso, 1990).

The Mexican American population in the U.S. is also a group beset with many challenges stemming from high unemployment rates, poverty, poor housing conditions, and other health related problems. These problems, as unfortunate as they may be, eventually manifest themselves in low academic achievement, high drop rates, and low college enrollments (U.S. Department of Education, 2003; Nieto, 2000; Winzer & Mazurek, 1998) which have tremendous consequences for the social well-being of this country.

Parent Involvement: What Is It?

Defining parental involvement is something that school districts have continually been trying to deduce for years. For many school districts parental involvement simply entails connecting parents to the school by creating familiarity with teachers and facilities (Pena, 1999).

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