Rethinking Family-School Relations: A Critique of Parental Involvement in Schooling

Rethinking Family-School Relations: A Critique of Parental Involvement in Schooling

Rethinking Family-School Relations: A Critique of Parental Involvement in Schooling

Rethinking Family-School Relations: A Critique of Parental Involvement in Schooling


This book addresses the complications and implications of parental involvement as a policy, through an exploratory theoretical approach, including historical and sociological accounts and personal reflection. This approach represents the author's effort to understand the origins, meanings, and effects of parental involvement as a prerequisite of schooling and particularly as a policy 'solution' for low achievement and even inequity in the American educational system. Most of the policy and research discourse on school-family relations exalts the partnership ideal, taking for granted its desirability and viability, the perspective of parents on specific involvement in instruction, and the conditions of diverse families in fulfilling their appointed role in the partnership. De Carvalho takes a distinct stance. She argues that the partnership-parental ideal neglects several major factors: It proclaims parental involvement as a means to enhance (and perhaps equalize) school outcomes, but disregards how family material and cultural conditions, and feelings about schooling, differ according to social class; thus, the partnership-parental involvement ideal is more likely to be a projection of the model of upper-middle class, suburban community schooling than an open invitation for diverse families to recreate schooling. Although it appeals to the image of the traditional community school, the pressure for more family educational accountability really overlooks history as well as present social conditions. Finally, family-school relations are relations of power, but most families are powerless. De Carvalho makes the case that two linked effects of this policy are the gravest: the imposition of a particular parenting style and intrusion into family life, and the escalation of educational inequality. Rethinking Family-School Relations: A Critique of Parental Involvement in Schooling--a carefully researched and persuasively argued work--is essential reading for all school professionals, parents, and individuals concerned with public schooling and educational equality.


School doors open for parents to help. Just a little involvement can boost education.

This was the headline of an article in the Detroit Free Press, August 25, 1997 (Van Moorlehem, 1997). According to the article, boosting education is all a matter of parental sentiment and time, presented as a “simple and inexpensive act” (p. 1-A). And there is “a ton of research” (p. 1-A) recommending parental involvement—not just at home but at school—as the remedy schools and students need most at this moment. Impediments to parental involvement are reduced to parents' timidity, uneasiness at school, time constraints, and lack of encouragement from teenagers, which can be reversed by school personnel's openness and warmth, and the provision of a range of opportunities for parents. In addition to involvement in traditional fund-raising, help at special classes, sports, bands, academic clubs, and parties, participation is now invited in school governance, curriculum, and budgeting.

Needs and benefits of parental involvement are amply depicted, based on current research findings. Teachers need parents, therefore the partnership idea combines teachers' expertise in child development and curriculum with parents' expertise about their own children. Young children, in particular, benefit from getting a sense that the whole family is a part of school when their parents are around, but “middle and high school students, and the schools themselves, need parents as much as the elementary ones do” (Van Moorlehem, 1997, p. 1-A). The older students need parental guidance through academic choices in order to take the right courses and tests to get into college.

The role of parents in face of the growing complexity of homework is also acknowledged, with emphasis on the need to be supportive rather than doing the student's homework: “Thankfully you don't have to remember your high school algebra to be a good parent. More important than helping solve individual algebraic problems is encouraging students to stick with a subject that is tough, but that will expand their range of career and life choices” (Van Moorlehem, 1997, p. 1-A).

Parents, in turn, benefit from networking with other parents and families. And the whole family benefits: Because school is the main external influence in children's lives, parental involvement in schooling builds family cohesion, as parents develop a common language with their children. Moreover, parental involvement . . .

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