Academic journal article School Community Journal

From Mao to Memphis: Chinese Immigrant Fathers' Involvement with Their Children's Education

Academic journal article School Community Journal

From Mao to Memphis: Chinese Immigrant Fathers' Involvement with Their Children's Education

Article excerpt


How do adults adapt when they have been inculcated into a particular philosophy of parenting and education and are then expected to adjust to a cultural framework possibly at odds with their worldview? Mainland Chinese fathers represent one immigrant group that has had to successfully learn to navigate various challenges while interacting with their children and the American K-12 educational system. This case study explores the issue of fathers and their children through interviews with five men from Mainland China. The article first highlights the most common concerns expressed by Chinese families toward American schools and details how the fathers in this study developed specific strategies to address similar worries. The findings then focus on the concept of parental involvement in children's education through the fathers' perspective and how it might diverge from a more traditional view of involvement held by some educators. Implications for strengthening cross-cultural awareness between families and schools are discussed.

Key Words: Chinese immigrant parents, Asian, fathers, schools, cross-cultural awareness, home practices, intercultural competence, parental beliefs, involvement, school-home communication, relationships, worldview, education


Recent research studying the cross-cultural aspects of parental involvement, such as the Bridging Cultures Project (Trumbull, Rothstein-Fisch, & Greenfield, 2000; Trumbull, Rothstein-Fisch, & Hernandez, 2003), has provided guidance as to how schools can better understand the diverse communities that they serve. The case studies documented in this article were initiated because of a dilemma that occurred concerning Mainland Chinese1 immigrant parents and the schools their children attend in Memphis, Tennessee. Adults who seemed to be having few major problems adapting cross-culturally in their own academic or work lives appeared frustrated concerning their children's education in American schools (Klein, 2004).

In prescient work now almost two generations old, Gordon (1964) comments that public schools and the mass media exert "overwhelming acculturative powers" over immigrant children (pp. 244-245). How much stronger have these influences become in our digital era, and did the Chinese parents feel that they were "losing" their daughters and sons due to these acculturative pressures? Why did teachers also begin to express aggravation at the demands made by some of the Chinese parents? The cultural gap that seemed to exist between the parents and the schools was both intriguing and disheartening. The question then arose: What would it take for Chinese immigrant parents, and specifically fathers, to adapt, cross-culturally, to the new realities that they encountered when dealing with their children's education?

This study began with the premise that parents are rightfully protective of their children and feel that any dangers, including cultural variances, must be minimized. With that in mind, an inquiry ensued into how fathers learned to adjust to a new worldview concerning the parenting and education of their children.

The purpose of this article, then, is to explore the experiences of five immigrant fathers from Mainland China as they interact with their children as well as the American K-12 educational system. Through these various interactions, the fathers demonstrate concern for their children's education and display high levels of parental involvement with their children, even though this participation might not be what the educational system has traditionally viewed as parental engagement. This exploratory study also has the broader goal of opening up the discourse concerning a rarely discussed group, immigrant fathers, in their children's education. The findings from this research, which are based on an atypical cohort, are not to be taken as conclusive.

Theoretical Framework

Because the topic of parenting is so expansive, this analysis concentrates on the cross-cultural context of parenting behaviors that are highlighted in this study and the attendant changes that have occurred. …

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