Magazine article Multicultural Education

Cultural Capital in the Village: The Role African-American Families Play in the Education of Children

Magazine article Multicultural Education

Cultural Capital in the Village: The Role African-American Families Play in the Education of Children

Article excerpt


There is an old adage that says it takes a village to raise a child. The key principles of the village concept may include influences and interactions of families, home environments, schools, and communities. The interconnectedness of these constituents may positively or negatively impact one another and the sustainment of the village, with all interactions impacting children and their achievement.

Although the term "village" typically denotes immediate surroundings and close proximal interaction, that definition can now be widened with the pervasiveness of social media, the Internet, and broad-based neighborhood connections. And although the village concept is used universally, African-American families, in particular, traditionally rely on the village for support in their children's education (Auerbach, 2012; Brandon, 2007; Thompson, 2003, 2004).

The collaboration of the village constituents with respect to children's education and achievement, or, as we call it, home-school collaboration, is described in Epstein's "Theory of Overlapping Spheres of Influence" of family, school, and community. These overlapping spheres are directly related to positive student outcomes (Epstein, 2001).

There are both legal and educational reasons why home-school collaboration is intertwined with positive student outcomes and the progress of students. First, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and No Child Left Behind (NCLB) both mandate home-school collaboration. These mandates have brought home-school collaboration to the forefront because of the positive links with student outcomes.

Second, the interaction between families of color and school personnel is critical. This interaction may be even more significant for families of African-American children because, overall, African-American students lag behind their peers on major academic indices (Delpit, 2012; Jeynes, 2005; Kunjufu, 2012). Although AfricanAmerican parents strive to be a part of the school community, African-American students continue to experience punishments, more suspensions, and expulsions at three times the rate of their peers who engage in similar behaviors (Delpit, 2012; Kunjufu, 2012; White-Johnson, 2001). In addition to the punishments, African-American students continue to be over-identified for special education and under-identified for gifted and talented and advanced placement programs (Boone & King-Berry, 2007; Kunjufu, 2012).

A Strained Relationship

Disparities in educational outcomes and inequitable treatment have strained the relationship between African- American families and schools (Delpit, 2012). For many African-American parents, their students' k-12 academic achievement is vital not only for survival, but for success (Thompson, 2003, 2004). To that degree, African-American parents continue to participate in home-school collaboration, and more specifically engage in activities that they believe will help their children achieve academic success in schools.

Like most parents, families of AfricanAmerican students participate in homeschool collaboration by engaging in their children's education in a multitude of ways. They advocate, engage in family literacy exercises, expand on concepts taught at school, and join school decision-making groups (Brandon, 2007; Jeynes, 2005; Kunjufu, 2012; Thompson, 2004; Williams, 2007). However, their engagement with the school has not always been effective in improving academic achievement.

Weiss, Bouffard, Bridglall, and Gordon (2009) suggest that the failure of school personnel to create comprehensive involvement initiatives for African- American parents is partly due to a lack of understanding of the many ways in which African-American families engage with their children's education as part of the broader learning system. Despite much research on parent involvement, little is known about the specific engagement strategies of African-American families. …

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