Do Early Adolescents Want Family Involvement in Their Education? Hearing Voices from Those Who Matter Most

By Xu, Jianzhong | School Community Journal, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

Do Early Adolescents Want Family Involvement in Their Education? Hearing Voices from Those Who Matter Most


Xu, Jianzhong, School Community Journal


Abstract

Although the views and influences of early adolescents are considered critical to middle school family involvement, their voices are noticeably absent from much contemporary family involvement literature. This study examines the attitudes of early adolescents toward middle school family involvement in urban settings. Data for this study were collected from two sources: (1) a survey of students from five middle schools in one urban school district, and (2) a focus group interview with students in one of the middle schools surveyed. The findings revealed that a majority of the students wanted their families to be involved in their education, particularly through family-initiated involvement activities. The study suggests that students' desire for autonomy serves as a variable moderating their preferences for certain types of family involvement activities, rather than forming an overall barrier to family involvement at the middle school level. Thus, this study challenges the prevalent view that the primary barrier existing for middle school family involvement is adolescents not wanting their parents to be involved at all, due to their desire for autonomy. Implications from the study are discussed in the light of these findings.

Introduction

One crucial challenge facing this nation's schools is how to involve families from diverse cultural backgrounds (Deering, 1996; Epstein, 1995; Hidalgo, Siu, Bright, Swap, & Epstein, 1995) and at the middle school level (Berla, 1991; Hoover- Dempsey & Sandler, 1997; Swick, 1979). Although the views and influences of early adolescents are considered critical to middle school family involvement, their voices are noticeably absent from much contemporary family involvement literature.

What is known about the attitudes of early adolescents toward middle school family involvement has largely been based on the prevalent view that they simply do not want their parents to be involved with their education at this developmental stage (Baker, 2000; Barber & Patin, 1997; Berla, 1991; Dwyer & Hecht, 2001; Eccles & Harold, 1993; Foster-Harrison & Peel, 1995; Henderson & Wilcox, 1998; Johnston, 1998; Schine, 1998). However, scant research exists to support this assumption. On the contrary, data derived from several recent studies seemed to raise questions about this assumption (Connors & Epstein, 1994; Pryor, 1995; The Metropolitan Life Survey of the American Teacher, 1998). However, none of these studies examine this assumption, in general, or with early adolescents from diverse cultural backgrounds, in particular.

The purpose of this study is to examine the views and attitudes of early adolescents toward middle school family involvement in urban settings. If the assumption that middle school students do not desire family involvement is left unexamined, we are likely to back off from involving families in school. Or we involve families despite this assumption, treating early adolescents as "objects" or "inert organisms" (Clinchy, 1995), viewing family involvement as something to be done to them, not with them. In either case, we may continue to miss insights on and opportunities for involving families at this critical stage of their child's education.

Related Literature

There is a consensus in the research community that parent involvement is desirable and beneficial (Arvizu, 1996; Comer, 1993; Cortes, 1996; Epstein, 1995; Lynn, 1997; Osborne, 1996; Swap, 1993). One major legislation - The Goals 2000: Educate America Act and the reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act - has made parent involvement in children's education a national priority. More recently, a Phi Delta Kappa Poll of Teachers suggests that, like researchers and policymakers, teachers also see a critical need for parent involvement (Langdon & Vesper, 2000). When asked "if there is one thing you could change to improve the public schools in your community, what would that be," the largest proportion of the teachers desired more parent involvement (p. …

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