NUMBER 683• 15 FEBRUARY • TEACHERS AND PARENTS
Despite intensive efforts at all levels, the educational profiles of migrant children in general remain dismal in comparison to those of nonmigrant children. Data presented in this paper indicate unrealistic teacher expectations in the context of the cultural and economic realities of many Mexican migrant farmworker families. Findings from this study indicate that school personnel often assume that "parents don’t know" (how the system works, what their children need, what schools expect from them) because they "don’t want to know." Furthermore, parental involvement as it has been defined by the school personnel interviewed in this study (parents helping their children with schoolwork, reading, attending school meetings) is inconsistent with the life circumstances of most migrant parents who may not have all of the tools (English language proficiency, educational background, economic means) to comply with teacher expectations.
Most parents want their children to be successful. Not all parents, however, construct the path to success in the same way. While some educators, as reported by those interviewed, equate success with the acquisition of academic skills, most of the parents interviewed believed that if a child is to succeed in life he or she must also demonstrate certain social abilities, such as respect for others and self responsibility, and good manners.
In general, school personnel were unable to name positive contributions migrant farmworker parents made to their children’s education. On the contrary, they were able to point out weaknesses or negative contributions, such as their lack of English skills, lack of education, lack of time, and lack of involvement in educational activities. When teachers refer to parents as "partners," are they thinking of migrant farmworker parents as equal partners? If not, what role are migrant farmworker parents expected to play in their children’s education? Findings indicate that although teachers today are more aware of the socioeconomic circumstances and cultural backgrounds of migrant children and their families, they still hold preconceived ideas and biases. These perceptions serve as powerful deterrents of social mobility. There is no doubt that Mexican migrant farmworker parents make a significant contribution to the education of their children. Delgado-Gaitan (1990, 1992, 1994) argues that parental contributions can be through either environmental resources or emotional resources.
Environmental resources, according to Delgado-Gaitan (1990), are the result of parents economic and educational background and their participation in and familiarity with the system. The parents we interviewed might not have some of the elements that Delgado-Gaitan called environmental resources. However, that does not mean that they are not interested in participating in their children’s education. Their participation in programs such as the family literacy program proves that they are interested. What migrant parents do provide are emotional resources. The parents interviewed mentioned their desire for their children to have an education, something they wish they had attained themselves. They talk of how they encourage their children to study so they will not have to work in the fields. If they are unable to provide children with help on assignments, they look for ways to help by taking them to the library, asking them to call a volunteer from school, or telling them to go to a neighbor who can help.
Parental contributions also come in other ways that teachers might not be aware of. Parents might encourage their children to be good, responsible citizens who seek self-respect and, at the same time, respect those around them.
YOLANDA G. MARTINEZ and ANN CRANSTON-GINGRAS
Martinez, Y. G. & Cranston-Gingras, A. (2001) Migrant Farmworker Families: Perceptions of Parental Involvement in School. Reaching Today's Youth, Vol. 5 Issue 3.
Delgado-Gaitan, C. (1990). Literacy for empowerment: The role of parents in children's education. New York: The Falmer Press.
Delgado-Gaitan, C. (1992) School matters in the Mexican-American home: Socializing children to education. American Educational Research Journal, 29(3), 495-513.
Delgado-Gaitan, C. (1994). Parenting in two generations of Mexican American families. International Journal of Behavioural Development, 16(3), 409-27