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Deconstructing and Reconstructing Parent Involvement

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Author(s): Laila Hasan


Increasingly, educational researchers criticize traditional forms of parent involvement as debilitating to low-income parents of color. I contend those educators' and reformers' must create alternative spaces to cultivate critical dialogues with poor families that produce generative authentic language and knowledge about families, communities and relationships. This also means a necessity to redefine the relationship between schools and low-income communities.

Most parent involvement programs developed by education systems reflect one of three traditional conceptual models about the nature of "good" parent involvement in children's schooling. I call these models "social citizen", "representative governance" and "public choice". A far less popular model for parent involvement programs, one developed outside the schooling system, emphasizes parent initiation and parent power, rather than a client-like, dependency relationship between parents and schools. This model focuses attention on parent-initiated community-based groups and the importance of connecting communities and schools through community organizing other than traditional modes of involvement.

This dissertation examines parent-initiated parent involvement. It explores how parents themselves engage parents who haven't participated in traditional school parent programs; how these parents create environments to nurture and sustain parent leadership; and how parent leaders frame knowledge, relationships, practice and identities in the process of building and sustaining a community. I use Community of Practice Theory and Critical Theory to help me examine the social practice of learning in the everyday lived-experiences of urban parents in schools and to investigate how the parents' construction of meaning intersects with their external historized world.

I offer a conceptual framework that specifies the key elements of parent-initiated models, provides a structural model, and offers an analysis of the utility of parent-initiated models in low-income communities. I conclude this study by offering a new, synthetic framework that evolved out of my data analysis that not only describes the basic elements of parent-initiated parent involvement, but also helps explain its power.

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