Middle-class students are taught by parents to speak up, says study
Middle-class parents teach kids to ask for help while working-class parents tell their children to avoid conflict and be self-sufficient, according to a new study.
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Ms. McCrory Calarco found that the middle-class parents often engaged in role-playing to help their children practice asking for help, but did not – as commonly thought – swoop in to "save" the student from problems in school.Skip to next paragraph
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"That was one of the most surprising findings," Calarco said. "They recognize, and many of them actively resisted, the 'helicopter parent' stereotypes, but they wanted to equip their students with very important skills to know how to get help at school." By contrast, working-class parents stressed respect for the teacher and directed their children to solve problems on their own; they did not encourage students to ask for help or discuss questions with the teacher, Calarco found.
For example, the study describes a single father, "Mr. Graham," who tells his daughters to ask classmates but not their teacher for help when they don't understand an assignment. He recalled his own childhood experience with a teacher who yelled at the class for questioning an assignment.
"Unfortunately, it seemed very much like a cycle," Calarco said. "It almost seemed he wished there could be a different relationship for his children, but... he thought that would be unlikely."
Schools can play a role in helping students feel comfortable asking for help and discussing academic issues, the study suggests.
Calarco found students whose teachers approached them directly and clearly explained how to ask for help were more comfortable discussing problems.
In spring 2008, Terry Simpson, a special education teacher at Windsor High School in Windsor, Colo., launched a class called Learning and Educating About Disabilities, or LEAD. Advocacy lessons in the class, originally just for special education students, were soon after included in a transition class for all incoming freshmen.
"My role is encouraging and actively teaching how to be assertive versus aggressive, and what is your purpose in advocating for yourself," Ms. Simpson said.
Yet Calarco said educators alone can't ensure students will know how to advocate for what they need, particularly if they come from backgrounds that discourage asking for help. "It seems as though even if you are taught those skills at school, it's not going to work if it's not reinforced at home by the parents," she said.
That's why the National PTA takes a different tack. The group has just completed the initial three-year cycle of its Urban Family Engagement Network, which trained 750 parents in nine cities—Albuquerque, N.M., Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Houston, Las Vegas, Miami, Philadelphia, and the Queens borough of New York—on how to seek help from schools and work with them on school policies.
Parents attend training outside of schools—in a housing-project recreation room or a community center, for example—on their legal rights and responsibilities with regard to their children's education and ways they can work with teachers and administrators. Ms. Wilson said the program is starting a new three-year cycle and evaluation with the original and eight new cities to be selected this fall.
"We teach parents advocacy skills so that they feel comfortable going into school and advocating on behalf of their kids," she said. "Our belief is that once they have that skill set for themselves, parents will feel more comfortable teaching their children how to do that."