Monday, September 10, 2012

Conflicting goals, caring parents

This post comes from guest blogger Shara Bellamy, a masters degree candidate at Vanderbilt University

"I've given up on her. I'm just waiting for her to be arrested so jail can straighten her up." It was my second year of working in an urban school and despite having had many conversations with parents, this was something I had never expected to hear a parent say. I had hoped her mother could give me some insight or guidance, but instead I was speaking with a mother who I thought didn't care at all. More than once, she claimed that jail would be the thing to correct her daughter’s behavior.

I had heard people stereotype poor minorities before, saying many of them didn't care about their kids’ futures. It was easy for those I grew up around, in the comfort of an upper-middle class suburb that was well over 90% white, to make such generalizations. I found that for many of them, the only minorities with whom they had actually conversed were my dad, my sister, and/or me. When people with so little experience and knowledge of the lives of others make such statements, they are easy to ignore, but what about when I am faced with the truth myself? I had met people who thought school was unimportant before, in fact, I am related to quite a few people who believe that, but I had never seen this kind of. . . apathy?

I shoved this incident to the back of my mind, but as I continued to work at this school, an alternative school many students attended because of safe-school violations or after being released from juvenile detention, I came into contact with more parents that seemed not to care, or treated their children extremely harshly.

I stubbornly held on to my faith in the idea that parents care about their children and, valiantly or foolishly, ignored the cognitive dissonance that had arisen. It wasn’t until I watched the movie Beasts of the Southern Wild that I realized why my reasoning failed me. My view of how a parent shows they care for their child is tied to many assumptions, one of which is the idea that parents are trying to prepare their children for life, and the life that I pictured in my head was one like my own. Beasts of the Southern Wild opened my eyes to the fact that many people in America live a vastly different life, and that life requires different parental care and training. These people experience different triumphs and trials, no less real than our own, and parents know the realities of their own lives. In a world that lacks physical safety, you need to toughen up your kids. If we expect children who are being prepared to live in cultures different from our own to come to schools and play by the dominant cultures’ rules, what have we really prepared them for? Unless they are part of the small group that leaves the culture in which they were raised we have done them a disservice. What good does following another cultures rules do in your own? We can debate educational reform issues all we want, but if we don’t consider the cultures in which students will actually live after they graduate, what good has the students’ education done them?

Further contemplation:

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