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» A Culture that Engages Every Family, Steven M. Constantino, Ed.D.

» How to Revitalize Your School-Parent Compact, Marilyn Price-Mitchell, Ph.D.

» How Do You Know if You're Really Open to Partnership, Anne Henderson & Karen Mapp

»PTA--Gateway to Engagement, Advocacy, and Access, Meryl Ain, Ed.D.

» The Power of Asking-Instead of Telling, Jody McVittie, M.D.

» Empathy in Action, Rick Ackerly, Ed.M.

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Stop! Stereotypes of Parents Must Go!

By Ryan M. Tracy

Memphis’ history and subtle present is burdened by the struggle of White vs. African American people and is marred by the shooting of Martin Luther King Jr.  

handsWhen I talk to people about stereotyping or want to bring the subject up in conversations, it seems people are apathetic. They don't like talking about race, or think talking race is archaic and taboo.  I don’t have all the answers.  I don’t pretend to say I don’t have stereotypes I have to work on myself. 

But not talking about stereotypes or acknowledging categories in which we put people in is denial.  And not only does it become a denial in our educational system, it can hinder the work of educating parents and even children which will continue to hold our nation back.

The perception of parents in our Memphis schools is that the parents in our schools don’t care enough about their children to help them do well in school.  Unfortunately, when we “think” parents are apathetic, we treat them in this manner. 

I don’t know about you, but I have not met a parent who did not care about their child, regardless of race, gender, or economic status.  Yes, some parents have different ways of showing their love, may be in situations that make it harder to “be there” for their child than others, or have some mental illness that holds them at bay. But to categorize “all” parents as not caring is shortsighted.   

And for us in Memphis, Phoenix and Chicago, over 350 parents from diverse backgrounds who graduated from our 10-week Stand UP (University for Parents) program demonstrated that they want to be involved and engaged and simply desire some direction and recognition that they are not a statistic, category, or stereotype. 

What we did before we deployed our facilitators into the schools in Memphis to work with our parents was to bring our facilitators together to begin talking about stereotypes put on parents of color in low income areas.  What this did for all of us was to help us realize that while there may be perceptions in our community about parents, those perceptions are not realities. 

Just recently, a post on twitter came across the twitter feed reminding me that we must get more creative and think more creatively  about talking and dealing with stereotypes.  The article, published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, researcher Carmit Tadmor of Tel Aviv University and colleagues found that racial stereotyping and creative stagnation share a common mechanism: categorical thinking. 

Categorical thinking is thinking that categorizes people or objects.  For example, instead of seeing people as individuals, categorical thinking places individuals in a stereotype and doesn’t allow a person to be a person with feelings, ideas, hopes and dreams.  And the victims are our parents and ultimately our children. 

We need to be intentional to teach ourselves and our children to think “outside the box,” in order to deal with past, present, and future stereotypes.  Thinking outside “our boxes” will at first be uncomfortable because as creatures of habit, we don’t like change.  However, when we allow the creativity of the mind to flourish, the tapestries of our perceptions become more colorful, beautiful, and bright. 

Districts, schools, teachers, and communities can creatively deal with their own stereotypes and prejudices about parents.  We all stereotype people in some form or fashion but to wake up to its reality and begin talking about it will lead us down a much more educated and beautifully diverse society.

I like the quote that states, “Stereotypes are devices for saving biased people the trouble of learning.”  And to me, dealing with our stereotypes is one of the first steps to working with and engaging our parents in our schools.   Because at the start and finish of everyday, shouldn't we treat others like we want them to treat us?  With thoughts, feelings, emotions, hopes and dreams.

Image Credit: Salvatore Vuono


Posted on January 10, 2013 by Ryan M. Tracy

Ryan is the Tennessee Family Engagement Manager for Stand for Children, a grassroots national advocacy organization. He designs and implements family engagement programs and is currently a leader in the organization's 10-week Stand UP (University for Parents) which focuses on curriculum of the home and school. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

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Permalink   Comments (7)   Send to a Friend

Tags: 2-way communication, *Diverse Families, *School-Family Partnership, Building trust & respect, Ed Reform, LGBT, Low-income/ At risk, Multiracial

Posted January 12, 2013 by Marilyn Price-Mitchell
A response to WAGPOPS! No one is unquestionably supporting Stand for Children, or any organization. This forum invites commentary on the important topic of family engagement. In this area, Stand for Children does an admirable job of educating and engaging parents -- something sorely lacking in most public schools. It's time we start looking at what is working to bring us together rather than what is dividing us. No organization has all the answers. We'd love to find out what the schools in your district are doing to improve family engagement. Please let us know by contributing your ideas. 

Posted January 12, 2013 by WAGPOPS!
Charter schools are not accountable to parents or the community, but to their Board of Directors. The bottom line for charter schools/privatization is "efficiency" of dollars, not educating the whole child.

There has not been a single more destructive force in public education than this movement to privatize. 

Posted January 12, 2013 by WAGPOPS!
I am disappointed that an organization that supports parent involvement would so unquestionably promote Stand for Children.

Stand for Children is an astroturf organization designed to support further privatization of public education and the de-professionalization of teachers.


Posted January 11, 2013 by Dadof2
This is an important article, but missing from it and perhaps from Stand Up training as well is the idea that parents must do far more than just advocate for their own children or even the children of others. If we are to be honest, we must admit that some parents do fit the negative stereotypes inflicted upon everyone. It is up to the parents that don't fit it and the community at large to bring them into the fold, to spread the Stand UP training about so that all the actual manifestations of the stereotype itself may be eliminated from the entire community. It remains true that one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch, and that removing the children of those bad apples is not the answer. We must understand that in this case, it is possible to turn bad apples into good ones. That is our responsibility to each other as a community. 

Posted January 10, 2013 by Ryan Tracy
Thank you both for your message. We have so much work to do and parents are waiting for us to authentic and see them as partners not hindrances to the education of their children. It's very exciting 

Posted January 10, 2013 by Marilyn Price-Mitchell
This is such an important message, Ryan. You and your organization are doing such great work in parent engagement. Hope you can help break some of these negative stereotypes! 

Posted January 10, 2013 by rick ackerly
Thank you Ryan. This is so important. Everybody finish the sentence "parents these days..." and the results show a wide diversity of dysfunction from helicoptering to negligence. Obviously anyone who is foolish enough to finish that sentence will tell a falsehood, unless it's "Parents these days love their children." 


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