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(Re)Constructing Home and School: Immigrant Parents, Agency, and the (Un)Desirability of Bridging Multiple Worlds

by Fabienne Doucet - 2011

Background/Context: This study examines the tactics that Haitian immigrant parents used to negotiate the boundaries around home and school, presenting the possibility that families play an active and deliberate role in creating distance between the worlds of home and school.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: The following research questions were explored: (1) Why do Haitian immigrant parents resist bridges between the worlds of home and school? (2) How might this resistance be seen as a show of agency? (3) How do the resistance and agency of Haitian immigrants complicate the in-school/out-of-school dichotomy and push theories that too easily bring in-school and out-of-school worlds together?

Setting: Greater Boston, Massachusetts.

Population/Participants/Subjects: Participants were 54 parents of Haiti-born (1.5 generation) and U.S.-born (second generation) Haitian American adolescents.

Research Design: The study draws from a subset of data collected with Haitian families in a large longitudinal study of newly arrived immigrants from five different countries and from data collected in a supplemental study of second-generation Haitian families. Data sources include structured interviews and field notes.

Data Collection and Analysis: Data were collected by bilingual, bicultural research assistants. Interviews were recorded whenever possible, transcribed, and, if necessary, translated to English. Data were analyzed for this article using classic qualitative thematic analysis techniques.

Findings/Results: The findings suggest that parents actively constructed and reconstructed distinct boundaries for home and school rather than being passive victims of these boundaries. Three metathemes and seven related themes emerged related to the research questions: protecting the home terrain (displayed as a concern with family privacy; parental strictness; and discouraging friendships); equating schools with Americanization (shown through criticisms of U.S. schools/schooling, and parents’ limited contact with school), and negotiating a seat at the table (through parental advocacy; and reciprocal partnership-seeking)

Conclusions/Recommendations: These findings question the pervasive notion in educational literature and practice that close links between home and school should be the goal of both teachers and families.

The French philosopher Michel de Certeau (1984/2002) argued that marginalized groups subvert the impositions placed on them by powerful institutional systems through the use of subtle tactics that allow them to meet their own needs. This article is about the tactics that Haitian immigrant parents use to recalibrate the relationship between home and school in a way that allows them to maintain a sense of control over the influence of the outside world on their children.1 There is a popular misconception, especially among teachers, educational policy makers, and fellow (mainstream middle-class) parents that parents who are not a constant presence at the school—chaperoning field trips, attending PTA meetings, baking brownies for the bake sale—simply do not care about their children’s education (Abdul-Adil & Farmer, 2006; Doucet, 2008; Lightfoot, 2004; Smith, 2009; Valdès, 1998; Warren, Hong, Rubin, & Uy, 2009). To the contrary, I argue that parents’ resistance to bringing the worlds of home and school closely together is a tactic rooted in a deeply felt need to protect and ensure their children’s futures.

The misconception about parental apathy is partly rooted in research showing significant benefits to children’s educational achievement when their parents are involved in their schooling (Epstein, 1987; Jeynes, 2003; Mattingly, Prislin, McKenzie, Rodriguez, & Kayzar, 2002; White, Taylor, & Moss, 1992). Although I do not argue that parental involvement in education does not have positive outcomes, a growing number of studies have questioned these sweeping generalizations, pointing out a great deal of variability in the measurement of family involvement (FI) in education (Fan, 2001; Fan & Chen, 2001; Mattingly et al.; White et al.). Other studies have shown that assumptions about the unilateral benefits of close ties between home and school often fail to take into account the power dynamics implicated in the relationship (De Carvalho, 2001; Doucet, 2008; Doucet & Tudge, 2007; Graue, 1993; Lawson, 2003; Mapp, 2003; Russell, 1991).

In this article, I examine the possibility that immigrant families2 play an active and deliberate role in creating distance between the worlds of home and school because of their ambivalent feelings about U.S. culture and their fears of “losing their children” to Americanization. This possibility also pushes against the assumption that bridges between the worlds of home and school are, de facto, desirable for immigrant well-being by considering the self-protective and political functions of maintaining separate spheres. The findings I present will ask us to consider what immigrant families perceive they could lose as a result of bridging, resulting in their tactics of resistance to blurring the worlds of home and school. This does not mean that bridges are not worth pursuing. Rather, it exposes the vulnerabilities incited by the prospects of bridging and thus demands more thoughtful and respectful approaches to partnership and collaboration.

The research questions under consideration are as follows: (1) Why do Haitian immigrant parents resist bridges between the worlds of home and school? (2) How might this resistance be seen as a show of agency? (3) How do the resistance and agency of Haitian immigrants complicate the in-school/out-of-school dichotomy and push theories that too easily bring in-school and out-of-school worlds together?


The features of home and school, and the relationship between them, have been framed in the literature primarily in two ways. On one hand, these spaces have been described from a structuralist world view as distinctly separate and culturally mismatched (what I will call Worlds Apart frameworks). Indeed, for many years, cultural mismatch was the primary lens through which educational researchers framed the worlds of home and school, particularly for immigrant students and students of color (Cook-Cottone, 2004; Henderson & Berla, 1994; Pransky & Bailey, 2003; Sabry & Bruna, 2007; Yamauchi & Tharp, 1995). Another line of scholarship has suggested, however, that the lines between worlds may be blurry and negotiable, shifting and impermanent (I will call these Worlds Together frameworks). Representing more of a poststructuralist world view, such frameworks have challenged the binary constructions suggested by cultural mismatch theories, insisting that boundaries between apparently separate spheres are permeable and never fixed (Gutiérrez, 2008; Gutiérrez & Orellana, 2006; Hall, 2008; Hull & Schultz, 2001, 2002; Orellana & Gutiérrez, 2006). Both structuralist and poststructuralist analyses have searched for bridges between the worlds for home and school, whether literally, in terms of finding ways to bring the two closer together (more of a structuralist approach), or symbolically, by making explicit the ways in which the worlds of home and school inform, shape, and bleed into one another. Each of these perspectives has contributed importantly to understandings of students’ and families’ experiences with negotiating various spaces, but neither alone is sufficient.

Worlds Apart frameworks identify different norms, goals, values, practices, and so on, for the various worlds inhabited by youth and their families (Phelan, Davidson, & Yu, 1993; Phelan, Yu, & Davidson, 1994). Particularly when examining the experiences of culturally and linguistically diverse students, Worlds Apart models assume cultural mismatch, incongruity, or discontinuity across spaces. Many empirical studies from this perspective have focused on contrasting home and school and concluded, in a nutshell, that home and school are not culturally neutral and that the differences between the culture of school and the culture of home have important implications for FI (see, e.g., Cook-Cottone, 2004; Doucet, 2005; Li, 2003; Pransky & Bailey, 2003; Sabry & Bruna, 2007; Stanton-Salazar, 2001; Yamauchi & Tharp, 1995; Zéphir, 2001). A related line of research has shown that when the race- and class-informed expectations, practices, and values of school align closely with those of home, parents are more likely to feel comfortable at school and with school people, and therefore to be more visibly involved in school life (Crozier, 1999, 2001; Crozier & Davies, 2007; Graue, Kroeger, & Prager, 2001; Lareau & Horvat, 1999).

Worlds Apart frameworks have made important contributions to the way we understand the implicit, sometimes hidden, cultural subtexts that saturate all the spaces in which youth and families carry out their lives. Delpit’s (1995) concept of the “culture of power,” for example, reveals that there exists a set of rules and practices for school success, and these codes are based on upper- and middle-class ways of being and doing. Furthermore, Delpit’s work demands recognition that simply going to school and following the explicit rules of schooling are not enough for students from marginalized communities to benefit from the rewards of educational achievement. As Carter (2008) has noted, one of the real dangers in not acknowledging how school success is culturally laden is that the entire burden for lack of achievement or school success gets placed on children’s supposed innate abilities and/or motivation. However, there remain some unanswered questions within Worlds Apart frameworks. For example, are the differences between worlds permanent or fixed? (That is, can goals, values, and norms converge over time?)

Scholarship coming from a Worlds Together perspective has tried to address these kinds of questions, documenting ways in which supposed separate spheres bleed into each other. The argument from this perspective is that the boundaries between home and school are permeable, fluid, and ever-changing (Gutiérrez, 2008; Gutiérrez & Orellana, 2006; Hall, 2008; Orellana & Gutiérrez, 2006). And though the majority of empirical studies from this perspective are from the literacy education literature (see, e.g., Hull & Schultz, 2001, 2002), some research on FI also has shown that parents in particular expect schools to be more supportive of their efforts, values, and needs, such that schools are seen as meeting the needs of the family as much as meeting the needs of the individual child (Doucet, 2008; Lawrence-Lightfoot, 2003; Valdès, 1996). Furthermore, assumptions about characteristics of one world versus another tend to belie the complexity of lived experience. Worlds Together arguments echo a postcolonial critique of essentialist notions assigned to culture and place/space (Bhabha, 1994), as well as identity (Bailey, 2001; Bhatia & Ram, 2001) The goal of this critique is to challenge or unpack false binaries, such as in-school/out-of-school, good parent/bad parent, in-group/out-group, or ethnic culture/American culture. Such binaries force artificial representations and impose a level of fragmentation that is difficult to maintain consistently—and, I would argue further, that simply is not reflected—in the multidimensional, multitextured ways in which people carry out their everyday lives (Nasir & Saxe, 2003).

Worlds Together frameworks have pushed educational scholarship in important directions. The complementary learning framework of the Harvard Family Research Project signals the interconnectedness of contexts in which children develop (Weiss, Coffman, Post, Bouffard, & Little, 2005). Further, scholars have challenged the false dichotomy posed by the in-school versus out-of-school debate (Gutiérrez, 2008). In her literary analysis of academic writing about parental involvement, Dory Lightfoot (2004) questioned the binary of parents as resources versus parents as empty vessels. As she noted, middle-class parents typically are framed as being full vessels with a lot to offer to schools, whereas “other” parents (of color, immigrant, working class or poor, and so on) are discussed in deficit terms, lacking anything valuable to offer to schools. She then showed how even well-intentioned parent education programs can have limited vision: The pervasive discourse of lack truncates possibilities that can be imagined for how nonmainstream parents can contribute to the educational project.

Challenging binaries, then, has the potential to focus on points of convergence (rather than divergence), on the more fluid and dynamic relationships among contexts, and on newly imagined ways to capture the complexities of lived experience. Where the Worlds Together framework may come short, though, is in helping to theorize when actors behave in ways that do reflect a certain essentialism, and do so by their own choosing. Here De Certeau’s (1984/2002) concept of tactics serves as a useful frame for making sense of resistance that could appear, at initial glance, to signal apathy or opposition for the sake of opposition.


Interestingly, scholarship in both the Worlds Apart and Worlds Together literatures has made the case for bridging the worlds of home and school in the interest of students’ well-being and academic achievement. Though for a long time, Worlds Apart approaches to bridging involved imposing on families a particular set of cultural values, the past couple of decades have seen increasing efforts to approach family-school-community linkages from the point of view of partnership (Bright, 1996; Cairney, 2000; Epstein, 2001; Hall, 2008; Lawrence-Lightfoot, 2003; Smith, 2009; Valdès, 1996).

Bridging can feel threatening to immigrant parents, however. Recently arrived immigrant parents have reported retaining aspects of the home culture as a protective mechanism, perceiving a correlation between loss of home culture and negative social and educational outcomes for youth (Bulcroft, Carmody, & Bulcroft, 1996; Driscoll, Russell, & Crockett, 2008; Varela et al., 2004). Other studies have documented the ways in which immigrant families make explicit efforts to shape their children’s experiences in U.S. schools. Trueba (1998) found that Mexican families did not hesitate to send youth back to their countries of origin if their educational (and behavioral) trajectories were taking a turn that parents found unacceptable. A number of participants in my study, as well as members of the Haitian community with whom I interacted informally over the course of my research, reported threatening children with this type of deportation, and some actually did send children back to Haiti. This practice has been documented among other immigrant groups as well (Olsen, 1997; Orellana, Thorne, Chee, & Lam, 2001). Trueba’s eloquent description of “children . . . who seem to survive the trauma of American schooling and to achieve well” bears quoting:

This [achievement], of course, is the result of a carefully executed plan of education engineered primarily by the mothers, who monitor schooling and defend their language and culture by creating vast networks on both sides of the border, thus supporting their children’s strong Mexican identity and their ability to live in a binational and bicultural world. (p. 260)


This study draws on a subset of data collected as part of the Longitudinal Student Adaptation (LISA) study (Suárez-Orozco, Suárez-Orozco, & Todorova, 2008) a 5-year longitudinal study of newly arrived immigrant youth. The current sample consists of 54 parents of immigrant youth of Haitian descent.3 Thirty-one were the parents of 1.5-generation (Haiti-born) student participants in the LISA study. The other 23 were parents of U.S.-born youth of Haitian descent who were recruited as a supplement to the LISA study for the purpose of comparing and contrasting the experiences of 1.5- and second-generation Haitians (Doucet, in preparation). All data were collected by bilingual, bicultural research assistants.


Greater Boston, Massachusetts, houses the third largest population of Haitian immigrants in the United States (after New York City and Miami, Florida), estimated at close to 58,000 by 2006–2008 American Community Survey data (U.S. Census Bureau, 2006–2008). Haitian migration to the United States generally is documented in two waves—the first during the 1950s and 1960s, during the dictatorship of François Duvalier, and the second beginning in the 1980s during the dictatorship of Jean-Claude Duvalier and through the period of coup d’états that first dismantled his reign and then created an economically and politically untenable situation for the majority of the population. These waves also represent different social realities for the Haitian diaspora in the United States. Specifically, whereas the first wave comprised primarily middle-class educated professionals, there was a greater influx of less educated and poor political and economic refugees during the second wave (Zéphir, 2004). This is relevant for the students whose parents were interviewed for the current study because the two groups, 1.5- and second generation, are, respectively, the children and grandchildren of the two major waves of immigration; thus, the sociopolitical dynamics of their adaptation to U.S. schools were informed by these broader historical contexts. Zéphir (2004) explained that the Haitian populations of Boston and New York are quite similar, having been drawn to these metropolitan centers for their educational opportunities, to reunite with family members, and to pursue better economic opportunities than could be found in Haiti.

Student participants in the LISA and second-generation samples were recruited from public schools in the greater Boston metropolitan area (including the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts) by means of convenience and snowball sampling. Community liaisons in the Haitian community assisted the research team in targeting neighborhoods and schools with high densities of Haitian students. Students were considered 1.5-generation immigrants if they had migrated within 5 years of the LISA study’s inception (1997), and they ranged in age from 9 to 12 when the study began. These 1.5-generation participants thus grew up in Haiti during the severe turmoil of the late 1980s and 1990s, experiencing interrupted schooling, frightening family separations, and consequent psychological trauma (Desir, 2006). Second-generation students were defined as having been born in the United States and having at least one Haitian parent; their ages ranged from 11 to 18 in the year 2000, when data collection with the second generation began. These students’ parents were sometimes themselves 1.5-generation immigrants, having come to the United States during their middle childhood and adolescent years. The majority of parents came as adults, however, during the 1960s and 1970s. As migrants with longer histories in the host country, parents of the second generation were generally more English proficient, more familiar with the expectations of U.S. schools, and otherwise more savvy about navigating U.S. mainstream culture.

We recruited parents through their children: Students deemed eligible to participate in the LISA study or in the second-generation study were invited to attend information sessions in which details about the study were explained, and students who brought back permission slips signed by a parent or guardian were enrolled as participants. Efforts were made to interview the parents of all students. Forty-eight percent of the 1.5 generation parents who completed the Year 5 interview were mothers, and 83% of the second-generation parents interviewed were mothers. Most families in the 1.5-generation sample were working class to working poor: 13% of parents had completed high school, 84% were employed full time (71% in the service sector, holding jobs like nursing home assistant and taxi driver), and 52% were receiving some form of government assistance (e.g., food stamps, subsidized housing, free school lunch, unemployment). By their account, 71% of 1.5-generation parents spoke only Kreyòl, or mostly Kreyòl, to their children. Forty-five percent of these parents also reported that their children spoke to them only or mostly in Kreyòl. Socioeconomically, second-generation families were comparable with 1.5-generation families. About 17% of second-generation parents had completed high school, 91% were employed full time (79% in service-sector jobs), and 83% were receiving government assistance. Language use patterns were similar to the 1.5-generation group among parents with one interesting difference among second-generation children: 74% of second-generation parents reported speaking only or mostly Kreyòl at home, and 45% said their children spoke to them exclusively or mostly in Kreyòl. However, whereas only one parent (3.2%) from the 1.5-generation group reported English as the primary language spoken by the child, 22% of second-generation parents did so. Table 1 presents a more detailed demographic profile for both groups.

Table 1. Demographic Characteristics of 1.5- and Second-Generation Families


1.5 Generation

n = 31

2nd Generation

n = 23

Person interviewed









Educational attainment


Beyond eighth grade, but no high school graduation




High school graduation




Beyond high school



Employment status


Employed full time



Employment sector









Receiving government assistance



Language spoken by parent at home






Mostly Kreyòl, some English







Language spoken by child at home






Mostly Kreyòl, some English








Parents of 1.5-generation students were interviewed in Year 1 and Year 5 of the LISA study. Parents of second-generation students were interviewed once in Year 5 of the LISA study. Because of the research questions I pose in this article, I only selected parents from the LISA study who had completed an interview in Year 5. LISA Parent Year 5 interviews were structured, with closed- and open-ended questions covering the following topic areas: household composition; experiences coming to the United States; impressions of child(ren)’s educational experiences; parenting beliefs and practices; attitudes and practices around education and schooling; children’s peer relationships; transnational practices; language use; work, education, and income (for self and partner); and neighborhood, discrimination, and social relations. See Appendix A for representative examples of questions asked in each of the topic areas. The LISA Parent Year 5 interview was administered to second-generation parents as well. Interviews generally lasted 60–90 minutes, and whenever participants agreed to it, interviews were audio-recorded. If participants refused to be audiotaped, research assistants were especially careful to write down respondents’ answers verbatim. When audiotapes of the interviews were available, open-ended responses were transcribed by bilingual, biliterate research assistants. Parent interviews were conducted with one parent, usually the mother, though at times both parents sat together during the interview. In such circumstances, research assistants asked the parents to decide between themselves who would respond to the questions.

At the back of all interviews was a page for interviewer comments. The LISA research assistants and I used this page to record notes about how the interview went, impressions about the parent and/or family (e.g., if other family members were present), “side conversations” between the researcher and interviewee, and any other details relevant to the interview. These notes—often a combination of descriptive, methodological, and analytic field notes (Bernard, 2000)—were taken as soon as possible following the interview. Appendix B shows a sample interview notes page, along with an actual entry I wrote following an interview with a second-generation student’s mother. I also recorded notes about my interactions with parents and families in my field journal, such as summaries of telephone conversations during the recruitment phase and descriptions of occasions when a parent came to the school. These notes were primarily descriptive, and at times I also wrote up analytic notes about my impressions and hunches about relationships between parents and children and parents and schools, as well as parents’ adaptation to U.S. mainstream culture.


I used SPSS software to run basic descriptive statistics on the sample in order to summarize the sample’s demographic characteristics. To analyze open-ended interview responses and field notes, which is an iterative and reflexive process, I used Ryan and Bernard’s  (2003) guidelines for thematic analysis, which they condensed from the most commonly reported approaches to thematic analysis across the social sciences and from a variety of theoretical perspectives. First, I followed their useful list of “things to look for” as I read through interviews, interview transcripts (when available), and field notes: (1) repetitions; (2) indigenous typologies or categories, known in the grounded theory literature as in vivo coding (Charmaz, 2000); (3) metaphors and analogies; (4) transitions; (5) similarities and differences, or constant comparison (Glaser & Strauss, 1967); (6) linguistic connectors—for example, “if . . . then,” “as a result,” “even though”; (7) missing data; and (8) theory-related material. This process involved my reading interviews and field note entries one by one and marking sentences or sections that seemed to convey information related to my research questions. Max van Manen (1984) referred to this type of process as highlighting. I then proceeded with a line-by-line (Charmaz, 2000; van Manen, 1984) approach to the text that involved considering the meaning of each sentence in relation to the research questions. I read the interviews in a variety of configurations to gain maximum insight (e.g., all 1.5- or second-generation interviews together; all interviews with parents of boys together; all interviews with parents of middle-school students together). Given the relatively large number of transcripts (for qualitative analysis), this provided a systematic approach for looking for emergent patterns and codes.

Next, I used different colored markers to generate an initial set of codes for the highlighted and underlined sections of text (e.g., “parent–child relationship,” “bad teachers”). I then used the processing technique Ryan and Bernard (2003) called cutting and sorting to generate a list of themes that then could be used to recode (i.e., by theme) the interviews, transcripts, and notes. For me, cutting and sorting involved creating piles of all the color-coded chunks of text that hung together and giving each pile a name, or theme. Through this process, I discovered that some of my initial themes were so closely related that they could be collapsed into one, that others needed to be separated, and that some represented overarching ideas, or metathemes, rather than more narrowly focused themes (Ryan & Bernard). I then went back over all the interviews, transcripts, and notes and recoded them using the thematic scheme. Finally, I generated a list of metathemes and themes around tactics used to demarcate the boundaries of home and school as perceived by Haitian immigrant parents. These metathemes and themes are summarized in Table 2 and detailed in the Results section.

Table 2. Summary Overview of Metathemes and Themes



Protecting the home terrain

Family privacy

Parental strictness

Discouraging friendships


Equating schools with Americanization

Criticisms of U.S. schools/schooling

Parents’ limited contact with school


A seat at the table

Parental advocacy

Reciprocal partnership-seeking


To ensure the trustworthiness of my analyses, I triangulated interviews with field notes, engaged in expert debriefing with community members and members of the LISA Haitian team (Miles & Huberman, 1994), and checked my codes against those generated in the LISA study, in which a list of codes was generated for each open-ended question based on a random sampling of responses to that particular question and assigned a number. It is important to note that I trained with the LISA coders to become reliable on the LISA coding scheme. (Our processes for developing the codes, addressing disagreements, and measuring reliability are detailed on pages 20–21 of Suàrez-Orozco et al., 2008.) Although the LISA coding process involved generating a list of codes for each question, whereas my process for generating themes was broader, looking within and across interviews and notes as a whole, the consistent patterns that emerged gave me confidence that my findings reflected phenomena that were evident to other researchers looking at similar data. To illustrate my approach to data reduction and the relationship between the coding schemes, I present in Appendix C a cross-section of responses by 1.5- and second-generation parents to one interview question, how the responses were coded based on the LISA scheme, and how I coded and generated themes from those responses. Field notes also were coded using the open-ended coding scheme.

Lincoln and Guba (1985) noted that prolonged engagement in a research site is another way of ensuring that analyses and interpretations of data are valid. I collected data in greater Boston over the course of two academic years, during which time I became an active member of the Haitian community by serving on the board of a Haitian health organization, volunteering as an adviser in Haitian clubs at local high schools, participating in events around holidays or community celebrations, and becoming part of the local network of education professionals, which included being invited to speak to groups of Haitian students at school and special events (such as youth summits). In the third year of my postdoctoral fellowship, I traveled to Cambridge, Massachusetts, once a month to meet with Marcelo Suàrez-Orozco and a small team of senior research assistants to analyze the portfolios of participants from the LISA study who had been chosen for more focused case study. This provided me with additional opportunities to remain engaged in the Greater Boston Haitian community (by attending events, touching base with old informants, and so on), in addition to providing a forum for discussing my own emergent findings with the second-generation group and contrasting/comparing those with the 1.5 generation.


I migrated to the United States from Haiti at the age of 10. As a 1.5-generation immigrant, I was able to connect to the students and their families in many ways. I speak Haitian Creole (Kreyòl) without an accent, I have lived in Haiti, and I could relate to students’ stories about their parents’ values and criticisms of U.S. mainstream culture. In these ways, participants saw me as an insider and assumed I understood their experiences. Thus, I worked hard at asking more questions and pursuing trains of thought where they might have been left off, because respondents assumed I knew what they meant. Many parents saw me as a role model for their children—someone who had made it through the educational system with great success. Because my participants knew I was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard during the time of the study, some parents asked if I could do anything to help their children get into any educational programs there.

My insider status was not granted automatically, however, because based on my appearance, participants mistook me for a Dominican or Puerto Rican woman, rather than a Haitian woman. When conducting recruiting sessions at schools, I had to convince students by speaking Kreyòl that I was Haitian, and even then some were incredulous. Parents had an easier time accepting this fact, probably because they grew up in Haiti and were more familiar with the phenotypic range on the island than children who left while still young (in the case of the 1.5 generation) or who had perhaps never been to Haiti (in the case of the second generation). I also maintained an awareness of potential social class dynamics that may have been present during my interactions with parents in particular. Elsewhere (Doucet, 2011; Doucet & Suárez-Orozco, 2006), I have written about the skin color- and social class-related problems that exist in Haitian communities in Haiti and abroad. My family in Haiti belongs to the petite bourgeoisie (Wingfield & Parenton, 1965), which is to say, not the owning or ruling class, but the privileged, educated, French-speaking class. My first spoken language was French, and growing up, I was taught that it was disrespectful to address adults in Kreyòl.

In approaching a pool of participants consisting primarily of working-poor or poor (especially from the second-generation group) and working-class (especially from the 1.5-generation group) Haitians, therefore, I had to be clear about my rejection of traditional, colonially inherited markers of social status. I believe that my posture of respect and deference to parents mitigated potential concerns about how I was positioning myself (in terms of social status) vis-à-vis parents. My use of formal appellations with parents at all times while also asking them to call me by my first name marked culturally appropriate hierarchies based on age (I was 20-something during the study) and authority. In addition, I was asking parents questions about their values, beliefs, practices, goals, and experiences—further evidence that they had something to teach me, rather than the other way around. I acknowledge, however, that in spite of my best efforts to minimize real or imagined distances between me and participants in the study, the color and class dynamics that have been reenacted in the diaspora cannot be ignored.



Family privacy. Encouraging children to keep family business private was a tactic many parents adopted to insulate themselves from problems with schools and other agencies, and parents themselves were extremely cautious with the information they divulged to outsiders. The single most consistently expressed concern by parents I interviewed, regardless of how long they had lived in the United States, was a perceived loss of power over the discipline of their children. Even the parents who had migrated as children contrasted their parents’ ability to freely discipline how they saw fit with their lack of freedom in this realm. In particular, parents were frustrated over the seeming unacceptability of spanking children in the United States. Furthermore, they felt their authority as parents was undermined by the ability of The State (Leta) to take children out of their homes for reported abuse. Many told stories about parents whose children had called 911 and gotten the parents in trouble for what these parents felt were perfectly reasonable and nonabusive instances of physical punishment. One mother put it this way: “In Haiti, children have respect. In the U.S., children do not have respect. They can call the police. The police make decisions for the family. Children have the authority.” In other words, parents felt their authority had been replaced by that of Leta and indirectly given to their children. There were parents who held more nuanced views, however, such as Myriam’s4 (1.5-generation) father. Though he agreed that Leta had too much control, he believed that children’s ability to report abuse using 911 was protective and generally positive. Similarly, second-generation Mona’s mother expressed (in English),

In Haiti, it’s just like “I say no, and that’s it, do not ask me any questions.” And the children don’t have a say in anything; they don’t have a voice. But I want her to voice her opinion. I want her to talk to me. I don’t want her to . . . to be talking at her, I want for us to have a conversation both ways.

Families with undocumented family members also were (understandably) hesitant to reveal too many details. Although this may not be unique to Haitians, there were interesting cultural variations among LISA study participants in how openly participants discussed documentation issues. Research team members working with Central American and Mexican immigrant families in the San Francisco Bay area, for example, noted that parents spoke openly about having or not having their papers. In contrast, Haitians, Dominicans, and Chinese were far less forthcoming with this information. Interestingly, Haitian guidance counselors at middle and high schools explained that many Haitian students had been granted legal status under false pretenses. From doctored birth certificates showing an earlier birth date (18-year-olds became 15-year-olds) to aliases for the sake of claiming family relationships, many secrets and lies surrounded the immigration stories of Haitians in Boston and Cambridge, especially among the more recent immigrants. The historically tenuous and politically charged relationship between Haiti and the United States may be responsible, in large part, for the mistrust and skepticism Haitian immigrants display toward U.S. institutions.

This impacted even data collection, as evidenced by many parents’ refusal to complete parent interviews, even if they had given their children permission to participate in the study. One of the 1.5-generation parent participants, a mother who had a history with the Department of Social Services because of problems with her two children, illustrates this phenomenon well. During Year 1 of the LISA study, she refused an interview. In Year 5, she initially agreed but changed her mind when the interviewer showed up at her home. Eventually, the interview took place, but numerous times during the interview, she made reference to Immigration (i.e., Citizenship and Immigration Services, formerly known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service) and how they can have access to all files. She apologized for not answering questions fully and explained that in this country, you have to be very careful how you answer questions—“We all have to lie sometimes because of this government.”

Parental strictness. Another manifestation of protecting the home terrain was parents’ protective stance vis-à-vis their children’s access to and interactions with the outside world. Many of the parents I interviewed prided themselves on how tightly they monitored and controlled (or attempted to control) their children’s activities, and their children corroborated these stories with their own accounts of limited freedom. Second-generation Christina’s mother exemplifies the concept of control in this quote:

You should at the very least know when your child goes out and when he or she comes in. You have to know how the child dresses to go to school. You have to teach the child what clothes to wear. There are some liberties you simply cannot give the child until a certain age. You must choose for her or him. . . . You can’t tell me a child at 7 or 8 years old already can start choosing, “this is the style of clothes I want, these are the shoes I want, etc.” No, no, no. The child is not of the age to choose. For me, a child can choose these things starting at age 16. And even then, Mom should be involved in helping to make the choice.

The idea that American children have freedom to do as they please was commonly expressed as well. Samantha, a second-generation middle schooler, said, “American parents they are not strict, but Haitian parents are stricter on their kids.” Among parents, this freedom was condemned. As Samantha’s mother put it, “In Haiti, you tell them something, they follow it exactly, but here they’re free. In this country they have too many privileges over adults”; and “When you raise a child in Haiti, you raise a child, but here they can do whatever they want.” Among youth, however, the perception that their American peers were afforded more freedoms was seen mostly in a positive light, whereas Haitian parents were perceived as restrictive and closed-minded. Jerry, one of the 1.5-generation participants, characterized American parents’ rules like this: “Their rules are to go anywhere they want, stay anywhere they want. The Americans go home any time they want”; and “They, American parents, they let their kids stay out late which they don’t do in Haiti.” Interestingly, some students did not interpret permissiveness among American parents as entirely positive. According to Tania, a 1.5-generation youth, “American [kids] come home whenever they want. They get whatever they want, and parents don’t pay attention to the children.”

Discouraging friendships. The potentially negative influence of peers was another common fear that led parents to take a protective stance against the outside world. One of the worst characteristics of a child, for these parents, was renmen zanmi (literally, liking friends). That is to say, being so enthralled by friends that he or she would do things to please those friends that might violate the parent’s own morals or values. Many of these parents spoke about not allowing their children to have friends because they felt those relationships had the power to undermine their positions vis-à-vis their children. As Nicole’s father put it, friends rob parents of their hope. Of course, the young people I interviewed did have friends, but they kept those relationships at school and other sanctioned sites, like church. Part of protecting the home terrain, then, was about keeping friends out of it, quite literally in most cases, with parents giving explicit instructions that friends were not to come over for visits. It is important to note that the concern over friends was not exclusive to friends from the United States. Whether friends were Haitian, American, or Indonesian, parents made one thing clear: Friendships were potential for trouble, and children were better off being friends with their own parents and relatives than with outsiders. The following quotation from second-generation student Linda’s mother captures many of the concerns expressed by other parents:

The majority of children here who are lost, the majority of children who are in trouble, the majority of children who are in prison—it’s friends that get them into prison. It’s from listening to friends, peer pressure that sends them places like that. The majority of children who are lost, also at 12, 13, who have babies, they’re listening to other children saying to them, “Oh you’re not supposed to listen to your parents . . . they can’t do anything to you, they can’t beat you, you can just call 911 on them.”

Mona’s mother, who herself had migrated to the United States as a teenager and attended high school in Boston, went as far as sitting in on Mona’s classes a few times a week to make sure Mona stayed in class. By the mother’s account, Mona had been going to school only about two days a week for several months thanks to the negative influence of friends.


Criticisms of U.S. schools/schooling. In Haitian parents’ understanding, the goal of schooling is to instruct as well as to provide an éducation, the French word referring to providing children not only with reading, writing, and counting abilities, but also with moral guidance, a sense of civic duty, and interpersonal skills. For example, Marius’s uncle, who had sponsored his migrating to the United States and raised him since his parents died, shared that he believed schools “should advise the kids on respect. Respecting their family, teachers, each other. Tell them how to conduct themselves respectfully.” Parents lamented the lack of discipline in schools, that teachers did not seem to have control over students, and that this gave students a false sense of power. U.S.-born Myrtha’s mother said, “Kids here don’t listen to their parents. And kids here don’t listen to their teachers.” The perception that school adults did not take enough control also came up repeatedly:

Chantal’s mother, second generation: “I went to Southside High the other day. Girls were dressed as if they were on the beach! I think the principal should watch that more.”

Jeanty’s mother, 1.5 generation: “This is a piece of advice I would especially give to the government (The State)—give the schools more power over the children, so that they know the teachers have rights over them. I ask myself if the people who made these laws [that give children too many rights] if they had been raised that way themselves, how this country would have turned out.”

Nicole’s mother, second-generation: “Teachers should be more firm with the students.”

In addition to the lack of discipline, another recurring concern was about sex education being introduced too early. This worry certainly is not unique to Haitian immigrants, but for these parents, it was specifically symbolic of Americanization. Caleb and Marc’s father (both 1.5-generation participants) said, “They do what they want at school. It’s the culture of the country. They should wait until they are more adult [to discuss pregnancy, etc.]. From an early age, they are formed for a life that is best when they are in college.” Relatedly, a few parents mentioned being concerned about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) clubs and/or support groups at school, which they felt exposed their children to issues they would have preferred to deal with at home.

Parents’ limited contact with schools. Parents also created distance between themselves and schools. Among recently arrived immigrants, this was partly an artifact of being new to U.S. expectations of FI, such as volunteering in the classroom or chaperoning a field trip. Other parents explained that their work schedules made it impossible to spend time at their children’s schools (or even with their children at home). But in many cases, parents were deliberate in limiting their contact with schools. Some were put off by what they perceived as discriminatory attitudes from teachers. Haiti-born Cassandra’s father shared that because teachers know he comes from a “third-world country,” some of them do not expect that his children will go to college, “even when you show your own background. When you talk about your goals for your kids, they are often surprised.” Donna’s mother, whose two children were born in the United States, explained that she was not always comfortable with the way she and her children were treated at school, because when interactions were negative,

you might be thinking [to yourself] “it’s because I’m Black”; you might think all the way to that. Sometimes you say to yourself, “the teacher might not behave toward the White child the way she behaves toward the Black child, toward my child.” This problem, that problem . . . if it was a White child, maybe she would not have these problems.

Furthermore, Donna wondered whether her limited proficiency in English caused teachers to perceive her as less savvy, even though they treated her politely: “They always show you that you are welcome, but sometimes after you leave, they might be saying, ‘oh, so-and-so doesn’t really speak English.’ Because there are some things you would like to express that you can’t really express in the way you should express it.”

An unintended consequence of the distance parents maintained was that they lacked the insider knowledge necessary to navigate the complex, and often oppositional, waters of public education. During one of my visits to Westside High School, Mr. A., a school psychologist, shared a story about a child whose parents had signed an individualized education program (IEP) form for their son without truly understanding what the form meant. Although it had been translated for them into Kreyòl, with no baseline knowledge of IEPs, education for children with special needs, or even “learning disability,” these parents had no context within which to interpret what they were being told. What troubled Mr. A. was that based on his assessment, the student was not learning disabled but instead was having difficulty learning English. Mr. A. was working to undo the situation but said it would be difficult because the parents had willingly signed the paperwork.


As a counternarrative to parents’ efforts to distance themselves from schools, a number of parents demonstrated agency by advocating directly with schools on their children’s behalf and by pursuing reciprocal partnerships with teachers and other school people. This was more likely the case among parents of U.S.-born youth, which makes sense because these were usually people who had been in the United States longer, were more proficient in English, and had better understanding of how U.S. institutions operate.

Parental advocacy. Parents who suspected mistreatment or discrimination felt entitled to go to the school to straighten things out. Samantha’s mother, for example, demanded that her son be switched to another classroom because she felt his teacher was unfair to him. She said,

The teacher was mistreating [him]. He is truly a good child. He’s very smart. One teacher he had could not stand him! Could not stand him! Everything the child does, the teacher is against him. I was forced to go down to the school . . . I demanded they take him out of that class. . . . When I went down they transferred him; they put him in another class.

Another example comes from 1.5-generation Jeanty’s case. Jeanty had been labeled a slow learner (“borderline retarded”) early on in his schooling career, but his parents suspected there were other issues. After battling the school system for several years, they got Jeanty’s hearing tested and discovered that in fact his issues had a physiological basis: Jeanty was hard of hearing. Another special needs child, Judes, U.S.-born, had an active mother who was not shy about speaking out on his behalf. She was not at all happy with the middle school he was attending, and comparing it with his elementary school, she shared,

I was really happy with the Simmons. Teachers loved him, the kids were nice, etc. But at the Monroe, the kids hit him, the teachers don’t care. I did not like that school from the first time I saw it. Sometimes the White teachers can be racist. They can dislike you because you’re Black.

Later when I asked what she felt was negative about Judes’s school experience, she replied, “The teachers ignoring and not listening to him and telling him they don’t want to hear him tell them about what other kids are doing. They don’t care about him.” Judes’s mother had complained to the school counselor, a Haitian woman, and was hoping for some resolution to the situation.

Reciprocal partnership-seeking. There also were parents who believed families and schools should work in partnership. Contrary, however, to how “family–school partnerships” are framed in mainstream discourse—in which families reinforce school practices, messages, and ideas—Haitian immigrant parents expected a more reciprocal relationship:

Abner’s mother, 1.5 generation: “The teachers need to be like a parent to my child…I like to think of them as being responsible for my child for a large part of the day. Teachers have to take that seriously. The kids have to also be responsible. Even if the teachers get up early to open the doors for the kids. Parents, teachers, and students have to work together. Parents and teachers need to come together to work for kids.”

Gyslaine’s father, second generation: “The same way schools want parents to be involved and communicate, they should do the same. Whether it’s positive or negative.”

Rosette’s father, 1.5 generation: “The school should encourage the child to listen to the parent. This will bring success to the child—partnership between parent and school. It shouldn’t only be the parents. The child should respect everyone.”

Sherly’s mother, second generation: “Now they do more to get the parent together with the teacher. I think when the parent is close to the teacher, it’s best.”

Edwidge’s father, 1.5 generation: “To maintain contact with the parents, have meetings at least twice a semester. If the child has a problem at school, demand that he comes to school with the parents. They will know who they are dealing with and have an open eye on the kids like if they are turbulent at school. The teachers will have more respect in the classrooms. It will be good for the principal, parents, and the child who will have more watchful eyes upon him or her.”


The data presented here show that Haitian immigrant parents engaged in tactical resistance to Americanization by protecting the home terrain, equating schools with Americanization, and negotiating a seat at the table. These tactics often manifested as resistance to building bridges between home and school, though, as the data demonstrate, at the heart of parents’ concern was the fear of losing their children. These findings are consistent with what other studies of Haitian families’ experiences in the United States have reported. Concerns over family privacy, the power of the state versus parental control, and keeping tight reigns on children’s activities have been documented by researchers of, and practitioners working in, Haitian communities from New York to Miami (De Santis & Ugarriza, 1995; Giles, 1990; Pierce & Elisme, 1997; Stepick, Stepick, Eugene, Teed, & Labissiere, 2001; Zéphir, 2001, 2004) and in fact also corroborate theory and research on immigrant families more broadly (Booth, Crouter, & Landale, 1996; Portes & Rumbaut, 2001; Suárez-Orozco & Suárez-Orozco, 2001).

Haitian families’ ambivalent relationship to U.S. schools also is not unique, and in particular, these families’ expectation that schools should provide an éducation, and not merely instruction, echoes the findings of Valdès (1996), as well as Reese, Balzano, Gallimore, and Goldenberg (1995), whose research with Latino families revealed that parents believed the purpose of schooling was for the educación of children. It is important to note that Haitian parents appreciated many aspects of the U.S. educational system, such as the (seeming) availability of quality schooling for all, irrespective of race or class. But because the Haitian educational system is based on the French model, it has marked differences from the American system (Doucet, 2002, 2005; Zéphir, 2001), from pedagogical practices such as rote memorization and national exams to pursue secondary education, to philosophical beliefs about the purpose of education. Teachers in Haiti are treated with utmost respect and are permitted, even expected, to reprimand their students and physically punish them if deemed necessary. Zéphir (2001) discussed the challenges Haitian youth face in trying to explain to their parents why their homework assignments and projects entail such activities as sewing, building models, conducting surveys, and other activities not involving “being in the books.” Parents had difficulty accepting that these activities constituted real learning and thus were sometimes unwilling to provide the construction paper, special tools, or other such items needed for school projects (which also may be quite costly for parents working multiple jobs merely to feed their families).

It also is helpful to consider Haitian families’ expectations of their role within schools in the context of their experiences in Haiti. Given that teachers are perceived in Haiti as being ultimately responsible for teaching children, it makes sense that some Haitian parents question the competency of American teachers for constantly seeking their input and feedback about their children’s school performance. Teachers also may be perceived as too intrusive or pushy to Haitian parents who, as discussed, prefer to keep their personal lives very private, who might fear being judged for their lack of skills or ignorance of the system, or who might in some cases be concerned that their undocumented status would be discovered (Zéphir, 2001). It could be argued, of course, that Haitian families could meet their need for control over their children’s experiences if they became actively involved in schools. In many ways, this was exactly the category of tactics adopted by parents who demanded a seat at the table, and though they provide a counternarrative to the tactics of families who avoided relationships with schools, they still represent subversive actions against the mainstream because parents (a) directly advocated on behalf of their children in the face of perceived discrimination or mistreatment and (b) sought reciprocal partnerships with teachers and other school people, rather than the typical school-centric “partnerships.”


The findings I have presented here question the pervasive notion in educational literature and practice that close links between home and school should be the goal of both teachers and families. What if such links are not the goal of immigrant parents? What are the implications? In this section, I outline parallel implications for theory and for practice, acknowledging that there are tensions between them.


Current conceptualizations of FI, whether from the Worlds Apart or Worlds Together perspectives, are based on the fundamental assumption that close connections between the worlds of home and school are desirable, if not imperative, for students’ academic success and well-being. This reflects U.S. constructions of the schooling project that are not found the world over, so one implication for building more expansive theories of FI entails bringing a global lens to home–school relations. De Carvalho (2001) questioned what she views as an invasion of home life from schooling practices like homework assignments that cannot be completed without parental assistance. She explained further that in Brazil, her country of origin, homework is assigned because the school day there is shorter, thus there often is not time to cover all the necessary material. In the United States, where the typical school day lasts 6–7 hours and the children of many working parents attend after-school programs with an academic theme, it does not seem that parent participation in homework would be a necessity.

A second implication for theory-building regards how efforts to build bridges account for the role of power in shaping relationships among stakeholders. Bridging is not value neutral. Educators at every level need a model of family–school relations that acknowledges power and the potential loss of it (for both sides) through bridging. Intercultural relationships require certain risks (Sturm, 1991), and traditionally the burden of risk-taking has fallen on marginalized groups (think of Du Bois’s double-consciousness,1903/1994). Research has shown that “intercultural competence can be learned only in intercultural relationships—in risk-taking, anxiety-provoking, confusing, and sometimes embarrassing intercultural encounters” (Gudykunst, 1991, as cited in Sturm, 1991, p. 38). I find this statement very profound because it presents losses that are far less risky for people already in positions of power. Yet this is the daily work of immigrants. Resistance to bridging must be understood in this context, and those in power must be willing to share that power if they truly desire parents’ voices to inform and shape their work (Fine, 1993).

Finally, the field needs new ways to think about traditional practices of FI and home–school relations. Immigrant parents may adopt viewpoints that fall in line with mainstream ways of thinking about the role of parents in school. They may be eager to volunteer, organize bake sales, and assist teachers in the classroom. How they come to make those desires known, however, and their particular approaches to such practices, may diverge from traditional models in light of the various dynamics I have presented. When bridging is deemed desirable by all stakeholders, the question becomes, “What kind of bridge do we need to build so that everyone benefits?” Equal amounts of care, consideration, and evaluation are needed to lay foundations for building bridges that will allow for mutually beneficial family–school relationships for Haitian immigrants (and other immigrants).


Like researchers, practitioners must learn more about parental expectations of the family–school relationship. Traditionally, when there was incongruence or “cultural mismatch” between home and school, it was expected that families should conform their expectations to those of the school. More recently, increasing scholarship and wisdom from the field have countered that schools and school people must consider how they can respect the ways in which immigrant families construct schooling (perhaps) differently from the mainstream. Beyond curricular models and behavioral concerns, though, considering alternative constructions of the schooling project might require schools and school people also to reimagine their relationships to families (Doucet, 2008; Tobin, Arzubiaga, & Mantovani, 2007). The push for “parents as partners,” empowerment, and parent education, then, may need to be calibrated to reflect the desires and goals of particular communities rather than politically laden assumptions made by outsiders about what parents need (Lightfoot, 2004).

Practitioners also must acknowledge the power dynamics involved in communicating with families. Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot (2003) has written eloquently about how intimidated many parents feel when they come into their children’s classrooms for conferences with teachers. She explained that the sights, smells, and sounds of school, the small chairs, the authority of the teacher—all these elements transport many parents to their own childhood schooling experiences, some of which may have been unpleasant or frightening. “The adults come together prepared to focus on the present and the future of the child, but instead they feel themselves drawn back into their own pasts, visited by the ghosts of their parents, grandparents, siblings, and former teachers, haunted by ancient childhood dramas” (p. 4). Add to that the unfamiliarity with the particulars of U.S. schools, any linguistic obstacles immigrant parents may have, and their likely strong desire to impress teachers and other school people, and the power implications are unmistakable. Hanhan (2003) explained that in these circumstances, it is incumbent upon teachers, representing the less vulnerable position, to “make the first move.” Furthermore, power differences can only be changed when the perception of teachers as experts and parents as novices is recalibrated, and teachers can lead the way on these efforts as well (Doucet & Tudge, 2007; Lawrence-Lightfoot, 2003).

Finally, educators should be open to the possibility that many immigrant families may strongly desire relationships with schools and teachers that follow commonly accepted U.S. paradigms. But rather than assume that the process of building those partnerships will take traditional paths, educators should be prepared to recognize divergent means to reaching common goals. In addition, schools and school people can think creatively about how to merge traditional models with the needs of contemporary immigrant families in terms of accommodating work schedules, varying configurations of family roles, linguistic needs, and so on (Delgado-Gaitan, 1991; Pérez Carreón, Drake, & Calabrese Barton, 2005; Valdès, 1996).

Bridge-building assumes that both sides have come together and agreed to the bridge. When engineers want to build a bridge across a river, they don’t just show up at the site with measuring tape, determine the distance between the two shores and the depth of the water, and start building. They have to be intimately familiar with every aspect of the setting that could impact the bridge’s integrity and performance, such as the distance/depth between the riverbed and its bedrock; the current variations; wind conditions; temperature changes; erosion; flooding patterns; seismic activity in the area; and on and on. Once they have done their research, they are ready to design the bridge, make calculations, and draft and redraft. Only then are they are ready to go to the site and begin laying foundations for the building of the bridge. If we are serious about education for social justice, liberation, and equity, we cannot afford to be any less thorough.


I wish to thank Brent E. Gibson, M. Elizabeth Graue, Joseph Tobin, two anonymous reviewers, and Lyn Corno for their helpful feedback on earlier versions of this manuscript. Many thanks also are due to Carola and Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, Charlene Desir, Silvia Covelli, Vivian Louie, Guelson Fostiné, Judes Joseph, and Felipe Dossou for their invaluable support and assistance on various aspects of the research. Funding for this research was provided by the Cultural Anthropology Division of the National Science Foundation, a National Science Foundation Minority Postdoctoral Fellowship, the W. T. Grant Foundation, and the Spencer Foundation. Most of all, I am indebted to the families and young people who afforded me the precious opportunity to peer into their lives. I hope their voices come to life in these pages.


1. To be sure, Haitian immigrant youth also exercised agency in how they positioned themselves as they navigated home and school and the liminal spaces that cannot be characterized as either. However, in the interest of space and to address an important gap in the literature, I focus specifically on parents in this article.

2. I refer to parents and families interchangeably throughout, to acknowledge, first, that many children are raised by relatives, and second, that in some cultural groups, parents delegate school and or educational involvement to other family members (Crozier & Davies, 2006).

3. Some 1.5-generation parents had multiple children participating in the study.

4. All names of persons and schools are pseudonyms.


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Appendix A

Sample of Parent Interview Questions by Topic Area

Household Composition

In the last 4 years, have there been any changes in where you and your children live?

In total, how many people live in your household for 2 months or more during the year?

Are you currently living with a spouse or partner?

Experiences Coming to the U.S.

What has improved in your family’s life because you came to the U.S.?

Considering both the good and the bad, how satisfied are you that you came to the U.S.? [4-point Likert-type scale item]

In what ways is raising children in the U.S. different from raising them in Haiti?

Parenting Beliefs and Practices

How closely would you say you supervise your children?

Do you allow your teenage daughter(s)/sons(s) to participate in any structured social activities after school (e.g., sports teams, nonacademic school clubs)?

How often do you think your teenage daughter(s)/son(s) should help around the house and do chores? [Almost every day; From time to time; Almost never]

Attitudes and Practices Around Education and Schooling

How often do you ask to see your child(ren)’s homework? [Almost every night; A few times a week; A few times a month; A few times a year]

How often do you see your child(ren)’s report cards? [Every few months; Twice a year; At the end of the school year]

What is the lowest grade your child(ren) can receive without getting into trouble?

Children’s Peer Relationships

Tell me a little bit about (your child’s) friends. Do you think they influence how your child performs in school? If yes, in what ways?

How worried are you that (child’s name)’s friends are a bad influence on him/her?

Have you met or had a conversation with the parents of your child(ren)’s friends? [Most of them; Some of them; None of them]

Transnational Practices

Have you/has your partner returned to Haiti since you/(s)he immigrated? If yes, how many times? For how long, on average? For what reasons?

Has (child participant) ever visited Haiti?

Does your family keep in touch with relatives and friends back home? How? How often?

Appendix B

Interviewer Comments Page


Appendix C

Data Reduction Examples and Coding Scheme Comparisons

Interview question:

From your perspective, what could schools do to better serve the needs of your child[ren]?

LISA coding options [Note to coders: Code up to 3]


No suggestions


No Suggestions because everything is good and schools are doing a good job.


Maintain higher standards (e.g., teachers having high expectations from kids, more rigorous curriculum, demand homework)


Foster/improve communication with parents


Recognize stress of migrating and provide support services


Value culture of origin/multicultural education


Provide transitional bilingual education/bilingual teachers / need for better bilingual programs


Better teachers (e.g., more competent, well trained, better student/teacher ratio, more compassionate, more attentive)


Monitor students more closely/maintain better discipline (e.g., be stricter with students, teachers should have more authority to punish students who misbehave)


Higher security at school (e.g., metal detectors)


More after-school support/longer school day


Provide academic supports/tutoring/extra help


Job placement services


Better information/support College Pathway Knowledge


Uniforms/dress code (e.g., students should wear uniforms, school should control the type of clothes worn to school)

99. Special code for “other”

Parent response

LISA Code(s) Assigned

Initial open-ended Code(s)


1.5-gen parent: First of all, they were fighting the bilingual program. [The program] is good for all nations coming here. It helps the kids to transition from their native language to English to progress. Second, to endorse more control. More homework to daily correct the homework to encourage them, call the parents on how they [kids] are performing, behaving to help them move in the right direction.




Bilingual ed

School discipline

Parent-school rlsp

Criticisms of U.S. schools/schooling

Reciprocal partnership-seeking

1.5-gen parent: Give them less freedom. Teach them that their parents are more important than life. They can only be happy if they have them [parents] and make them their confidante and friend. [Parents] will never betray them. God first and parents after.



School discipline

Parent-school rlsp

Parent-child rlsp

No friends

Reciprocal partnership-seeking

Criticisms of U.S. schools/schooling

Discouraging friendships

Second-gen parent: Teachers should be more firm with the students. Some classrooms have 30 students to one teacher. There should at least be 2 teachers in those rooms.



School discipline

Criticisms of U.S. schools/schooling

Second-gen parent: Kids here don’t listen to their parents. And kids here don’t listen to their teachers. Kids go to school with guns and weapons, and the teacher is trying to do the right thing and teach you the right way. I want Americans to put a stop to it by putting detectors at the doors. That’s why I tell my kids not get to involved with friends.



Kids in charge

Bad schools

Good teachers

No friends

Criticisms of U.S. schools/schooling

Discouraging friendships

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 113 Number 12, 2011, p. 2705-2738
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16203, Date Accessed: 5/27/2022 11:50:05 AM

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About the Author
  • Fabienne Doucet
    New York University
    E-mail Author
    FABIENNE DOUCET is an assistant professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning at the New York University Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. Her research program addresses the educational experiences of immigrant and U.S.-born children of color and their families’ relationships to U.S. schools. Recent publications include: Doucet, F. (2008). How African American parents understand their and teachers’ roles in children’s schooling and what this means for preparing preservice teachers. Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 29(2), 108–139; and Tudge, J. R. H., Freitas, L. B. L., & Doucet, F. (2009). The transition to school: Reflections from a contextualist perspective. In H. Daniels, H. Lauder, & J. Porter (Eds.), Educational theories, cultures and learning: A critical perspective (pp. 117–133). London: Routledge.
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