Multicultural Families, Home Literacies, and Mainstream Schooling
reviewed by William Kist - September 14, 2009
Title: Multicultural Families, Home Literacies, and Mainstream Schooling
Author(s): Guofang Li (ed.)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1607520354, Pages: 312, Year: 2009
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When I was just a second-year teacher, my school decided to allow teachers to do home visits in lieu of Parent-Teacher Conference Night. If a teacher agreed to do eight home visits, he or she would be excused from what amounted to an eight-hour required presence during Parent-Teacher Conference Night. I was intrigued by this deal, since, being a ninth grade teacher, I often had to struggle to get parents to show up at Parent-Teacher Conference Night. I thought this would be a way to connect with my students and their families in a much more intimate venue. There was a requirement that we had to do these home visits in pairs, so I recruited a veteran science teacher who was willing to join me, and we set off. This was before MapQuest, so just finding some of the homes was an adventure. Once we got into the homes, we were surprised at the hospitality we were shown as we were showered with food and (nonalcoholic, of course) drink. And we soon realized a pattern. Parents wanted to talk about their own school experiences at school many years ago and whether they liked English or Science. Before we knew it, it seemed that we were involved in a series of therapy sessions for the parents about the various scars and some happy memories they gained at school.
The most memorable experience came at the end of our journey of home visits, when a family insisted we stay for dinner. They had prepared a full dinner for us, complete with several courses. Soon after the first course was served, the conversation turned to school. The student actually was not one of my best, but I felt awkward going into too much detail when they were serving us dinner. But her father did want to go into detail. As the meal went on, he proceeded to denigrate her overall school performance and lecture her in front of us as to how she needed to do better in school. My science teacher colleague and I felt like sinking down out of our chairs as we tried to avert our eyes at this spectacle. But there was no escaping for uswe were soon put on the spot as the father demanded what his daughter could do to improve. I think we came up with some quick answer that accentuated the positive and, as I remember it, asked if someone could please pass the potatoes. We excused ourselves more quickly than we might have otherwise, feeling that we were on the brink of being taken to the woodshed ourselves!
I thought of my home visit experience as I read the newly published volume, Multicultural Families, Home Literacies, and Mainstream Schooling, ably edited by Guofang Li. Li admits that this is well-worn territory, citing the work, of course, of Heath (1983) and the funds of knowledge work of Moll et al. (1992). In an apt opening chapter, Trevor Carney also situates the books chapters among the work of those who have come before such as Heath (1983); Ladson-Billings (1995); and the work of Street (1995) and Barton and Hamilton (1998).
The volume is divided into three sections: Theorizing Research on Home Literacy Practices and Mainstream Schooling; Multicultural Families and Home Literacy Practices; and School-Home Literacy Connections; and the heart of the book is the second section which consists of rich descriptions of families. Several of the chapters provide vivid snapshots of these families home literacies. In Catherine Compton-Lillys description of African-American children whom she followed beginning when she taught them in first grade and for the following eight years, we get a glimpse of the importance of extended families in these childrens lives, and the wide range of literacy practices that she observed in the home. And there is Patricia Lynchs poignant discussion of how the Somali Bantu family she worked with for a year gently scaffolded each other and even scaffolded her: Just as I modeled English for the family members, they often modeled their own language for me (p. 64).
One of the most fascinating chapters is Hye-Young Parks description of her own attempts to preserve her sons Korean literacy and culture. Even in the face of her sons increasing use of English, she perseveres as she describes the many bilingual parents who report being frustrated and overwhelmed. This chapter is bookended by a chapter later in the book, by Mariana Souto-Manning and Jaime Dice that describes the life experiences of a boy and the friction he encounters as he is being raised by his mother, who speaks mainly Portuguese, and his father, who only speaks English.
My only real criticism of the volume is that, while it was good to see the increasing prevalence of multimodality mentioned in several places in the book, consideration of families uses of multiliteracies was entirely missing from many chapters. As Carney says in his opening chapter, The impact of multimedia and digital literacy demands on families and schools is also of critical importance. What impact do changing literacy practices have on families and how should schools respond to the growth of new literacy practices? (p. 17).
In sum, Im sure that there arent any educators who wouldnt agree with Patricia Lynchs comment: I believe the improvement of public education requires a commitment on the part of classroom teachers to humanize the process of teaching and learning, to see each child as his or her unique and particular self (p. 67). As I was reading, I kept thinking of the home visits I did, with the parents who wanted to reminisce about school and the lecturing father I encountered on my one home visit. Ironically, as we were attempting to learn about the home lives of our students families, it seemed like they were intent upon bringing school practices into the home. The dinner table became just an extension of the classroom with all of its emphasis on grading and competition. Its clear that we need more research done similar to the work described in Multicultural Families, Home Literacies, and Mainstream Schooling, if we ever have hope of transforming school culture as we attempt to link to, and be scaffolded ourselves by, the home literacies of our students.
Barton, D. & Hamilton, M. (1998). Local literacies: Reading and writing in one community. London: Routledge.
Grosjean, F. (2002). An interview of Francois Grosjean on bilingualism. Retrieved February 28, 2005 from http://www.unine.ch/Itlp/grosjean.html
Heath, S.B. (1983). Ways with words: Language, life and work in community and classrooms. New York: Cambridge UP.
Ladson-Billings, G. (1995). Toward a theory of culturally relevant pedagogy. American Educational Research Journal, 32(3) 465-491.
Moll, L., Amanti, C., Neff, D., & Gonzalez, N. (1992). Funds of knowledge for teaching: Using a qualitative approach to connect homes and classrooms. Theory into Practice, 31(2), 132-141.
Street, B.V. (1995). Social literacies: Critical approaches to literacy in development, ethnography and education. London: Longman.