Schools as Structures of Power

My doctoral students and I are working on a project that is focused on family, school, community partnerships (FSCPs). We have two goals for our work: (1) to craft a literature review that explores the impact of these partnerships and how they might influence teacher preparation, and (2) to develop a syllabus for our summer alternative field experience that takes our learning into account. As I am reading the literature for FSCPs, I am struck by the expectation of schools for families and communities to come to them. This creates a “done unto” relationship with families, rather than “doing with” to best support the children for which all three entities are responsible. Without deep knowledge and commitment to families and communities, schools don’t know what is best for the children in their care. But, that commitment means that schools must integrate into the community just as much as they expect the community to come to them. Together, they can develop shared understandings of how to support children within their context. 

From a policy perspective, this goes back to the notion of standardization. If we expect the same inputs and outputs from all schools, then we ignore the rich culture of the neighborhoods in which those schools are located. Why would families and communities be heavily invested in a school that does not invest in the community? But, why would schools feel compelled to invest in the community if the curricular standards leave no room for integrating community into practice? And whose cultural norms determine standardized practices within our schools? 

Bryan and Henry (2012) do a nice job of summarizing the principles of building FSCPs: Democratic collaboration, Empowerment, Social Justice, and Strengths-Focused. By focusing on these four principles, action teams (representing all stakeholders) are better able to address the specific needs of each community, and potentially develop positive outcomes such as a narrowed achievement gap. 

Why any policy maker believes that standardization, without consideration for individual contexts, would lead to higher achievement is beyond me. This idea positions the school as the only stakeholder with power — the absolute power of knowledge — and gives no credence to the rich cultures outside of the school that are powerful influences on children, and could be powerful partners for schools. Such an understanding would require a paradigmatic shift from deficit model to a strengths-based model of education.

The doctoral students and I intend to support this shift in coursework with our preservice teachers.

Works cited: 

Bryan, J., & Henry, L. (2012). A model for building school-family-community partnerships: Principles and processes. Journal of Counseling & Development, 90, 408-420.

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