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Race Ethnicity and Education

ISSN: 1361-3324 (Print) 1470-109X (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cree20

Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory
discussion of community cultural wealth

Tara J. Yosso

To cite this article: Tara J. Yosso (2005) Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory
discussion of community cultural wealth, Race Ethnicity and Education, 8:1, 69-91, DOI:
10.1080/1361332052000341006

To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/1361332052000341006

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Race Ethnicity and Education
Vol. 8, No. 1, March 2005, pp. 69–91

ISSN 1361-3324 (print)/ISSN 1470-109X (online)/05/010069–23
© 2005 Taylor & Francis Group Ltd
DOI: 10.1080/1361332052000341006

Whose culture has capital? A critical
race theory discussion of community
cultural wealth
Tara J. Yosso*
University of California, USA
Taylor and Francis LtdCREE080105.sgm10.1080/1361332052000341006Race Ethnicity and Education1361-3324 (print)/1470-109X (online)Original Article2005Taylor & Francis Group Ltd81000000March [email protected]

This article conceptualizes community cultural wealth as a critical race theory (CRT) challenge to
traditional interpretations of cultural capital. CRT shifts the research lens away from a deficit view
of Communities of Color as places full of cultural poverty disadvantages, and instead focuses on and
learns from the array of cultural knowledge, skills, abilities and contacts possessed by socially
marginalized groups that often go unrecognized and unacknowledged. Various forms of capital
nurtured through cultural wealth include aspirational, navigational, social, linguistic, familial and
resistant capital. These forms of capital draw on the knowledges Students of Color bring with them
from their homes and communities into the classroom. This CRT approach to education involves
a commitment to develop schools that acknowledge the multiple strengths of Communities of Color
in order to serve a larger purpose of struggle toward social and racial justice.

Introduction

Theory, then, is a set of knowledges. Some of these knowledges have been kept from us—
entry into some professions and academia denied us. Because we are not allowed to enter
discourse, because we are often disqualified and excluded from it, because what passes for
theory these days is forbidden territory for us, it is vital that we occupy theorizing space,
that we not allow white men and women solely to occupy it. By bringing in our own
approaches and methodologies, we transform that theorizing space. (Anzaldúa, 1990,
p. xxv, emphasis in original)

In the epigraph above, Gloria Anzaldúa (1990) calls on People of Color to trans-
form the process of theorizing. This call is about epistemology—the study of
sources of knowledge. Scholars such as Gloria Ladson-Billings (2000) and Dolores
Delgado Bernal (1998, 2002) have asked: whose knowledge counts and whose
knowledge is discounted? Throughout US history, race and racism have shaped this

* Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa
Barbara, CA 93106, USA. Email: [email protected]

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70 T. J. Yosso

epistemological debate (Scheurich & Young, 1997; Lopez & Parker, 2003). Indeed,
it has been over a century since DuBois (1903, 1989) predicted that racism would
continue to emerge as one of the United States’ key social problems. Racism
overtly shaped US social institutions at the beginning of the twentieth century and
continues, although more subtly, to impact US institutions of socialization in the
beginning of the twenty-first century. Researchers, practitioners and students are
still searching for the necessary tools to effectively analyze and challenge the impact
of race and racism in US society.

In addressing the debate over knowledge within the context of social inequality,
Pierre Bourdieu (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977) argued that the knowledges of the
upper and middle classes are considered capital valuable to a hierarchical society. If
one is not born into a family whose knowledge is already deemed valuable, one could
then access the knowledges of the middle and upper class and the potential for social
mobility through formal schooling. Bourdieu’s theoretical insight about how a hier-
archical society reproduces itself has often been interpreted as a way to explain why
the academic and social outcomes of People of Color are significantly lower than the
outcomes of Whites. The assumption follows that People of Color ‘lack’ the social
and cultural capital required for social mobility. As a result, schools most often work
from this assumption in structuring ways to help ‘disadvantaged’ students whose race
and class background has left them lacking necessary knowledge, social skills, abilities
and cultural capital (see Valenzuela, 1999).

This interpretation demonstrates Anzaldúa’s point: ‘If we have been gagged and
disempowered by theories, we can also be loosened and empowered by theories’
(Anzaldúa, 1990, p. xxvi). Indeed, if some knowledges have been used to silence,
marginalize and render People of Color invisible, then ‘Outsider’ knowledges (Hill
Collins, 1986), mestiza knowledges (Anzaldúa, 1987) and transgressive knowledges
(hooks, 1994) can value the presence and voices of People of Color, and can re-
envision the margins as places empowered by transformative resistance (hooks,
1990; Delgado Bernal, 1997; Solórzano & Delgado Bernal, 2001). Critical race
theory (CRT) listens to DuBois’ racial insight and offers a response to Anzaldúa’s
theoretical challenge. CRT is a framework that can be used to theorize, examine
and challenge the ways race and racism implicitly and explicitly impact on social
structures, practices and discourses.

Below, I discuss the ways CRT centers Outsider, mestiza, transgressive knowl-
edges. After outlining the theoretical framework of CRT, I critique the assumption
that Students of Color come to the classroom with cultural deficiencies. Utilizing
a CRT lens, I challenge traditional interpretations of Bourdieuean cultural capital
theory (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977) and introduce an alternative concept called
community cultural wealth. Then, I outline at least six forms of capital that
comprise community cultural wealth and most often go unacknowledged or unrec-
ognized. In examining some of the under-utilized assets Students of Color bring
with them from their homes and communities into the classroom, this article
notes the potential of community cultural wealth to transform the process of
schooling.

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Cultural capital and critical race theory 71

Critical race theory in education

CRT draws from and extends a broad literature base of critical theory in law, sociol-
ogy, history, ethnic studies and women’s studies. Kimberlé Crenshaw (2002)
explains that in the late 1980s, various legal scholars felt limited by work that
separated critical theory from conversations about race and racism. Alongside other
‘Outsider’ scholars (Hill Collins, 1986) Crenshaw (2002) was ‘looking for both a crit-
ical space in which race was foregrounded and a race space where critical themes were
central’ (p. 19). Mari Matsuda (1991) defined that CRT space as:

… the work of progressive legal scholars of color who are attempting to develop a jurispru-
dence that accounts for the role of racism in American law and that work toward the elim-
ination of racism as part of a larger goal of eliminating all forms of subordination. (p. 1331)

In previous work, I describe a genealogy of CRT that links the themes and patterns
of legal scholarship with the social science literature (Solórzano & Yosso, 2001).
Figure 1 addresses some of this intellectual history.1
Figure 1. An intellectual genealogy of critical race theory

In its post-1987 form, CRT emerged from criticisms of the Critical Legal Studies
(CLS) movement. CLS scholars questioned the role of the traditional legal system in
legitimizing oppressive social structures. With this insightful analysis, CLS scholar-
ship emphasized critique of the liberal legal tradition as opposed to offering strategies
for change. Scholars such as Derrick Bell and Alan Freeman asserted that one reason
why the CLS critique of the law could not offer strategies for social transformation
was because it failed to incorporate race and racism into the analysis (Delgado,
1995a; Ladson-Billings, 1998). Not listening to the lived experiences and histories of
those oppressed by institutionalized racism limited CLS scholarship. This argument
had also been taking place in social science and history circles, specifically in ethnic
and women’s studies scholarship.

Figure 1. An intellectual genealogy of critical race theory

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72 T. J. Yosso

Critical race theorists began to pull away from CLS because the critical legal
framework restricted their ability to analyze racial injustice (Delgado, 1988;
Crenshaw et al., 1995; Delgado & Stefancic, 2001; Crenshaw, 2002). Initially, CRT
scholarship focused its critique on the slow pace and unrealized promise of Civil
Rights legislation. As a result, many of the critiques launched were articulated in
Black vs White terms. Women and People of Color who felt their gendered, classed,
sexual, immigrant and language experiences and histories were being silenced, chal-
lenged this tendency toward a Black/White binary. They stressed that oppression in
the law and society could not be fully understood in terms of only Black and White.
Certainly, African Americans have experienced a unique and horrendous history of
racism and other forms of subordination in the US. Other People of Color have
their own histories that likewise have been shaped by racism and the intersecting
forms of subordination (Espinoza & Harris, 1998). By offering a two-dimensional
discourse, the Black/White binary limits understandings of the multiple ways in
which African Americans, Native Americans, Asian/Pacific Islanders, Chicanas/os,
and Latinas/os continue to experience, respond to, and resist racism and other
forms of oppression.

For example, Latina/o critical race (LatCrit) theory extends critical race discus-
sions to address the layers of racialized subordination that comprise Chicana/o,
Latina/o experiences (Arriola, 1997, 1998; Stefancic, 1998). LatCrit scholars assert
that racism, sexism and classism are experienced amidst other layers of subordination
based on immigration status, sexuality, culture, language, phenotype, accent and
surname (Montoya, 1994; Johnson, 1999). Indeed, the traditional paradigm for
understanding US race relations is often a Black/White binary, which limits discus-
sions about race and racism to terms of African American and White experiences
(Valdes, 1997, 1998). Like Manning Marable (1992), who defines racism as ‘a
system of ignorance, exploitation and power used to oppress African Americans,
Latinos, Asians, Pacific Americans, American Indians, and other people on the basis
of ethnicity, culture, mannerisms, and color’ (p. 5), CRT scholarship has benefited
from scholarship addressing racism at its intersections with other forms of subordina-
tion (Crenshaw, 1989, 1993).

Over the years, the CRT family tree has expanded to incorporate the racialized
experiences of women, Latinas/os, Native Americans and Asian Americans (see
Figure 1). For example, LatCrit, TribalCrit and AsianCrit are branches of CRT,
evidencing Chicana/o, Latina/o, Native American and Asian American communities’
ongoing search for a framework that addresses racism and its accompanying oppres-
sions beyond the Black/White binary (Ikemoto, 1992; Chang, 1993, 1998; Chon,
1996; Delgado, 1997; Williams, 1997; Brayboy, 2001, 2002). Women of Color have
also challenged CRT to address feminist critiques of racism and classism through
FemCrit theory (Caldwell, 1995; Wing, 1997, 2000). In addition, White scholars
have expanded CRT with WhiteCrit, by ‘looking behind the mirror’ to expose White
privilege and challenge racism (Delgado & Stefancic, 1997).

CRT’s branches are not mutually exclusive or in contention with one another.
Naming, theorizing and mobilizing from the intersections of racism, need not initiate

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Cultural capital and critical race theory 73

some sort of oppression sweepstakes—a competition to measure one form of oppres-
sion against another. As Cherrie Moraga (1983) writes,

The danger lies in ranking the oppressions. The danger lies in failing to acknowledge the
specificity of the oppression. The danger lies in attempting to deal with oppression purely
from a theoretical base. Without an emotional, heartfelt grappling with the source of our
own oppression, without naming the enemy within ourselves and outside of us, no authen-
tic, non-hierarchical connection among oppressed groups can take place. (pp. 52–53)

Indeed, racism and its intersections with other forms of subordination shape the
experiences of People of Color very differently than Whites (Bell, 1986; 1998; Essed,
1991; Baca Zinn, 1989). Still, the popular discourse in the US, as well as the
academic discourse, continues to be limited by the Black/White binary. CRT adds to
efforts to continue to expand this dialogue to recognize the ways in which our strug-
gles for social justice are limited by discourses that omit and thereby silence the multi-
ple experiences of People of Color (Ellison, 1990).

As a student of Chicana/o Studies, the theoretical models informing my work
included the Internal Colonial model (Bonilla & Girling, 1973; Blauner, 2001),
Marxism (Bowles & Gintis, 1976; Barrera, 1979), Chicana and Black feminisms
(Anzaldúa, 1987; hooks, 1990; Zavella, 1991; Hurtado, 1996; Hill Collins, 1998,
2000; Saldivar-Hull, 2000) and cultural nationalism (Asante, 1987). Even with all of
their strengths, each of these frameworks had certain blindspots that limited my abil-
ity to examine racism. Now, as a professor of Chicana/o Studies, my work is informed
by the hindsight of CRT and its genealogical branches. To document and analyze the
educational access, persistence and graduation of underrepresented students, I draw
on my interdisciplinary training and those theoretical models whose popularity may
have waned since the 1960s and 1970s, but whose commitment to speaking truth to
power continues to address contemporary social realities.

For the field of education, Daniel Solórzano (1997, 1998) identified five tenets of
CRT that can and should inform theory, research, pedagogy, curriculum and policy:2

(1) the intercentricity of race and racism; (2) the challenge to dominant ideology; (3)
the commitment to social justice; (4) the centrality of experiential knowledge; and (5)
the utilization of interdisciplinary approaches.

1. The intercentricity of race and racism with other forms of subordination. CRT starts
from the premise that race and racism are central, endemic, permanent and a
fundamental part of defining and explaining how US society functions (Bell,
1992; Russell, 1992). CRT acknowledges the inextricable layers of racialized
subordination based on gender, class, immigration status, surname, phenotype,
accent and sexuality (Crenshaw, 1989, 1993; Valdes et al., 2002).

2. The challenge to dominant ideology. CRT challenges White privilege and refutes the
claims that educational institutions make toward objectivity, meritocracy, color-
blindness, race neutrality and equal opportunity. CRT challenges notions of
‘neutral’ research or ‘objective’ researchers and exposes deficit-informed research
that silences, ignores and distorts epistemologies of People of Color (Delgado
Bernal, 1998; Ladson-Billings, 2000). CRT argues that these traditional claims

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74 T. J. Yosso

act as a camouflage for the self-interest, power, and privilege of dominant groups
in US society (Bell, 1987; Calmore, 1992; Solórzano, 1997).

3. The commitment to social justice. CRT is committed to social justice and offers a
liberatory or transformative response to racial, gender and class oppression
(Matsuda, 1991). Such a social justice research agenda exposes the ‘interest-
convergence’ (Bell, 1987) of civil rights ‘gains’ in education and works toward the
elimination of racism, sexism and poverty, as well as the empowerment of People
of Color and other subordinated groups (Freire, 1970, 1973; Solórzano &
Delgado Bernal, 2001).

4. The centrality of experiential knowledge. CRT recognizes that the experiential
knowledge of People of Color is legitimate, appropriate, and critical to under-
standing, analyzing and teaching about racial subordination (Delgado Bernal,
2002). CRT draws explicitly on the lived experiences of People of Color by
including such methods as storytelling, family histories, biographies, scenarios,
parables, cuentos, testimonios, chronicles and narratives (Bell, 1987, 1992, 1996;
Delgado, 1989, 1993, 1995a, b, 1996; Espinoza, 1990; Olivas, 1990; Montoya,
1994; Carrasco, 1996; Solórzano & Yosso, 2000, 2001, 2002a; Solórzano &
Delgado Bernal, 2001; Delgado Bernal & Villalpando, 2002; Villalpando, 2003).

5. The transdisciplinary perspective. CRT goes beyond disciplinary boundaries to
analyze race and racism within both historical and contemporary contexts, draw-
ing on scholarship from ethnic studies, women’s studies, sociology, history, law,
psychology, film, theatre and other fields (Delgado, 1984, 1992; Olivas, 1990;
Gotanda, 1991; Harris, 1994; Garcia, 1995; Gutiérrez-Jones, 2001).

These five themes are not new in and of themselves, but collectively they represent
a challenge to the existing modes of scholarship. Informed by scholars who continue
to expand the literature and scope of discussions of race and racism, I define CRT in
education as a theoretical and analytical framework that challenges the ways race and
racism impact educational structures, practices, and discourses. CRT is conceived as
a social justice project that works toward the liberatory potential of schooling (hooks,
1994; Freire, 1970, 1973). This acknowledges the contradictory nature of education,
wherein schools most often oppress and marginalize while they maintain the potential
to emancipate and empower. Indeed, CRT in education refutes dominant ideology
and White privilege while validating and centering the experiences of People of Color.
CRT utilizes transdisciplinary approaches to link theory with practice, scholarship
with teaching, and the academy with the community (see LatCrit Primer, 1999;
Solórzano & Yosso, 2001).

Many in the academy and in community organizing, activism, and service who look
to challenge social inequality will most likely recognize the tenets of CRT as part of
what, why and how they do the work they do. CRT addresses the social construct of
race by examining the ideology of racism. CRT finds that racism is often well
disguised in the rhetoric of shared ‘normative’ values and ‘neutral’ social scientific
principles and practices (Matsuda et al., 1993). However, when the ideology of
racism is examined and racist injuries are named, victims of racism can often find

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Cultural capital and critical race theory 75

their voice. Those injured by racism and other forms of oppression discover that they
are not alone and moreover are part of a legacy of resistance to racism and the layers
of racialized oppression. They become empowered participants, hearing their own
stories and the stories of others, listening to how the arguments against them are
framed and learning to make the arguments to defend themselves.

Challenging racism, revealing cultural wealth

CRT’s five tenets provide a helpful guiding lens that can inform research in Commu-
nities of Color. Looking through a CRT lens means critiquing deficit theorizing and
data that may be limited by its omission of the voices of People of Color. Such deficit-
informed research often ‘sees’ deprivation in Communities of Color. Indeed, one of
the most prevalent forms of contemporary racism in US schools is deficit thinking.
Deficit thinking takes the position that minority students and families are at fault for
poor academic performance because: (a) students enter school without the normative
cultural knowledge and skills; and (b) parents neither value nor support their child’s
education. These racialized assumptions about Communities of Color most often
leads schools to default to the banking method of education critiqued by Paulo Freire
(1973). As a result, schooling efforts usually aim to fill up supposedly passive students
with forms of cultural knowledge deemed valuable by dominant society. Scholars
Shernaz García and Patricia Guerra (2004) find that such deficit approaches to
schooling begin with overgeneralizations about family background and are exacer-
bated by a limited framework to interpret how individual views about educational
success are shaped by personal ‘sociocultural and linguistic experiences and assump-
tions about appropriate cultural outcomes’ (p. 163). Educators most often assume
that schools work and that students, parents and community need to change to
conform to this already effective and equitable system.

Indeed, García and Guerra’s (2004) research acknowledges that deficit thinking
permeates US society, and both schools and those who work in schools mirror these
beliefs. They argue that this reality necessitates a challenge of personal and individual
race, gender and class prejudices expressed by educators, as well as a ‘critical exami-
nation of systemic factors that perpetuate deficit thinking and reproduce educational
inequities for students from nondominant sociocultural and linguistic backgrounds’
(p. 155). I believe CRT can offer such an approach by identifying, analyzing and chal-
lenging distorted notions of People of Color.

As part of the challenge to deficit thinking in education, it should be noted that race
is often coded as ‘cultural difference’ in schools. Indeed, culture influences how society
is organized, how school curriculum is developed and how pedagogy and policy are
implemented. In social science, the concept of culture for Students of Color has taken
on many divergent meanings. Some research has equated culture with race and ethnic-
ity, while other work clearly has viewed culture through a much broader lens of char-
acteristics and forms of social histories and identities. For my purposes here, culture
refers to behaviors and values that are learned, shared, and exhibited by a group of
people. Culture is also evidenced in material and nonmaterial productions of a people.

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76 T. J. Yosso

Culture as a set of characteristics is neither fixed nor static (Gómez-Quiñones, 1977).
For example, with Students of Color, culture is frequently represented symbolically
through language and can encompass identities around immigration status, gender,
phenotype, sexuality and region, as well as race and ethnicity.

Looking through a CRT lens, the cultures of Students of Color can nurture and
empower them (Delgado-Gaitan, 2001; Delgado Bernal, 2002). Focusing on
research with Latina/o families, Luis C Moll, Cathy Amanti, Deborah Neff and
Norma Gonzalez (1992), Carlos Vélez-Ibáñez and James Greenberg (1992) and
Irma Olmedo (1997) assert that culture can form and draw from communal funds of
knowledge (Gonzalez et al., 1995; Gonzalez & Moll, 2002). Likewise, Douglas Foley
(1997) notes research revealing the ‘virtues and solidarity in African American
community and family traditions’ as well as the ‘deeply spiritual values passed from
generation to generation in most African American communities’ (p. 123).

Taken together, the CRT challenge to deficit thinking and understanding of the
empowering potential of the cultures of Communities of Color, leads me to the
following description of cultural wealth. I begin with a critique of the ways Bourdieu’s
(Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977) work has been used to discuss social and racial inequity.
In education, Bourdieu’s work has often been called upon to explain why Students of
Color do not succeed at the same rate as Whites. According to Bourdieu, cultural
capital refers to an accumulation of cultural knowledge, skills and abilities possessed
and inherited by privileged groups in society. Bourdieu asserts that cultural capital
(i.e., education, language), social capital (i.e., social networks, connections) and
economic capital (i.e., money and other material possessions) can be acquired two
ways, from one’s family and/or through formal schooling. The dominant groups
within society are able to maintain power because access is limited to acquiring and
learning strategies to use these forms of capital for social mobility.

Therefore, while Bourdieu’s work sought to provide a structural critique of social
and cultural reproduction, his theory of cultural capital has been used to assert that
some communities are culturally wealthy while others are culturally poor. This
interpretation of Bourdieu exposes White, middle class culture as the standard, and
therefore all other forms and expressions of ‘culture’ are judged in comparison to this
‘norm’. In other words, cultural capital is not just inherited or possessed by the
middle class, but rather it refers to an accumulation of specific forms of knowledge,
skills and abilities that are valued by privileged groups in society. For example, middle
or upper class students may have access to a computer at home and therefore can
learn numerous computer-related vocabulary and technological skills before arriving
at school. These students have acquired cultural capital because computer-related
vocabulary and technological skills are valued in the school setting. On the other
hand, a working class Chicana/o student whose mother works in the garment industry
may bring a different vocabulary, perhaps in two languages (English and Spanish) to
school, along with techniques of conducting errands on the city bus and translating
mail, phone calls and coupons for her/his mother (see Faulstich Orellana, 2003). This
cultural knowledge is very valuable to the student and her/his family, but is not neces-
sarily considered to carry any capital in the school context. So, are there forms of

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Cultural capital and critical race theory 77

cultural capital that marginalized groups bring to the table that traditional cultural
capital theory does not recognize or value? CRT answers, yes.

CRT shifts the center of focus from notions of White, middle class culture to the
cultures of Communities of Color. In doing so, I also draw on the work of sociologists
Melvin Oliver and Thomas Shapiro (1995) to better understand how cultural capital
is actually only one form of many different aspects that might be considered valuable.
Oliver and Shapiro (1995) propose a model to explain how the narrowing of the
income or earnings gap between Blacks and Whites is a misleading way to examine
inequality. They argue that one’s income over a typical fiscal year focuses on a single
form of capital and that the income gap between Blacks and Whites is narrowing over
time. On the other hand, they examine separately the concept of wealth and define it
as the total extent …

Teachers’ Beliefs about Parent and Family Involvement:
Rethinking our Family Involvement Paradigm

Mariana Souto-Manning
1,2

and Kevin J. Swick
1

This article seeks to provide insights into the role of teacher beliefs about parent and family

involvement in supporting or inhibiting parent and family participation in partnerships related
to the well being of child and family. The authors aim to offer positive beliefs and strategies for
developing nurturing relations between families and schools.

KEY WORDS: parent involvement; family involvement; teacher beliefs; family participation; partner-
ship; child and family well being; nurturing relationships with families.

INTRODUCTION

The ‘‘chasm’’ that often develops to create un-
healthy dissonance between teacher and parents/
families is greatly influenced by teacher beliefs (Swick,
2004). Teacher beliefs include many hidden assump-
tions and generalizations that are influenced by often
isolated experiences and factors. During times of
change, beliefs are typically revealed in actions that
may represent people’s best but very incomplete
response to stress. For example, we (teachers and
teacher educators) might say we believe in parent/
family involvement but when confronted by a parent
who sees things differently, we may not alter our
actual relations (Gonzalez-Mena, 1994). Thus, this
article seeks to provide insights into the role of teacher
beliefs about parent and family involvement in sup-
porting or inhibiting parent and family participation
in partnerships related to the well being of child and
family. The authors aim to offer positive beliefs and
strategies for developing nurturing relations between
families and schools.

FACTORS INFLUENCING TEACHER BELIEFS

Teacher beliefs about parents and families are
heavily influenced by current and past contextual and
cultural elements (Powell, 1998). For example, our
own childhood experiences impact the schemes we
develop about parent/family involvement. We may
lack experiences where parents are in leadership roles.
An assertive parent who is seeking to be a leader may
bring about a defensive reaction. Or, we may have a
history of using a teacher-dominant family involve-
ment paradigm in which the teacher is always in the
decision making role instead of creating a partnership
approach (Comer, 2001).

An additional factor is the way the ‘‘school
culture’’ impacts our beliefs (Comer, 2001). If the
‘‘norms’’ of the school signal to parents that their
roles are limited and do not involve leadership then
teachers receive distorted messages about how to
approach and develop meaningful parent and
family involvement. A ‘‘norm’’ of parent–teacher
isolation can easily become the accepted standard.
In effect, a self-fulfilling prophecy of very limited
roles for parents can become the primary way of
functioning.

As noted by Vygotsky (1978), sociocultural
backgrounds, experiences, and events impact
learning and development. Similarly, we believe
teachers’ and families’ sociocultural backgrounds
affect their interactions and impact how parents are

1
Department of Instruction and Teacher Education, University

of South Carolina, Columbia, SC, USA.
2
Correspondence should be directed to Mariana Souto-Manning,

Department of Instruction and Teacher Education, University

of South Carolina, 820 South Main Street, 107D Wardlaw

Building, Columbia, SC 29208, USA; e-mail: [email protected]

sc.edu

Early Childhood Education Journal, Vol. 34, No. 2, October 2006 (� 2006)
DOI: 10.1007/s10643-006-0063-5

187
1082-3301/06/1000-0187/0 � 2006 Springer Science+Business Media, Inc.

viewed and how the process of parent and family
involvement is constructed. It is no surprise that
prevailing parent/family involvement paradigms
focus on the cultural rituals of ‘‘school readiness
activities’’ for parents such as ‘‘read to your child,’’
‘‘be involved in your child’s education,’’ and ‘‘be
involved in your child’s school’’ (Bastian, Frutcher,
Gittell, Greer, & Haskins, 1985). This prevailing
theme in the literature is further reinforced by
recent legislation such as the No Child Left Behind
Act (U.S. Department of Education, 2005), where
the emphasis is even more so on school success
indicators (Swadner, 2003).

It is important to note that the traditional
parent/family paradigm has shown that parents
who engage in home-based learning rituals seem to
have a positive impact on children’s school success
(Lam, 1997). Further, studies (Eagle, 1989; Lareau,
1987) have shown that lower socioeconomic fami-
lies tend to follow these rituals less often. While the
traditional family involvement perspective offers
many fine suggestions for parents and families, it
impedes a full and valid view of how parents and
families are indeed involved in their children’s lives.
This paradigm fails to validate many parent/family
actions that are important to children’s well being.
For example, parents and children may spend the
evening in play or visiting grandparents–yet these
rich experiences are often excluded from the
‘‘involvement’’ construct that is traditionally
valued.

A very powerful influence is the ongoing expe-
rience we have with parents and families. Swick
(2004) noted that in some cases a self-fulfilling
prophecy of negative parent and family involvement
happens because teachers have experienced a few
negative involvement situations. These negative
experiences may create a ‘‘stereotype’’ in some
teachers regarding the process of parent and family
involvement. Teachers may start out less than
enthusiastic about parental partnerships and then
have this reticence reinforced by bad situations or
those about which they lack understanding (Bron-
fenbrenner, 1979; Comer, 2001).

Ironically, poor or distorted training is also a
problem for many teachers. In so many cases,
teachers may be ‘‘trained’’ in the traditional parent
and family involvement paradigm (Epstein, 1995).
While this view includes some useful ideas and
strategies, it is very myopic in how it ‘‘frames’’ our
relationships with parents and families. Teachers
trained only in this model are likely to exclude

parents and families from some very critical part-
nership roles such as decision making.

LIMITS AND PROBLEMS WITH

THE TRADITIONAL PARADIGM

It is very important to recognize that the tradi-
tional parent/family involvement paradigm excludes
the valuable and legitimate interaction patterns of
many families such as where parents and grandpar-
ents share stories through oral history means
(Gonzalez-Mena, 1994). As Bronfenbrenner (2005)
noted, an ecological model must be used that relates
to the many sociocultural contexts present in families,
and to the interaction patterns prevalent in families.
Otherwise, many parents are isolated from success
because their patterns of relating and interacting with
their children do not fit the school culture (Fine,
1994). For example, the single parent who is working
two jobs to feed and clothe her family may approach
her child’s education differently, asking grandmother
to attend the school conferences. Yet this mother may
indeed interact with her child over the telephone on
how the school day went and stay involved through
using ‘‘free time’’ to visit parks, playgrounds (Long,
Bell, & Brown, 2004), churches (Haight & Carter-
Black, 2004; McMillon & Edwards, 2004), families
(Volk & De Acosta, 2004) museums, and libraries
with her young children.

There are several elements in the traditional
paradigm that need changing. For example, the tra-
ditional paradigm does not account for resource
differences in and across parent and family contexts
(Tushnet, 2002). Nor does this paradigm validate the
many rich cultural habits of parents and families such
as the use of visual and oral traditions. A more
encompassing paradigm is needed that emphasizes
the existing power of parents and families, and cre-
ates empowerment strategies where they can use their
skills and talents in diverse and culturally responsive
modes (Comer, 2001; Heath, 1983; Souto-Manning,
2005a). Further, the ecological model would promote
engaging parents and families in situations where
they could expand their understanding of involve-
ment strategies in supportive and validating ways.

A key problem with the traditional paradigm is
that it is couched in a compensating type of model
where particular parent attributes may be seen as
deficiencies or weaknesses. That is, parents not
socialized in traditional schooling practices are often
viewed as ‘‘high risk’’ for failure (Gee, 1996). For
example, Souto-Manning (2005a) found that Latino

188 Souto-Manning and Swick

children were considered behind other children and
placed in remediation programs simply because they
lacked some of the traditional paradigm skills
deemed relevant for success. Thus, by treating the
children in a deficit manner teachers may be dis-
couraging the entire family from becoming full
partners in the learning and school process. This cycle
of negativity may explain why higher socioeconomic
level parents participate in school committees and
functions more often.

As schools continue to espouse traditional views
of parental involvement, call for more parent
involvement, and claim that state and federal goals
were not met due to lack of parent involvement, we
need to rethink the very definition of parent
involvement. Employing a traditional definition of
parent involvement serves to promote prejudices and
further marginalize children and families as a whole.
As school populations become ever more diverse, it is
important that definitions of parent involvement ap-
ply to a variety of sociocultural backgrounds and
honor these students and their very identities.
Unfortunately, the phrase ‘‘parents who care’’ is of-
ten restricted to parents whose roles abide by tradi-
tional definitions of parental involvement (Fine,
1994). Inequity of resources across families and
schools is often not factored in this paradigm, and
this serves to further aggravate injustices in schools
and classrooms (Tushnet, 2002). For example, being
read to by parents while in preschool correlates with
higher success rates in elementary school. Only 61%
of Latinos read to their preschool-age children, while
75% of African-Americans and 90% of Whites do so
(Souto-Manning, 2005a). By looking at these statis-
tics that consider reading as traditional book reading,
White students are clearly advantaged as their home
cultural practices more closely resemble those prac-
ticed at school. If we extend the definition of literacy
to include oral traditions, however, African-Ameri-
can students might be able to add a whole new
dimension through oral story telling (Heath, 1983).

The traditional paradigm is couched in a com-
pensating model for perceived weaknesses and inad-
equacies in those who are poor and experiencing
discrimination. Those who were not socialized in
traditional schooling practices by their parents are
then considered at-risk and often experience dis-
crimination (Gee, 1996) by not abiding by the tradi-
tional definition of what a child must know upon
entering schools. Today, children entering elementary
schools are expected to possess certain skills required
to succeed. Often, not attending preschool, not being

schooled at home, or not being exposed to the school
discourse causes many Latino children to start kin-
dergarten behind and en masse become part of
remediation programs (Souto-Manning, 2005a). Such
perceptions may result from limited ‘‘parent
involvement,’’ as traditionally conceived. By seeing
these children from such a deficit perspective, teach-
ers may start to drive parents away from schools and
not value these children for their rich knowledge
domain and sociocultural backgrounds and experi-
ences, consequently adopting a ‘‘cultural deficit’’
stance (Fennimore, 2000). As such, parents’ atten-
dance at school meetings and events, and volunteer-
ing on school committees is greater among White
parents than among Latino and African-American
parents (Souto-Manning, 2005a).

EXAMINING PARENT INVOLVEMENT

ACROSS CONTEXTS

Recent research suggests that parental involve-
ment has generally increased during the last 20 years.
Minority parents, however, have been less involved
than those parents who enjoy greater resources of
information, time, transportation and finances. In the
United States, teachers often interpret lower
involvement and visibility at school as lack of inter-
est, yet social, language, and cultural differences are
rarely considered as justification for limited family
involvement. In Mariana Souto-Manning’s experi-
ence growing up in Brazil, we learned from an
interview she conducted with her mother, that
teachers were called aunts and considered the mem-
ber of the family who would make decisions regard-
ing the child’s education. Parents’ roles were to not
interfere with the teacher’s role and responsibilities.
Her parents, for example, only visited the school she
attended upon an invitation.

At Southwood Elementary School (pseudonym),
a diverse mid-size school in an urban area in the
Southeastern United States, expectations for parent
involvement were different from those expressed by
Souto-Manning’s mother in Brazil. Teachers re-
ported having difficulty involving parents whose ra-
cial, cultural and linguistic backgrounds were
different than those of the teacher in the midst of
rapid growth in linguistically, racially and culturally
diverse student populations over the last ten years.
Because some parents did not speak their language
(English), many teachers blamed the lack of
achievement of these students on the parents ‘‘not
caring.’’ According to interviews conducted with 37

189Teachers’ Beliefs about Parent and Family Involvement

teachers and assistant teachers (28 holding advanced
degrees, 15 mean average years of experience) this
was the reason most of the teachers gave for students
performing lower than the federal and state expec-
tations. These teachers thought English Language
Learners (ELLs) and African-American children
were not achieving at the same rate as White students
due to ‘‘lack of parent involvement’’ or ‘‘no parent
investment,’’ to quote direct phrases from the corpus
of interviews. Using WordSmith software for analysis
regarding word collocation, parent involvement was
closely located in transcripts with deficit words, such
as lack, low, and no. To insure students met curric-
ular goals, the solution typically suggested was to
make sure parents were indeed enacting the role as-
cribed to them, ignoring cultural practices and
backgrounds. Teachers along with administrators
suggested the Parent–Teacher Association (PTA) hire
a teacher to teach these parents English so that they
could help their children. This would, according to
their responses, apply to both parents of English
Language Learners (ELLs) as well as to African-
American parents, as they did ‘‘not speak proper
English,’’ to quote one teacher who spoke on behalf
of many. Erasing cultural backgrounds and expecting
that parents assimilate (Krashen, 1985a, b) the pre-
vailing model of parent involvement suggested by the
teachers during interviews put many students at a loss
and devalued family practices. Rather than high-
lighting and valuing children’s diverse backgrounds,
they exemplified the very concept that schooling is
‘‘the way it’s supposed to be and they don’t think it’s
going to change’’ (Kozol, 1991, p. 222). And while
this paradigm for defining and understanding parent
involvement aligned with the needs of teachers, it
hardly depicts the multitude of possibilities in which a
parent or family member may be involved in his or
her children’s lives.

According to Vopat (1994), parents ‘‘can best help
their children succeed in school when they know how
to foster and connect the learning in the home envi-
ronment with the learning in school’’ (p. 8). Clearly,
this does not match the definitions of parent involve-
ment sponsored by the participants of this study. In
talking to parents of many children at Southwood
Elementary, data showed that lack of familiarity with
the schooling discourse proved to be a major obstacle
to their children’s success, as they could not socialize
their children into a discourse which was foreign to
them. In addition, parents often did not feel comfort-
able and empowered to challenge the teacher’s socio-
cultural construction of parental involvement as

school involvement, and of children’s success resting
on their parents’ ability to tutor them after school
hours by explaining the concepts they should have
learned in school (Souto-Manning, 2005b).

RETHINKING THE PARADIGM

Education cannot continue to be guided by def-
initions of parent involvement that may not include
so many children and families of rich and complex
sociocultural and linguistic backgrounds. Such a
paradigm serves to continue discrimination in schools
and position education against the very premise of
Brown vs. Board of Education (Gutierrez, Rymes, &
Larson, 1995; Orfield, Eaton, and the Harvard Pro-
ject on School Desegregation, 1996) and reflects all
the resistance such a ruling has experienced over the
years. Educators need to start envisioning paradigms
of parent involvement that value diversity and refute
cultural deficit models. By unintentionally not meet-
ing traditional definitions of parent involvement,
many parents have been labeled unsupportive of
education, poorly educated, and uncaring (Briggs,
2004). If we are indeed to move toward true educa-
tional opportunity for all children in public schools
(Carter, 1980), we need to start re-envisioning and re-
crafting the parent involvement paradigm and the
very definition of caring–a paradigm that includes
many threads, many cultures, and values each child
and family for what they add to the educational
fabric (Swick & Freeman, 2004).

Statistics and demographics show a substantial
and growing immigrant population who need
linguistically–and socioculturally-appropriate educa-
tional experiences–today and even more so in the
future. Students� interests, cultures, languages, and
literacies must be taken into consideration, and their
diversity must be recognized as a resource in the
classroom. It is our duty as educators to empower all
parents to recognize the active role they already play in
their own children’s education. Thus, we need to
review closely our attitudes and perspectives about
parents and families. Do we foster an inclusive
approach that values the richness and power of every
parent and family? Recognizing and valuing parent
involvement from diverse perspectives has the poten-
tial to ultimately improve the overall education being
offered to all children. According to Blackburn (2003):

[I]f our goal, as…educators…, is to work for social

change, then our work is never done. We must con-

tinue to interrogate relationships between literacy

performances and power dynamics…with the under-

190 Souto-Manning and Swick

standing that justice lies in the perpetual interroga-

tion (p. 488).

AN INVITATION FOR RE-ENVISIONING

PARENT INVOLVEMENT

We have started becoming more meta-aware
(Freire, 1970) of our own paradigms for parent
involvement. We hope that reading this piece will help
all of us—teachers, teacher educators, and parents—to
reflect on our own practices. Respecting and valuing
each child�s culture is the beginning in challenging our
traditional paradigms of parent involvement. Learning
with and from our students, we can all come to a more
inclusive definition of parental involvement, such as
Urdanivia-English�s (2003), who defined parental
involvement as any involvement that affects the pres-
ent or the future of the child, getting beyond the
classroom walls.

We believe that key elements of an empower-
ment paradigm for parent and family include focus-
ing on:

(1) Family and child strengths: We have been
encouraged to identify child and family strengths
and integrate these as the focus of our involvement
with families. We are aware that this requires get-
ting beyond the classroom walls and extending our
existing definitions of curriculum and learning. We
have found that a good way to identify strengths is
by observing and becoming a learner, a classroom
ethnographer, someone who takes notes and cele-
brates multiple cultures, backgrounds, and learning
styles.

(2) An inclusive approach where all families are
validated and engaged in a partnership: We have used
strategies that reach parents and families of diverse
cultures. In doing so, we sought to develop inviting
and supportive settings so families feel welcome. We
learned about families’ parent involvement defini-
tions and views. We tried to be open to expand our
own definitions of what parent or family involvement
looks like, and we did. Most importantly, we em-
braced and valued multiple perspectives and para-
digms of family involvement.

(3) The recognition and valuing of multiple venues
and formats for involvement: We learned about what
families enjoy in terms of involvement and integrated
these into our planning. When Souto-Manning was
teaching primary grades, she found that some of the
parents of the children she was teaching were more
comfortable meeting at Wal-Mart or at the local flea
market than receiving a home visit, for example.

Others were more comfortable with home visits. Yet,
others preferred to visit the school and/or classroom.
In recognizing and valuing multiple venues and
formats for involvement, it is imperative that we
forefront the understanding that there is no one
model, venue, or format works for every teacher
and/or family.

(4) A lifelong learning approach in which the tea-
cher learns alongside children and families: We made
ourselves vulnerable and envisioned our roles as
symbiotically teaching and learning alongside our
students and their families. We kidwatched (Owocki
& Goodman, 2002) and based our teaching on the
observations we made regarding how children learn,
their interests and sociocultural backgrounds. We
constantly sought to embody a posture that conveyed
our deep value and respect for parents� funds of
knowledge (Moll & Greenberg, 1990). Finally, we let
children and parents see us in learning roles, not only
by participating in community events and going to
professional conferences, but by learning from them
and valuing their backgrounds, histories, and inter-
ests in developing curriculum and classroom setting
that were embracing of diversity.

(5) Trust-building through collaborative schemes
and through recognition of multiple family involvement
definitions and paradigms: We sought to be responsive
to the multiple ideas and contributions of parents and
families. For example, we let parents see us employ-
ing their ideas and asking their input in the family
involvement program. We genuinely asked for their
feedback and contributions and learned much from
them. According to Austin (2000), true collaboration
needs to value each partner and ‘‘involve[s] an
exchange of value among the participants…The four
dimensions of th[e] basic [collaborative] framework
are value definition, value creation, value balance,
and value renewal’’ (p. 87). Therefore, we realized the
importance of problematizing (Freire, 1970) the
status quo, the institutional value of parent involve-
ment, how families and teachers may create value for
one another, how to keep a two-way balance in
the exchange of values, and what can be done to
preserve and enrich the partnership’s value, once it is
collaboratively created. We realized that there is no
way to prescribe or standardize a single way of going
about building trust, as teachers and families differ,
so, there is no simple formula. There is, however,
a need for respect and appreciation for a multiplic-
ity of perspectives. In our experience, the best
collaborations were co-constructed in conversations
and collaborations, through looking closely and

191Teachers’ Beliefs about Parent and Family Involvement

listening carefully (Mills, O’Keefe, & Jennings, 2004),
through problematizing existing definitions and
paradigms of parent involvement, engaging in dia-
logue, and problem solving together (Freire, 1959),
embodying a true democratic process.

(6) Linguistic and cultural appreciation, recogni-
tion, and reflective responsiveness: In our practice as
teachers and teacher educators, we sought to value a
student’s and family’s linguistic and cultural back-
grounds as resources in the classroom, as multiplying
possibilities for learning, and not as subtractive from
the learning process (Souto-Manning, in press). We
provided and prominently displayed bilingual books
and books featuring characters from multiple socio-
cultural backgrounds. We continuously sought to
locate resources that valued diversity in the classroom
and that could support and encourage families to be
involved. As we observed students and families, we
learned from them, and reflected on what these
learnings meant for our own classroom and practice.

While it would be easy to prescribe steps for
parent and family involvement, we purposefully
chose not to do so, as we would risk defining one
more inflexible framework that would unavoidably
fail many parents and students by seeing them from a
deficit perspective. Instead, we shared our experiences
and enthusiastically invite you to embrace diversity as
a resource, rather than as a deficit and to keep adding
to the list above as you learn from and with children
and their families. We know that:

When teachers open themselves to recognize the

different roads students take in order to learn, they

will become involved in a continual reconstruction

of their own paths of curiosity, opening the door to

habits of learning that will benefit everyone in the

classroom (Freire, 1998, front flap).

In such a spirit, we invite you to reconstruct your
own path of curiosity, to learn alongside parents and
families, rethinking your theories according to new
learnings, and valuing each student and each family
for their richness, for all the wonders they bring to
the school and classroom community regardless of
how many days their parents, siblings, or grandpar-
ents come in and volunteer or how many nights their
parents engage in reading bedtime stories. Just as
children initiate responsibility for their own learning,
being active agents in the process (Taberski, 2000),
we must also become active agents (Freire, 1970) and
learn from the families that make up the intricate
fabric of our classroom communities.

We need to see beyond the classroom walls as
we learn from families and students; we need to

‘‘continually integrate new findings into [our]
framework of knowledge’’ (Taberski, 2000, p. 3). In
doing so, we envision our role as facilitators,
bringing all students� home cultures to the classroom
while respecting and learning from multiple frame-
works, from multiple definitions of parent involve-
ment. We hope that you will learn from multiple
families that thread the rich and beautiful fabric of
your classroom cloth, recognizing the value and
individualities of each thread while exploring and
reenvisioning the multiple possibilities and defini-
tions for parent involvement.

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