• Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed. • IDRA Newsletter • January 2022 •
News stories in recent months have shown parents shouting at school board meetings angry about topics and materials used in classrooms or about something they heard through the grapevine (aka social media) about a particular teacher or principal. The volume of these media stories and the addictive videos shared online give the impression that these voices represent the majority. But they do not.
Over the past year, IDRA has worked with families seeking information about ethnic studies courses and affirming their children’s need to learn about the histories and cultures of people of color. Parents and caretakers told decision-makers about their support for richer and more extensive culturally appropriate instruction. They also called for comprehensive dual language programs.
None of these families were angry. They do not want book bans. In fact, they want more culturally-relevant books.
The pandemic crisis raised a renewed desire for an excellent education, especially for children in economically disadvantaged homes facing challenges with isolation and digital inequities and gaps. At the same time, the expansion of technology into homes through schools’ dissemination of computers and new connectivity resources brought many more families into contact with each other and their teachers and educators.
“Right now, we need young people who are prepared and biliterate so that they have a better future in the workplace with better opportunities in general. And our young people should not lose their roots, their cultures, or their traditions.”
IDRA extended our authentic outreach and engagement with several hundred families and community members to the virtual world with bilingual sessions that were well attended, dynamic and interactive. Families connected with each other, getting informed and dialoguing through online forums, interviews, interactive meetings, training sessions, and conferences using such tools as Zoom and Facebook Live.
Parents and caretakers specifically asked us for sessions on equitable school funding, college preparation for their children, COVID-19 safety in schools, excellent dual language programs, and how to prepare public comments and testimony to elected officials. Their interests ranged from Legislature 101 on how education policy develops in the state capitol to an introduction to Mexican American Studies.
We did not experience shouting sessions of parents and other adults complaining about materials being used in classrooms. They did express strong frustration with classroom censorship proposals.
For the first time in their lives, more than 30 parents and caretakers submitted comments, made phone calls and gave testimony before the Texas Legislature on critical issues of concern, including support for ethnic studies, equitable funding of public schools, dual language programs, digital and Internet equity, and college preparation and access for all students.
Speaking from their experience, these families have many positive things to say about the education of their children and youth. Any critical comments they share are clearly on the side of wanting more funding and resources, more inclusion of materials by the ethnic and racial group they represent, and a more accurate accounting of the past. Families and caretakers stressed that they want all children to know about the contributions of all major ethnic and racial groups in the state.
One mother said: “Right now, we need young people who are prepared and biliterate so that they have a better future in the workplace with better opportunities in general. And our young people should not lose their roots, their cultures, or their traditions.”
Families who have been laborers agree that the work of wage earners is an appropriate theme for the elementary and secondary classroom. One stated: “If we didn’t pick the crops, there would be no fruits and vegetables on the table. Our sweat and toil in heat and cold with little pay is honorable and should be taught about to all children.”
These families are not interested in excluding books and topics but are committed to including the wide spectrum of excluded histories and literature. They lament the non-presence of their language and culture and the ethnic and racial erasure of their histories. As they mourn their own limited and interrupted education, they rejoice at the new offerings and possibilities for their children, such as ethnic studies and bilingual-bicultural development through high school. And they celebrate the cultural, artistic and historical additions dedicated teachers are bringing to the classroom.
One parent stated: “Our people have contributed to the economic wealth, cultural richness and social growth of this state. It is about time our traditions, deeds and influences inform what is taught to our children.”
In addition, families and students participated in IDRA’s listening sessions to provide community-based recommendations for how federal relief funds should be used in ways that lead to an equitable response to the pandemic and that address persistent education equity concerns.(See IDRA’s report, Building Supportive Schools from the Ground Up, by Morgan Craven, J.D., at https://idra.news/SupportiveSchools).
No family members we interviewed or spoke with consider the histories of campaigns for civil rights and social justice to be harmful to children or embarrassing. Just as the painful events covered in traditional curricula, such as the civil war, are necessary for all children to understand the evolution of our democracy, the same is true for the generational struggles for equality, equity and justice among poor people, people of color and those conquered and decimated through force. The painful past must be known, understood and faced if our children are to create a more just and equitable future.
Families want their children engaged in an education that is culturally rich and inclusive. They desire a path that prepares their children for a wide array of choices for a college education. These same families advocate for equitably and fully-funded neighborhood public schools. They understand that painful histories are a prelude to positive and bountiful futures.
The vision for a college education for their children permeates the dialogues with the poor and isolated families we hear from. Without diminishing or denigrating the value of manual labor and blue-collar work, they echo a message to all children: “Get an education so that you don’t suffer what we’ve had to go through!” These families value and desire an excellent education for all children through college graduation. For this, they are ready to respectfully speak loudly and assertively.
Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed., is IDRA’s family engagement coordinator and directs IDRA Education CAFE work. Comments and questions may be directed to him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2022, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the January 2022 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]