Philosophy of Education: Family & Community
Education does not occur in isolation. The first teachers children have are not professional educators, they are their families. Just as educator must collaborate with each other, teachers must involve families in the education of their children. Similarly, both families and educational institutions exist within communities. Communities are a rich resource that must not be ignored; members of the community can be precisely the experts that a teacher needs to seek out. I believe that teachers, families, and communities need to partner together to educate our learners. Respectful collaboration is key to improving educational outcomes, particularly with families and communities whose past experiences with “education” have been oppressive.
The Importance of Family
A child's parents1 are her/his first and most important teachers. A family's parenting style(s) and socio-economic status are but two factors which can have a major impact on a learner's educational progress (Baumrind, 1991; Entwisle, 1997). Once again the home is a place of social learning. During one parent-teacher interview it quickly became apparent where one of my students learned their “attitude” from! To be clear, I do not have a “blame the parents” attitude; however, as a teacher I need to be sensitive to the fact that the upbringing of my students has a profound impact on their behaviour in the classroom.
Teachers must view families as partners in the education of their children. To this end, I believe that teachers must reach out to communicate with families. Communication must be done in a constructive manner which meaningfully involves parents. Furthermore, parental collaboration should not be limited to merely addressing problems. Positive, constructive collaboration is particularly important when working with the families of Aboriginal students in light of the oppressive residential school system which sought to eliminate familial involvement in education and even upbringing. Communication that is focused merely on problems has the power to perpetuate the view of education as a whole is an oppressive force. I hope that a side product developing collaborative relationships with parents is that parents' perceptions of the educational system improve. Additionally, listening to parents has the power to open the teacher's own eyes to the lives of their students. The end result of such collaboration can only be a more cohesive system of education and care for students that is reflective of familial values which works in the best interest of learners.
The Importance of Community
Education needs to be sensitive to the needs of the community whose children it seeks to educate. This is easier when the teacher is familiar with the community in which she/he is teaching, for otherwise they need to expose themselves to the ways of being and knowing of the community. As J. Taylor wrote:
“To be successful, non-Native teachers entering Native communities must do so with an open mind, aware that life will be different and that different and new ways do not need to be threatening. With this acceptance, involvement in the life of the community becomes possible.” (1995, p. 230).
While Taylor was specifically speaking about non-Aboriginal teachers teaching in Aboriginal communities, I believe his message applies equally well to any situation where there is a discrepancy between the the culture of a teacher and that of the community.
Of course, being open is not sufficient to ensure that an educator is able to serve the community; once again communication is the key. The school does not hold a complete solution to address all problems, rather different parts of the community hold different pieces of this puzzle (Napier, 2000). It is by collaborating that we can find complete solutions. Fortunately, there are all kinds of allies to aid help facilitate this collaboration including youth care workers, Aboriginal education workers, community leaders, Elders, administrators, social workers, and colleagues. By working together we can create an educational system which reflects the needs and desires of the community rather than an educational system which is imposed on the community.
1 To be clear, I use the term “parents” here to mean the primary caregivers of the child – be they the biological parents, adoptive parent, Aunts, Uncles, foster parents, or any of the myriad of options.