|Parents and Learning (IAE - IBE, 2000, 36 p.)|
Everywhere there is pressure for children to learn more in school. The new economy demands that young people leave school with strong abilities to read, write, calculate and apply disciplined thought to the solution of problems. Citizenship in every society requires an understanding of the history, government and tradition of not only that society but of many others as well. More and more the pursuit of individual happiness must begin with an educated view of a complex and rapidly changing world.
As schools have been pressed to be more effective and more productive, out-of-school influences on academic learning have escalated in importance. Even where the school day and school year have been lengthened, the amount of time children spend in school during the first eighteen years of their lives is small (perhaps 13% of waking hours) compared to time spent with the family and the broader community.
Fortunately, research on the familys influence on school learning has a substantial history, and we can settle upon basic premises with great confidence. With reasonable certainty we can state that poverty may statistically predict lower school performance, yet families that provide a stimulating, language-rich, supportive environment defy the odds of socio-economic circumstance. In other words, an alterable curriculum of the home - including the familys relationships, practices and patterns of life - is a more powerful predictor of academic learning than the familys status. Schools can work with families to improve the curriculum of the home, regardless of the familys economic situation. This, then, is a message of great hope.
Research on the relationships among families who constitute a school community leans heavily on a long body of sociological literature on communities of all types. Recently, however, primarily within the past decade, a strand of this sociological research has focused on schools as communities, and we are arriving at a set of understandings that may soon achieve the status of theory.
As for what schools can do to affect family behaviours in ways that benefit childrens learning, the research trail is shorter and less conclusive. There remains a great amount of experimentation, casting about to see what works. Some initiatives have, in fact, worked, and we may report them, draw lessons from them, and generalize from them.
While the homes influence on academic learning is significant, the quality and quantity of instruction and the childs own cognitive abilities are of equal or greater significance. There is a danger, then, in placing too much emphasis (or blame) on the familys contribution to the learning equation while forgiving weaknesses in the school. By the same token, ignoring the gains to be made by helping families improve the alterable curriculum of the home limits the potential effectiveness of the school.