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Ethnic minority parental participation in elementary school : looking for democratic, educational practice Parhar, Anita


For over three decades, much of the research literature examining the involvement of ethnic minority parents in their children’s school and education has promoted a school-centred approach to parent involvement. This approach considers parents as being involved if they, for example, read to their children at home, supervise homework activities, volunteer in the school, attend parent advisory council meetings, supervise class fieldtrips, attend parent-teacher conferences, and attend the annual school open house. I contend that such an approach actually contributes to the reproduction, rather than reduction, of inequalities in schooling for ethnic minority children. Using Jurgen Habermas’ conceptualization of democracy and the theory of communicative action, this study critiques efforts to involve ethnic minority parents in their children’s schooling. Part of this critique is based on historical research and part on empirical research. Through historical research, I examine the involvement of Aboriginal, Chinese-Canadian, Japanese-Canadian, and Indo-Canadian parents both in their children’s education and in British Columbia schools. I further examine school policies and practices of parental involvement. A qualitative case study design and ethnographic techniques of document analysis, semi-structured interviews, and participant observation, are used to explore teaching staff conceptualizations and practices of ethnic minority parental involvement in education in one public, multi-ethnically populated, elementary school in greater Vancouver, British Columbia. Through empirical research I describe the actions of ethnic minority parents as being strategically coordinated by many of the teaching staff through their daily practices and adherence to provincial, district, and school policies. While my research shows how parents and their concerns are systematically absorbed into the norms and structures of schooling. I also indicate that this might be remedied with outbreaks of democracy. As such, my empirical research affirms the usefulness of Habermas’ theory of communicative action for democratic education. It further points to the legitimacy of Young’s critique of Habermas. The findings have particular implications for administrators, teachers, and support staff as they illustrate the need for school-based educators to combat dominant school-centred practices of parental involvement and challenge the instrumental rationality underpinning the Ministry of Education‘s administrative and economic support of parent involvement.

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