Source, Seeking Funds of Knowledge: Perceptions of Latino Families in a Rural School District in the Midwest United States

Funds of knowledge are “intellectual, social and emotional resources that allow modest income families to survive with pride and respect” (10). Funds of knowledge contribute to families sense of dignity, and contribute to the meaning which they attribute to their lives and their social conditions.

By understanding Latino epistemology (ways of knowing), educators in the schools can understand how to build on their cognitive and cultural resources by integrating community practices into the classrooms. (3)

Educators first must understand the funds of knowledge of Latino families in order to know what families know, to bridge the dignity families ascribe to their lives with the resources schools supply, which affirm that dignity and education are two rights for all citizens, that is, cultural citizens. This is also a way of integrating immigrant communities into the social institutions responsible for fostering civic awareness.

In the Latino culture, teachers are highly respected and, as such, Latino families may view that any interference from parents is rude and discourteous. Thus, teachers often view parents from their own cultural view point and assume that parents seeking input on assignments and grades as being interested and caring for their children’s education. Latino parents, however, may view this kind of questioning as a sign of disrespect. Cultural differences and norms are misinterpreted because there is not enough direct community to move past these differences. (5)

One strength of Latino families is the respeto parents show to teachers, and which they demand of their children for their teachers. At the same time, however, this respect means a disconnect from teachers, in the sense that parents unequivocally defer judgement on educational matters to the professionals who they deem more qualified in the matters of knowing their children’s learning. The importance for establishing bridges between schools and families thus becomes of significant importance for drawing out the funds of knowledge of families on one hand, and also to alerting schools to the strengths of families and how to integrate some of the core values of Latino families into the curricula.

Latino parents can experience confusion and frustration with the educational system that misunderstands their cultural values and also seems to place additional barriers that hinder their involvement in their children’s schooling. Often, the times of the school functions are inconvenient or meetings will not provide translators or childcare, both services which may be needed for full involvement by the parents at school functions in the evenings (6)

Schools that don’t take account the lives of families will neglect their involvement, and therefore potentially stigmatize parents as not being involved enough, or at least to the school’s perceptions of involvement. This becomes problematic when schools don’t recognize the language barriers Latino parents may face, as well as their working schedules which may be irregular or long. School satellite programs helping schools and families to bridge the distance are thus of primary importance for establishing firm links between schools and communities.

Education is the single most effective way to integrate the rapidly increasing population of Latinos in the United States economy and society. Thus, if the high dropout rates and low educational achievement and performance levels are not turned around, the likelihood of creating a permanent cultural generation without hope of integrating into the mainstream is likely and quite sobering. Too many times in schools across America today, Latino students are looked upon as lacking skills such as language and knowledge. This emphasis on disadvantages has provided rationalization for lowered expectations in schools and inaccurate portrayals of the students and their families. The basis of this deficit view stems from the concept of “family deficits.” This concept suggests that Mexican Americans do not hold education in high esteem, thus leading to inadequate household socialization for academic competence and contributing to school failure for their children. (11)

Subtractive educational practices deem certain student qualities as deficits to be overcome with formal schooling. Rather, schools must tap into the funds of knowledge families possess and rid themselves of deficit outlooks. At best, such metaphors capitalize on economics of families, which often come from low-income socioeconomic classes. Ultimately, the families’ social class gets transposed onto the perceptions of students’ intelligence, or what educators may consider their “lack.” This form of ethnocentrism will prevent instructors from looking to the dignity of students’ lives.

The importance of possessing quality relationships with institutional agents (those individuals who have the capacity and commitment to transmit directly, or negotiate the transmission of, institutional resources and opportunities) in the social development, school success and status attainment of children is referred to by Stanton-Salazar (1997) as institutional support. [. . . T]his type of support allows young people to become successful consumers and entrepreneurs within mainstream settings, which lead to implementing greater control over their lives. (12)

The out-of-school educational institutions can fit this position as advocates for positive Latino educational outcomes and school support. The distance that some families demonstrate toward schools proves that having an agent out of school supporting their viewpoints. This institutional support lends credibility to the arguments and perceptions of Latino parents, raising their concerns to schools, and advocating on their behalf.

Stanton-Salazar emphasizes from his research that institutionally sanctioned discourses deserve special attention due to the fact discourses are socially accepted ways of using language and engaging in communication. For low-status children, opportunities for acquiring institutional discourses as well as other funds of institutional knowledge, which lead to acquiring social capital, is not automatic and can even be difficult. (20)

Institutional support translates into knowledge about how institutions work. This is not one of the funds of knowledge Latino families bring to the table in schooling situations because of their immigrant status and their still growing awareness about how institutions in the U.S. function, as well as their rights for making claims and checking the power of these same institutions.

Creating social networks to, or tied to, institutional agents such as schools is critical to the social development and empowerment of ethnic minority children and youth because these ties represent consistent and dependable sources where they can learn decoding skills and from which they can attain key forms of institutional support. When these institutions explicitly transmit support to ethnic minority children, the impact is extensive to even possibly being life-altering. (21) 

Latino families find empowerment through agents who support their growth, both as agents of change and as members of the community, with dignity, history, and funds of knowledge.

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