Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry: Utilizing Positive Perspectives From African American Families for Culturally Responsive Practices

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry: Utilizing Positive Perspectives From African American Families for Culturally Responsive Practices

Andrea N. Smith
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1181-7.ch005
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Since the conception of education in the United States, schools have been the battlegrounds for equal opportunities among African American students. In an effort to improve educational options and achievement for such students, charter schools have emerged as a popular solution for failing schools. The literature and case study in this chapter provides a sociohistorical look at the education of African Americans and African American parents' perceptions of charter schools and their expectations that they hold for educational institutions. The level of hope that was evident from the parent narratives centered on non-academic measures such as cultural pride and caring environments and mirrored that of pre-Brown schools that served African American students. The case study does not suggest that charters are the solution to educational inequity but may serve as one promising avenue for educational reform that should be informed by culturally responsive practices that encourage collaboration between schools and African American families.
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People don't believe or understand that a community can lose hope. You can have a whole community where hopelessness is the norm, where folks don't have faith that things will get better because history and circumstances have proven over 30, 40, or 50 years that things don't get better. -Geoffrey Canada, President of the Harlem Children's Zone in Harlem, New York

Numerous studies have highlighted the pervasive inequities of the U.S. public education system post-Brown that center on school budgets, curriculum, finance, teacher quality, among much more (Friere, 2000; Kozol, 2005, 2012). African American children have been tested, labeled, and stigmatized for dropping out when they could not meet societal standards for success. The memory of inequities and deficit perspectives are often recounted in literature on African American schooling --past and present. But, such documents only paint a partial portrait of African American schooling experiences. Although schools that serve predominantly African Americans have traditionally lacked equitable funding and often access to quality facilities, evidence suggests that the environment of African American schools encompassed sentimental traits, institutional structures, and community support that helped African American children learn in spite of vast inequities in schools for decades.

“Market-based” reforms such as charter schools have become a popular option of choice for African American families (Almond, 2012). For one, families are provided immediate alternatives to low performing schools. Further, policymakers are able to infuse competitive forces into public education with the hope to yield positive student outcomes that challenge the status quo of education. Ultimately, the low, unsatisfactory academic performance of African American students in most of the nation’s traditional schools is the catalyst that continues to fuel this rapidly generating migration of African American students from traditional schools to public charter schools (Cooper, 2005).

Within the discussion about market based reforms lies an overlooked variable that involves parents and families as important stakeholders for student success. Though traditional definitions of parent involvement entail very limited definitions of what counts as involvement, parent involvement need not be just how parents can participate in school functions but how parents can provide input on the conversation surrounding school-family partnerships (Crozier, 2001). Oftentimes, religious and cultural differences preclude active participation in school activities. However, parental involvement also includes how parents communicate high expectations, pride, and interest in their child’s academic life (Nieto, 1996). This concept is embedded within culturally responsive pedagogical (CRP) practices, which have become essential for addressing the underachievement of African American students; however, absent from the narratives on student achievement and CRP are the significant roles that African American parents play in their children's education and ultimately their success (Ware, 2006).

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