The following post was written by AAA members Susan D. Blum, Netta Avineri, and Eric J. Johnson in response to a recent article in the Washington Post. Read what they have to say about the impact of child-rearing styles on test scores and then share your own thoughts.
As reported in the Washington Post (Five ignored factors affect outcomes for poor children), The Economic Policy Institute released a report stating that child-rearing style, single parenthood, shift work, lack of health care and lead pull down test scores. Their argument, however, has a fundamental flaw.
While we applaud the recognition that the physical and economic conditions of poverty have a real effect on the attention of disadvantaged children, we challenge the claims that differences in child-rearing styles are equivalent to deprivation. The Economic Policy Institute report does not acknowledge the broader social structures in place that have an impact on what individuals, families, and communities choose to do in raising their children, and instead relies on generalizations & stereotypes that continue to derail the obligation of schools to build up communities in culturally sustaining ways.
This is problematic in that it presents a “deficit” view of ‘parenting styles,’ taking white middle-class approaches as the unquestioned norm and focusing only on what black families are not doing in relation to that norm. Children who are not coached by their parents in the same way as middle-class white children may nonetheless have substantial verbal skills in the dimension of narrative, verbal play, and other appropriate forms of interaction.
This compare/contrast (and strictly numbers-focused) view of ‘parenting styles’ does not take an anthropological approach to considering communities on their own terms, as complex cultures with specific norms, values, and practices that work in concert with one another. The well-intentioned plans to teach poor families of color “better” or “the right” ways to be parents ignores recent work that now points to a culturally sustaining education that builds on the knowledge of students of color rather than erasing it. Though many are now repeating the claims about a “word gap” between wealthy white families and impoverished families of color, this overlooks many of the other ways that language works in the world—ways that are subtle, powerful, and completely intertwined with notions of family and community.
Susan D. Blum, professor of anthropology, The University of Notre Dame
Netta Avineri, visiting professor of applied linguistics, Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey
Eric J. Johnson, associate professor of bilingual/ESL education, Washington State University Tri-Cities College of Education