restricted access Chapter 6. Facilitating Dialogue
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117 Chapter 6  Facilitating Dialogue As the focus group stage of our project drew to a close, we returned to Riverdale, Iowa, for a follow-­ up session with a mixed group of teachers and immigrant parents. Up to this point in the project, all of our focus group discussions had been with parents or teachers. An interpreter was present to interpret between the English-­ speaking teachers and Spanish-­ speaking parents. A teacher began the session by thanking the parents for coming, letting them know that the staff at the preschool was eager to get to know them better, and that their goal was to help young children feel comfortable at their school. The teachers then listened as several Mexican parents described difficulties they were having in town and with the school. They gave examples of discrimination they had encountered and of their economic struggles. They expressed sadness that the bilingual program in the preschool had been cut, and frustration that they were not able to attend meetings at school scheduled during their work time. When the parents finished speaking, one of the teachers, with a tone of exasperation , asked: “If it is so hard here, then why are you here? Why don’t you go back to Mexico?” The parents responded with silence, until one of the fathers in the group spoke up. He said that he felt fortunate that he was able to bring his family to Riverdale, and he appreciated the teachers, although “this doesn’t mean,” he added, that “there are no problems for us.” The teacher’s defensive, accusatory reaction to the parents shifted the focus of the session from the parents’ concerns to the teachers’ feelings. This shift put the immigrant parents in the position of having to choose between continuing to present their experiences and concerns or reassuring the teachers that they appreciated their lives in their new community and did not hold the teachers responsible for their difficulties. This meeting with parents and teachers was the pilot for the second Tobin_Book.indb 117 8/27/2013 3:41:12 PM 118 Children Crossing Borders stage of the project. Our plan for the second stage was to translate what we had learned from the first stage into innovative strategies for facilitating dialogue between teachers and immigrant parents. We decided to use the videotapes developed in the first stage of the project again as a cue to stimulate discussion, this time with heterogeneous groups of teachers and parents. This chapter tells the story of our not entirely successful attempt to implement this approach over the course of a year at a single site, Solano Preschool in Phoenix. The Problem of Parent Participation In designing our strategies for promoting parent-­ teacher dialogue and cultural negotiation, our aim was to avoid reproducing the asymmetry that has characterized most approaches to bringing parents into the life of the preschool (Lightfoot 2004). A lack of parent involvement too often is posed as a problem in which parents are implicitly blamed for not taking sufficient interest in their children’s education. Our research suggests just the opposite. Many parents, including parents who have recently immigrated from another country, have a lot to say about early childhood education and care, a keen interest in what goes on in their children’s preschools , and a desire to be more involved in the school. Parent participation can take many forms (Epstein 1995): coming to school to help out the teachers by preparing curricular materials (for example , cutting out squares and triangles or mixing paint); providing an extra pair of hands on field trips; working on fund-­ raising projects for the school; and participating in parent-­ teacher associations (PTAs)—which in the case of preschools are usually MTAs (mother-­ teacher associations)— which hold meetings at the school every month or so with an agenda more focused on fund-­ raising than on discussing changes to the curriculum. For immigrant parents, parent participation often takes the form, as in Head Start, of preschool programs expanding their mission from providing education and care to children to also serving parents, with workshops on child development and effective child-­ raising strategies, English language lessons, social service and mental health referrals, and job training seminars (Lamb et al. 2001). The least common form of parent participation in preschools is any approach in which parents have a significant voice in decisions about curriculum and pedagogy. Parent involvement always has been a core feature of Head Start, a federal program with a...