2.2 Recognising that parents are individuals
Practitioners regard children as individuals, and should do the same with their parents. However, because most parents are more distanced than children, we tend to hear generalised statements made about the whole parent body - for instance, ‘our parents are supportive’, ‘our parents can be difficult’, ‘our parents are not good at fundraising’.
Carol Vincent (1996) examined home-school relations in a small number of inner-city schools and devised a four-way classification of parental positions with regard to practitioners, which continues to be informative. She identified four basic 'types' of parents:
Detached parents prefer practitioners to take full responsibility and to get on with the job. These parents decide to trust in the training, professionalism and skills of the practitioner. Their position is not an indication of disinterest, although practitioners may see it in this way.
Independent parents would like close involvement but lack confidence to instigate this, or who feel the terms offered by practitioners are not attractive. These parents may provide support for their children's learning away from the setting. Their support is therefore not visible to practitioners, who may see these parents as uninterested.
Supportive parents readily engage with the invitations and suggestions of practitioners. There is much overlap here with Sharpe and Green's (1975) notion of the ‘good parent’ – in short, parents who do what practitioners suggest.
Irresponsible parents appear unsupportive of practitioners or their children's learning. Indeed, in extreme cases their attitude may appear to be counter-productive to their children's education.
Activity 2 Parents in your setting
Taking into account the above typology, think about the parents of children in your setting. Does this four-way classification help you to understand the parents you come into contact with? Write down your thoughts so that you can reflect on them as you continue through the study topic.
Such classifications can sometimes support or refine our thinking, but they can also serve to reduce and under-represent reality. Perhaps you feel you don't know enough about the parents' lives and feelings to be able to categorise them in this way.
As we have said, a major difficulty for many practitioners concerns their limited contact with most parents. Practitioners spend a lot of time with children but very little time with parents, unless the parents are involved in a setting as a volunteer or paid employee, or they are the practitioners (as in a playgroup). It's easy, therefore, in the absence of detailed knowledge, for assumptions to be made, which give rise to inaccurate stereotypes about parents. Indeed, ignorance and lack of understanding tend to be at the root of bias and prejudice.
Time is at a premium for many parents of young children and this may explain why many appear less engaged that they might be. It is vital not to clasify parents as 'bad' if they choose not to partner closely with the setting. It's easy to make assumptions that give rise to inaccurate stereotypes about parents, or, equally mistaken parental notions about practitioners. Ignorance and lack of understanding is often at the root of bias and prejudice. Carol vincent's 'detached' and 'independent' parents derve as a reminder of the reasons why some parents choose not to be involved.