In my work with the Pathways Project and the Minnesota CYFAR project, both of which have a focus on academic and personal success for youth from nontraditional Extension audiences, parents of the youth involved are committed to their children's academic success. But visions of success can vary.
For example, I recently had a conversation with a Mexican-born mother about her child's education plans. The mother explained to me that she is supportive of her daughter going to college someday, but reacted adversely when I connected it to a career: "Quiero que piense en la felicidad, no de una carrera." (I want her to think about happiness, not about a career.) In that moment, I realized I needed to center the conversation about education around her daughter's overall personal happiness and not around her professional advancement, which might represent separation from the family.
Because I was raised by a Greek immigrant father and a Minnesotan mother, I am attuned to how differing worldviews shape expectations for youth development and a young person's educational experience -- and the potential for conflict. Throughout my childhood, both of my parents emphasized the importance of education. But when it came time to apply to colleges, my mother encouraged me to apply to the ones that best suited my interests, regardless of location. At the same time, my father (quietly) preferred I stayed near our family home so as not to disrupt family unity. (Video from the 2002 film "Real women have curves" (Youtube)
Depending on your worldview, you could judge my mother for breaking up the family. Or you could judge my father for limiting my individual potential. Scholarship in intercultural communication tells us we should never denigrate any other world view, but rather help people to understand the relationship between their own culture and the dominant culture. My mother's own astute intercultural communication skills resulted in my father supporting my decision to pursue higher education out of state. (I have since returned to Minnesota.)
In my experience in working with immigrant families around the topic of their child's education, I try to bear in mind the following:
- Always assume parents are supportive of their child's education, then through conversations, seek to understand the ways in which they show their support.
- Ask families about their own formal and informal education, and also about their hopes and plans for the education of their children. Then connect their hopes and plans to the the educational experience happening in the youth program.
- Accept that definitions of "educational success" in parenting may vary and do not impose your own.
- You don't have to agree with families' world views; the goal is understanding so you can learn how to communicate in ways that are appropriate in certain cultural contexts.
You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech--any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc.--as well as spam.