Read an Excerpt
9 Myths about Schools in the United States for Latino Parents
Excerpted from Help Your Child Succeed in School by Mariela Dabbah, © 2006
Given that parents are the most influential people in children's lives, everything you do (or do not do) affects them. It's very important to be aware of how your current situation or your past experiences may affect the way in which you view and approach your children's education.
You are in the U.S. now, and you need to learn what to expect of the system here, as well as what it expects of you and your child. If you do not understand how the system works in the U.S., your children will not do as well as they could.
The following sections look at some common beliefs that many Latino parents have regarding their children's education and the school system in the U.S. You will see that there are some drastic differences from what you may be used to, and that you must respond differently to your children's teachers and the school than you would back home.
Belief #1-School is Better in the U.S. than in Latin America
Many of you grew up believing that education in the U.S. was superior to that in your own countries. You may have known youngsters who left your country to study in the United States.
FACT: In the United States, there is a wide range of performance levels throughout the country. Your job is to explore the schools in your area and find one that suits your values and your educational goals for your children.
Belief #2-Teachers are Revered
In your country, school teachers may be revered as important and respected professionals. Nobody questions their knowledge or their ability to teach children. Nobody questions the school as an institution. Children attend school and parents' involvement is limited.
FACT: In the United States, teachers are often considered underpaid and not given much respect. There is a wide range in the education and experience of teachers, resulting in good teachers and bad teachers. Plus, every public school is different. There are good schools, which have more funding and equipment, and there are the not-so-good schools, which may be lacking critical, basic tools for a modern education. You need to ask questions to find the best school for your child and to make sure your child is learning.
Belief #3-The School is Always Right
In many Latin American countries, the school is a higher authority than the parents. Because of this belief, parents seldom question this authority and may take a step back and not get involved with the school, as getting involved may be seen as disrespectful towards educators.
FACT: In the United States, your authority is always above the school's authority. You are the person who will always make the decisions on your children's behalf. If the school is doing something you do not agree with, you have every right to demand that it stops. You also have the right to find out why something is taking place. However, to be involved, you have to express your position. In addition, you may need to take action in your children's behalf.
Belief #4-Undocumented Aliens Cannot be Involved in the School System
If you are undocumented, you probably fear most government institutions and authorities. This probably includes your children's school. This fear keeps you from visiting your children's school and being a part of their learning experience.
FACT: In the United States, your children have the right to learn even if their family is undocumented. Nobody in the school system can ask about your immigration status,
so the school is a very safe place for you and your children. It is also a place where you can meet other people who may be in a similar position, and others who can help you and your children with questions and problems.
Belief #5-Your Children are Already Doing Better than You, So There is no Need for More Education
You may think your children are doing so much better than you did in your country that you are just happy they are attending high school. You may have no expectations for your children to go to college, or may believe that they do not need to go in order to find a good paying job.
FACT: In the United States, a high school diploma will only enable your children to work in very menial jobs. In order for your children to do better economically and move up socially, they need to go to college. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a high school graduate makes an average salary of $25,191 while a person with a Bachelor's degree makes an average of $41,287. Part of your job in helping your children succeed is to pick the right high school for them to attend and to work with the school and teachers so that your children can get the most out of their education. A lower percentage of students who graduate from public high schools go to college than those who graduate from a private school, so helping them choose the right high school is an even larger responsibility.
Belief #6-Only English Speakers Can be Involved in Their Children's Education
You do not speak English, therefore you believe you cannot attend parent/teacher conferences, express your wishes and expectations, or otherwise be involved in your children's school.
FACT: In most U.S. schools there are people who speak Spanish-it might be a guidance counselor, a teacher, a secretary, or another parent. Ask the school to send you communications in Spanish. The school will provide translation services, so you can ask for an interpreter to be present at parent/teacher conferences. If you do not get involved, the school might interpret your absence as a lack of interest in your children's education and progress, and not because of a perceived language barrier issue. Not being able to speak the same language may cause some frustration and extra effort on everyone's part, but it should not prevent you from you being involved in your children's education.
Belief #7-The School's Values are the Same as Yours
In your country, school is a place where teachers-who are part of the community-take care of your children just as you would. For example, if the children misbehave, they gets disciplined.
FACT: In the United States, children's discipline is handled differently, and the school often requires that the parents get involved when there is an issue at school. If the school does exercise certain types of corporal punishments (like smacking with a ruler), as the parent, you have the authority to instruct the school not to administer certain types of physical punishment. In any event, the school will never discipline the children the way you do.
Belief #8-The School System is Intimidating
Maybe you did not go to school yourself, so you feel threatened by it. Maybe you have tried to be involved with your children's school, but a teacher or principal made you feel uncomfortable for whatever reason. That fear is preventing you from being involved with your children's teachers and their school.
FACT: In the United States, schools try to be very parent-friendly. If your child attends a school that is not, you should consider asking for a school change. Do not be afraid and make an effort to get involved. Otherwise, your children will get the idea that school is not important and they will not do as well as they could.
Belief #9-Taking My Children Out of School for Extended Periods of Time is Not a Problem
You work very hard and miss your family back home. It is common to take your children on long trips that begin before school is out or end after school has began.
FACT: In the United States, school attendance is very important, and it will determine whether your child passes a class or even the year. When you take your children out of school for trips, vacations, or to help you at work, you are hurting their education. You are also sending them two poor messages: 1) that they can take their responsibilities lightly and 2) that school is not important.