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Books: On 'Dissonance' Between Home and School

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In the following excerpts from The Search for Structure, Francis A.J. Ianni examines sources and consequences of misunderstandings between families and schools in communities such as "Southside," a multiethnic inner-city neighborhood:

Just as it would be wrong to assume that most teenagers, even in places like Southside, will not somehow make it, it would be a mistake to assume that families and schools fail them out of malice or even indifference.

Most of the parents of these youth we interviewed did not devalue education; in fact, many clung to some hope that it could save their children from the fate to which their own lack of education had helped condemn them. ...

Many, however, argued that the schools in their community were both unwilling to listen to their demands for a better education for their children and to consider these students as candidates for graduation to a better future. ...

Most of the teachers and administrators we met in Southside were not antagonistic to the community; in fact, most of them were teachers there because they chose to be there.

What they did complain about was that what little parental involvement there was always came as demands and as challenges to their professional judgment, not requests for help or advice.

Teachers and administrators also complained about those same behavioral and life-style characteristics which make Southside's youngsters less attractive to employers. ...

In [the more affluent, suburban communities studied], family and school agree on both the form and the future of the home-to-school-to-workplace transition, and teenagers there compete to see who can negotiate it best.

In Southside, there is little such agreement. Most Southside teenagers are not college-bound and will leave high school with or without a diploma searching for jobs which just are not there. Changes in the labor market as well as high rates of unemployment have made steady, high-paying jobs which do not require some advanced training less readily available and more competitive, particularly for the last-hired-and-first-fired minority youth of Southside.

Academic programs in most high schools, and again particularly those in places like Southside, simply are not able to provide the training for entry into these career areas. What are left for these youth are lower-paying, unsteady, often part-time jobs in service or retail areas, and even these are not always available.

Urban inner-city parents as well as most of the teenagers themselves see this as a failure of the schools to understand or respond to their needs "because the teachers and the bureaucrats have good jobs and so will their kids someday."

Inevitably, and often unjustifiably, the school comes to be perceived as less than irrelevant--as the local representative of an indifferent and uncaring establishment, which, by failing to do its job, keeps local youth from finding theirs.

The resultant dissonance and conflict between home and school combine to make certain that the workplace end of the continuum remains barely above the survival level.

Excerpted with permission of the Free Press from The Search for Structure: A Report on American Youth Today by Francis A.J. Ianni. Copyright 1989 by the Free Press.

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