Representing Relationships Between Parents and Schools: Making Visible the Force of Theory1

M. Elizabeth Graue
Associate Professor, Curriculum & Instruction
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Families send children to school, where they hope their children will become learners with the tools they need to succeed in life. Schools take children from and send them back to their families, where they assume the families will provide the support that children need to grow and learn. This circle, in which home and school share the resource of children, is one that has been the focus of development, debate, and data collection. Most educational institutions have some formal home-school group, whether it is a parent board, a PTO, a School Advisory Council, Room Parents--all working to bridge the space between families and education. The attention to the topic is even framed legislatively with a national education goal whose focus is partnerships: "By the year 2000, every school will promote partnerships that will increase parental involvement and participation in promoting the social, emotional, and academic growth of children." (National Education Goals Panel, 1995). The connections are called by various names--parent involvement, partnerships, home-school relations--but they all represent a deeply held conviction that children will be better off if the adults in their two care settings communicate and collaborate.

Both parents and educators have a large stake in children's success and the linkages promoted to facilitate it. No one would dispute that. But conceptualizing and operationalizing the connections between home and school has been done in many ways by practitioners, policymakers, and researchers who have specific ideas about the rights, roles, and responsibilities of participants in education. For some, the focus of this research is the description of programs and practices that increase the involvement of parents in school-related activities. Within this literature, links are made between practice and outcomes for various stakeholders in schooling. These works are highly pragmatic, forming programmatic alternatives to current relations between home and school. In contrast, other scholars read the interactions of parents and educators to illuminate the underlying dimensions of power and ideology. These are critiques of taken-for-granted images of relations between home and school. Rather than leading directly to policy or practice, they provide ways of problematizing the status quo that can imply new ways of thinking.

How do we interpret the meanings of these models and the differences among them? One way would be to compare the elements of programs that work to increase the connections between parent and schools. This would provide information about the varied ways that schools work to involve parent--and this has been the main focus of inquiry related to parents and education. We have a reasonably detailed description of the various strategies schools and parents use to work together to promote children's education. What has not been extensively it to explore the foundational assumptions that frame proposed parent involvement activities. These foundational assumptions are developed within systems of value in which some people have more power than others and particular goals and activities take precedence. As a result, they shape the outcomes that are the ultimate goal of efforts to strengthen home-school relations and they promote agendas that have more potential for some participants than others.

These conceptualizations have implications for not only the activities undertaken but their evaluation. The way scholars choose to think about parents and education places those we write about in scripted positions that authorize some to be leaders and others followers. This scripting is not without consequence because it advances some interests while reducing attention to others. Understanding these underlying assumptions and the theories that endorse and enforce these works would be an important step in inquiry about parents and schools. It could help us know more about the relations between home and school. In addition, it could focus attention to the ways that researchers promote particular relations by the way they frame the questions they ask. These frameworks, often shown through theorization, are illustrations of models for the way the world works. From this perspective, it would be important to examine how authors have theorized the relations between home and school, focusing on how these relationships are portrayed in practice and in theory.

In this paper I work to theorize theories of parents and education. As a first step I have chosen the work of four outstanding scholars who have addressed issues related to home-school relations in their research. It is therefore a description of how some scholars have mapped the field. Describing their work allows us to see how rich this literature is and to explore how issues have been addressed within scholarly discussions. More importantly, I examine how authors and theories position the subject of their inquiry within domains of power and work within certain terrains of value by examining the assumptions and theories employed within this work. Theorizations prompt us to take up very particular sets of tools and they focus us on the attainment of prescribed sets of goals. And out of these tools and goals, we have access to bounded sets of knowledge. Tracing the linked nature of theory, question framing, methods, and knowledge will be a main goal of this work.

This approach is valuable because theories provide situated readings of the world that include some issues and exclude others. Theoretical frameworks use the notion of a physical structure to call attention to the ways that they position and shape our readings of the world. Research traditions vary in terms of the explicitness of their frameworks and the acknowledgment of the ways that they manipulate the positions of researchers, readers, and objects of inquiry. This is particularly true in work dealing with home-school relations, which is represented by a wide array of theorists who deploy their tools in and out of view.

To do this interpretation of interpretations, I examine the work of several key researchers who have undertaken the examination of parents and their relations with schools. I explore how these writers have theorized their work and how their framing of the problem situates us within certain outcomes and implications for practice. I choose scholars that represent diverse perspectives on home-school relations to highlight the ways that theoretical frameworks locate the problem within particular dynamics and ideas about what it means to be in a relationship with the institution called school. But to do so I need tools. I therefore employ another theoretical framework to examine the theories and their use.

Relationship/responsibility: Bakhtin's Answerability/addressivity

A theory that will illuminate practices and issues related to parents and schools needs to focus on the issue of relationship because that is essentially what this is all about -- relationships among individuals and institutions. Thinking about parents and school people as in relationship will leverage insight into the intricacies of the actions promoted/taken, the outcomes pursued, and the values embedded within interactions. Focusing on this relationship is important to understanding because according to Bakhtin "it is our relationship that determines an object and its structure, not conversely" (1990b, p. 5). From this perspective, the focus of inquiry on home-school relationsExamining these relationships and how they are founded would involve exploring who has the power to dictate the nature of the relationship, how it is defined, what responsibilities are connected to defined roles, what outcomes are thought to ensue within particular relationships.

Responsibility is a critical attribute when thinking about relationships, particularly one that has as its purpose the development of another -- a child. How do individuals/groups/institutions conceptualize the responsibilities that participants have for various aspects of helping children learn and development? And how does this conceptualization provide a script that plays out in interactions in the day-to-day life of school? To explore these tasks, I take up a tool developed by by M.M. Bakhtin, his notion of responsibility, or as he calls it, answerability.

Answerability is one of the major concepts developed by Bakhtin in his complex career. It theorizes two aspects of lived experience important in his early work--action and ethical participation. For Bakhtin,2

An answerable act or deed is precisely that act which is performed on the basis of an acknowledgment of my obligative (ought-to-be) uniqueness. It is this affirmation of my non-alibi in Being that constitutes the basis of my life being actually and competently given as well as its being actually and competently as something yet-to-be-achieved.(Bakhtin, 1993, p. 42)

Answerability can be loosely translated to mean responsibility, which Bakhtin notes is a singularly individual act located within social and cultural dimensions. The answerable act is one that recognizes how ethics are situated and non-transferable--you can't expect anyone else to do what is yours to do. This comes in part from Bakhtin's view that the ethical is not formulaic or generalizable but wholly bound to the life of individual actors. The peculiar phrasing of "non-alibi" is the instantiation of this ethics-in-lived-experience; the idea that there is no "get out of jail free" card - you have no alibi for not doing what is right. "the act is something around which I wrap my responsibility: the focus is singular and radically personal. Tone, intonation, and unrepeatability combine to create the "ultimate singular unity (edinstvo) of each of my acts. (Morson & Emerson, 1990, p. 75).

The notion of answerability is applicable to the topic of parents and education in the ways that authors posit responsibility for action. It operates at two levels: in their descriptions of home school relations and in framing of the problem as a topic for inquriy. In terms of their descriptions, answerability can frame questions such as: How do they set up the definition of the relationships between home and school? And who is responsible for actions and interactions within the interactions around education? What acts are seen as ethical and to whom must we answer for our work? In contrast, answerability is also a consideration for scholars, who by the way they theorize and develop their research, place themselves within maps for ethical action. What roles do scholars set up for inquiry? What potential actions are seen as appropriate or necessary? To what ends are we undertaking research and who might benefit from those outcomes?

Later in Bakhtin's career he shifted his attention from acts as located within individuals to acts aimed toward others--the need for response that he portrays in his idea of addressivity. Addressivity focuses attention on how acts have trajectories -- created for presumed audiences and hoped-for ends.

An essential (constituitive) marker of the utterance is its quality of being directed to someone, its addressivity. As distinct from the signifying units of a language--words and sentences--that are impersonal, belonging to nobody and addressed to nobody, the utterance has both an author. . .and an addressee. . . .Both the composition and, particularly, the style of the utterance depend on thsoe to whom the utterance is addressed, how the speaker (or writer) senses and imagines his addresses, and the force of their effect on the utterance. (Bakhtin, 1986, p. xx)

In the case of research texts on home-school relations, addressivity is associated with the audience an author imagines for both programs or critiques of interactions between schools and parents. The texts are framed with certain relations in mind and are written to foster or change those relations. Each author writes in conjunction with and/or against others' conceptualizations of this topic and their work can be understood as indicating a particular point in a conversation. As I examine a selection of authors' work, I will work between the notions of answerability and addressivity, showing how authors frame participants in very particular ways according to their portrayal of responsibility and the audience they hope to capture in their work.

Epstein: School, Family, and Community Partnerships

Joyce Epstein's large-scale inquiries into parent, teacher, and student views of and actions related to education have provided the materials for the development of a theoretical model of what she now calls school and family partnerships. The term partnerships is used to emphasize that schools, families, and communities share responsibilities for children through overlapping spheres of influence. These spheres can be separate, in which case the institutions related to students share little in the way of resources, goals, or responsibility; or they can overlap, creating space for partnership activities. As a first step, Epstein promotes greater overlap and therefore shared responsibility--from this perspective answerability is an integral part of her theorization of relations between families and schools.

But the answerability is of a very particular type. The image of partnership is framed within a market model whose goal is to generate capital: "We take stock in our partnerships; we account for our resources and investments, and we look for profits for all concerned." (Epstein, 1994, p. 40) Students are placed at the center of this model, seen as the main actors "School and family partnerships do not "produce" successful students. Rather, the partnership activities that include teachers, parents, and students engage, guide, energize, and motivate students so that they produce their own success." (p. 42) The overarching theme in this work is that groups invest in the schooling of children, which provide individual students the resources and motivational frameworks to choose successful strategies. "[S]ocial exchanges. . .can, through good design of programs and practices, produce the human and social capital that we want to result from school and family partnerships" (p. 42). Answerability operates at several levels at this point--at the level of the institution which invests opportunities and resources and at the level of the individual student who must capitalize on that investment through his/her own efforts.

School people are responsible for designing comprehensive strategies for partnership and Epstein provides an empirically generated model of six types of involvement that educators could use to achieve those goals. This typology is presented below:

Major Types of Family Involvement

Type I

Basic obligations of parents

Basic levels of support for health & safety, nutrition, housing, parenting skills and child rearing, family activities to support children learning

Type II

Basic obligations of schools to communicate effectively with families about programs and child progress

School to home

Home to school

Type III

Involvement of parents at school



Type IV

Family involvement in learning activities at home

Skills to pass grade, help on homework, curriculum

Type V

Decision-making, participation, leadership, and school advocacy

PTA/PTO, Advisory Councils & Committees, Independent School Advocacy Groups

Type VI

Collaborations and Exchanges with the Community

Connections to enable community to contribute to schools, students, and families

Connections to enable school, students, and families to contribute to the community

While this is a broad set of types, they do have a general focus. Epstein notes that strong programs of partnership include all aspects of these types and they are not presented hierarchically. But the model is set out in terms of what parents can do to support the efforts of their children through agendas directed by the school. While basic obligations are set out for parents, none are noted for schools--either related to settings for learning or for finding out about home settings. "[E]ach type of involvement leads to different outcomes for students, families, and schools" (p. 50) but the nature of these differences is not noted beyond parental appreciation of school efforts, changes in teacher attitudes about parents, and increases in student achievement in highly connected school-home partnerships. The model is silent regarding issues of power and status beyond suggestions that school people invite all parents into relationships and that they vary their schedules to accomodate the needs of diverse families. The meanings that reside within each of the partnership types are not examined nor are the power relations within the roles that these types inscribe. Partnerships frame answerability in terms of school people who develop programs that set up conditions that allow parents into school curriculum. Partnerships provide opportunities for individuals to play the market--they fail or thrive by their ability to take advantage of the investments made by relevant parties.

The model is framed in terms of what educators can do--ways that they can facilitate various types of invovlement by families. Therefore addressivity, in the Epstein model, is focused on teachers and administrators who provide contexts for parents to support learning. Her work is to describe successful programs that can be replicated by schools to increase the spheres of overlap. This is a universalistic perspective on interactions between families and the institution of school, flexible in its adaptation in local settings but that to be comprehensive, must include all six types. Because it is seen as a generalizable program type, it is something that should benefit all communities, with failure residing in individuals unable to take advantage of the opportunities partnerships provide.

School Power: Comer's Ecological Approach

Recognizing the complexity of understanding schools, James Comer and colleagues situated their efforts on general aspects of school reform, with a program informed by multiple theories and practices (Comer, Haynes, Joyner, & Ben-Avie, 1996). Conceptualizing education as a system, the Comer model works to change that system by building participation and partnership to bring about the optimal development of each child. Two distinct aspects of this model guide activities: a commitment to child development-based programming and to systems-based approaches to problem solving that work to maximize participation and power:

Our conclusion is that most programs designed to improve schooling fail because they do not adequately address the developmental needs of children and the potential for conflict in the relationship between home and school, among school staff, and among staff and students. They do not consider the structural arrangements, specific skills, and conditions school people need to address in the complexity of today's schools. This is necessary to be able to cope with the kind of problems too many children present. (Comer, 1980, p. 38)

To address these weaknesses, Comer and colleagues designed a program that relies on field theory, human ecological theory, population adjustment model, and social action model to disperse power and model shared decisionmaking in all aspects of school governance and action.

Focusing on strengthening relationships by promoting dialogue among relevant participants forces attention to issues of power and engagement in education at a variety of levels:

Parents are more likely to support a school program in which they are partners in decision-making and welcome at times other than when their children are in trouble. Parent interest and support for the school and its staff makes it easier for youngersters to relate to and identify themselves with the goals, values, and personnel of the school, a powerful motivation to tune in and turn on to education. At the same time, parental involvement insures that their cultural values and interests are respected. (Comer, 1980, p. 70)

Connecting parents to schooling is not seen as a resource for schools to access; instead the Comer model highlights the results reaped by multiple stakeholders. Parents provide support, children relate to programming, and school people think more inclusively when relationships are framed in terms of partnership. Comer's partnerships are different from the Epstein model in that the program has specific attributes and values, rather than a variety of choices, and these characteristics are framed to leverage maximal participation and power for all concerned. The program has been extensively researched in multiple sites but rather than describing what is it is promoted as what can beto change the relations among educational stakeholders.

The School Development Program (SDP) is seen as a school level participatory program addressing all aspects of operation. Working from knowledge about relationships and child growth and development, the program's core is the activity of three teams: a parent team, which involves parents in all levels of school activity; a school planning and management team, which plans and coordinates school activities; and a student and staff support team, which addresses prevention issues and manages individual cases. Particular actions are delineated in Comer's SDP: a comprehensive school plan provides a systematic approach to school improvement addressing educational, social, and communication issues for students, teachers, families, and community; staff development is directed by the school plan and related to the specific needs of the local school community, and assessment and modification generates data and provides feedback to evaluate program effectiveness. These teams and activities are driven by three guiding principals: consensus, which avoids fallout from having winners and losers in negotiations; collaboration, in which multiple points of view are appreciated; and no fault, where all participants accept responsibility for change.

As can be seen from this configuration, relationships and responsibility are at the core of the program. By attending to relationships issues and by designing specific program to heighten participation, Comer's SDP takes as foundational the notion of power and the emotional nature of school interactions. Addressivity is something shared by all participants as they are responsible for making schooling work for children by designing programs for specific participants. The notion of a system, in which all aspects of the program must be simultaneously functioning, forces attention to all elements in the school-home collaboration. The multiphasic approach builds improvement into the program by assessing needs, prompting action, and evaluating implementation. The system is a concrete program which, by its shared decisionmaking and responsibility, is addressed to diverse audiences. According to this design, no one agenda takes preference in the program, no one group has the upper hand. If it works, both answerability and addressivity is diffuse and diverse.

The Comer model is built on psychological perspectives on development and interaction. Its strength is the relational aspects of individuals (including children, school people and families). Individuals are advanced through systems in which there is balance of needs, voice, and power. Comer's program is made up of individuals working within systems. What is missing however, is full attention to the social, cultural, and political aspects of these interactions. The strong emphasis placed on programs derived from child development knowledge appears to be put forward without attention to the cultural and political tensions that exist in the construction of the norms on which child development knowledge has been constructed. Child development is an area of study and knowledge production that represents particular values, aspirations, and cultural dynamics--that privileges particular ways of being by placing them as more developed (Burman, 1994; Lubeck, 1986). The authority of the bodies of knowledge on which Comer's model is developed is social scientific descriptions of particular groups of people. That authority inscribes the characteristics of the status quo into the model, regardless of where and with whom it is implemented. The faith placed in the tool of psychological models of development and interaction is a conservative force in this program design. Addressivity locates the voices in this model with the discourses of development and as such leaves out of the conversations the dynamics of political or economic power that shape interactions. This systemic approach, which works to balance the needs of groups through the development of individuals, is a psychologically oriented model and as such cannot leverage change or understand problems outside the realm of the disciplinary tradition in which it was developed.

Other ways of looking at the parent school connection

In recent years, growing numbers of scholars have worked to trouble the middle class model of home school relations, examining it in terms of power, privilege, and stratification. These critical and poststrutural analyses frame the interactions of parents and school people as ideologically saturated and constructed to maintain individual and group status positions in both education and society at large. The theoretical frames that inform these analyses position participants relationally but those relations depend on the mechanisms attending the theory. I'll present two examples of this work which shows the possibilities for thinking about the topic in new ways while showing how they portray the ethics of home-school relations a la Bakhtin.

Lareau: Parents and cultural capital

Trying to understand the relations between social class and home school relations, Annette Lareau applied Bourdieu's notion of cultural capital in an examination of the interactions between parents and schoolpeople in working class and middle class, white communities. She found that family-school relationships are shaped by social class, with quite different forms of interaction. Working class parents tend to have a relationship of separateness with the school, assuming that teachers are professionals who make appropriate decisions. In contrast, middle class parents are connected to the school in ways that allow them to assert their agendas on the schools. They advocate for their children, shaping the opportunities their children had by using personal and institutional resources.

These roles are framed by parental possession of and even more importantly, activation of cultural capital. From Bourdieu, Lareau views cultural capital as "high status cultural resources which influence social selection" (1989, p. 176) For Lareau, parents had varying resources available to support their children's education. These resources, which include educational competence, relative class position, income and material resources, and social networks, provide upper middle class families with leverage they use to advance their children's school careers in ways that were not available to working class families. Highlighting both the cultural and individual aspects of these relations, Lareau notes that within social class, individuals vary in the degree to which they activate cultural capital. Within upper middle class families there were differences in the degree to which parents intervened in the educational system.

Lareau's work provides an contrast to one-size-fits-all views of home-school relations. By attending to both micro and macro forces on these relations, Lareau moves discussions of responsibility beyond individuals and their commitments to education. She frames the nature of differences within social, institutional and cultural matches and resources, providing a more relational analysis than is typically conducted in this area. The activities of parents are framed in terms of both the material resources available but also the meanings that give activities shape and trajectory. Parental actions related to education are nested within conceptions of appropriate roles for relations between home and school, particularly in terms of issues related to advancing a child's interests. The have-have not nature of a cultural capital analysis shifts attention from blame to accounting for the use of resources that are inequitably distributed in society. More individually focused notions of parent involvement address the degree to which individual family units support learning (and the school's institutional practices that facilitate that support), framing answerability in terms of personal enanctment of responsibilities to one's children (at the individual or social level). In contrast, Home Advantage portrays the complexity of interactions of participants in education by linking the actions of parents and schoolpeople to cultural meanings that are connected to social class. One of Lareau's key contributions is her identification of the dark side of parent involvement. Her analysis provided a window on the stressful aspects of high intervention parenting styles, problematizing the absolute benefits of parental actions to enhance educational experiences at all costs. She points to the classic "too-much-of-a good thing" created as parents pushed to help their children excel which had ripples within their families and into the school. Families were disrupted by the close connections between home and school when children were not succeeding and school people were sometimes put in the way of a steamroller-like entity.

This work is a great step forward in our understandings of interactions between parents and schools. But it still locates answerability within families in a way that does not lead to transformation. School people are directed to recognize the tacit meanings that common or ritualized forms of parent involvement might have and offer alternatives that provide more openings to involvement--more forms of communication, diverse generation of social networks. But these are framed primarily in terms of how to get working class families more involved. In working to increase the capital and connections of working class families, Lareau's work does not realize two aspects that are outside the cultural capital framework. It does not deal with the power that resistance has in interactions between families and schools, particularly for working class families. Lack of involvement or connection with schools can in some cases be interpreted as resistance to institutional practices that disadvantage groups of children. For some parents, responsibility lies in resisting unfair activities. Because this separation is set up as a "less than" it is a deficit model, in which the problems of parent involvement are mediated by helping those with less developed strategies.

Another area that is silent in this framework is attention to the tension between strategies that advance individuals (indicating activation of cultural capital) and the social good. An advantage is a relative thing, providing a leg up for some, over others. For something to be an advantage, it must be relatively scarce--if everyone has it, it provides no advantage. A good example is money. When money is in high supply, inflation tends to decrease its value--we may have more of it but things cost more. Conversely, when money is in short supply, its value increases, making each unit worth more in its ability to purchase things. Will the advantage of parent involvement provide the same types of payback if it is extended to a broader constituency? The next step in Lareau's analysis might be to puzzle through the equity issues inherent in trying to ameliorate the middle class advantge by helping working class parents generate and activate cultural capital. How will the system accomodate to this equalization? Conversely, how do we consider the activation of resources that advantage individual students and families while disadvantaging others? This would be a conundrum that is made for consideration in a framework of ethical activity. These issues create a space for both addressivity and answerability in opening up the tensions between the rights of individuals and the needs of groups.

Brantliner, Majd-Jabbari, & Guskin: Ideologies of Middle Class Parenting

Ellen Brantlinger, Massoumeh Majd-Jabbari, and Samuel Guskin (1996) illuminated the tensions inherent in middle class mothers' discussions of education. Noting that this group often defines the norm or, perhaps more importantly, the ideal, for actions and values relating to schooling, Brantlinger, et al., identified two distinct positions within middle class mothers' conversations about schooling. The first was a classical liberal position that supported integrated and inclusive educational practices. From this perspective, policies and practices that advocate for all students are key to reforming education (usually including integration, heterogeneous groupings, etc.). At the same time, these mothers also favored practices that maintained or advanced their own child's status in the educational process. They fought for placements in the high ability group while at the same time saying they didn't believe in ability grouping; they justified their child's high educational position because of their exemplary parenting practices. How do these contradictions co-exist in the lives of the powerful, articulate, and thoughtful people studied in this work?

These tensions were examined through Thompson's (1990) conceptions of modes of ideological operations and strategies of symbolic construction. Rather than ignoring or neutralizing ideological readings, this framework focuses "on the ways 'symbolic forms intersect with relations of power' and 'meaning is mobilized to establish and sustain relations of domination' in specific social-historical contexts." Ideology, in this view, is played out through discursive practices that maintain and support existing power structures. The following table provides a summary of this framework:

Ideology Symbolic Construction










Symbolization of unity



Expurgation of the other






By examining the narratives of middle class mothers, the authors were able to illuminate the ways that ideology both "supports and obscures class privilege and status advantage." While they nominally endorse liberal ideals and practices for others' children, middle class mothers separated themselves and their children from those they saw as different through portrayals that highlight images and actions purported to set up poor practices and attitudes toward education. They were able to set themselves above others by maintaining explanations that not only mimic cultural deprivation theories but that imply harm for their own children.

The notion of responsibility is implicit in the authors attention to the values that underlie thought and action. One of the greatest contributions of this work is highlighting the discontintuity between public and personal agendas for education. Brantlinger and colleagues have caught high profile people in the act of breaking the golden rule--they don't want to have done to others what they have done for their own because that would lessen the impact of their efforts. And worse yet, they show the ways that they try to cover up their trail. These are parents being called to task for public and private stances that clearly conflict.

Brantlinger et al. go beyond Epstein's descriptions of ways to connect with schools by examining how the ideas about action and the values they imply make the meanings of these actions quite different. And they move beyond Lareau's depiction of the dark side of parent involvement by looking at the act of parenting in schools relationally. Actions have consequences not only for those within a family but they have ripples because there are others in the context. For the mothers in this study, education is an entity of equity in its most general sense--it should be able to bridge the needs of multiple groups. But when used within their own family, it was a tool of status production, used to maintain the position they had earned for their child through their own hard work. They are answerable to their children first and to society second and it is in their ability to narrate the differences between these two that they are able to promote the interests of those closest to them.

This ideological gap is described very effectively in this work. The authors point to the discrepancies inherent in these mothers' words and actions so that their ethical commitments are shown in an unflinching light. But they are silent in terms of the actions to be taken as the results of the phenomenon they have described. Actions or conclusions about the implications of these patterns are not narrated beyond the connections to equity gaps and generalized distaste for the tone of exclusivity. What is the answerable act for the various publics that might be participants? Description and theorization appear to be the act for researchers, who point to the inconsistencies in thought and action. No maps are provided to get us out of this smelly swamp of privilege and they fail to address what I see as the central issue in their work--the inherent tensions between promoting individuals so that they can achieve to their highest potential and the ramifications of this promotion on the opportunties of others. It is here that Bakhtin's work could have its greatest impact in helping us deconstruct theorizations of the relations between parents and schools. How do we think about actions and meanings across the individual-social divide? And how do theorizations of interactions in schools illuminate or obscure our ability to see these tensions?


Answerability and addressivity provide a framing of relationships that shows us who is responsible for what actions. This kind of approach can add much to our understandings of home-school relations because it describes the relations in terms of the responsibilities that authors ascribe to participants in education. In addition, it allows us to see who is spoken to not only in the practices of interactions between home and school but also as academics work to understand these interactions. Illuminating the rhetorical choices made by authors -- and I use rhetorical in the sense that Bakhtin would have used in that specifies who is gets to be the hero, who is to be saved, who shapes the nature of the story line has immense importance when we portray the lives and interactions of others. Whether individuals are thought to make the difference in providing opportunties for children, whether we see the press of structures such as social class or forces like ideology shaping the values and actions of groups, makes a difference in the ways that meaning is constructed and policy enacted. The ways that we theorize makes for possibilities by setting up modes of interaction, making some possible and others outside the realm of consideration. We are answerable for the implications of our frameworks just as the actors are answerable within our work.


Bakhtin, M. M. (1990a). Art and answerability. In M. Holquist & V. Viapunov (Eds.), Art and answerability. Early philosophical essays by M.M. Bakhtin. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.

Bakhtin, M. M. (1990b). Author and hero in aesthetic activity. In M. Holquist & V. Liapunov (Eds.), Art and answerability. Early philosophical essays by M.M. Bakhtin. Ausin, TX: University of Texas Press.

Bakhtin, M. M. (1993). Toward a philosophy of the act. In V. Liapunov & M. Holquist (Eds.), . Austin: University of Texas Press.

Bakhtin, M. M. (1986). Speech genres and other late essays. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.

Brantlinger, E., Majd-Jabbari, M., & Guskin, S. (1996). Self-interest and liberal educational discourse: How ideology works for middle class mothers. American Educational Research Journal, 33(3), 571-97.

Burman, E. (1994). Deconstructing development psychology. London: Routledge.

Clark, K., & Holquist, M. (1984). Mikhail Bakhtin. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.

Comer, J. P. (1980). School power: Implications of an intervention project. New York: The Free Press.

Comer, J. P., Haynes, N. M., Joyner, E. T., & Ben-Avie, M. (Eds.). (1996). Rallying the whole village: The Comer process for reforming education. New York: Teachers College Press.

Epstein, J. L. (1994). Theory to practice: School and family partnerships lead to school improvement and student success. In C. L. Fagnano & B. Z. Werber (Eds.), School, family and community interaction: A view from the firing line. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Lareau, A. (1989). Home Advantage. London: Falmer Press.

Lubeck, S. (1996). Deconstructing "child development knowledge" and "teacher preparation". Early childhood research quarterly, 11 (2), 147-168.

Morson, G. S., & Emerson, C. (1990). Mikhail Bakhtin. Creation of a Prosaics. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

National Educational Goals Panel, (1995). The national education goals report. Building a nation of learners . Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office.


1 A paper presented at the session "Postmodern Reflections" at the Reconceptualizing Early Childhood Education Conference, January 7, 1998, Honolulu, Hawaii. For more information contact Beth Graue, Department of Curriculum & Instruction, 514-c Teacher Education Building, 225 N. Mills, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53706.

2 My use of Bakhtin's ideas as a theoretical framing for this project is undertaken with the realization that Bakhtin was focused much more on the unique rather than the theoretical. Holquist and Liapunov (1990) note that paradoxically, Bakhtin worked to generalize about uniqueness in contrast to theorizing universals.

Copyright © 1999 M. Elizabeth Graue.

stars icon For technical assistance:
Library Technology Group
General Library System
University of Wisconsin-Madison