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How can schools honor and tap into the knowledge and resources of all families?

In “Funds of knowledge for teaching: Using a qualitative approach to connect homes and classrooms” published in Theory into Practice by Moll, Amanti, Neff and Gonzalez (1992) explain a partnership between anthropology researchers at University of Arizona and elementary teachers in Tuscon led to an at-home inventory of funds of knowledge of Latinx students and families. Although teachers were nervous taking on the persona of qualitative researcher, the prior relationships they had with the children translated into deeper conversations with families that progressed faster than researchers by themselves. 

The discovered funds of knowledge and relationships with families led to curriculum bridging home and school competencies. For example, knowledge of Mexican candies, business, and candy making led to inquiry curriculum about what is candy, import and export businesses, candy making, and entrepreneurship. Students, in small groups, created a definition of candy, considering cultural differences between Mexican and American candy. Then they learned about international business. One of the parents interviewed for the study, then came into class and taught candymaking. The students then sold the candy they made at a school event to learn about entrepreneurship.

The writers compared the theory of funds of knowledge to cultural education. They wrote that funds of knowledge provided a deeper inspection into the specific strenghts of students’ families than the more surface level of folklorico dancing and food (Moll, et al., 1992).

Key Points

The theory of funds of knowledge honors the lived experience of students and families and takes a strength-based perspective to build community relationships. Too often Latinx students and families are approached from a deficit model by schools where they are characterized as having not enough English instead of celebrating their bilingualism, as primitive instead of international travellers, as lacking resources instead knowledgeable about a broad range of topics.

How This Applies to Me

Although this article focuses on a Spanish-speaking community, I think the funds of knowledge paradigm is especially useful with any community group not as valued within the education environment, like homeless families, foster families, Native American tribes and families, African-American families, migrant families, and extremely rural families. In my 19-year teaching career, I have taught children from all of those populations -- members of the Yurok, Hupa, Wiyot, and Wintu tribes; couch-surfing families, families who drove two hours everyday to get their children to and from a bus stop that was still 45 minutes from school,  African-American families who feel painfully isolated as one of four in town, and migrant workers who follow the fishing and timber seasons. I know that part of the reason that I get more respect than other teachers from my Latinx students is the relationships I have with their siblings and parents. After 12 years, I have taught their siblings, gone to events at their parish, helped them get jobs and scholarships; they know I value all that they bring to the community. Relationship building is vital for student success (and easier classroom management).

The shift from deficit model to strengths-based model has just barely begun in Humboldt County, but is so necessary for engaged students and community. These families have wide, and wildly varied, funds of knowledge that only come to light when they are heard and seen as resources. Admittedly, families who feel so separated from the school can be difficult to communicate with when they do not reach out to teachers, attend school events, or seem to value academics. One strategy I use, weekly brag calls, plans for positive parent communication, no matter the language or culture barrier. I tell students I want to brag about them, and I let students choose who I call to receive that bragging: mom, dad, sister, grandma, boss. I also ask for that person’s home language and contact information. It can completely change the school and family dynamic when teachers call to share positive things about the student. 

This article inspires me to not only brag on kids, but also ask families about their resources and funds of knowledge. I keep spreadsheets to keep track of which students’ families I have contacted, who I spoke with about the student, but I will add information about the families' strengths. 


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