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Mothers United: An Immigrant Struggle for Socially Just Education

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In urban American school systems, the children of recent immigrants and low-income parents of color disproportionately suffer from overcrowded classrooms, lack of access to educational resources, and underqualified teachers. The challenges posed by these problems demand creative solutions that must often begin with parental intervention. But how can parents without college In urban American school systems, the children of recent immigrants and low-income parents of color disproportionately suffer from overcrowded classrooms, lack of access to educational resources, and underqualified teachers. The challenges posed by these problems demand creative solutions that must often begin with parental intervention. But how can parents without college educations, American citizenship, English literacy skills, or economic stability organize to initiate change on behalf of their children and their community? In Mothers United, Andrea Dyrness chronicles the experiences of five Latina immigrant mothers in Oakland, California—one of the most troubled urban school districts in the country—as they become informed and engaged advocates for their children’s education. These women, who called themselves “Madres Unidas” (“Mothers United”), joined a neighborhood group of teachers and parents to plan a new, small, and autonomous neighborhood-based school to replace the overcrowded Whitman School. Collaborating with the author, among others, to conduct interviews and focus groups with teachers, parents, and students, these mothers moved from isolation and marginality to take on unfamiliar roles as researchers and community activists while facing resistance from within the local school district. Mothers United illuminates the mothers’ journey to create their own space—centered around the kitchen table—that enhanced their capacity to improve their children’s lives. At the same time, Dyrness critiques how community organizers, teachers, and educational policy makers, despite their democratic rhetoric, repeatedly asserted their right as “experts,” reproducing the injustice they hoped to overcome. A powerful, inspiring story about self-learning, consciousness-raising, and empowerment, Mothers United offers important lessons for school reform movements everywhere.


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In urban American school systems, the children of recent immigrants and low-income parents of color disproportionately suffer from overcrowded classrooms, lack of access to educational resources, and underqualified teachers. The challenges posed by these problems demand creative solutions that must often begin with parental intervention. But how can parents without college In urban American school systems, the children of recent immigrants and low-income parents of color disproportionately suffer from overcrowded classrooms, lack of access to educational resources, and underqualified teachers. The challenges posed by these problems demand creative solutions that must often begin with parental intervention. But how can parents without college educations, American citizenship, English literacy skills, or economic stability organize to initiate change on behalf of their children and their community? In Mothers United, Andrea Dyrness chronicles the experiences of five Latina immigrant mothers in Oakland, California—one of the most troubled urban school districts in the country—as they become informed and engaged advocates for their children’s education. These women, who called themselves “Madres Unidas” (“Mothers United”), joined a neighborhood group of teachers and parents to plan a new, small, and autonomous neighborhood-based school to replace the overcrowded Whitman School. Collaborating with the author, among others, to conduct interviews and focus groups with teachers, parents, and students, these mothers moved from isolation and marginality to take on unfamiliar roles as researchers and community activists while facing resistance from within the local school district. Mothers United illuminates the mothers’ journey to create their own space—centered around the kitchen table—that enhanced their capacity to improve their children’s lives. At the same time, Dyrness critiques how community organizers, teachers, and educational policy makers, despite their democratic rhetoric, repeatedly asserted their right as “experts,” reproducing the injustice they hoped to overcome. A powerful, inspiring story about self-learning, consciousness-raising, and empowerment, Mothers United offers important lessons for school reform movements everywhere.

43 review for Mothers United: An Immigrant Struggle for Socially Just Education

  1. 5 out of 5

    Gail

    I will revisit this book over and over again through my career in education, and I expect to gain more from it every time. It is a fantastic ethnography of the conflicts that arose between well-intentioned, progressive teachers and Latina mothers in the Oakland small schools reform movement. Though the movement was supposed to bring together the strengths of both for change, different understandings of social justice, community, and the role of parents got in the way. In reality, parents were be I will revisit this book over and over again through my career in education, and I expect to gain more from it every time. It is a fantastic ethnography of the conflicts that arose between well-intentioned, progressive teachers and Latina mothers in the Oakland small schools reform movement. Though the movement was supposed to bring together the strengths of both for change, different understandings of social justice, community, and the role of parents got in the way. In reality, parents were being silenced and confined by expectations of of how Latina/o parents "should" or "would" be involved in their children's schools. Through a participatory research group that called itself "Madres Unidas," a group of Latina mothers were able to challenge those controlling images of themselves and work for transformation of their children's schools, while being personally transformed themselves. As someone who plans to be a progressive educator, educating for social justice, this book was an essential reminder that good intentions and theory are not enough, that educational professionals can become barriers to real change if not consistently inviting critique from each other and from the community, and that I must work with community members in authentic, trust-building, listening, empowering ways to build the "confianza" that the Madres so beautifully created amongst themselves. Humbling and inspiring at the same time, I consider this a must-read for any educator who truly wants to make the educational system better and more just.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Marilee

    I loved the strength shown by these Latina mothers in Oakland. My students read this book in a course I teach English learners, family and community.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Di

  4. 5 out of 5

    Julie

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    Trista

  6. 5 out of 5

    Makayla Loeffelholz

  7. 5 out of 5

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    Ann Graf

  10. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

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    Katie Wagner

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    Christy Nguyen

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    Renata Tommasi Giacomini

  29. 5 out of 5

    UMinnPress

  30. 4 out of 5

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  38. 5 out of 5

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  39. 4 out of 5

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  40. 4 out of 5

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  41. 5 out of 5

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  42. 4 out of 5

    Gabriel Alonso arias

  43. 4 out of 5

    Raha

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