Culturally Contested Pedagogy: Battles of Literacy and Schooling between Mainstream Teachers and Asian Immigrant Parents

Guofang Li . Albany: State University of New York Press, 2006. Pp. xvi + 265.

Reviewed by Ozgur Yildirim
State University of New York at Buffalo
New York, USA

Guofang Li, in her book Culturally Contested Pedagogy: Battles of Literacy and Schooling between Mainstream Teachers and Asian Immigrant Parents,points out that some people in Canada hold the misconception that Asian students are almost always high achievers: They are good at mathematics, get good scores on the GRE and GMAT, and outperform their non-Asian classmates. The purpose of Li s book is to dispel this belief by providing an ethnographic study which shows that one portion of this population, immigrant children, members of one of Canada s fastest growing minority groups, is having a lot of problems in their education and then offer suggestions for both the parents and teachers of these children.

In the first two chapters, Li provides the background of the study and describes the setting and the participants. The study was conducted in Canada with eight Chinese children in grades one through five from high socioeconomic families, their parents, and their Canadian teachers. The ages of the children in the study range from six to twelve–six of the children were born in Canada and two were born in China. The problem the study focuses on is the different perspectives parents and teachers have about education and how these affect the children.

The next portion of the book, the following five chapters, presents the results of the study. Chapter 3 focuses on teacher-parent conflicts. In this chapter, Li outlines how the different views parents and teachers hold about education are the root of most of the problems. An important factor, Li notes, is the battle parents and teachers have about the methods of literacy instruction. That is, Chinese parents prefer traditional teacher centered education whereas Canadian teachers try to use student centered methods in the class. Chinese parents, for example, want their children to spend a lot of time doing assignments and to always be controlled by the teacher. On the other hand, Canadian teachers want the children to learn gradually through experience and to try to promote learner autonomy in their classrooms.

The fourth and fifth chapters go on to describe the literacy conflicts the children face in the midst of these cultural battles. Here, Li details the students home and school literacy practices and the negative effects of living in separate worlds of literacy. For example, in some of the situations Li describes, children are caught in school-home conflicts where their teachers emphasize a language-experience approach to literacy instruction in which there is a lot of play and drawing whereas at home their parents want them to memorize more and more words. Chapter 6 discusses the meaning of the battles over literacy and culture. It examines the cultural conflicts over literacy instruction and the complexities which contribute to children s learning difficulties. Having a lot of impact on children s in and out of school learning, the conflicts and complexities include well-intentioned parental involvement into literacy education, different interpretations of school policies, and differences in school and home approaches to children s underachievement.

In the final chapter, Li makes suggestions for bridging the literacy-based differences parents and teachers have. One of the ways she discusses to solve conflicts is to help the families become aware of the positive outcomes of the teaching system in Canada. She points out that Chinese parents rarely resist changes that can be beneficial to their children if they understand the changes and believe the alterations are fruitful. For teachers, Li recommends classroom instruction would be more effective and meaningful if teachers would endeavor to understand the different cultural background the families have. For example, teachers might try to learn more about minority beliefs and look for ways to accommodate what they do not believe in.

Lastly, one of the major conclusions of the book is that both parties believe they are doing something useful for the children and thus it would be in the best interest of the children if both parties put more effort into understanding each other and negotiate more.

With its in-depth look at the negative effects the cultural conflicts between Chinese families and Canadian educators can have on the literacy development of the children of Asian immigrants in North America and its helpful solutions, the book is an insightful read to both parties and those who wish to help them work together for the benefit of the children.