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Mothers United

An Immigrant Struggle for Socially Just Education

2011
Author:

Andrea Dyrness

Mothers United

An intimate and inspiring account of immigrant Latina mothers fighting for better schools for their children

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. A powerful, inspiring story about self-learning, consciousness-raising, and empowerment, Mothers United offers important lessons for school reform movements everywhere.

Andrea Dyrness has produced an intimate, persuasive ethnography of a new, unexpected ‘learning site’ beyond the school walls. In Mothers United, we see the deft, sensitive hand of a genuinely ‘collaborative ethnographer’ working as a democratic, cultural broker/teacher/learner. I haven’t seen a better portrayal of activist ethnographic practice in the literature.

Douglas Foley, University of Texas, Austin

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.

Mothers United

Andrea Dyrness is associate professor of educational studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.

Mothers United

Andrea Dyrness has produced an intimate, persuasive ethnography of a new, unexpected ‘learning site’ beyond the school walls. In Mothers United, we see the deft, sensitive hand of a genuinely ‘collaborative ethnographer’ working as a democratic, cultural broker/teacher/learner. I haven’t seen a better portrayal of activist ethnographic practice in the literature.

Douglas Foley, University of Texas, Austin

Mothers United is a brilliant example of how educational ethnography can illuminate the complex workings of school reform, parental agency and school engagement, and participatory action research for school change and social justice. Andrea Dyrness superbly illustrates how social injustice is reproduced in even the most well-intentioned and social justice-oriented school change movements.

Sofia Villenas, Cornell University

Dyrness’ excellent research reminds us of the importance of ethnographic work—the kind of research that probes deeply into the beliefs and actions of individuals, and the importance of giving legitimate voice to those individuals most often ignored.

Teachers College Record

Dyrness offers a stunning example of what critical ethnography can look like. The descriptions are rich and thick, drawing the reader in and offering ample support for her arguments.

Cultural Organizing

Dyrness has written an important book that will appeal to general audiences, educators, policymakers, and academics. Mothers United serves as a powerful example for enacting the community and social justice lived by Dyrness and the five women who collaborated on this research.

H-Net Reviews

Serves as a reminder that whenever one believes the fight for justice and equity has been won, it has only just begun.

Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences

Mothers United artfully combines the best aspects of the common concerns of multicultural educators. Mothers United should be added to a list of recommended books for multicultural educators to read, enjoy, and absorb. It definitely has the potential to challenge and transform.

International Journal of Multicultural Education

This book ultimately offers a compelling example of ethnographic, participatory research that would interest readers in a variety of fields. Certainly, educators and others, including anthropologists, educational anthropologists, and those with an interest in urban education, immigrants in education, and/or parental involvement must read this book.

Association of Mexican-American Educators Journal

Told with passion and realism, Mothers United is a significant book for anyone engaged in social change work through education and research, and a powerful example of how theoretically compelling and politically meaningful activist anthropology can be when practiced as committed participatory action research.

Anthropology and Education Quarterly

Dyrness offers the reader a thoughtful narrative, weaving together lively portraits of mothers, descriptions of the research process, and a discussion of research findings, and makes important connections from her study to relevant scholarly literature and current educational debates and issues.

Intercultural Education

Mothers United

Acknowledgments
Introduction: A Fragile Partnership
1. Separate Journeys: The Road to New Small Schools
2. Baudelia’s Leadership: Claiming Space for Parents in School Design
3. Contested Community: Negotiating Admissions in the New Small School
4. The Good Parent, the Angry Parent, and Other Controlling Images
5. Ofelia’s Kitchen: A Counterspace for Resistance
6. En Confianza: Lessons for Educators on Working for Change with Immigrant Parents
Conclusion: Participatory Research and the Politics of Social Change
Appendix: Questions for Reflection by Madres Unidas
Notes
References
Index