Luis Moll, an educator, and his colleagues in anthropology, Carlos Velez-lbanez and James Greenberg, have studied Mexican-American families who have survived successfully in spite of debilitating circumstances such as poverty and discrimination. Particular constellations of cultural patterns--strategies if you will-- that value learning and the transmission of knowledge to children distinguish these families. Moll et al. argue that schools can draw on the social and cognitive contributions that parents can make to their children's academic learning.
Moll and his colleagues discovered that Mexican-American households are clustered according to kinship ties and exchange relationships. These clusters of households develop rich funds of knowledge that provide information about practices and resources useful in ensuring the well-being of the households. Each household in the cluster is a place where expertise in a particular domain can be accessed and used; examples of domains include repair of vehicles and appliances, plumbing, knowledge of education, herbal medicine, and first aid. Together, the households form a cluster for the exchange of information and resources. Often, everyone seems to congregate at one core household.
Families create settings in which children carry out the tasks and chores in the multiple domains of clustered households. The children's activities have important intellectual consequences. They observe, question, and assist adults as various tasks are done. For example, the son may indicate interest in fixing a car by asking questions. The father takes his cue from the child and then decides whether or not the child is capable of doing a task; if not, he may suggest a task that the child can accomplish. Even though the son's help may be minimal, such as helping to put in screws or checking the oil, his participation in the whole task is encouraged as an essential part of learning. He is allowed to attempt tasks and to experiment without fear of punishment if he fails. In such families, learning and questioning are in the hands of the child.
With time children develop expertise as well. They have many opportunities in the cluster of households to apply what they have learned to tasks of their own design. For example, the son may have a workplace where there are many "junk" engines that he can manipulate and with which he can experiment. He may use what he has learned in observing and assisting his father to rebuild a small engine for a "go-cart" he is constructing.
Moll and his colleagues are exploring ways of using the community to enrich children's academic development. To accomplish this, teachers have developed an after-school laboratory. One teacher created a module on constructing houses which is a theme of great interest to the students in this teacher's classroom and also one of the most prominent funds of knowledge found in the students' households. The students started by locating information on building or construction in the library. As a result of their research, they built a model house or other structure as homework and wrote reports describing their research and explaining their construction. To extend this activity, the teacher invited parents and other community members who were experts to share information on specific aspects of construction. For example, one parent described his use of construction tools and how he measured the area and perimeter of his work site. Thus, the teacher was mobilizing the funds of knowledge in the community to achieve the instructional goals that she and her students had negotiated together.
The students then took the module one step further. They wanted to consider how they could combine these individual structures to form a community. This task required both application of their earlier learnings and considerable research. Students went out to do research, wrote summaries of their findings, and shared the results orally with others in the class. Thus, students fulfilled their own interests and designed the learning task, while the teacher facilitated and mediated the learning process and fulfilled her curricular goal of teaching language arts.