APR Update: Families and Individuals in Societal Contexts

by Deborah Gentry, Ed.D., CFLE, NCFR Academic Program Liaison
CFLE Network
Content Area
Diversity and Inclusion
Families and Individuals in Societal Contexts

In keeping with the theme of multiculturalism for this issue of the newsletter, I have chosen the CFLE Content Area 1 – Families and Individuals in Societal Contexts as a focus for this column. Several recent happenings in my life have reinforced my high regard for the importance of this Content Area and its objectives.

First, a delegation of 52 professors from China has spent two months this past summer visiting my campus and surrounding community. I was among the faculty-staff who delivered their program of study about American culture and, more specifically, higher education. Of course, my colleagues and I sought to learn as much as we could, too, about Chinese culture and higher education. Family life was often a topic of conversation as well. All participants, both Chinese and American, benefitted from this cross-cultural exchange of ideas and practices.

Second, my daughter, along with her husband and three young daughters (ages 8, 5, and 2), have pared back their possessions in an effort to relocate for a year or more to Cap-Haitian, Haiti, to do mission work as teachers. They will also work to solidify the foundation of a program, Hoops for Haiti, they have begun to build there. My husband and I have realized our need to learn more about Haiti and Haitian culture, including family life, so that we can more fully appreciate their passion for such work and support them in various ways, including visiting and working alongside of them during their time there. They embarked on this adventure just this week.

As a refresher, the Handbook for Academic Program Review Application states the following with regard to this content area:

Content: Families in Society - An understanding of families and their relationships to other institutions, such as the educational, governmental, religious, and occupational institutions in society.

e.g., Research and theories related to: Structures and Functions; Cultural Variations (family heritage, social class, geography, ethnicity, race & religion); Dating, Courtship, Marital Choice; Kinship; Cross-Cultural & Minority (understanding of lifestyles of minority families & the lifestyles of families in various societies around the world); Changing Gender Roles (role expectations & behaviors of courtship partners, marital partners, parents & children, siblings, & extended kin); Demographic Trends; Historical Issues; Work/leisure & Family Relationships; Societal Relations (reciprocal influence of the major social institutions &families, i.e., governmental, religious, educational, & economic).

Practice - A CFLE can:

  • Identify the characteristics, diversity, & impact of local, national, & global social systems,
  • Identify factors (e.g., media, marketing, technology, economics, social movements, natural disasters, war) influencing individuals & families from both contemporary & historical perspectives,
  • Identify factors that influence the relationship between work & family life,
  • Identify social & cultural influences affecting dating, courtship, partner/marital choice & relationships, family composition, & family life,
  • Recognize the reciprocal interaction between individuals, families, & various social systems (e.g., health, legal, educational, religious/spiritual), and
  • Assess the impact of demographics (e.g., class, race, ethnicity, generation, gender) on contemporary families.

The purpose of these curriculum guidelines is to provide a foundation for faculty as they design or redesign a course to fulfill this content area. As has been mentioned in previous newsletter columns, course design processes involve formulating course objectives and student learning outcomes; identifying the nature and scope of crucial content; determining the best ways to deliver instruction and at what pace; selecting reading and other resource materials; developing meaningful learning activities for students; and devising various methods and tools for measuring students' mastery of relevant knowledge and skills (Fink, 2003).

Many readers may be familiar with Parker J. Palmer, author of the book, The Courage to Teach. His latest book, The Heart of Higher Education: A Call to Renewal, was recently the focus of a small discussion group on my campus. Throughout the book, Palmer and co-authors Arthur Zajonc and Megan Scribner present their philosophy of integrative education as well as its benefits and applications for classroom teaching. In Palmer's view, integrative education "aims to 'think the world together' rather than 'think it apart,' to know the world in a way that empowers educated people to act on behalf of wholeness rather than fragmentation" (p. 22). In light of such an explanation, integrative education seems to offer a compatible approach to teaching about individuals and families in diverse societal contexts. It could provide a suitable philosophical foundation upon which to design or redesign a course to fulfill the expectations of Content Area 1.

Levels of faculty-student and student-student interactivity and engagement should be high in courses designed to meet the goals and objectives of this content area. Complex issues are analyzed, multifaceted viewpoints are compared and contrasted, and new ideas are posited in such courses. It is not unusual for discussions to be controversial and value-laden. Many students, at least initially, hesitate exploring and sharing their thoughts aloud with others. A number of years ago, the best practices associated with teaching about sensitive topics were a focus of a Teaching Family Science Conference*. Conference presenters identified the likely factors that underlie students' concerns about disclosing: Lack of knowledge, lack of experience, and feelings fear, shame, embarrassment, anger, and doubt. They are uncertain how to respond to classmates' revelations and are equally uncertain about how classmates will react to their remarks.

At the conference mentioned above, several presenters, including myself, spoke of the use of classroom response systems (CRS) or "clickers" as a possible remedy. CRS technology has evolved over time. Besides using small hand-held clickers, students can also download poll-based apps to use on their cell phones. Teachers can poll students about their knowledge, values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors, then students can answer anonymously using the system of choice. Poll results can be generated and graphed immediately, then discussed by teacher and students. The scholarly literature about CRS as an instructional technology, including the benefits and cautions of its use, is growing. CRS technology should be incorporated into course design and delivery in thoughtful, purposeful ways. When students are meaningfully engaged in processing course content, their learning should, in turn, be enhanced. Likewise, when CRS technology is misused, overused, or just plain poorly used, students will most assuredly notice and complain.

Individuals and families do not exist and function in isolation, but rather in richly diverse and highly contextualized environments. Designing and delivering high quality instruction that highlights multiculturalism presents both challenge and reward. Any readers who are seeking first time academic program approval or renewal of an existing approved program can consult with Academic Program Review committee members during the upcoming NCFR conference in Phoenix. Persons interested in such consultation should scan the conference schedule for times and places set aside for this purpose. APR committee members are open to providing guidance and direction regarding this and other Content Areas.

*Teaching Family Science Conferences are sponsored by the Family Science Association. For more information about most recent conference, see http://familyscienceassociation.org/registrationform.php.

Bruff, D. (2009). Teaching with classroom response systems: Creating active learning environments. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Fink, D. L. (2003). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Palmer, P. J., Zajonc, A., & Scribner, M. (2010). The heart of higher education: A call to renewal. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.