Now Is the Time to Act: FCS Core Standards in Public Education Policy and Funding

Article excerpt

Current education reform initiatives give little support to family and consumer sciences (FCS) programs. However, there is evidence suggesting a critical need for such preventive education that is focused on nurturing human development. Despite rhetoric of public officials concerning "prevention models" of wellness, society continues to function predominantly in a crisis intervention mode, waiting until the need for extensive services arises before publicly intervening. Although issues of the human condition are highly complex, interrelated, and not easily remedied, public education has both the potential and responsibility to serve a primary role in prevention, thereby improving the quality of life for individuals, families, and communities.

With recent U.S. education reform efforts heavily focused on standards and accountability, national standards in core family and consumer sciences (FCS) education1 have received little visibility, attention, or support. At the same time, there is evidence suggesting a critical need for such preventive education that is focused on nurturing human development and improving quality of life. This paradox might be best understood from historical, cultural, and political contexts of education.

Public education, from its emergence in the common school movement of the mid-nineteenth century, has been shaped over time largely through the interplay of evolving social, political, and economic forces. Depending on conditions at any given point in history, policymakers have adopted various approaches to address public education. As seems typical in the discourse associated with education and social reform, diverse philosophical views have withstood the test of time and, to a great degree, still exist today. Tracing the evolution of conditions, philosophy, and practice that have guided the development of public education policy both illuminates-and at the same time raises-question regarding the societal value of such policy, as reflected in the structure and practice of public schools.

Viewing the history and current conditions of U.S. education policy and practice through the lens of critical theory provides helpful insight and perspective.

The most relevant aspect of critical theory . . . is that it identifies and claims an explicit ground for the criticism of people's routine practices and of the social structural arrangements within which those practices are constituted. This is a value standpoint that anchors a scale of measurement; does a given practice or structure foster or inhibit human emancipation-more full growth, richer life? Taking such a value position enables a "transvaluation of value" that one could argue is especially appropriate for educators. Every thoughtful teacher must make analogous value choices, for all possible practices need not be seen as equally growth enhancing. The teacher must choose some practices over others according to some criterion of value. (Erickson, 1992, p. 6)

Although teachers and schools have varying levels of autonomy in such choices, classroom practice is largely and increasingly influenced by the criterion of value identified in education policy and funding (i.e., the "structure"). Washington Post columnist William Raspberry (2004) speaks to such criterion of value in current public education policy, suggesting short-sightedness in equating the importance of knowledge solely in terms of economic gain:

. . . the correlation between good homes and good students stands. Further, the clearest identifying characteristic of what we call a good school is a critical mass of children from good homes. If this is so, why do our public policies pay so little attention? Maybe one reason is that we have confused good homes with affluent homes . . . [rather than] stress the importance of knowledge, quite apart from its economic utility, (p. A23)

In an era of high stakes standards and assessment driving curriculum and instruction, the critical theory question becomes: To what degree do current student performance measures, as defined in federal, state, and local policy, either "foster or inhibit human emancipation-more full growth, richer life? …