A Response to Cherlin, Scanzoni, and Skolnick: Further Discussion of Balance, Accuracy, Fairness, Coverage, and Bias in Family Textbooks

By Glenn, Norval D. | Family Relations, July 1997 | Go to article overview

A Response to Cherlin, Scanzoni, and Skolnick: Further Discussion of Balance, Accuracy, Fairness, Coverage, and Bias in Family Textbooks


Glenn, Norval D., Family Relations


I enjoyed reading all of the responses to my article, each being interesting for a different reason.

Andrew Cherlin and I have little to debate. I downgraded his book (Cherlin, 1996) only on the criterion of coverage of crucial topics-the most subjective of the standards I used-and I agree with almost everything in his commentary. I was disappointed that his book ignores or treats lightly some of the family policy issues and child-related topics that I consider very important, but I may in some small way be responsible for his de-emphasis of some of those matters. When I reviewed the outline and sample chapters for McGraw-Hill, I said that active researchers and scholars such as Cherlin "tend to have rather specialized interests and in a general textbook may tend to give short shrift to topics outside their areas of interest. ." I doubt that this comment influenced Cherlin very much, but I regret writing it. His book would be stronger, in my opinion, if it were tilted more than it is toward his specialized interests, which include stepfamilies, the children of divorce, and similar topics. (I should have pointed out that his book does show more concern about problems in stepfamilies than any other textbook I reviewed.)

One of Cherlin's statements needs to be corrected. To "foster and strengthen a renewed `culture of marriage"' is only one of several objectives of the Council on Families in America, and the report on marriage that Cherlin cites (Council on Families in America, 1996) is only one of a series of reports that will be issued by the Council. That this is my most important disagreement with Cherlin illustrates how closely I generally agree with his commentary.

I heartily agree with Cherlin that what matters most in a textbook is whether or not it stimulates critical thought. Cherlin's book fares well in this respect, even though the reader is left with no doubt about the author's views, which are distinctly liberal. Most of the other books are much less balanced, being, intentionally or not, to a large extent arguments for orthodox liberal points of view on major family issues. Other perspectives generally fail to get a fair hearing.

I appreciate Cherlin's discussion of the textbooks' treatment of differences between women's and men's behaviors-a topic I considered covering in my article but did not because of space limitations. The one-sided treatment of this topic in most of the sociology of the family textbooks is an embarrassment to the discipline of sociology. These and other unbalanced treatments of the topic in sociological publications contribute to a false image of sociologists that is widespread in the scientific community, namely, that we are dogmatic ideologues who use the mantle of science to further ideological and political agendas. The extreme social contructionist view of sex differences embraced by some sociologists and social psychologists deserves a fair hearing in the textbooks, but not to the exclusion of competing views. Whatever their personal beliefs may be, textbook authors should acknowledge the evidence that points toward an important contribution of nature to male-female differences. They should acknowledge and accurately summarize the dominant views among developmental psychologists who study sex differences, even though those views diverge substantially from the ones that prevail in sociology. However, even the books by authors who are not sociologists generally demonstrate no more than a superficial knowledge of the large literature on the psychology of sex differences.

This deficiency illustrates one of the major problems with the way family textbooks are produced. Family social science is so broad that no one author can have in-depth knowledge of all of the topics that need to be covered. Although most of the best of the books I reviewed were written by one person, teams of authors from different disciplines, or at least with diverse specialized interests, might be able to produce textbooks superior to any of those now available. …

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