Academic journal article Family Relations

Advances in Family Life Education: Past, Present, and Future

Academic journal article Family Relations

Advances in Family Life Education: Past, Present, and Future

Article excerpt

Family life education arose around the turn of the 20th century in response to changing social conditions that were perceived to have a negative impact on families. These changing conditions (such as industrialization, urbanization, and the changing roles of women) were perceived as problems or as problem-creating conditions because families appeared unable to obtain the same socialized behavior from family members as before, resulting in negative repercussions for the broader society (e.g., an increasing incidence of juvenile delinquency, an increasing divorce rate). The founders of the family life education movement believed that through formal family life education programs, families could learn to deal more adequately with the challenges and stresses of living in a complex and changing society, and, thus, family-related social problems such as delinquency and divorce would be ameliorated or reduced.

From its inception, the goal of family life education has been to assist families and family members with their family roles and tasks through formalized educational programs as a means of improving family living and reducing family-related social problems (for a discussion of definitions of family life education, see Arcus, Schvaneveldt, & Moss, 1993c). For nearly a century, family life education as both a field of study and of practice has grown and expanded from its early beginnings as mother education provided by women for women (e.g., Lewis-Rowley, Brasher, Moss, Duncan, & Stiles, 1993) to the provision of educational programs on a broader range of family themes and for family members in addition to mothers.

The purpose of this article is to review and reflect on advances in family life education with particular attention to recent innovations in the field. Attention will be directed to those recent developments that indicate progress is being made toward accomplishing the goals of family life education or addressing some of its most pressing issues and problems, or that reflect new approaches to family life education practice and scholarship. To recognize the evolutionary nature of the development of family life education, this article will include both historical and futuristic perspectives.

This review is organized under three broad themes or categories: (a) advances in scholarship (because scholarship provides important foundations for family life education), (b) advances in practice (because practice is the raison d'etre for family life education), and (c) advances in the preparation of family life educators (because family life educators are centrally involved in the development and implementation of family life programs). It is acknowledged that these are overlapping rather than discreet categories. Some of the advances might well have been placed under a different heading, and advances in any one category obviously have important implications for the other categories. This article will necessarily focus on a review of published material, recognizing that this approach may miss important developments in family life education that have not been reported in the literature.


It is important to go back briefly to the beginnings of family life education at the turn of this century, for without this historical perspective, it is difficult to determine whether advancement has been made on the central goals, issues, and concerns of family life education. Several previous reviews that have described earlier developments and advancements in the field and identified issues and problems still in need of resolution will provide the context for identifying recent advancements in family life education.

One of the earliest of these reviews is Kerckhoff's 1964 Family Life Education in America. He noted that, although family life education was a young field still "living with its founders" (p. 881), several important developments had occurred during the first half of the twentieth century. …

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