Academic journal article Family Relations

Teaching Family Policy in Undergraduate and Graduate Classrooms: Why It's Important and How to Do It Better*

Academic journal article Family Relations

Teaching Family Policy in Undergraduate and Graduate Classrooms: Why It's Important and How to Do It Better*

Article excerpt

Abstract:

As newcomers on college campuses, family policy courses have the potential to benefit policymaking, fill a void in undergraduate and graduate education, strengthen families, and prepare students for lifelong political engagement during a pivotal period in their development. Yet, family policy has proven a challenging course to teach. Family policy is an esoteric concept, which makes courses difficult to distinguish from other policy courses. The content of a family policy course is fluid and inherently value laden. This paper proposes course content and teaching techniques to transform these challenges into learning opportunities. The author discusses similarities and differences in teaching undergraduate and graduate courses and recommends cross-university dialogue and resource exchange to improve the teaching of family policy in college classrooms.

Key Words: family policy, pedagogy, undergraduate and graduate college teaching.

Family policy courses are newcomers to the curricula on many college campuses, and their inclusion in college timetables parallels the emergence of family policy as a specialized field of study. Policy discourse in the United States has always had a family tilt, yet family policy is young both in terms of intellectual inquiry and policy formation centered on the family concept. Kamerman and Kahn (1978) trace its origins back to the landmark Senate hearings on American families in the 1970s. Progress was stymied for almost a decade in the 1980s by the controversial White House Conference on Families. Given these birth pangs, it was not until the 1990s that family policy evolved as a legitimate area of empirical and theoretical inquiry (Bogenschneider, 2000).

During the last three decades, the dramatic changes in family composition, family functioning, and the conditions of family life have prompted policymakers and the legal system to become more involved in family issues. For example, between 1990 and 1995, state and federal expenditures on child care tripled, direct cash benefits to families doubled, and family services increased by 50% (Kamerman & Kahn, 2001). Thus, it has become increasingly important to acknowledge family considerations and take them into account in political and legal decisions. In response, college campuses have initiated courses on family policy, and the National Council on Family Relations has legitimized these courses by requiring knowledge of family policy for certification as a family life educator (Bredehoft & Walcheski, 2003; www.ncfr.org/cfle/index.asp).

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, family policy has proven a difficult course to teach. Regardless of instructor, the course evaluations are generally lower, and student complaints are typically higher. Granted, the challenges of teaching family policy may be attributable to both its consumers and producers. Students are often reluctant consumers of family policy courses, and many instructors are hesitant producers because family policy, by its very nature, is inherently political and touches on deeply held values. This article is addressed to the producers of family policy courses in an attempt to begin a dialogue about the precepts and philosophies from which good courses and high teaching evaluations are made. To this end, the paper begins by defining family policy, describing the value-added perspective that it brings to college curricula, and identifying the unique challenges instructors face. For each challenge, course content and teaching techniques are given. I discuss similarities and differences of teaching at the undergraduate and graduate levels and conclude by recommending avenues for initiating cross-university dialogue and resource exchange to improve the teaching of family policy in college classrooms.

What Analytic Approach Underlies This Paper?

This paper derives from my experiences teaching family policy for 10 years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. …

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