American Home Economics Association, the Thesis

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One article in a past issue of the Kappa Omicron NU publication Forum explored the real-world teaching of service learning as a tool for involving students in their community. The study had the established goal of making clear the practical applicability of the academic learning in family and consumer sciences, and the necessity of community involvement for students in these programs and other human science specializations, as well as for families who put family and consumer sciences to use every day (Leach 1998). As my specialization is family studies, much of the research and findings of this study are directly applicable to my own planned career in family and consumer sciences.

The article provides background by detailing the connection between family and community, which is "the family's more immediate external environment" and, if properly engaged, a solid source of support both materially and emotionally for the home economist (Leach 1998). The author goes on to describe a course she was teaching in consumer resource management, and a particular service-learning project she introduced to the class both to foster direct and immediate community involvement and to demonstrate to the students -- or rather, to have the students demonstrate to themselves -- how effective and beneficial community involvement in the family and consumer sciences can be (Leach 1998). The study found that such service learning projects not only had a large immediate effect on the community, but also that the students were highly engaged with the work and learned lasting lessons (Leach 1998).


Another professional and scholarly organization in the field of family and consumer sciences is the Family and Consumer Science Education Association, a voluntary group run under the auspices of the Central Washington University but which works closely with other organizations, including the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences, on a national level (FCSEA 2009). Much of their efforts go into affecting public policy through their relationship with the Family and Consumer Sciences Coalition (FCSEA 2009). As a smaller organization, FCSEA meets during larger conventions of the AAFCS, and votes on issues and officers via mail ballots (FCSEA 2009).

Many states also have independent Family and Consumer Science Associations that are affiliated with the American Association of Family and Consumer Science but which also conduct their own operations and research, have their own (usually highly comparable) standards of instruction and practice, and produce their own unique publications. The National Council on Family Relations is another national group related to a specialized field within family and consumer sciences, and produces several publications on relevant topics and continuing research (NCFR 2009). The organization serves as a forum for researchers, educators, and practitioners of family and consumer sciences as they relate to ongoing family relationships, as well as engaging in direct operations to promote familial well being in the United States and to set professional standards for practitioners of family and consumer sciences (NCFR 2009). The National Council on Family Relations is more a professional organization than an academic one, but provides information useful at all levels of study and practice.

In an article from the current issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family, one of the Council's publications, the results of a new study concerning paternal involvement in the rearing of children born outside of wedlock are published in brief. The study shows that fathers are unlikely to visit their children born outside of marriage if the mother has developed a new romantic relationship with another man (Carland-Adams 2009). This is especially true if the new romantic partner cohabitates with the mother and engages in child-rearing activities, and is especially likely if the relationship is formed early in the child's life or infancy (Carland-Adams 2009). Evidence form this study suggests that visitation and involvement from the biological father, regardless of the presence of a new father-figure in the child's life, is of unique benefit to the child and should be encouraged (Carland-Adams 2009).


Both the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences and the National Council on Family Relations have published ethical guidelines for practitioners of family and consumer sciences at large and for the members of these organizations specifically. The AAFCS's Code of Ethics is quite brief and to the point, whereas the National Council on Family Relations has far more detailed and specific guidelines for the education and practice of family and consumer sciences (AAFCS 2003; NCFR 2009). Both groups cover largely the same ground in their ethical codes and guidelines, but the AAFCS's approach is much more holistic and could be applied to many professions, disciplines, and endeavors, while the guidelines adopted by the NCFR's Board of Directors is quite purposefully and directly limited to the ethics necessary in the specific practice and education of the family and consumer sciences.
The emphasis in the AAFCS's Code of Ethics is on upholding the standards of professionalism common to most disciplines -- maintaining confidentiality, a dedication to perpetual learning and improvement in the field, and a faithfulness to acting with "intelligence, commitment, and enthusiasm" in the practice of family and consumer sciences (AAFCS 2003). The NCFR ethical guidelines contain far more specific exhortations and prohibitions, such as refraining from exerting undue influence through coercion and manipulation even when attempting to alter the behaviors of a family or individual (NCFR 2009).


The Justin Smith Morrill Act of 1862, also known as the 1862 Land Grant Act, was a piece of federal legislation that granted federal lands to each of the states and territories for the purpose of building educational institutions that would teach agriculture, military tactics, classical studies, and the mechanic arts to members of the working class in an effort to raise the quality of life and the effectiveness of current standards and practices in farming and food production in general (Cornell 2009). Though liberal educations were also offered at these institutions as mandated by the Morrill Act, the primary aim of this act -- and the 1890 Morrill Act which granted land for the establishment of black universities in the decades following the Civil War -- was to provide a practical education to working class individuals and families (Cornell 2009). This education would enable them to lead better and more productive lives through advancements in technology and knowledge, and to change the distrust of academics common in rural areas (Cornell 2009).

The relationship of these Land Grant Acts and the institutions that resulted from them to the study and practice of family and consumer sciences is not immediately apparent. The formalized study of the family and consumer science discipline was not established until some decades after the grants, and the emphasis in the schools was on farming techniques and technologies more than nutrition and other more recognizable features of the more modern discipline. The agricultural and mechanical instruction at these schools did allow for the development of family and consumer science as a formal discipline, but the land grant institutions were even more essential for their social impact. Such institutions made education, even in common tasks, something accessible and with obvious benefits, allowing for the spread and development of family and consumer sciences.


The term "environment" is still fairly simple in its most basic definition, and yet this words has come to mean many different things depending on the context and perspective of its use. In the area of family and consumer sciences, "environment" typically refers to the circumstances surrounding the behavior of an individual human being and/or a family of individuals ( 2009). This still does not completely define environment in the context of family and consumer sciences, however; "environment" can still refer to the external physical realities of a situation, to human constructs of reality including social patterns and prohibitions, and even internal and individual constructs of reality that may or may not permit certain options ( 2009). The term "human ecology" has been proffered as an appropriate replacement of "home economics" as the study of the latter subject has evolved into a rigorous scientific discipline that covers a much broader range of human sciences and studies of behavior than were originally and traditionally considered under the scope of home economics ( 2009).

Simply put, the theory of human ecology, or human ecological theory as it is also known, examines human attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors from the basic belief that human beings are a product -- in whole or in part -- of their environment ( 2009). Though this may perhaps seem blatantly intuitive to today's students and educators in the human sciences, and indeed is one of the earliest truly scientific theories of the family and individuals, it was not formally proposed even in animals until German zoologist Ernest Haeckel suggested in 1869 that a branch of science be developed that studied organisms in their environment, and the effects that the two had on each other ( 2009). This led to a markedly different approach to the life sciences, leading to the development of environmental sciences and ecological….....

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