Tag Archives: teaching

Family Demography seminar syllabus

Sabbatical over

Syllabuses done

Welcome all students

Come many come one


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Shanghai Museum, Summer 2017 (photo PNC, Flickr CC)

Here is my revised syllabus for a graduate seminar in family demography. Comments and suggestions always welcome. This is just the reading list, but the bureaucratic parts are available in the PDF version. A lot of the papers are paywalled, but you can get most by pasting the DOIs into the sci-hub pirate site search box (if it’s not blocked where you are.)

Week 1

Theoretical perspectives in demography

Week 2

Demographic transition

Week 3

Fertility in poor countries

Week 4

Second demographic transition

Week 5

U.S. History

Week 6

Marriage and social class

  • Cherlin, Andrew J. 2014. Labor’s Love Lost: The Rise and Fall of the Working-Class Family in America. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
  • Cohen, Philip N. 2014. The Family: Diversity, Inequality, and Social Change. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. Chapter 8, “Marriage and cohabitation.”

Week 7

Divorce

Week 8

Transition to adulthood

Week 9

Women and families in Asia and Africa

  • Yeung, Wei-Jun Jean, Sonalde Desai, and Gavin W. Jones. 2018. “Families in Southeast and South Asia.” Annual Review of Sociology 44 (1): 469–95. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-soc-073117-041124.
  • Desai, Sonalde, and Lester Andrist. 2010. “Gender Scripts and Age at Marriage in India.” Demography 47 (3): 667–87.
  • Clark, Shelley, Sangeetha Madhavan, Cassandra Cotton, Donatien Beguy, and Caroline Kabiru. 2017. “Who Helps Single Mothers in Nairobi? The Role of Kin Support.” Journal of Marriage and Family 79 (4): 1186–1204. https://doi.org/10.1111/jomf.12404.

Week 10

U.S. economic conditions and family outcomes

Week 11

Policy, race, and nonmarital births

Week 12

More U.S. inequality issues

  • Brady, David, Ryan M. Finnigan, and Sabine Hübgen. 2017. “Rethinking the Risks of Poverty: A Framework for Analyzing Prevalences and Penalties.” American Journal of Sociology 123 (3): 740–86. https://doi.org/10.1086/693678.
  • Western, Bruce, and Christopher Wildeman. 2009. “The Black Family and Mass Incarceration.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 621 (1): 221–242.
  • Two selections from Families in an Era of Increasing Inequality (2015) edited by Paul R. Amato, Alan Booth, Susan M. McHale, and Jennifer Van Hook, 3–23. National Symposium on Family Issues 5. Springer International Publishing.
    • McLanahan, Sara, and Wade Jacobsen. “Diverging Destinies Revisited.”
    • Cohen, Philip N. 2015. “Divergent Responses to Family Inequality.”

Week 13

Family structure and child wellbeing

Week 14

Maternal mortality

 Week 15

Immigrant families

  • Menjívar, Cecilia, Leisy J. Abrego, and Leah C. Schmalzbauer. 2016. Immigrant Families. John Wiley & Sons.

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Demographic facts your students should know cold in 2018

birth gumHere’s an update of a series I started in 2013.

Is it true that “facts are useless in an emergency“? Depends how you define emergency I guess. Facts plus arithmetic let us ballpark the claims we are exposed to all the time. The idea is to get our radar tuned to identify falsehoods as efficiently as possible, to prevent them spreading and contaminating reality. Although I grew up on “facts are lazy and facts are late,” I actually still believe in this mission, I just shake my head slowly while I ramble on about it.

It started a few years ago with the idea that the undergraduate students in my class should know the size of the US population. Not to exaggerate the problem, but too many of them don’t, at least when they reach my sophomore level family sociology class. If you don’t know that fact, how can you interpret statements such as Trump’s, “I’ve created over a million jobs since I’m president,” referring to a period when the U.S. population grew by 1.3 million?

What’s a number for? Lots of people disparage the nitpickers when they find something wrong with the numbers going around. But everyone likes a number that appears to support their argument. The trick is to know the facts before you know the argument, and for that you need some foundational demographic knowledge. This list of facts you should know is just a prompt to get started in that direction.

Here’s the list of current demographic facts you need just to get through the day without being grossly misled or misinformed — or, in the case of journalists or teachers or social scientists, not to allow your audience to be grossly misled or misinformed. Not trivia that makes a point or statistics that are shocking, but the non-sensational information you need to make sense of those things when other people use them. And it’s really a ballpark requirement (when I test the undergraduates, I give them credit if they are within 20% of the US population — that’s anywhere between 262 million and 394 million!).

This is only 30 facts, not exhaustive but they belong on any top-100 list. Feel free to add your facts in the comments (as per policy, first-time commenters are moderated). They are rounded to reasonable units for easy memorization. All refer to the US unless otherwise noted. Most of the links will take you to the latest data:

 

Fact Number Source
World Population 7.5 billion 1
U.S. Population 328 million 1
Children under 18 as share of pop. 23% 2
Adults 65+ as share of pop. 16% 2
Official unemployment rate 3.9% 3
Unemployment rate range, 1970-2018 3.9% – 11% 3
Labor force participation rate, age 16+ 63% 9
Labor force participation rate range, 1970-2017 60% – 67% 9
Non-Hispanic Whites as share of pop. 61% 2
Blacks as share of pop. 13% 2
Hispanics as share of pop. 18% 2
Asians as share of pop. 6% 2
American Indians as share of pop. 1% 2
Immigrants as share of pop 13% 2
Adults age 25+ with BA or higher 30% 2
Median household income $55,300 2
Total poverty rate 13% 8
Child poverty rate 18% 8
Poverty rate age 65+ 9% 8
Most populous country, China 1.4 billion 5
2nd most populous country, India 1.3 billion 5
3rd most populous country, USA 327 million 5
4th most populous country, Indonesia 261 million 5
5th most populous country, Brazil 207 million 5
U.S. male life expectancy at birth 76 6
U.S. female life expectancy at birth 81 6
Life expectancy range across countries 51 – 85 7
World total fertility rate 2.4 10
U.S. total fertility rate 1.8 10
Total fertility rate range across countries 1.2 – 7.2 10

Sources:
1. U.S. Census Bureau Population Clock

2. U.S. Census Bureau quick facts

3. Bureau of Labor Statistics

5. CIA World Factbook

6. National Center for Health Statistics

7. CIA World Factbook

8. U.S. Census Bureau poverty tables

9. Bureau of Labor Statistics

10. World Bank

Handy one-page PDF: Demographic Facts You Need to Know in 2018

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Family sociology supplements for Fall 2018

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People on a beach. Photo by PNC / https://flic.kr/p/29rYnfu

This year we released the second edition of my book The Family: Diversity, Inequality, and Social Change, for fall. And my new book, a collection of essays, came out this spring: Enduring Bonds: Inequality, Marriage, Parenting, and Everything Else That Makes Families Great and Terrible, from University of California Press. (Also this year I sued the president.) But I keep writing blog posts about families, so I can update the list of syllabus supplements for this fall. (More resources are on the teaching page.)

So here are some new, and some old, organized by topic. As always, I appreciate your feedback.

1. Introduction

2. History

3. Race, ethnicity, and immigration

4. Social class

5. Gender

6. Sexuality

7. Love and romantic relationships

  • Is dating still dead? The death of dating is now 50 years old, and its been eulogized so many times that its feelings are starting to get hurt.
  • Online dating: efficiency, inequality, and anxiety: I’m skeptical about efficiency, and concerned about inequality, as more dating moves online. Some of the numbers I use in this post are already dated, but this could be good for a debate about dating rules and preferences.
  • Is the price of sex too damn low? To hear some researchers tell it in a recent YouTube video, women in general — and feminism in particular — have ruined not only sex, but society itself. The theory is wrong. Also, they’re insanely sexist.

8. Marriage and cohabitation

9. Families and children

10. Divorce, remarriage, and blended families

11. Work and families

12. Family violence and abuse

13. The future of the family

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Teach it! Family syllabus supplements for Fall 2017

This year we were working on the second edition of my book The Family: Diversity, Inequality, and Social Change, which will be out in 2018. And my new book, a collection of essays, will also be out for Spring: Enduring Bonds: Inequality, Marriage, Parenting, and Everything Else That Makes Families Great and Terrible, from University of California Press. But I’ve still produced a few blog posts this year, so I can provide an updated list of potential syllabus supplements for this fall.

In addition to the excellent teaching materials to support The Family from Norton, there is also an active Facebook group for sharing ideas and materials (instructors visit here). And then I provide a list of blog posts for family sociology courses (for previous lists, visit the teaching page). So here are some new, and some old, organized by topic. As always, I appreciate your feedback.

1. Introduction

2. History

3. Race, ethnicity, and immigration

4. Social class

5. Gender

6. Sexuality

7. Love and romantic relationships

  • Is dating still dead? The death of dating is now 50 years old, and its been eulogized so many times that its feelings are starting to get hurt.
  • Online dating: efficiency, inequality, and anxiety: I’m skeptical about efficiency, and concerned about inequality, as more dating moves online. Some of the numbers I use in this post are already dated, but this could be good for a debate about dating rules and preferences.
  • Is the price of sex too damn low? To hear some researchers tell it in a recent YouTube video, women in general — and feminism in particular — have ruined not only sex, but society itself. The theory is wrong. Also, they’re insanely sexist.

8. Marriage and cohabitation

9. Families and children

10. Divorce, remarriage, and blended families

11. Work and families

12. Family violence and abuse

13. The future of the family

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Families and Modern Social Theory, revised syllabus

I’m teaching Families and Modern Social Theory again. This is a graduate seminar that meets a theory requirement for our PhD program, mostly taken by students in their first year or two. This revised version adds the new edition of Stephanie Coont’s book The Way We Never Were and Allison Pugh’s The Tumbleweed Society. Feel free to follow along. Comments welcome.

Families and Modern Social Theory: Fall 2017 Syllabus (PDF version)

This course is designed to build knowledge about theories of modernity, with emphasis on modern families. Thus, it combines some core theories of modernity (Giddens, Bourdieu, Foucault), with key theoretical debates about families and intimate relationships (economics and economic sociology, gender, race), and social change (development and new family forms).

Assignments

Students are expected to complete the assigned readings and upload a weekly comment to ELMS by 5pm the day before the seminar meeting each week. The comment should be less than 500 words, and include a specific issue from the readings that you would like to discuss, with your question or comment. Please do not summarize the readings – at all.

Students will write three more elaborate thought papers engaging the readings from the previous weeks. These exploratory essays will be approximately 2000 words, and make a critical argument, offering a hypothesis to explore, or making empirical connections between the course material and other research, bringing in some sources from outside the course. This is a chance for you to explore your own work in relation to the concepts and research in the course.

Evaluation

Evaluation will be based on participation, weekly writings, and exploratory essays.

Universal learning

The principle of universal learning means that our classroom and our interactions should be as inclusive as possible. Your success in this class is important to me. If there are circumstances that may affect your performance in this class, please let me know as soon as possible so that we can work together to meet both your needs and the requirements of the course. Students with particular needs should contact the UMD Disability Support Service (http://www.counseling.umd.edu/DSS/), which will forward the necessary information to me. Please do it now instead of waiting till late in the semester.

Device ban

Students may not use laptops, tablet computers, or mobile phones in class. Exceptions may be granted on an individual basis.

Difficult subjects.

The content of this course may include topics that are difficult for some people to confront or discuss. I cannot anticipate what those topics are, or who will be affected, but I can be sensitive and work with students who let me know of their needs. If there is a topic you are unable to discuss or need to be warned about, please notify me so we can make appropriate arrangements for your work. However, we cannot prevent all students from being exposed to topics or ideas that they find objectionable or offensive.

Academic integrity

Students must be familiar with the UMD Code of Academic Integrity (http://president.umd.edu/sites/president.umd.edu/files/documents/policies/III-100A.pdf). In this course there is zero tolerance for academic dishonesty.

Schedule and readings

August 30: Introduction

Cohen, Philip N. The Family: Diversity, Inequality, and Social Change. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. Chapter 1, “A Sociology of the Family.”

Part I: Modernity

September 6: What is modernity?

Giddens, Anthony. 1990. The Consequences of Modernity. John Wiley & Sons

September 13: Modern relationships

Giddens, Anthony. 1993. The Transformation of Intimacy: Sexuality, Love, and Eroticism in Modern Societies. 1st edition. Stanford University Press.

September 20: Habitus and field

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1998. Practical Reason: On the Theory of Action. Stanford University Press.

September 27: Discipline

Foucault, Michel. 2012. Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

Part II: Families

October 4: U.S. family history [FIRST PAPER DUE]

Coontz, Stephanie. 2016. The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap. Revised edition. New York: Basic Books.

October 11: New families

Pugh, Allison J. 2015. The Tumbleweed Society: Working and Caring in an Age of Insecurity. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

October 18: Economics over all

Blau, Francine D., Marianne A. Ferber, and Anne E. Winkler. 2013. The Economics of Women, Men and Work. 7 edition. Boston: Pearson. Chapters 3 & 4.

The Austin Institute. 2014. The Economics of Sex. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cO1ifNaNABY.

Cohen, Philip N. 2014. “Is the Price of Sex Too Damn Low?” Family Inequality. February 24. https://familyinequality.wordpress.com/2014/02/24/price-of-sex/.

England, Paula. 1989. “A Feminist Critique of Rational-Choice Theories: Implications for Sociology.” The American Sociologist 20 (1): 14–28.

October 25: No seminar meeting

November 1: Family economics

Boushey, Heather. 2016. Finding Time: The Economics of Work-Life Conflict. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

November 8: Economic sociology of intimacy [SECOND PAPER DUE]

Zelizer, Viviana A. 2009. The Purchase of Intimacy. Princeton University Press.

November 15: Black families, uncertainty, and exclusion.

Burton, Linda M., and M. Belinda Tucker. 2009. “Romantic Unions in an Era of Uncertainty: A Post-Moynihan Perspective on African American Women and Marriage.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 621 (January): 132–48.

Geronimus, Arline T. 2003. “Damned If You Do: Culture, Identity, Privilege, and Teenage Childbearing in the United States.” Social Science & Medicine 57 (5): 881–93. doi:10.1016/S0277-9536(02)00456-2.

Collins, Patricia Hill. 2001. “Like One of the Family: Race, Ethnicity, and the Paradox of US National Identity.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 24 (1): 3–28. doi:10.1080/014198701750052479.

Dow, Dawn Marie. 2016. “The Deadly Challenges of Raising African American Boys: Navigating the Controlling Image of the ‘Thug.’” Gender & Society 30 (2): 161–88. doi:10.1177/0891243216629928.

Part III: Development and change

November 22: Modernity, development, and demography

Thornton, Arland. 2001. “The Developmental Paradigm, Reading History Sideways, and Family Change.” Demography 38 (4): 449–65. doi:10.2307/3088311

Greenhalgh, Susan. 2003. “Science, Modernity, and the Making of China’s One-Child Policy.” Population and Development Review 29 (2): 163–96.

Kirk, Dudley. 1996. “Demographic Transition Theory.” Population Studies 50 (3): 361–87. doi:10.1080/0032472031000149536.

Lesthaeghe, R. “The Second Demographic Transition in Western Countries: An Interpretation.” In Mason, Karen Oppenheim, and An-Magritt Jensen (eds.). 1995. Gender and Family Change in Industrialized Countries. Clarendon Press.

November 29: Decoupling, families, and modernity

Stacey, Judith. 2011. Unhitched: Love, Marriage, and Family Values from West Hollywood to Western China. New York University Press.

15. December 6: Topic TBA [THIRD PAPER DUE]

 

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Demographic facts your students should know cold

Here’s an update of a series I started in 2013, and updated in 2016.

Is it true that “facts are useless in an emergency“? Depends how you define emergency I guess. I used to have a little justification for why we need to know demographic facts, as “the building blocks of first-line debunking.” It’s facts plus arithmetic that let us ballpark the claims we are exposed to all the time. The idea was to get our radar tuned to identify falsehoods as efficiently as possible, to prevent them spreading and contaminating reality. Although I grew up on “facts are lazy and facts are late,” I actually still believe in this mission, I just shake my head slowly while I ramble on about it.

It started a few years ago with the idea that the undergraduate students in my class should know the size of the US population. Not to exaggerate the problem, but too many of them don’t, at least when they reach my sophomore level family sociology class. If you don’t know that fact, how can you interpret statements such as Trump’s “I’ve created over a million jobs since I’m president”? (The U.S. population grew by about 1.3 million between the 2016 election and the day he said that; CNN has a jobs tracker.)

What’s a number for? Lots of people disparage the nitpickers when they find something wrong with the numbers going around. But everyone likes a number that appears to support their argument. The trick is to know the facts before you know the argument, and for that you need some foundational demographic knowledge. This list of facts you should know is just a prompt to get started in that direction.

facts-cartoon

Here’s the list of current demographic facts you need just to get through the day without being grossly misled or misinformed — or, in the case of journalists or teachers or social scientists, not to allow your audience to be grossly misled or misinformed. Not trivia that makes a point or statistics that are shocking, but the non-sensational information you need to make sense of those things when other people use them. And it’s really a ballpark requirement (when I test the undergraduates, I give them credit if they are within 20% of the US population — that’s anywhere between 260 million and 390 million!).

This is only 25 facts, not exhaustive but they belong on any top-100 list. Feel free to add your facts in the comments (as per policy, first-time commenters are moderated). They are rounded to reasonable units for easy memorization. All refer to the US unless otherwise noted. Most of the links will take you to the latest data:

Fact Number Source
World Population 7.4 billion 1
US Population 326 million 1
Children under 18 as share of pop. 23% 2
Adults 65+ as share of pop. 15% 2
Official unemployment rate 4.3% 3
Unemployment rate range, 1970-2017 4% – 11% 4
Labor force participation rate, age 16+ 63% 9
Labor force participation rate range, 1970-2015 60% – 67% 9
Non-Hispanic Whites as share of pop. 61% 2
Blacks as share of pop. 13% 2
Hispanics as share of pop. 18% 2
Asians as share of pop. 6% 2
American Indians as share of pop. 1% 2
Immigrants as share of pop 13% 2
Adults age 25+ with BA or higher 30% 2
Median household income $54,000 2
Total poverty rate 14% 8
Child poverty rate 20% 8
Poverty rate age 65+ 9% 8
Most populous country, China 1.4 billion 5
2nd most populous country, India 1.3 billion 5
3rd most populous country, USA 324 million 5
4th most populous country, Indonesia 258 million 5
5th most populous country, Brazil 206 million 5
Male life expectancy at birth 76 6
Female life expectancy at birth 81 6
National life expectancy range 50 – 85 7

Sources:
1. U.S. Census Bureau Population Clock

2. U.S. Census Bureau quick facts

3. Bureau of Labor Statistics

4. Google public data: http://bit.ly/UVmeS3

5. CIA World Factbook

6. National Center for Health Statistics

7. CIA World Factbook

8. U.S. Census Bureau poverty tables

9. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Handy one-page PDF: Demographic Facts You Need to Know 2017

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Teaching Black family history in sociology, student resistance edition

There is an amazing story from a family sociology class at the University of Tennessee. I don’t know the whole chronology of the reports, but I read pieces from As It Happens, BET, the local news. The gist of it is that there was an ambiguous quiz question about Black slave families, and when a Black student named Kayla Renee Parker complained, it led to her making a rebuttal presentation to the class, and then the White instructor, Judy Morelock, going on an abusive, racist social media rant and getting fired.

Before the details, my conclusions:

  • Good test questions are important, and as a teacher it’s OK to admit you’re wrong or there is ambiguity.
  • Two things are true: Black families were devastated by slavery and as a generalization most Black children under slavery lived with both parents.
  • There is a line, but not a straight line, between Black families under slavery and those under today’s system of racial domination.
  • Students who do research, honestly engage the material, and bring passionate or political arguments to class should have their courage and commitment encouraged, not punished.
  • Some White people who say they are against racism, and maybe even are against racism, are also racist and hate students.
  • Social media is public, so expect consequences.

The story, and then my approach, follows.

The quiz

Here is the question at issue:

Historical research on African-American families during slavery shows that:

A) Family ties weren’t important in African cultures where the slaves ancestors originated; consequently, family bonds were never strong among slaves.

B) Two-parent families were extremely rare during the slave period.

C) Black family bonds were destroyed by the abuses of slave owners, who regularly sold off family members to other slave owners.

D) Most slave families were headed by two parents.

Parker chose C, but Morelock said the correct answer is D. In a back and forth that Parker put on her Facebook page, she pointed out that the textbook talked about “disruption of families through sale of family members,” and Morelock countered that “bonds were maintained among family members who were geographically separated” referring to people passing information between plantations. These are long-running and unsettled issues in the historical scholarship. If you revise answer C to read “bonds were often destroyed” then it is obviously true. If you take a legalistic approach you could say, “family bonds were destroyed” means all bonds, so C is incorrect. This is not a good argument for a teacher to have. Correct the ambiguity, figure out how to handle the points, take it as a teaching opportunity, and move on.

In fact, there appears to have been one good outcome, which was Parker making a very good presentation to the class (video in the As It Happens story). If that was the end of it, we never would have heard. Maybe it’s good that it wasn’t the end of it, though, because when Morelock’s Facebook posts came out we might agree it’s just as well that the incident led to her being fired. The posts are in the BET story, and include Morelock calling Parker (thought not naming her), “ignorant simple-minded,” and threatening to ruin her reputation after the end of the semester, specifically saying, “I will post her name, her picture, and her bio on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Linkedin. Count on it.” Wow. (She also says Parker was spreading “venomous rumors” about her, which I don’t see reported.)

Many teachers complain about their students on Facebook. If you have reasonable complaints, don’t compromise their identities, don’t reveal or advocate unprofessional or vindictive behavior, and don’t be really racist, I think this is ethically defensible. It’s like a teaching workshop, or talking about your job in the staff lounge. But it’s risky and if you screw up you can get fired (which might or might not be a good thing).

The key thing is always, “If there was a hidden camera here or someone hacked my account, would I be able to defend my behavior?” If the answer is yes, you might still be taking a risk to talk about students, but at least you can live with yourself.

Anyway, as far as what I see in the classroom video and Facebook post of her email exchange, I have nothing but kudos for Parker although I might argue with her a little, too. If she did bad things elsewhere, she shouldn’t have.

Classroom exchange

In Parker’s presentation, she quotes Frederick Douglass saying it was “common custom” where he was born “to part children from their mothers from a very early age.” This is good evidence in favor of Answer C. Obviously experiences varied dramatically across the slave system and over time. Throwing down over a generalization like “most” is not really worth it.

She added, “We continue to see those impacts today and that’s why I believe that family bonds were destroyed.” She says Morelock told her she can’t teach by anecdotes, and she countered that we have to pay attention to the stories of real people affected. This is a really good argument to have, in theory.

Parker recommends The New Jim Crow, and Slavery by Another Name, and she says of the present “it’s by a different name, it’s still slavery in itself. … Slavery is still continuing to destroy the Black family” because of the “prison industrial complex.” She cites an article by Rose Brewer, “Black Families Imperiled by Growth of Nation’s Prisons Industrial Complex.”

Finally Parker says Morelock recommended some books, one of which was a 1998 edition of Minority Families in the United States, by Ronald Taylor, which she said was good but should be more current.

It’s really an excellent presentation. If you care about educating students, this would make you happy (again, not knowing what else may have happened off camera). At the end Parker takes questions, and Morelock pipes up, saying in part (my transcript):

I don’t have a lot of recent books, because the publishers just don’t send us books the way they used to. And I’ve been using [Andrew] Cherlin [Public and Private Families] for many, many years, the book you have in this course. He says the same thing, and that book is in its seventh edition. If there had been additional sociological research since he wrote that book I would think that it would appear in it, but it doesn’t. So I have to go by what my discipline shows, and I understand no matter how much I revere and respect a historical figure like Frederick Douglass, who was absolutely one of the bravest, most articulate persons of his generation, and highly respected, I still have to go with what has been done systematically, the kind of systematic methods that did not exist at that time, when sociology was still in its infancy. So, in the 70s, you know, the research that was done, with historical documents, on Black families demonstrated that people forged bonds, this is written by sociologist Ronald Taylor, he also happens to be African American, I don’t think he would try to minimize the effects of slavery, which I never ever ever would myself, and he talks about studies here [she quotes Taylor on the strong bonds in Black families, and how they maintained them even when they were separated] … Nonetheless, as I said, no one has to accept the sociological point of view. All students in my class, as is always the case, are free to make up their own minds, in fact I encourage it, and I always encourage you to do as Kayla did, do more research, find out more information about a topic, and come to your own conclusions.

Aside from the giant red flag of calling Frederick Douglass “articulate,” this is a reasonable argument. Although it’s sad that Morelock doesn’t keep up with the literature, and her reliance on authority rather than reason and analysis is bad, the truth is her facts are pretty current. Even though she’s racist, it’s not her take on the history that makes her racist. The prison industrial complex is important but it’s not the same thing as slavery breaking up families, it’s a different but related thing. (Incidentally, Cherlin has a good newer book about working class families that addresses some of this; my review is here.)

It’s not surprising we’ve been arguing about this for a century or so. It’s complicated. Here is the trend, back to 1880, in the proportion of Black children ages 0-14 living with married parents. There are issues with the data and measurement, but this basic pattern holds: the share of Black children living with two married parents increased after the end of slavery, and fell a lot more later:

black children married parents 1880-2015

Of course, some students would also get mad if you said, “slavery destroyed all Black families,” which isn’t true either. I don’t agree with the first part of the BET headline, “Professor Denies Slavery Destroyed Black Families And Threatens Student Who Called Her Out,” but because the second part is true I have no interest in defending her.

My version

Anyone who teaches this material should wrestle with this. Here’s what I have in the first edition of my book, in the history chapter (there is much more current material in the subsequent chapter on race and ethnicity). I would be happy to hear your response to this:

Families Enslaved

African families had gone through their own transitions, of course, of a particularly devastating nature. From the arrival of the first slaves in Jamestown in 1619 until the mid-1800s, Africans were forcibly removed from their homelands in western and central Africa and subjected to the unspeakable horrors of the Middle Passage aboard slave ships, slave auctions, and ultimately the hardships of plantation labor in the American South (as well as in the Caribbean and South America). Because they were thrown together from diverse backgrounds, and because their own languages and customs were suppressed by slavery, we do not know how much of slave family life was a reflection of African traditions and how much was an adaptation to their conditions and treatment in America (Taylor 2000).

But there is no doubt that family life was one of the victims of the slave system. The histories that have come down to us feature heart-wrenching stories of family separation, including diaries that tell of children literally ripped from their mothers’ arms by slave traders, mothers taking poison to prevent themselves from being sold, and parents enduring barbaric whippings as punishment for trying to keep their families together (Lerner 1973). In fact, most slaves only had a given name with no family name, which made the formation and recognition of family lineages difficult or impossible (Frazier 1930). Slave marriage and parenthood were not legally recognized by the states, and separation was a constant threat. Any joy in having children was tempered by the recognition that those children were the property of the slave owner and could be sold or transferred away forever.

Nevertheless, most slaves lived in families for some or all of their lives. Most married (if not legally) and had children in young adulthood, and most children lived with both parents. This was especially the case on larger plantations rather than small farms, because slaves could carve out some protection for community life if they were in larger groups, and husbands and wives were more likely to remain together (Coles 2006). Even if they had families, however, African Americans for the most part were excluded from the emerging modern family practices described in the next section until after slavery ended.

Relevant references:

Coles, Roberta L. Race and Family: A Structural Approach. 2006. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Frazier, E. Franklin. 1930. “The Negro Slave Family.” The Journal of Negro History 15(2):198–259.

Lerner, Gerda. 1973. Black Women in White America: A Documentary History. New York: Vintage Books.

Taylor, Ronald L. 2000. “Diversity within African American Families.” In Handbook of Family Diversity, edited by David H. Demo, Katherine R. Allen, and Mark A. Fine, pp. 232–251. New York: Oxford University Press.

And in our teaching materials, we address it this way, with a multiple choice question:

Most African American slave children lived with: A. grandparents. B. unrelated adults.  C. one parent. D. both parents [D is correct].

And an essay question:

Describe the impact of slavery on the family structure of African Americans throughout U.S. history.

Answer guide: Students should address the lost customs and languages of diverse Africans brought as slaves. Social scientists are often unsure which of the resulting cultural features of African American family life are held over from African traditions and which are adaptations to slavery. Family lineage was difficult or impossible to trace. Separation of parents and children was common. After the Civil War, African American families were legally recognized, and some were reunited. Emerging African American families were more egalitarian in gender roles and had strong extended family and kinship networks.

This story has good lessons about a number of things that scare people who teach family sociology (and lots of other people, too): being wrong, being called racist, and getting fired for saying something on Facebook. Good chance to reflect on teaching, which is hard, but also great.

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