12 de Diciembre de 2018
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Colección: Trends for a common future
Autor: Bernardo Kliksberg
Título: The Social Situation of Latin America and Its Impact on the Family and Education

II. Rediscovering the Family

The value of the role of family within society is being acknowledged increasingly at the turn of the century. The family was always seen as the core unit of mankind from the spiritual perspective, and religious viewpoints stressed the importance of its moral and affective influence as being decisive for life. In recent years, the findings drawn from research in social sciences have enriched that fundamental approach, showing that the family unit also provides very valuable inputs in concrete areas, including school performance, the development of emotional intelligence, thought processes, health and crime prevention.

Needless to say, the quality of schooling has great bearing on educational performance. Curriculum, teacher’s qualifications, school books and other support materials as well as school infrastructure influence all aspects of the learning processes. But as revealed by research, other factors contribute to results as well. Studies conducted by ECLAC (1997) show that 60% of the differences in performance are related to the home’s environment: educational atmosphere, social and economic levels, the housing infrastructure (crowded or not crowded), and the kind of family. Therefore, some basic aspects of the family structure would strongly influence results in education, including, among others, the degree of family cohesion, the parent’s cultural background, the extent of involvement in their children’s studies, their support and continued encouragement of same.

The following chart shows some results of research on these issues in the region:

As shown, the percentage of lag decreases as the educational atmosphere improves. The level of income correlates as well. For the poorest 25% of the population with the lowest coefficient of education favoring atmosphere, there is a 42% rate of lag. The figure drops to 9 when the coefficient improves in the following income distribution quartile.

Numerous studies confirm this trend as well as the key role played by a solid family unit. The United States Department of Health and Human Services performed a study of 60,000 children. Wilson (1994) reports on its conclusions:


At all income levels, except the highest (over 50.000 dollars/year), for both sexes, and white, black or hispanic population alike, children living with a divorced or single mother were clearly in worse condition than those belonging to two parent families. As compared to children living with both biological parents, single parent children were twice as likely to be expelled or suspended from school, prone to emotional or behavioural problems and to experience difficulties with their peers. They were also more likely to engage in antisocial behaviour.

Family characteristics also influence another area of education, that is the emotional one. The so called “emotional intelligence” is receiving significant interest at present. According to research by Goleman and other authors (1995), people’s high performance and success in their productive lives is linked not only to their intelligence coefficient but also to their emotional qualities. The components of this specific order of intelligence include self control, persistence, ability for self-motivation, ease in establishing healthy inter-personal relations and group interaction among others. As has been verified, people with high emotional intelligence achieve better results thant those who, even though their IQ is greater, have fewer emotional qualities.

The family has great bearing on the shaping and development of emotional intelligence. Through the relationship of parents among themselves and between parents and children, the latter perceive ways of relating to emotions which will influence their own styles of behavior. Goleman underlines: “Family life is our first school for emotional learning”. Summarizing various results of research, he further points out:

There is data clearly showing that having emotionally intelligent parents is, in itself, of great benefit to the child. The manner in which a couple deals with reciprocal feelings—as well as the way of treating their children—teach them some very powerful lessons, as they are smart students and tuned in to the most subtle emotional exchanges taking place in the family. The microanalysis undertaken by the research teams led by Carole Hooven and John Gottman, from Washington University, on the interactions occuring among couples, and the manner in which they treated their children showed that the couples dealing with their emotions in a more competent manner in their marriage were also most effective in providing support to their children through their emotional ups and downs.

Family and its dynamics also shape behavioral profiles in children concerning “thought processes”. Naum Kliksberg (1999) points out in this regard that there are essentially three modalities of relationship between children and their parents and siblings: passive acceptance, imposed authority and democratic dialogue. Any of these models of interaction is usually predominant in the home. In families with the passive acceptance style, a “submissive” way of thinking develops, accepting arguments and positions without further inquiry into their foundation. If the usual interaction is authoritarian, what develops is an attitude aimed at imposing one’s ideas on others, focusing only on the necessary coertion to achieve that objective. However, if the interaction model is one of “democratic dialogue”, critical thought ensues, with the ability to listen to others, try to understand them and knowing how to express one’s views.

In the field of health, Katzman (1997), based on the findings of studies conducted in Uruguay, comments that children born out of wedlock have a much higher infant mortality rate and children who do not live with both parents exhibit greater difficulties in various aspects of their psychomotor development.

Family influence is also very strong concerning ways of approaching art. Bourdieu and Darbel (1999) comment on this: “Love for art depends on the inherited cultural capital, on the cultural disposition conveyed in the family, much more than on natural and spontaneous inclination”.

A study carried out in the Netherlands illustrates this (Rupp 1997). Worker’s families of the same social and economic level were analyzed with regard to their attitude to culture, and two groups of families were observed. Those with a favorable inclination toward culture sent their children to schools were emphasis was made on culture and they devoted time and energy at home to simple art forms such as playing musical instruments and reading a book every month. The other kind, more oriented toward the economic aspect, sent their children to schools in which this same orientation prevailed and focused on economic achievement, material goods and aspects such as appearance. The attitude of children toward culture is influenced by the role it plays in the family environment.

One of the main concerns of our time is related to the rise of crime in various countries. According to research in this field, the family seems to be one of the main resources society has at hand to prevent crime. Values instilled in children within their family during early childhood and the behavioral models they observe will have a considerable influence on their future decisions and actions. A study conducted in the United States (Dafoe Whitehead 1993), examined the family background of the young adults in the country’s juvenile detention centers and verified that over 70% came from families where the father was absent.

In summary, the family, in addition to its historic and decisive affective and moral roles, recognized by religions such as Christianity and Judaism among others, also fulfills some functions that are essential for collective wellbeing.

Based on this outlook, in a number of developed countries there is an active movement toward the creation of favorable conditions for appropiate development and strengthening of the family. Public policies in European Community countries provide, among others: coverage of adequate medical care for mothers during pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period, paid maternity leaves, extending from 3 months in Portugal up to 28 weeks in Denmark; subsidies to families with children, tax rebates. Some countries, for instance the nordic ones, have set up widespread support services such as daycare centers and home care for the elderly and the handicapped.

Many authors have expressed the need to strengthen the family institution and to provide it with concrete support. Illustrating many such views, a Spanish study (Cabrillo 1990), states that “the family is an important source for the creation of human capital. On the one hand it provides health services in the shape of caring for children and for the sick, which would have a high economic cost if they had to be covered by the market or the public sector. On the other, it is the place were the child receives initial education, which is also the most profitable.” In this light, he asks: “Is the public sector, in practice, financing most of the costs of education in most countries?”. The question that follows immediately is: “then, why only part of the education, the one provided in public or private schools? If this kind of education is subsidized, there is no reason not to subsidize the education at home as well”. Another recent article (Navarro 1999), calls for “universalization (in Spain) of assistance services to the family”, and shows its feasibility in terms of economic cost.

In light of this renewed international recognition of the value of family and its role as well as the confirmation of its considerable potential to contribute to society, what happens in fact in Latin America? What is the concrete effect of poverty and inequity, as described above, on the families in the region?