From the beginning of human history to the present day, families are the most powerful force in our human experience. Whether engaging in great acts of selflessness, courage, and compassion, or in dysfunction and disarray, families influence individuals and society in the most profound ways.
Despite these truths, there is a great need for improving public understanding about why families are so important, as well as understanding the countless ways in which families and family influences are interwoven into every part of our society. Along with researchers across many different fields of study, the team at Skyline Research Institute has observed that a family lens or family perspective is not always used by local, community, or global organizations across areas of education, journalism, entertainment, public policy, law, humanitarian action and government affairs. When it comes to addressing challenges on local, community, or global scales, a holistic, full family approach to problem solving is not always utilized or developed to its full potential.
Over the past several decades, we have seen the tangible consequences of neglecting a family perspective in public life, and this affects each of us in very real ways. Failure to understand, recognize and value marriage and family results in society devaluing these unique roles and responsibilities. Nowhere is this is observed more keenly than in the nurturing, protecting, and raising of children. As a result, the burden of devaluing marriage and family is being born by those who are the least able to bear it.1
Recognizing this pressing need, in the spring of 2020 Skyline Research Institute started developing a new framework for improving public understanding about why families—especially strong families—are invaluable to the wellbeing of individuals and society. With the goal of elevating public understanding about families at a time it is on the decline, we have expanded the definition and current understanding of “family literacy.” Although the term family literacy is commonly used when discussing education within the family, we have expanded the definition of family literacy to include education about the family.
This new way of thinking and communicating about the importance of families will:
(1) strengthen public understanding about the critically important roles the families play in local, national, and global contexts;
(2) elevate the role of the family in public life by applying a family lens into more fields of work; and
(3) improve clarity, consistency, and effectiveness when communicating and educating about the important roles that family and family influences play in society.
Broadening Family Literacy
For decades, family literacy has been used to describe the lifelong process of parents and children learning together in the home with the support of their schools and communities. Extending beyond the ability to read and write, family literacy has also involved the educational experience between parent and the child and uses programs to improve literacy skills.
The use of family literacy in this way has strong intuitive appeal; literacy is widely used across many fields, including media, cultural, health, digital, religious, financial, and computer literacy.
What follows is Skyline Research Institute’s expanded definition and understanding of family literacy which has been adapted from Harvard Divinity School’s method and framework for religious literacy. It has been created to help students, educators, practitioners, and policymakers understand the important role that the family plays in the human experience:
Family literacy is the ability to understand and analyze the important connections between family and the world around us. It is the ability to view the world through a family lens. Specifically, having family literacy means one will have the ability and skills needed to possess 1) a basic understanding about why the family is the fundamental unit of society that should be strengthened; and 2) the ability to see all of the important ways that family and family influences are a part of the world around us.
Central to this definition is understanding that family and family influences “are inextricably woven into all dimensions of human experience.”2 This view of family literacy helps individuals know how to discern and articulate information about the family. It also provides a new way to think about—and then apply—knowledge about the role of the family in the world.
Core Principles of Family Literacy
There are five core principles of family literacy that come from understanding the central role that family and family influences play in our society and culture:
1. Family influences are woven into every part of our world
Family and family influences are woven into all parts of the human experience and can almost always be found when one asks “the family question” of any given social or historical experience. This understanding provides decision makers with countless opportunities to address societal problems through a family-focused lens. This principle of family literacy paves the way for cooperation across many different areas of work and encourages a greater appreciation for and understanding about the valuable roles that families play in our world.
2. Strong families and stable family life are essential to individual and social well-being.
Sustainable, flourishing societies depend upon strong, stable families. Families are the heart of civilization and the basic social unit of society that provide each member with distinct sources of strength and resilience.
Across the globe, children are most likely to thrive socially, economically, emotionally, and educationally when they enjoy the shelter and stability of an intact family with a married mother and father.3 This formula provides a ‘protective shield’ over children, serving as a buffer against a host of negative outcomes.4 It also recognizes the inherent dignity of every human being and the need for “special safeguards and care before as well as after birth.”5
The importance of a healthy family and its relation to the nurture and protection of children is further described below:
Not every family (especially through the generations) will be fortunate enough to be founded upon stable marital unions, and in some circumstances, such as marriages involving serious forms of abuse, marital dissolution may be wise. But, despite deviations and human failures, the model itself (as shown by the course of history and mountains of current research) is the surest recipe for personal and social progress. Moreover, the negative consequences of departing from the model are particularly acute for women and children.6
Key to this principle of family literacy is understanding that as imperfect as they may be, strong, stable marriages and families play an important role in determining the health and welfare of children, in providing tremendous potential for happiness, meaning, and belonging.
3. Every individual is shaped by and linked to his or her family.
Among all of the many relationships we have in the human experience, the most important and significant are our family relationships. It is within the family that individual identity emerges and develops and where intergenerational spiritual, cultural, and social bonds are created and shared.6
This becomes even more evident when married couples become parents, forming “a “linear bridge” between family generations.”7 In this sense, each family creates its own community with its own unique set of personalities, values, practices, stories, and family identity which, in turn, influence individual identity. It is in the best interest of society for these experiences to be positive and healthy.
4. Families are a force multiplier with unique resources, strength, and resilience
Remarkable strength and fortitude can be found within a family. Despite the world’s many differing and varying cultures, families bear striking similarities in the ways they turn to the family system as a source of strength.8 Many studies have found that despite enduring adversity, hardship, and even trauma, families have the ability to rally together and draw upon each other for strength, often emerging with increased love, purpose, and resilience needed to face the future.9
Some families may be more vulnerable and require additional resources and assistance to build capacity for enduring hardship. Nevertheless, resilience can be found in even the most surprising and challenging of circumstances, including war, humanitarian settings, and natural disasters, where immediate and extended families draw upon their shared belief systems and pool resources to move from powerlessness to empowerment—together.10
5. Family relationships connect and bind generations together and provide meaning and belonging in life
Families are the primary relationships and first bonds that form a powerful connection between generations through the combined lineage of a father and a mother.11 It is within that family that people find belonging and the ability to “feel nurtured, protected, valued, and supported in our best efforts.”12
Understanding one’s family heritage gives meaning, shapes identity, and connects individuals between generations. When people anchor themselves in family history, stories, traditions and experiences, they develop a sense of belonging13 which not only centers an individual, but provides understanding and the potential to meet challenges with resilience throughout their entire life.14 This is particularly significant for children and youth because knowing about and keeping alive the stories of their family’s past help them better understand themselves and strengthens their emotional well-being.15
This element of family literacy provides the understanding that while families evolve and change throughout their history, these relationships deeply matter and play a critically important role in shaping individuals, society, and future generations.
Family Literacy is Interfaith
Many of the world’s great religions share common understandings related to marriage and the importance of healthy family life.16 Many believe that a family is central to their purpose, marriage and family life are divinely appointed, parents and children have deep and lasting commitments to each other, sexuality is a gift to be exercised within divinely established limits, and the family is the central institution of society and the most important source of joy and fulfillment. These shared convictions, properly understood, can help bring all peoples of the earth together.
The challenges facing families in the 21st century are immense and require fresh thinking and creative collaboration. We believe this new and expanded understanding of family literacy is an important step toward deeper understanding.
Our vision is to help elevate the role of family in public life. Our work is to advance our new family literacy framework by providing training and resources to help individuals understand why the family is the fundamental unit of society and to grow in the ability to discern and analyze the fundamental intersections of the family within social, political and cultural life through the family lens.
We hope this new method and framework for family literacy will help encourage a renaissance of successful marriages and family life. Please join us as we seek to advance public understanding about families in service of an enduring and flourishing society.
For more information or if your organization would like to use or implement Skyline Research Institute’s unique family literacy method and framework, please contact us at the bottom of this page.
The Family Literacy Project™ is a program of Skyline Research Institute (SRI). Founded by expert communicators, family researchers and storytellers, the Family Literacy Project has been created to help people of all ages grow in the ability to discern, analyze, and view the world through the family lens (what SRI has uniquely reframed and reconceptualized as family literacy).
The Institute works to advance and promote our new conceptual framework on the family by providing training and resources to help individuals, universities, media, and non-profit organizations better understand the complex roles that families play in human experience. The Family Literacy Project will provide educational opportunities and resources for how to recognize, understand, analyze, and elevate family influences in contemporary life.