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Ideas Shaping Practice: Philosophy of Home Economics/Human Sciences

Vol. 19, No. 1
ISSN: 1546-2676

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Home Economics Philosophy in Latvia: An Exploratory Study

Sue L. T. McGregor
Mount Saint Vincent University

Vija Dišlere
Latvia University of Agriculture

2012

Keywords: home economics, philosophy, Latvia, family, human, humanistic approach

Abstract

Stimulated by a shared experience the authors conducted a frequency count of terms in the 2012 Latvian “Rural Environment, Education, Personality” (REEP) conference proceedings to determine the use of the humanistic approach in Latvian home economics philosophy. The authors concluded that living within a post-Soviet environment has meant Latvian home economists have been ideologically steeped in the humanistic/humanization philosophy. It has permeated their collective psyche, leading to a unique approach to home economics philosophy. The import of using the notions of human and human problems in home economics practice are examined, prompting the authors to invite other home economists to learn from the Latvian experience. The tenor of the entire home economics conversation changes when the focus is on humans, as well as on families.

In March 2012, the authors attended the 5th International Scientific Conference on “Rural Environment. Education. Personality” (REEP) in Jelgava, Latvia. One author was responsible for organizing the conference and the other delivered a plenary address, as well as attending sessions over the two-day event. One author noticed that home economists who were presenting papers did not use the familiar North American notion of optimizing and enhancing individual and family well-being and quality of life. Instead, they used the word human and related words such as humanistic, humanization and humanity. Given that one of the plenary sessions dealt with home economics philosophy(ies) and the idea that not all home economists use the same philosophy (McGregor, 2012), the authors were intrigued with exploring what it meant that Latvian (and other Baltic practitioners in Estonia and Lithuania) had framed their work around the concept of humans and not just families. What lessons could be learned for the world of home economics philosophy?

Humanistic Approach

Of particular interest was a comment by the Editor, in the Foreword to the conference proceedings. “The humanistic concept of education is at the heart of the modern teacher training [in Latvia]” (Dišlere, 2012, p. 5). This approach seeks to engage the whole person - the intellect, feeling life, social capacities, artistic, and practical skills. All of these traits are important for the growth and development of human beings. The focus of humanistic education is on self-esteem, full autonomy, self-discovery, and self-awareness. Through values clarification, people learn about identity, power and connectedness (Rowan, 2001). Humanistic education aims to create physically, cognitively, and emotionally balanced personalities and to ensure social sensitization and solidarity through the teaching of humanistic values and ideals (Theodoropoulou, Koutrouba, & Barda, 2009). “In humanists’ view, a personality is discussed as a subject of activity rather than a result of external influences. In [the] humanitarian paradigm a pedagogical process is the creation of conditions for the promotion of personality development. The most important human qualities are emphasized: freedom, autonomy and responsibility” (Volāne, 2012, p. 280).

First, the paper discusses the history of the humanistic approach in Latvia. Then, in order to gain a preliminary sense of how (if) this philosophical orientation is making its presence known in Latvian home economics practice, the authors conducted an exploratory study involving a rudimentary document of the 2012 REEP conference proceedings. The import of using the notions of human and human problems in home economics practice is examined, prompting the authors to invite other home economists to learn from the Latvian philosophical experience.

History of the Humanistic Approach in Latvia

The humanistic approach has been prevalent in Latvia since the early 1900s as confirmed by authors Žogla & Andersone, 2009; Žogla, Andersone, & Černova, 2007. They explained that when the Republic of Latvia was proclaimed in 1918, one of the three pillars of its education system was democratic and humanistic principles. This focus was severely compromised during the 50-year Soviet occupation (1940s-1990s), but it resurfaced again after 1991, when Latvia gained its independence from the Soviet Union. This historical context is important for understanding the thinking that underpins home economics in this setting.

As Latvia deals with “the social and cultural wounds left by Communism” (Filipsone, 2005, p. 53), it is counting on the education system to play a key role in rebuilding democracy, in helping people adapt to new conditions, and finding a sense of purpose and direction. Bunkše (1999) commented on the disorientation and loss of direction experienced by Latvians after they gained their independence. He noted that “freedom is particularly troubling for peoples and nations which are emerging from Soviet colonial rule, seeking to define their national identities, and finding their place in a world that is undergoing rapid change, [especially given] the fundamental economic and political difficulties in making the change from a command system of economics and politics to a free market, democratic system” (Bunkše, 1999, p. 122).

Filipsone (2005, p. 54) described Latvia as a “transitional post-Soviet society” whose 2.3 million citizens are living in a “post-Communist social environment.” Latvians are positioned as searching for an “emotional counterweight to the political and cultural pressures from Moscow” (Bunkše, 1999, p. 122) as they live in “an exciting but also troubling and unclear post-Soviet, postmodern situation” (Bunkše, 1999, p. 123). Soviet rule dehumanized Latvian society. Dehumanization denies people their humanity. It takes away people’s individuality and autonomy, and it deprives them of the positive qualities of what it means to be human (e.g., compassion, sensitivity, civility). People forget they are part of a shared human community; instead, it becomes easy to lose one’s sense of morality and justice (Maiese, 2003). Filipsone (2005) identified the humanistic paradigm as an approach that Latvian educators could employ as they strived to actively become involved in “the process of humanizing the entire educational system in Latvia and of liberating it from the residues of the totalitarianism” (p. 55).

Garleja (1995) also strongly advocated for a humanitarian approach to education in Latvia. She argued that the developmental process of human beings is lifelong. The human is a self-organizing system, struggling with the differences between the known and unknown, between what is gained and what is intended. Humans have to strive to find the optimum ratio between oneself and belonging to the world. This process requires humanitarian education, which involves people gaining “self-independence, self-consciousness as the object of all self-action, renewal of human wealth via the self, via the individual, via the social environment” (p. 167). She believed the potential of humanity is based on humanistic education.
As well, in the mid-nineties, the office of the Latvian Minister of Education and Science explored the idea of personal, social, and moral education (PSME). Its 1996 draft PSME document stated that schools would help students “develop the ability to consciously adopt an ethical standpoint based on humanistic principles, values, knowledge, and personal experiences” (Burnane, Milts, Rocena, & Valbis, 2000, p. 125). This humanistic approach to teaching included developing self-esteem, self-confidence, a sense of moral responsibility, and such character traits as purposefulness, willpower, persistence, and resistance to violence.

The movement toward a humanistic approach in Latvia continued into the new century. In 2001, the theme of the European Forum on Educational Administration was Latvia in Transition to Humanistic Education, http://www.efea-network.org/Aims. This forum is a network for those committed to sharing experiences in practice, research, and teaching as well as in the administration, leadership, and management of education at all levels within the European context. As of 2012, humanitarian/social is now one of four compulsory standards for the general secondary school curricula (aged 16-18) (Minister of Education and Science, 2012).

Evidence of the Humanistic Approach in Latvian Home Economics

The authors concurred that it would be informative to examine the 2012 REEP conference proceedings for evidence of the presence of the humanistic approach in Latvian home economics philosophy. This section shares the results of a preliminary, exploratory analysis of the proceedings, organized into two sections, methods and results, with the latter set out in three parts: use of the words human, family, and combinations of human, family, and home economics.

Method

The annual, international scientific conference was organized by the Institute of Education and Home Economics of the Faculty of Engineering, Latvia University of Agriculture. This, their fifth such conference, aimed to look for solutions, exchange ideas, and highlight topical problems about 21st century education tendencies in the context of the ecology of education, competence, life quality in the home environment, psychology, didactics, career development, and vocational education. The 2012 conference sought perspectives of education and training systems to address changes in the rural social environment created by changes in both local and global society.

Participants represented 17 higher education institutions, from six countries. The majority of the papers were from Latvia (82%, n=37). The conference proceedings were published in a 350-page PDF file on a DVD. The 45 conference papers were organized into five Themes (see Table 1). Most of the home economics scholars were placed in one of two Themes, competency-based education or life quality. Other disciplines represented at the conference included psychology, philosophy, sociology, medicine, arts, and education.         

Table 1. Five themes of the 2012 REEP conference

Theme

Number of Papers
N=45

Sustainable development of rural schools’ environment, ecology of education

9

Education for getting competence (competence-based education)

16

Life quality in the context of home environment, home economics, household, consumer science

12

Development of vocational education and career development

5

Psychology

3

The proceedings were analysed using the Adobe Find Function and the Adobe Advanced Search Function. The 350-page PDF document was searched using the following keywords: human, family, home economics, well-being, and quality of life, which were chosen because they tend to form the essence of global home economics philosophy (McGregor, 2009b, 2012). Basic descriptive statistics were used to analyze the data (frequency counts and percentages). A rudimentary content analysis revealed some aspects of the data, and verbatim quotes were used as evidence of some of the findings.

Results

The concept of well-being appeared in the proceedings 20 times (50% in one paper, n=10). Quality of life appeared 28 times, mainly in the reference list for one paper dealing with life quality. Because human, family, and home economics (n=252, 122 and 392, respectively) were used most often and most widely, the following discussion focuses on these three concepts.

Use of the Word Human. The word human appeared in the proceedings 252 times. This result includes renditions of the word human (n=70, 28%): humanization, humanistic, humanitarian, humanities, humanity, humanizes, and humane. Of these, the most commonly used words were humanization (26%), humanistic (20%), humanity (20%), and humanitarian (10%).

As an adjective, the word human can be used to modify nouns. The word human was used 182 times (out of 252 instances, 72%) to describe 33 different nouns (see Table 2). Patterns were evident in the choice of nouns. For example, a cursory analysis suggested that Latvian home economists were concerned with (a) the human psyche (self-esteem, personalities, consciousness, internal world, human nature); (b) human development (rights, capacity building, growth potential, basic needs, relations and interactions); (c) human environments (habitats, health, resources, contact); (d) human thinking (pedagogy, values, capital, paradigm); and (e) human morality (ethics, behaviour, relations, activities, life).

Table 2. Profile of 33 nouns modified by the adjective human in the 2012 REEP proceedings

The word human was used to modify 33 nouns (listed in order of appearance in the proceedings):

development
resources
being
pedagogy
capital
nature
paradigm
health
rights
contact        
factor

race
life
interaction
values
activities/actions
capacity building
growth potential
basic needs (necessities)
self-esteem
personalities
internal world

experiences
lifestyle
living environment
ethics/moral concerns
family
habitats
behaviour
relations
thinking
psyche
consciousness

Some form of the word human appeared in every theme except for Theme five, Psychology. This result suggested that Latvian home economists found it very easy to bring the concept of human to bear as they researched and practiced in the realms of competency-based education, life quality, and well-being (including household and consumer), sustainable development, and career development. In fact, the findings suggested that Latvian home economists were deeply informed by the ideological shift occurring in Latvia (i.e., the humanization of the education system to deal with the fallout of Soviet rule for half a century).

Use of the Word Family. It is evident that a focus on humans (rather than families) is a strong component of home economics philosophy in Latvia. To further support this assertion, consider that the word family appeared 125 times in the proceedings, half as often as human. Furthermore, although the word family appeared in half of the papers (n=22), and in all themes, it was not used evenly. It appeared most often in Theme one (sustainability, 51%, n=4). But, within that theme, it appeared 50 times in one paper, accounting for 79 percent of its use in that theme, and 40 percent overall. Notwithstanding the skewed presence of the word family in Theme one, it was also used in the other four themes, most often in Themes two (competence-based education, 18%) and three (life quality, 18%) (totalling 36%, n=15 papers) followed by Theme four (career development, 7%, n=2 papers) and Theme five (psychology, 6%, n=1 paper).

Sometimes, authors used the word family as an adjective for well-being. Some authors used it as a concept in its own right (e.g., the family). One author used family as an independent variable in her research design. The word family was also linked with family history, experiences, life, conditions, members, and relations (usually on one occasion). Some authors viewed family as either a micro-environment, a value, or a socialization agent. In some instances, Latvian home economists used the concepts of family and human in the same paper.

Using Combinations of Human, Family, and Home Economics. The authors wanted to gain a preliminary sense of how (or if) Latvian home economists were linking the concepts of human, family, and home economics in their scholarship and practice. The word home economics appeared in the proceedings 392 times (of which 9% of its usage was in the title of the Latvian University of Agriculture’s Institute of Education and Home Economics, n=37). Using the Adobe Advanced Search Function, it was determined that five articles in the proceedings dealt explicitly with home economics, per se (see Table 3). The bulk of the words home economics appeared in these five papers (85%), housed in Theme three: life quality in the context of home environment, home economics, household, and consumer science. Again, using the Adobe Find and Adobe Advanced Search Functions, these five papers were analyzed to see how (if) the authors had used the notions of human, family, and home economics in some combination in their scholarship.

Table 3. Five papers in the REEP proceedings that combined human, family, and/or home economics

Author(s)

Title of Paper

Vija Dišlere

Methodology Structure for Training Teachers of Home Economics and Technologies (pp. 201-208)

Elīna Kūla-Braže and Anita Aizsila

Cooperation of Schools and Public Organizations in Mastering the Education of Home Economics (pp. 236-240)

Iveta Līce

Change of Direction of Home Economics Subject (pp. 241-248)

Aija Pridāne

Innovation in School Subject Home Economics (pp. 249-256)

Elita Volāne

Pupils’ Learning Skills Acquisition Conditions in Home Economics and Technologies Lessons in Primary School (pp. 279-290)

An example was found within each of the five papers in Table 3 that illustrated how Latvian home economists integrated the concepts of human, family, and home economics. To illustrate these results, the concepts are underlined in the following verbatim quotes.

Dišlere commented on the “need for home economists to teach vital and culturally integrated theory for human capacity building, and identifies the present challenges for home economists as sustaining a better quality of life and conveying life competencies. In addition, home economics must be seen in the context of family studies” (p. 201).

Kūla-Braže and Aizsila, when pondering whether the content of home economics will be topical in ten years, observed that “including the crafts [part of Latvian home economics curriculum] in the school curricula is popular in the so called free schools ... where teachers put to use findings of the humanistic pedagogy” (p. 237).

Līce noted, “Today acquisition of textile technologies is emphasized together with the human free willingness, choice, and understanding. In home economics, the understanding of the pupil about the safety and quality conditions of the human living environment, the ability to creatively involve and solve problems related to that, and the ability to gain experience in creative activity is emphasized” (p. 243).

Pridāne commented that her previous work, “based on principals of human pedagogy where student and his [sic] needs and interests are in the centre of attention, has motivated the urgency of life quality and its meaning of comprehension in [the] subject of Home economics and technologies and further in whole life” (p. 258). 

Volāne did not use the concepts in a complete sentence, but she did employ them in a paragraph at page 280, where she explained that it is necessary for families to be able to really listen to each other. Listening within a family setting is active love, which necessitates active intellectual work. Teaching home economics within a humanitarian paradigm better ensures that this intellectual work can happen.

Discussion

Choosing to combine words that contain the root human, in conjunction with family and home economics, is very telling. The results confirmed the real presence of the humanistic philosophy in Latvian home economics. Epstein (2010) clarified that humanism is a philosophy and a worldview, one that affirms the notion of humans. For a century, the conventional focus of home economics has been on individuals and families and how to enhance and optimize their quality of life and well-being (see McGregor, 2009b). The tenor of the entire home economics conversation changes when the focus is on humans. Rather than being concerned with the family as an individual unit or a social institution, a focus on humans draws us toward a concern for humanity and, by association, the human condition (see McGregor, 2010). The condition of humanity is influenced by lives lived out within family units, and vice versa. Privileging humans over the family unit broadens and philosophically deepens the definition of the profession.

Consider for a moment how familiar it is to use family as an adjective for the nouns profiled in Table 2: family life versus human life, family resources versus human resources, family living environment versus human living environment, and family values versus human values. Yet, also consider how framing our practice changes when we use the word human instead of family. Human development is just not the same thing as family development; human personalities differ from family personalities; human consciousness is different from family consciousness; and the human condition is unlike the family condition (appreciating, of course, that all of these ideas are interconnected).

Even shifting from the family to the human family is a profound philosophical shift. The concept of the human family refers to the relationships among people comprising the world’s population. Each individual family should be concerned with the world’s human family. Relationships with distant others have to become personal because all humans share a common destiny to promote the common good and the totality of social conditions that make it possible for humans to reach their potential, to develop, be secure, and to survive and thrive. Respect for the dignity and the plight of each person comprising humanity creates bonds among humans, making people feel stronger and more connected (McGregor, 2001). This approach is a far cry from home economics’ traditional focus on the well-being and quality of life of individuals and of family units.

Implications: Human, Human Problems, and Home Economics Philosophy

Again, as previously noted, when engaging in home economics practice and research, Latvian home economists utilized the word human and its various computations. Using the notion of humans completely turns our practice on its head. Latvian home economists (as well as those in other Baltic countries, Lithuania, and Estonia) have brought a very intriguing approach to the home economics philosophy table. It behoves us to reflect upon what the word human means (we are very familiar with the word family, see McGregor, 2009a), and how the notion of human might shift our focus to human problems instead of family problems. How might this philosophical shift affect home economics practice?

Human Defined

The word human can be both a noun and an adjective. As a noun, human refers to members of the species Homo sapiens, compared to other species, such as animals or birds. The word Homo sapiens is Latin homō for earthly being and sapien for wise (Harper, 2010). Humans have several traits or characteristics that make them human (Smithsonian Institution, 2010):

Humans have a highly developed brain and are capable of abstract reasoning, language, introspection, and problem solving. Other higher-level thought processes of humans, such as self-awareness, rationality, and sapience, are considered to be defining features of what constitutes a person, a human being. Humans are uniquely adept at utilizing systems of communication for self-expression, the exchange of ideas, and organization. Humans create complex social structures composed of many cooperating and competing groups, from families and kinship networks, to nations. Social interactions between humans have established an extremely wide variety of values, social norms, and rituals, which together form the basis of human society. Humans are noted for their desire to understand and influence their environment [are naturally curious], seeking to explain and manipulate phenomena through science, philosophy, mythology, and religion. (Wikipedia Encyclopaedia, 2012, p. 2)

Humans share other traits. First, humans are social. Sharing, caring, and building social networks help humans meet the daily challenges of their environments. Humans created homes to serve as protective and networking environments. Second, humans created and continued to use language. This evolution changed the way people lived and provided new ways to cope with the unpredictable world. Language added richness to life, allowing people to express their identity, solidarity, and knowledge. Language enabled people to communicate in a complex, ever-changing world. Third, humans can affect change on a global scale. By controlling resources and others species, humans have created massive changes in their near environments over the last few millennia. They transformed their local worlds to such an extent that the global world has been negatively affected. This change was exacerbated with the advent of settlements (versus nomadic existence), leading to population growth and the progression from agricultural economies to the industrial revolution and the current global information age (Smithsonian Institution, 2010).

Human Problems

To reiterate, the word homo sapiens is Latin homō for earthly being and sapien for wise. So, although humans can be called wise, earthly beings, they still face problems - sets of human problems - many caused by humans themselves. Epstein (2010) explained that the philosophical perspective of humanism is concerned with human problems. Sadananda (2000) referred to human problems as perennial problems that people have to deal with for as long as they live, from one generation to the next. The dimensions of the human problem are very complex (Young, 1983); the humanist ideal is the improvement of human life in general by addressing problems faced by all humanity.

Smalley (2003) identified 10 pressing problems that humans will face for the next 50 years. These human problems are, in descending order, energy, water, food, environment, poverty, terrorism and war, disease, education, democracy, and population. Brown (1993), a home economics philosopher, continually referenced real human problems. She referred to “concrete problems which society presents to its members” (p. 241): loss of meaning when cultural traditions are disturbed, loss of community, fragmentation of knowledge, and domination of thought and action by technical rationality. Human problems encompass human survival, development, security, and potential (Brown), all of which are deeply affected by the pressing human problems identified by Smalley.

Humanized Home Economics Philosophy(ies)

In their treatise on home economics philosophy, Brown and Paolucci (1979) actually referred to homo sapiens, the human condition, and families (pp. 14-15). In effect, precedent had been set nearly 45 years ago for home economists to take up the notion of humans and the human condition in their practice, but it went unheeded. They also coined the term practical, perennial problem as part of home economics philosophy. This notion had better uptake, with many home economists now stating they focus on perennial problems faced by families, generation after generation, necessitating deep thought about the best way to address them in different and changing contexts. If our philosophical base were expanded to include humans, we could seriously consider the merit of focusing on the perennial problems of humanity as lived out within the daily lives of families in their homes. The results of this exploratory study tended to support McGregor’s (2010a, b) suggestion that the profession could augment its current focus on well-being and quality of life by turning to the concepts of basic human needs and the human condition.

As well, home economics practice (in the form of scholarship, research, policy, community, enterprise, education, and development) would be enriched if the notions of humanistic, humanization, and humanitarianism became a part of our philosophical foundation. Respectively, first, we would favour humanistic ideals of democracy, autonomy, identity, and responsibility, enhanced through self-discovery, self-determination, and full autonomy. Second, we would value the process of humanization, wherein we would teach people to recognize the common humanity of everyone and include them in their moral scope. We would foster non-discrimination, empathy, dialogue, solidarity, identity, cooperation, reconciliation, and equity. Third, from a humanitarian perspective, home economists would direct their practice toward imbuing people with key human qualities: freedom, autonomy, and responsibility. Humanitarianism is an ethic of sympathy, empathy, benevolence, and kindness extended, impartially, to all human beings. The ultimate goal of our practice would be action, not just knowledge or action for the good of humanity as lived out within families and homes.

Conclusions

Living within a post-Soviet environment has meant Latvian home economists have been ideologically steeped in the humanistic/humanization philosophy. The analysis shared in this paper suggested that it has permeated their collective psyche, leading to a unique approach to home economics philosophy. They engaged with such ideas as the human psyche, human environments, human development, human thinking and pedagogy, and human morality. They brought this humanistic-focused philosophical orientation to bear on competency-based education, life quality and well-being, sustainable development, and career development. They used conceptually rich approaches to integrate family, human, and home economics.

Foremost, they believed that education (including home economics education) should lead to the development of free, creative, and responsible personalities, people who believe that the future of Latvia and independence are important. Latvian home economists adhered to the belief that the Latvian education system must strive to ensure the creation of self-dependent, thinking, creative and responsible human beings, people who appreciate the role they play relative to the national economy, politics, culture, and ethnical traditions of Latvia (Dišlere, 2011).

Home economists worldwide can learn from the Latvian philosophical experience. We can bring notions of human, family, and home economics together when we practice. In doing so, we honour East’s (1979) suggestion that home economics should be “focussed on the home in order to improve humanity. Humanity? Yes... the ultimate goal is to make life successively better for each following generation” (p. 141). What better way to do this than to augment our longstanding focus on family well-being and quality of life with a focus on humans and the humanization of society? It bears repeating that the conditions of humanity are influenced by lives lived out within family units, society’s most fundamental social institution. Privileging humans over the family unit broadens the definition of the profession and deepens our philosophical base. This powerful addition to our philosophy better enables us to deal with the problems facing humanity, profoundly shaped by the everyday lives of individuals and families in their homes.


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Kappa Omicron Nu Forum Volume 19 No. 1


Home Economics Philosophy in Latvia: An Exploratory Study

Sue L. T. McGregor, Mount Saint Vincent University

Vija Dišlere, Latvia University of Agriculture


Everyday Life: A Home Economics Concept

Sue L. T. McGregor, Mount Saint Vincent University


The Role of Philosophy in Home Economics

Sue L. T. McGregor, Mount Saint Vincent University


Marjorie Brown's Philosophical Legacy: Contemporary Relevance

Sue L. T. McGregor, Mount Saint Vincent University


Abductive Reasoning in Everyday Life: Implications for Home Economics

Sue L. T. McGregor, Mount Saint Vincent University


Enriching Home Economics Philosophy with Phenomenological Insights:

Aesthetic Experiences, Bodily Being, and Enfolded Everyday Life

Henna Heinilä


Postmodernism and Home Economics: Revitalizing the Conversation

Sue L. T. McGregor, Mount Saint Vincent University


History and Potential of Home Economics in the People's Republic of China:
Implications for Philosophy of Practice

Peng Chen PhD, Higher Vocational Education College, China Women's University


History and Potential of Home Economics in the People's Republic of China:
Implications for Philosophy of Practice

Peng Chen PhD, Higher Vocational Education College, China Women's University


Existentialism and Home Economics

Sue L. T. McGregor, Mount Saint Vincent University


Can Home Economics Practice be Informed by Bakhtinian Themes?

Dr. Mary Gale Smith


Conceptualizing Home and Household

Sue L. T. McGregor, Mount Saint Vincent University