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Fatherhood in Educational Research & Theory: Looking back, looking forward. Sue Nichols The Field of Fatherhood: Crossings of the Terrain Mini-Conference University of south Australia June 19 th 2007. Outline. Post-WW2 trends Critical & constructivist directions

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Fatherhood in educational research theory looking back looking forward

Fatherhood in Educational Research & Theory: Looking back, looking forward.

Sue Nichols

The Field of Fatherhood: Crossings of the Terrain Mini-Conference

University of south Australia

June 19th 2007

Outline looking forward.

  • Post-WW2 trends

  • Critical & constructivist directions

  • Other voices: management, advocacy, school level

Introduction looking forward.

  • Why a historical perspective on research and theory?

  • Education has been one of the key arenas in which ideas of fatherhood have been formed.

  • Research and theorising impacts on what we can understand about fathers and consequently the opportunities we offer them.

  • Looking at how ideas of fathers and education have changed over time helps us to get a clearer focus on our own theories and practices.

Post war trends
Post-war trends looking forward.

  • In 1987, Pedersen’s historical review noted the following phases of father research from post-war on:

    • Father absence studies

    • SES as ‘father marker’

    • Correlational studies of parent-child characteristics

    • Observational studies focusing on infancy

Post war father absence studies
Post-war father-absence studies looking forward.

‘Over the years, negative effects of the father’s absence, especially for male children, were reported in such areas as:

  • intellectual level

  • academic attainment

  • cognitive style

  • sex-role identification

  • conscience and moral development

  • delay of gratification

  • delinquent behaviour

  • & heterosexual interaction patterns

    ‘A deficit based research paradigm provides limited information about the actual behaviour of fathers in families.’ (Pederson 1987)

Ses and child outcomes father as breadwinner or loser
SES and child outcomes: father as breadwinner (or loser) looking forward.

  • In research that implicated SES with the child’s development, the father was a kind of latent variable obscured by an abstract number that defined a family’s level in the social order. (Pedersen 1987 p. 2)

Observation studies
Observation studies looking forward.

  • ‘Naturalistic’ – in homes

  • Contributed knowledge about parenting styles and parent-child interactions

  • Key popular finding – fathers’ ‘rough & tumble’ play

  • Conclusions drawn about fathers’ contributions to children’s learning orientations

Observational studies of fathers methodological critique
Observational studies of fathers: methodological critique looking forward.

  • Subjects are generally middle-class & self-selected

  • Periods of observation are brief

  • Timing is in early evening

  • Large number of behavioural categories & multiple correlations with risk of chance findings

  • Observer impact not taken into account (Lewis 1986)

Example of a correlational study fathers beliefs behaviour and children s achievement
Example of a correlational study: Fathers’ beliefs & behaviour and children’s achievement

  • Grolnick & Ryan (1989) found that father involvement was so little related to child outcomes that they left it out of their explanatory model.

  • A follow-up study added two elements 1) child perception and 2) mediating factors to form indirect pathways between parent beliefs/behaviours and child outcomes. They found significant links between fathers’ beliefs/behaviour & children’s ‘inner resources’:

    • '[C]hildren's beliefs that their fathers are concerned with and involved with them is more critical than more objective ratings would suggest.‘ (Grolnick, Ryan & Deci 1991)

Critical and constructivist directions of the 80s 90s
Critical and constructivist directions of the 80s & 90s behaviour and children’s achievement

Critical, meta-analytic discussion of the role of research in producing knowledge about fathers (eg Pedersen 1987).

Interactionist and phenomenological approaches concerned with ‘how family members construct negotiate, define, and sustain their family relationships and realities’ (McKee & O’Brien 1982 p. 7)

Historical research challenged the notion that ‘traditional’ fatherhood was either natural or of longstanding (eg Hardyment 1995)

Cultural studies and text analysis approaches looked at representations of fathers

Representations of fathers in children s literature
Representations of fathers in children’s literature behaviour and children’s achievement

In the large collection of the Library Council of Victoria … there is an enormous number of children’s fiction books about mother-child relationships – in nearly all, mothers play a supportive, even subsidiary role to other family members. On the other hand, only a handful [35] touch on the father-child relationships.

The father-child relationship tends to be one of conflict in children’s fiction. … Some made demands for achievement or strength that their children find hard to meet … Some are autocratic … Some are totally cold … Some are famous or clever, and make their children feel inadequate … and (the most common) some are weak, ill, or out of luck … (Harper 1980:163-4)

Interpretive repertoires the case of learning difficulties and gender nichols read 2002
Interpretive repertoires: the case of learning difficulties and gender (Nichols & Read 2002)

I encourage instead of mother handling this I encourage father to handle it because he’s starting to come into all the hormones are starting to rattle around and this is the time I feel when fathers have a stronger influence on their sons than their mothers. (Tutor)

Mike is very much now his own person and that’s for a number of reasons why he has come out of his shell there. (Teacher)

Well, he’s got something ah … yeah he definitely he’s got somethingbut I don’t I can’t put my finger on it what it is though. He’s very not organised, he’s sort of very disorganised in anything he does, he’s disorganised with a lot of things at school as well. If I remember the teacher told him, told us, that he was very disorganised with everything.


When we go to interviews they just show you all the work they do and it’s sort of rip rip through the pages. We go oh yeah oh yeah oh yeah then we go out. They stick in his good work so we look at that and think oh yeah he’s doing really well. … And then you find out after that he’s not doing well and I don’t understand the way they write them reports any rate. (Mother)

Closing thoughts
Closing thoughts and gender

  • Educational perspectives are valuable in considering issues of fatherhood though they are often ignored.

  • Because research and theorising impacts on what we can understand about fathers, a critically reflexive approach to theory and methodology is vital. We need to question what we read and hear.

  • Families should be our co-constructors of knowledge about fatherhood; how will we meet this challenge?

References and gender

  • Grolnick, W. & Ryan R. (1989): 'Parent Styles Associated with children's self-regulation and competence in school' Journal of Educational Psychology 81:2 pp 143-154

  • Grolnich, W., Ryan, R. & Deci, M.(1991): 'Inner Resources for School Achievement: Motivational Mediators of Students' Perceptions of their Parents' Journal of Educational Psychology 83:4 pp 508-517Grolnick & Ryan (1989)

  • Hardyment, C. (1995): Perfect Parents: baby-care advice past and present Oxford University Press, Oxford Harper

  • Lewis, C. (1982): 'The Observation of Father-Infant Relationships: An 'attachment' to outmoded concepts' In L. McKee & M. O'Brien, M. (eds): The Father Figure Tavistock, London

  • Lewis, C. (1986): Fathers in psychological research: contrasting images and confused theories. In Becoming a Father Open University Press, Milton Keynes

  • McKee, L. (1982): 'Fathers' Participation in Infant Care: a critique' In L. McKee & O'Brien, M. (eds) The Father Figure Tavistock Publications, London & New York

  • McKee, L. & O'Brien, M. (1982): 'The father figure: some current orientations and historical perspectives' In L. McKee & O'Brien, M. (eds) The Father Figure Tavistock Publications, London & New York

  • McKee, L. & O’Brien, M. (1983): ‘Interviewing Men: taking gender seriously’ In E, Gamarkinow (ed) The Public and the Private Heinemann Educational Books, LondonMcKee & O’Brien (1982)

  • Nichols, S. & Read, P. (2002). “We never knew it was that bad”: parent-school communications about children’s literacy learning difficulties, Australian Journal of Literacy and Language, 25(3):49-64.

  • Pedersen, F. (1987) Introduction: A perspective on research concerning fatherhood. In P. Berman & F. Pedersen (Eds) Men’s Transitions to Parenthood London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates