Back to School With Home Economics

Creative Commons image via San Jose Public Library

How to you teach Home Ec to a generation raised on Top Chef and Project Runway?

For starters, it’s not Home Ec, but Family and Consumer Sciences. Cooking is now culinary arts, and sewing has given way to fashion design. And many believe that’s the problem.

Home Economics for girls and Shop for boys had long been required for high school graduation. In the 1970’s, classrooms went coed, but by then, the traditional Home Ec curriculum of hand-stitched hems and tuna casseroles was deemed fusty and outmoded. Instead of retooling, most school districts simply dropped the graduation requirement; the Reagan era tax cuts made the decision for them.

If it breaks, get a new one. If you’re hungry, try the drive-through.

Basic life skills like household repairs, balancing checkbooks, and preparing simple meals are no longer routinely taught in school– and what busy, working parents of teenagers have the time or the inclination to give home lessons? Instead, non-mandatory Home Economics has led to boutique electives in fashion merchandising and sushi-rolling. And this in the midst of a childhood obesity epidemic and our collectively declining financial health.

Nobody wants to see a return to the gender-stereotyped classrooms and curriculum, or the tuna casseroles, but how about some basic principles and pragmatic instruction that would transform daunting chores into manageable and rewarding pursuits? Home Economics is not like you remember. Here’s a thought for this back-to-school season: maybe it should be.

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Is it appropriate conversation for the dinner table? Then it should be fine.

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