Home Economics Class: It’s Not Like You Remember

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Creative Commons image via San Jose Public Library
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How do you teach Home Economics 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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5 Responses to Home Economics Class: It’s Not Like You Remember

  1. Janice says:

    Good for your son, and his school. Safe food handling alone makes it worthwhile. The egg recall made that abundantly clear.

  2. Jean says:

    My son is taking a Foods & Nutrition class to fulfill a “practical arts” requirement for his high school graduation. Fortunately they’re not making tuna casseroles (my own home ec class), but they are learning some basic nutrition, how to make simple, healthy dishes and things like food safety (proper storage, avoiding cross-contamination, etc.). Seems pretty practical to me! By the way, my mom actually got her B.A. in Home Economics in 1941. Can’t imagine they’d offer that major nowadays.

  3. Great post and thought provoking question. It’s tragic that our children are being raised to “shop” rather than “provide” for themselves. We have seen a huge increase in enrollment in culinary schools in the past 15 years-doesn’t that suggest that home ec would be a worthwhile and popular subject?

  4. I agree as well. Susie did Home Ec when she lived in Chicago, during her High School years, and sometimes that subject does come up. Should I add, she’s a fantastic and detail-driven food stylist? And she constantly added, Home Ec, the way she studied it, started on the very basis on how economy works, and what keeps the US economy going. I mean, just stopping to check how the US economy is right now, and the fact there has been no Home Ec in many places for the last 25 years or so ( so, today we have grown ups who didn’t even see it in High School )… hard not to link both.

    Funny thing is, the few schools who provide something close to Home Ec in Brazil are actually the very trendy ones, because it’s an attempt to give the future “foundation of the family” a good start. Women who know how to cook, and use the family budget with intelligence and planning. Something, for some reason, very few people seem to know how to do these days :P

  5. Amy K. says:

    I totally agree. Home Ec classes made cooking less scary for me! And I had a fantastic teacher, Mrs. Coughlin! Nice post!

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