Sometimes, caught up in fighting high-stakes testing and Common Core, we might forget about other insidious ways our public schools have been changed due to harmful standards. We recognize easily the loss of the arts. And serious classes, important to a democracy, like civics, are given short shrift these days. But what about the great home economics class? Home ec goes to the heart of the family. How could it have ever been sacrificed for high-stakes standards?
How many middle and high schools offer home economics anymore? Is it a dynamic part of the curriculum or hidden in the background as a class for kids who cannot master the tough classes? School reformers have created a college or nothing campaign for years now, and classes like home ec mean nothing. Either you succeed at what they dish out or you don’t. No pun intended. And the connection between home ec and the family has all but been disregarded.
Home economics could focus on any of the following valuable topics, and it could be helpful to any student:
- consumer education
- institutional management
- interior design
- home furnishing
- clothing and textiles
- food preservation
- child development
- managing money
- family relationships
- fire prevention
- safety procedures
Some of these might be blended into math or health classes, like learning how to manage money. But they belong really to the home don’t they? Could home ec get young people to avoid debt in the future? Ruth Graham in “Bring Back Home Ec” in The Boston Globe wonders if it could even keep adult children from moving back home with their parents! The loss of home ec demonstrates how schools no longer are set up for students, but for those with a self-seeking privatization agenda.
Think about the push to get young people to eat healthier. Home ec could help with that. Instead of manipulating such a message and changing the school menus to prove a point, students should learn how to cook for themselves. Showing, instead of telling, is always better. The dirty little secret is that home ec flew out the window for other insidious corporate reasons. Peddling convenience foods, the kind that fatten you up, doesn’t work well when you are teaching kids how to cook food from scratch.
Cooking and sewing are important skills in a world that is overly focused on technology. But if you look at new sewing machines they are about as high-tech as you can get! Students would be in their element. Figuring out how to cook and sew could lead some to valuable careers.
Measuring skills dominate in home ec too. Home ec could lead to valuable careers. A while back I viewed artwork on display at a private school. There was a whole presentation on clothing design. How interesting and valuable, providing high school students a glimpse into what it would be like to have this kind of career. But what is considered exploration in real private schools is not allowed in public schools.
All students, boys and girls, might benefit with basic skills about how to take care of themselves. How do you cook and bake a few things, especially the basics? Anything that shows students how to live a life of quality could be included in Home ec. Home ec is not some namby-pamby course. It is strong, forthright, not only sure to please, but conclusive in the skills it provides students. It is also fun. I find it interesting that the founder of home economics was Ellen Swallow Richards, from Boston, who was the first woman admitted to MIT.
Home ec professionals have been instrumental in instituting the 1994 International Year of the Family, and they have worked closely with UNICEF and other UN programs. Home ec lobbyists have also been behind many efforts to fight poverty, gender inequality and social injustice. They support sustainable development and even act as consultants to businesses in regard to consumer services. But mostly, home economics is about enriching family life. When home ec was in its prime, it included boys. From what I observed in the middle school where I worked, they thoroughly enjoyed this class!
Those who have destroyed a well-rounded curriculum for students, in this case home economics did much harm. These classes solidified our kids, treating them like real people—making their education whole. School reformers, by ditching such classes, went to the heart of the family. Focusing solely on math and reading, and blending a little of other stuff into the mix, has stymied our children…leaving them empty shells who know little about the world around them and life’s joys.
Home economics was a course we once knew. So sorry our children today are missing out.
Home Economics. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Home_economics.
Home economics classes need to be brought back to middle and high schools. Learning to cook and sew are skills I still use on a daily basis. These classes helped me grow as a person far more than the Algebra 2 class I struggled through. The skills gained by reading a complex sewing pattern or planning a nutritious family meal will last a lifetime, and yet schools have gotten rid of them. Public and private schools seem to focus on high test scores, so I took a different course for my 2nd and 6th grader this year–homeschooling. We love it! Every Tuesday is “home-ec” day and we cook, sew and crochet. The girls also learn how to make a bed, organize a shelf, vacuum, and keep a checkbook. All kids should have this opportunity…bring home economics back!
Nancy Bailey says
Thanks for your comment, Momoffive. Someone tweeted me that Home ec is taught within other subjects, and while that might be true for health and managing money, I don’t think most schools address home ec skills. So, of course, I agree with you!
Meg N. says
Thank you for posting this Nancy!! The sad thing about the loss of these classes is the kids it affects the most, those living in poverty. These kids are often responsible for the care of younger siblings as well as themselves as parents work 2 or 3 jobs to survive. They are often responsible for the cooking and cleaning in the home. They often care for sick younger siblings. Some are even pushed to work in order to help provide for the family. These classes are true lifelines for these kids. I have seen a push to replace these classes with things like medical studies and other classes that may be interesting but don’t provide the practical learning these kids need!
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you, Meg. That is an excellent point! So many practical skills could be covered for all students and help disadvantaged kids especially for the reasons you note. It isn’t all about going to college.