Thought Tuesday

It’s Time to Bring Back and Rethink Home Economic Classes

Sorry to burden you all again, but it’s time to get out the soap box about education again. I’ve done a fair bit of stomping for the arts in past posts. Be sure to go back and check them out here and here and here. I am a definite fan of music and theatre in the public school systems. However, today I am turning my attention to an other lost subject.

I spent years home schooling my own children.  Now I spend most days volunteering in my local public school. I have many concerns about how our American education system is failing to truly teach our future parents, politicians, doctors, teachers, scientist, labors, and community members. I hear catch phrases such as “critical thinking” and “problem solving” thrown around as educators struggle to help these students prepare for adulthood, often with very little success. Core subjects are drilled so much in school districts across the country that other subjects are cut, shorted, or simply forgotten. Students sit in math, physical, geography, English, and chemistry and often have no clue and very little appreciation for how these classes are useful outside the classroom. I hate to mention it (not really), but “critical thinking” and “problem solving” was best taught in classes that are now distant memories, classes such as Home Ec, family life skill, auto mechanics, and even the arts. This education system of ours would work so much better if academic classes had a practical course accompanying them that applied theories students are learning to something regular people do in real life.

I’m telling you! Most young people lack the domestic savvy that it takes to thrive in today’s world. They lack real health and nutrition knowledge. I read today that almost 1/3 of Americans under 19 are obese, and exist on a diet of fast food and junk food. Most young adults are financially illiterate. Once they go that college the public school system is famous for pushing them into, they are saddled with debt spiraling up to unsustainable levels. After 5.5 years of college I graduated with $2000 of debt. (Not because my parents paid for it… because I worked my butt off!). Now a college grad is lucky to get out of school with less than $40,000 in debt. Seriously! We are setting them up for real failure… educated failure. Young people are no longer self-sufficient, living with their parents, and unable to care for their own needs. What are we really offering these students? We are offering them a rocky economy at best.

Okay… back in the day, many of these skills were taught in the home. However, I read that in the family of 2013 more than 70% of children live with two busy working parents or a single parent, which means they often exist on a steady diet of take-out and cheap replacements instead of the old adage “fix it up, wear it out, or do without.” With the added removal of life skills classes such as home ec, family life, auto mechanics, and the arts, we have left these kids dangling from the cliff as we push them out the door to adulthood. Talk about a RUDE awakening!

I believe that a forward-thinking new thinking kind of class in home economics is the answer. Everyone needs to learn skills to shop intelligently, cook healthy meals, manage money, and live well.

Should schools teach cooking? Yes! I think Home Economics should be a standard in middle and high school. The purpose of school is to provide students with the skills and knowledge needed that will benefit them the most. We all eat. We all benefit from a better understanding of food and food transportation. Dude! Have you seen what these kids are eating? Everyday kids come into the classroom I work in to eat lunch. Everyday I see the Dutch Brother’s cups, the McDonalds bags, the snack food wrappers. No wonder these kids are so unhealthy! No wonder they struggle through the last half of the day! They have no clue what REAL food is nor do they know how to prepare real food. Trust me. They are clueless. I asked them.

Cooking classes are a great place for students to practice skills and knowledge they are learning from academic classes in “real life.” In a cooking class students could learn to appreciate clarity in wring when they work from a poorly written recipe. They can apply math skills as they attempt to upscale or downscale a recipe. They can practice skills of conversion. They can learn how ingredients effect each other (applied chemistry and physic). Can you answer why cornstarch thickens a gravy? Do you know why a recipe might call for vinegar? Hint: it’s science.

A Home economics class would teach students to be savvy consumers. Gah! They waste so much money! In a home economics class they could learn how to read labels and see through all the empty marketing. They could learn about a budget… in real life. They can learn to appreciate REAL food. They could move away from the dependence on boxed FAKE food. Any person who is confident in the kitchen can get out of the traps set by fast food and junk food.

Home economics classes teach attentiveness and safety. It teaches situational awareness. It teaches patience. It teaches the value of planning and practice. It fights sexism and prejudice attitudes. It helps to develop an appreciation for cultures.

Should we be teaching sewing in schools? Yes. Again, skills learned can help make sense of other classes as they convert, use scale, follow directions and the like. Skills learned in a textiles class could inspire future fashion designers, interior designers, mechanical engineers, and industrial engineers, just as an example. Not to mention, a textile class could help with clothing care and repair. Think of the applied science in getting stains out! Should we be teaching basic engines and auto mechanics in school? Yes! Come on! Think of the boost to the economy if we all understood basic car maintenance.

Think of all the careers associated with home economics type classes! Careers such as hospitality, tourism, social work, food science, child care, fashion design, interior design, finance, banking, advertising, consumer science, and other fields are all influenced by the subjects covered in a redesigned home economics class. In a world of “family and consumer science,” there is a need to reconsider bringing back the forgotten classes of yester-year.

Okay… maybe the question should be asked. What do we really want kids to learn in school? I know we are not testing graduating seniors on whether a carrot is healthier than a Cheeto. However, I would like to think they knew the answer… something I question as I sit here at lunch with a few soon to be graduating seniors. We seem to frequently compare our school results with the graduation/ school results with other countries. Dude! In Scandinavian countries and in Japan students plan, shop for, prepare, serve, and clean up after lunch for their fellow students… in a home ec class! Now wonder they are representing their educational experiences far better than our students represent our school system!

No matter what a home ec class looks like – no matter if it covers from nutrition, field trips to the grocery store or the farmer’s market, lessons on how to sew on a button, change the oil, check tire pressure, change spark plugs, balance a check book, track credit cards, make basic home repairs, or basics in child rearing, I believe we have shorted the past few generations and future generations. I fear for our future! We have created a monster… a monster doomed to economic and house hold failure.

It is not too late. We need only make teaching skills the priority and stop spending so much darn money on “programs” and program administrators.

Okay. I’ll get off my soap box now.

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