Bring Back Home Ec

Yep, I agree (along with Shop class) with Ruth Graham:

WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOUNG PEOPLE today? It’s a perennial question, but a certain pattern can be detected in the concerns being aired right now. There’s health and nutrition: Almost a third of Americans under age 19 are now overweight or obese, habituated to a diet of cheap processed food. There’s financial literacy, with debt spiraling up to unsustainable levels as students juggle increasingly complex burdens of credit payments and student loans. And there’s the general issue of self-sufficiency, with record proportions of young adults living with their parents, unable to patch together the means and the will to set up house for themselves.

These are symptoms of a rocky economy, of course, but they suggest another diagnosis as well: Many young Americans now lack the domestic savvy that it takes to thrive. The basics of cooking, shopping, and “balancing a checkbook”—once seen as knowledge that any young woman, at least, should have—are now often not learned by young people of either gender, even as we’ve come to understand their major societal implications. And for adults, these skills have receded as well. In the family of 2013, more than 70 percent of children live with two busy working parents or a single parent, which means more takeout, cheap replacement goods instead of the ability to fix or mend, and fewer opportunities to learn essential home skills within the home itself.

One solution to these 21st-century problems sounds surprisingly retro: a revival of home economics class. The words “home economics” likely conjure visions of future homemakers quietly whisking white sauce or stitching rickrack onto an apron. But to a handful of people thinking big about these problems, they evoke something different: A forward-thinking new kind of class that would give a generation of young people—not just women, but everyone—the skills to shop intelligently, cook healthily, manage money, and live well. The historian Helen Zoe Veit has argued that home ec has a key role to play in treating the obesity epidemic. “A beautiful way to start solving this problem would be to get more people cooking,” she said recently. “We have a blueprint of how to do this, and it’s through home economics.”

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  • If a single parent can get by (not saying it isn’t a struggle), I don’t get why with two parents, both must work out of the home. If one parent stays home (such as it is with my family, despite my husband not having a college degree, yet starting his own business, and living in one of the most expensive places in the world), then he/she could homeschool, which is the most natural environment for learning “home economics.” I also know work-at-home parents who homeschool. In my case and in their cases, the key is two things: living frugally and being entrepreneurial. Schools would be better off teaching plain economics: how to start your own business, work at a skilled trade, budget, etc.

  • Amanda B.

    I think it would be *excellent* for schools to teach a class like this, but perhaps call it something with less of a June Cleaver stigma–“Life Skills”, or something of the kind, that would cover some basics of cooking, finances, home maintenance, etc. I would almost go so far as to say I’d like to see it be a mandatory class.

    Perhaps there could still be specialized electives for cooking, sewing, shop, etc.–but I like the idea of having one generalized class that everyone had to take. I think it would be good for not only equipping young people to get a handle on their life, but for loosening the cultural assumptions about which gender should do which jobs. Even if most girls still want to take home ec., and most boys want to take metal shop, at least girls will learn a bit about how to fix things, and boys will learn a bit about how to cook and take care of their clothes.

  • Randy Gabrielse

    When I was in high school back in the 1980s, young women could take home economics. I also remember taking a 9 week course that was basically “household finance.” During work in campus ministry at Iowa State University (where could you better expect a home economics course?) from 2004-2009, I saw that two entire generations of students have not learned the basic things that my generation learned from our parents or others.

    I also remember that my brother and I lived in a household with a good deal of canned food, canned by our parents and our grandparents, a lot of home-sewn clothes, and repaired/patched clothes. My three younger brother grew up while my both of our parents worked. They received much more store-bought clothes and food, and very little that was home-repaired. Now, when these brothers are 30+ my parents are back working orchard and garden and we all are living much more out of our garden.