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Home economics still worth teaching
October 30, 2012 - Anita Hanaburgh
Home Economics got a bad rap starting in the ’60s. I know: I was a home economics major in college. Oh, busboy, the stereotype is so strong, it is hard for me to admit, even today, that I was a home-ec major. When asked what my major was in college, I quickly respond, “food and nutrition.” It’s not really a lie, as I was “home economics/food and nutrition” major.
I had never taken a home economics class, even in seventh grade. I didn’t want to major in home ec until my dad convinced me. I can hear him today: “You don’t want to teach math. It’s a Regents subject. They’ll be checking you all the time to see how many passed.”
Those were the days when a girl listened to her father or was afraid not to follow his advice.
I was caught in the cross-time of the women’s revolution. It was during the Vietnam War. Men were protesting, leaving home, and going to fight. Women were protesting, having to stay in the home. It was a time of transition. I soon found that as a home economics major, I was learning to teach girls to be just the women my friends were fighting against. (Does that make any sense?)
Home economics is the economics of caring for the home, decorating the home, caring for children, working on good marriage relations, preparing meals, entertaining — all those things that were no longer in vogue for the women of the ’60s and ’70s.
The men? I dated a guy named Roger only once after he explained, “My mom told me to go to a college that had a home economics program, so I could find a good wife.”
Home economics implied separation of male and female. To the men, it said, “You work inside the home, I work outside the home.”
I wanted to be part of the female revolution. I wanted to join the world of work, I didn’t want to stay home and be a “housewife.” I cut my hair, wore cargo pants and burned my bra but, oddly, I stayed a home economics major. I liked it, and I am very glad I did. At the time, I must have realized the subjects were valuable and necessary.
The revolution did most of its job, and after 40 years, we are liberated but lacking in everyday skills. Today’s adult generation did not learn skills from their stay-at-home moms. She did not stay at home. They did not learn from the schools. Home ec had a bad rap. Oh, but the subjects were valuable and necessary. Unfortunately, the association of home economics with old-fashioned gender roles hurt this message. The issue is not what was taught but to whom it was taught. Bring home economics back for everyone.
Please bring back an updated home economics, but keep the basic skills part. Cooking and nutrition skills are crucial to a happy, healthy life style. More than a third of Americans are obese. The “how-to” of child care has taken a back seat for too long. Sixty-five percent of mothers with school-age children are working outside the home. More than ever, help with balancing life and relationships is needed. Although lowering, the divorce rate is still close to 50 percent. The finances of planning a life become more and more challenging. Gas is more than $4 a gallon, the unemployment rate is around 8 percent, and mortgage forecloses are at an all-time high.
Today, everyone needs life skills, everyone needs home economics. The schools do teach some, but not enough. I am not only speaking of the old June Cleaver-type skills. I am talking about how to measure, how to buy the food to measure, making good food choices, preparing them nutritionally and tastefully, fitting the food into the budget, deciding between organic or processed, understanding labels. I am talking about how to make a bed, wash the linens, buy a bed, fit the bed into the budget and arrange the bed in the room. I am talking about how to change a diaper, discipline a child and love a child. I am talking about teaching a child to read, get along with siblings and friends. I am talking about balancing a checkbook, paying bills, saving for a home, making choices. I am talking about the economics of the home being taught to everyone, male and female. Think about it. And me, well I, obviously, chose the food route, and it served me well. My only regret is that, as a liberated working mother, there was not enough “home” in my home economics.
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