By Rebecca Goldstein
When you hear the term “home economics,” what do you think of? I personally think of a bunch of young girls from the 1950’s, learning how to sew and cook for their future husbands. What about shop class? I think of shitty birdhouses and a creepy one-eyed, three-fingered teacher. Honestly, this is probably exactly what these classes were like in the 1950’s. However, times have changed and the content of these classes have changed to cater to the needs of each generation– learning how to cook eggs 9 different ways “because you never know how your future husband will enjoy them cooked” is a thing of the past, and instead a student is now more likely to learn about the nutritional value of the egg, because your husband is expected to cook his own damn eggs (feminism, am I right?). However, despite the fact that home economics classes are being revamped to cater to this generation’s needs and become less sexist and gender-coded, they are still being phased out of schools due to budget cuts and the longstanding notion that the classes are still for “raising housewives.” Even schools that still have these classes offer them as electives, not mandatory classes, and enrollment is at what is potentially an all-time low– again, due to the outdated ideas of sexism. The widespread, yet false, belief that home economics classes are sexist is detrimental to students, who are now lacking fundamental life skills.
Home economics classes started in the late 1800’s and their inception is credited to a woman named Ellen Swallow Richards, who was an instructor and chemist at MIT. Ms. Richards operated under the philosophy that running the home as smoothly as possible would allow more time for education — her ideas were very progressive for the time. However, even before Ms. Richards’ classes and philosophy became popular, the Morrill Act of 1862 established land-grant colleges in every state. These colleges had “domestic science” courses geared specifically towards women. One absolutely wild thing that happened in these classes is that there were “practice homes” with “practice babies,” and these babies were live humans from orphanages! Thank God that stopped and animatronic babies or flour sacks began to be used after child welfare concerns in 1954 (guess the government didn’t want to raise a bunch of sociopaths). The point is that these classes went hard with attempting to teach young women how to “adult” properly and run a smoothly functioning household– a lost art, and a skill that I personally would love to learn. As a young woman who intends to have children and a spouse, whether it be a man or a woman, I’d love to have a functioning home. Hell, I’ll even cook my wife eggs for breakfast — all 9 different ways.
The loss of these classes in our schools is absolutely disastrous (almost as disastrous as my cooking). If you took a survey of your peers, it’s highly likely that at least half of them don’t know how to sew a button on a shirt or balance a checkbook. Few millennials know how to change a tire, much preferring to call AAA, and Lord knows nobody knows how to fold a fitted sheet. While many people joke that they “burn water” when they try to cook, it’s a frightening reality for some. There are “Life Skills Classes” geared towards young adults aged 18-26 to teach us what we didn’t learn as kids, because we didn’t have the classes in school to teach us, and our parents either didn’t have the time or they left it up to the school. Schools phased out “sexist” or “useless” classes on things that are necessary for daily life and put more emphasis on standardized tests and academia. Thanks to this, we all know that mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell, but what is the powerhouse of the home? Certainly not any of us since we have no skills!
While yes, home economics was certainly geared towards women and shop was geared towards men, they weren’t unnecessary classes at all. Objectively, everyone needs to know how taxes work, how to make basic meals, and how to change a tire among other things. If shop and home economics were combined and made more gender neutral, we would be set — the issue of sexism and gearing each class towards a specific gender would be solved! Educators could add a modern spin, such as teaching about nutrition or how to build credit. Take a poll at the beginning of the school year about what students think they need to know. Hell, maybe high schoolers won’t retain the info or they’ll be bored if it won’t pertain to them at that very moment. To solve that problem, make it a general education requirement at liberal arts colleges! There are millions of electives at both the high school and college levels — take away that bullshit underwater basket weaving course and add in a course that teaches you how to be a functioning adult. Does the name still seem sort of sexist? Good thing it’s not called home economics very often anymore; it goes by Family and Consumer Science (which is still a crappy name, but beggars can’t be choosers).
“Requiring schools to teach cooking as part of health education was supported by 64 percent of the public, and mandatory home economics courses focused on teaching how to cook and shop for health food were supported by 67 percent of respondents in the study [at the University of Michigan.]” Even the public supports this course being brought back. With a modern update, this class could help so many people. School budgets are low everywhere and kids, especially in the inner cities, are fucked. I don’t know the next steps on how to bring this class back but we totally should. Come on everyone, we can’t bring our laundry home to mommy forever, can we?