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Why isn't Home Economics more prevalent in U.S. secondary education?

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If we have P.E. as a standard class, why not Home Economics?

Aren't both courses -- PE and Home Economics -- essentially teaching the same principles? Nutrition and fitness?

And isn't that important when obesity is such a problem amongst our young?

Even for those students who have absolutely no interest in cooking (or baking), doesn't knowing what goes into a particular food (e.g. donut or salad) and how those ingredients interact with the body essentially do on the front-end what P.E. does on that back-end?

That is, even though you may learn how to burn it off after you've consumed it, wouldn't you be also better off knowing what you've consumed in the first instance?

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  1. Actually, in some towns, we don't have PE anymore, we have health. These classes include both PE and nutrition. My 13 year old 7th grader has had this curiculum for two years already.

    This is a far cry from when I was in 7th grade and the girls spent a year in Home Ec learning to make Spanish Rice, while the boys went to wood shop.

    The feminist movement of the late 60s on gave Home Ec a bad name and it is no longer politically correct, hence the 'Health' title.

    4 Replies
    1. re: bagelman01

      bagelman01, did you go to 7th grade in Iowa? :)

      Although, IIRC, it was 1/2 year of home ec/shop and 1/2 year of art.

      And that's why feminists like me objected to home ec...mandatory for girls only. Shop is different because no one expected boys to grow up and make things out of wood, but home ec was basically job training for future housewives. (I also was discouraged from taking advanced math in 7th grade because I was a girl and girls don't need math. Literally, those very words. Political correctness came about for a reason.)

      But having said all that, Home Ec for everyone, including sewing, household finances, basic instructions on how to unclog a sink or such, real cooking without microwaving.

      1. re: coney with everything

        No, I went to 7th grade in New Haven, CT.

        They still had the sexist idea that the girls would all turn out to be June Cleaver, but the boys would be Blue Collar tradesman. This was absurd, as the school sent all its graduates to the college track high school, not to commercial or trade school.

        Even worse than wood shop, was the 1/2 year of required 'print shop' using a 70 year old hand operated printing press. The girls were forced to learn to sew an apron and darn socks.

        Today, I have a 13 year old in 7th grade. Nutrition is part of Heath/PE. Home economics is taught in 'consumer' class. How to shop and save money.

        1. re: bagelman01

          I guess I came from a more modern family -- for the sixties and seventies. I took shop class and my brother took home ec, allegedly just to meet girls. I didn't take shop because of the guys, I just wanted to learn how to use tools.

          I really think that the older school curricula have fallen to the wayside because of two things: Intense pressure to keep up in a world economy that is technology driven, and school funding. The former is an argument to have school in session nearly year round in the US, and to start teaching kids as early as you can about PCs and software. The latter is just the way it goes when schools have to make cuts. Art classes and music classes suffer too. Let's face it -- No Child Left Behind and other performance measurement standards do not consider home economics skills valuable, and schools have to teach and fund to those tests.

          It's a shame. Fewer and fewer people cook these days too.

          1. re: RGC1982

            You also must have come from a more modern state, RGC...it was state law in Iowa, where I spent 7th grade, that girls got a semester of Home Ec and boys got a semester of Shop.

            Strangely enough, the junior high for US military dependents in Germany where I attended 8th/9th grade had no such rule and a few boys took Home Ec. Those military-funded schools were by far the most liberal I ever attended!

    2. I totally agree! I am going into 2nd year Uni, and my high school didn't even offer Home Economics.

      My generation doesn't know how to cook, and nobody will teach them. So they well all subsist on frozen pizza and McDonalds, and health and happiness will suffer greatly!

      1. My friends and I were discussing this last night. We really think that it should be a required course for all, at least one semester. Kids should learn how to cook, and should know their way around a kitchen. They may not need to know how to make Duck a l'orange, but they should know how to make some simple dishes, get basic cooking skills, and learn about nutrition.

        We had Home Ec classes in my Middle school and it was mandatory for both girls and boys. I know that I made some of the dishes and fed them to my long suffering family ;) I've greatly improved since then BTW, or at least that's what they tell me....

        1. this subject came up on the Jamie Oliver thread in the Media and News forum and a lot of us questioned the disappearance of Home Ec, PE and recess or break, and even school dinners cooked from scratch. We all agreed that these subjects need to go back in the curriculum STAT but I fear most schools are not even built with kitchens, not only for making school lunches all that well and certainly not for school children.

          1. In Australia, Home Economics and PE are compulsory subjects up to year 10, as well as health. Home Ec is dedicated to teaching everything about cooking including meal prep, cooking, dining and clean up. PE is strictly devoted to sport and health was all the nutrition info and disease processes etc. They were 3 very distinct areas, as opposed to amalgamating them all into 1. For all of this I don't know a single person who cannot at least prepare a basic meal from scratch - I find it so interesting that there are people out there who can't do this, but I guess we have a more 'practical' education in Australia. It might be that so many don't know our own history BUT I do remember having lessons on how to get water in the bush, how to recognise dangerous creatures and administer first aid when necessary. Also in some of the really remote areas they do teach about 'bush tucker' and what's good and not good to eat in the bush. I don't know what the US curriculum is like, but perhaps a reassessment is needed to see what can be dropped in favour of teaching some basic life skills. I am absolutely aware that foraging for bush tucker is probably completely irrelevant over there (and usually is here too), but a practical approach to making good choices when food shopping and being able to prepare what you buy are life long skills that benefit everyone.

            1 Reply
            1. re: TheHuntress

              My son attended kindergarten in OZ (we're Yanks), and learned how to identify venomous spiders. This knowledge came in handy.

            2. I think the main issue is that teaching home ec is a lot more expensive than teaching other classes. You have to buy the cooking equipment, set up the classrooms to have the proper ventilation, and then update all the equipment on a regular basis. In my area there are some schools that have popular culinary programs, but at best there is only one classroom with cooking equipment in the schools. With all the other standardized-testing based requirements kids have in my state, there really isn't much room to add in these sorts of requirements as well- some kids just wouldn't graduate or have any chance to take electives.

              8 Replies
              1. re: queencru

                Would Home Ec be any more cost prohibitive than, say, biology or chemistry where you also need a certain amount of equipment?

                Dunno ... just throwing it out there.

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  The issue is that many modern schools don't have kitchens at all, even in the cafeteria. In order to accommodate cooking, schools would have to be retrofitted for kitchens and that's very expensive. In these days where most school districts are facing mass layoffs/cuts, I am not sure that spending money on kitchen facilities is really the way to go. I went to school in the early '90s and my school got a grant to retrofit classrooms as science labs because the school size was expanding about 40% over the next few years. Even that cost well over $1 million.

                  1. re: queencru

                    Not disagreeing wtih your analysis, but just throwing out another idea.

                    What if the kids were taught how to make something in class, and the homework was to actually make it at home and then bring it in the next day?

                    I never took Home Ec, but back in the day, did the students actually make the stuff in school? Was this like "Chopped: High School"? :-)

                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      In my school we had a class called Senior Survival to help prepare kids for the real world. It included basic cooking, sewing, and other domestic tasks, all of which the students did in class.

                      I think it would be hard to do the class with set homework assignments, because you really don't know what students' home kitchens have. For instance if a school kitchen is equipped with electric, do you really want to set kids loose with gas stoves at home if they've never cooked before? It just seems like a really bad idea to me.

                      1. re: queencru

                        But you would like to think that regardless of what type of stove they had at home, that there would be a parent there to help them out so they wouldn't be turned loose at home if they have never cooked before.

                        But that's a whole 'nother issue.

                  2. re: ipsedixit

                    In AZ (not OZ,) they're laying off school librarians, for crying out loud- probably not in order to fund kitchens, sadly. I consider both necessary but I'm obviously in the minority.

                    1. re: EWSflash

                      Schools are laying off everyone these days. I know a math teacher who has been laid off from two schools, but they were able to find her someplace else both times. There was one home ec teacher in my neighborhood who got cut a semester before her 30-year mark and there was nothing for her because it was a mid-year cut. Even areas that are typically hard to staff like exceptional education are now getting 50 applications per position!

                  3. re: queencru

                    I've seen high schools retro-fit their home-ec kitchens into science labs. But I've never seen it the other way around. There are science fairs (with some pretty impressive prizes) but I've never seen cooking fairs at either a High School or Junior High level.

                    DS had home ec in JR High. He came away w/ a great talent for home made mac and cheese (not from a box), a great stir fry and could assemble a salad including the dressing. Classes were held in a prep room off the kitchen and they had hot plates that they worked on. That was in the late '90s.

                    When I was in high school it was required to take an "alternative" and women were forced into home ec. I fought back and took shop which required going before the entire freaking school board to carry my case. We compromised. - I was allowed one semester home ec and one semester shop. I still can't sew worth a lick but shop taught me a lot. I don't really remember cooking in home ec. Maybe I missed that part.

                    I've built a lot of schools in my career in construction and I can tell you that any school would rather spend money on the things that they know they can get $$ back from - sports events or auditoriums. Rarely will a school spend any more than necessary on things like labs, kitchens, etc. One school did get innovative and agree to increase their budget for the library when somebody managed to get a co-agreement with the town to use if for public use. This led to increase parking needs and then they had to expand WI-FI options to get the town to pay for the extra parking.

                    Oh - it is indeed all about the $$.

                  4. In an attempt to focus on basics and "leave no child behind", many American schools have pared down curricula, programs and activities. Most school districts abandoned vocational education long ago, including home economics. These programs are not cheap to do well, and require dedicated classrooms and instructors. PE, music, and art have met a similar fate. If money is tight and it doesn't directly effect test scores, buh-bye.

                    Honestly, though, irrelevancy killed off most home ec programs. They were based on a societal model that had women home most of the day; further, it was based on a frugal lifestyle that has been largely rejected. If a woman (or man) sews or knits his family's clothes, or plans meals that are time-intensive (breads, soups & stews, roasts, scratch cakes and pies) it is usually a matter of choice (a hobby) rather than of necessity.

                    Curious what a "new and improved" home ec would look like?

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: MikeB3542

                      The new and improved home ec would focus on the basics - how to sew on a button or mend a fallen hem rather than how to sew a dress, how to make quick basic dishes (stir fry, pasta dishes) instead of elaborate meals, how to plan a menu for the week and shop accordingly. I would throw in basic home repair, first aid, even a little gardening. The focus isn't on training the housewives of the future. Instead it should focus on teaching all young adults to take care of themselves while also working full time.

                      1. re: MikeB3542

                        Several years ago when energy prices were going up dramatically, the Denver Post interviewed several families asking the question "What are you doing to cope with rising costs?" One woman, a stay at home mother whose husband worked in a notoriously volatile industry, proudly announced that her family was going out to eat "only" two or three times a week. She implied that this was cutting right down to the bone, making difficult choices in difficult times. Bsased on what we observed of our younger neighbors, that wasn't all that an uncommon idea.

                        So perhaps the new and improved home ec course could attempt to impart simple cooking skills and rudimentary common sense.

                      2. It still exists in some places. In 1995, when I was in 7th grade, both Home Ec and Shop were mandatory. As of 2007 in that particular school district, they both still existed.

                        Health class and PE were completely separate things.

                        1. School hours are limited. I'd rather teach my kids that at home and let them learn tech tools or creative writing that I won't be able to teach them. Similarly, a parent who is a writer but can't cook can choose to enroll her children in the family and consumer science course. I think it should be an option, not mandatory. I'm also thinking, if you live in a mutlicultural area where a good part of the population doesn't eat one type of food or another, it would be hard to find a curriculum that would suit everyone, if it were mandatory--common things you can't use: beef, vanilla, pork, dairy, or kosher-only. That said, we do have health as part of PE, as other posters have said and that's mandatory.

                          9 Replies
                          1. re: chowser

                            I agree. I have a junior in HS and her schedule is already so packed with AP classes that adding another mandatory class would mean she doesn't take AP Biology. Or doesn't take AP French. Or doesn't take the *one* elective she has this year. (She has to take her Math, English, History, and Gym) That's not a good choice for me.

                            1. re: DGresh

                              Where I live, home ec classes, now called Foods and Sewing, are taught in junior high. The Foods classes are very popular with both sexes. When I was a sweet young thing and dinosaurs roamed the earth, the classes were taught in junior high also.

                              I agree - high school schedules are so crammed with academic prep that there's no room for something like cooking.

                            2. re: chowser

                              This is a good point: How, in increasing diversity, do you teach these courses effectively?

                              I still think it's worth re-examining. I'm 40, and I have SEVERAL friends who don't have the slightest idea how to make absolutely any food at home whatsoever.

                              One actually called me to ask what he was supposed to do with the clamshell of lettuce, cucumber and tomato his sister had brought him to make a salad.

                              Another asked me to explain the instructions on the bag of ramen. Not making this up.

                              Parents don't teach kids how to do a lot of things. I wish home ec were at least an option.

                              1. re: dmd_kc

                                There could always be exemptions for religious and dietary purposes -- those are in place now for a variety of educational courses.

                                Maybe instead of using real food, the new and improved Home Ec could use fake food -- i.e. playdoh for pizza crust, styrofoam eggs, yarn for noodles, etc.

                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                  LOL, if they can teach sex ed in school in theory, they can teach cooking in theory, too!

                                2. re: dmd_kc

                                  Few of the people I know IRL know how to cook. They can assemble processed food, eg. open cans and put them together, pop a frozen dinner in the oven So, obviously, kids of parents like that also can't cook. My daughter tells me her friends love her lunches because it's mostly home made things.

                                  I have to admit, my SIL brought over a bag of ramen (during a dinner party and it's the only thing her son will eat, another problem) and asked me to make it. Not having my reading glasses handy, I had no idea what to do with it.

                                  I do agree that home ec should be an option. I've done a few "cooking/baking" birthday parties for my kids and their friends really liked them. But, I'd be surprised if any of them have used any of it at home, like decorating a cake (even though I gave out kits as birthday giveaways). If parents don't follow up, kids won't.

                                  1. re: chowser

                                    To be fair, chowser, you should really bone up on ramen. They can be absolutely delicious, if tremendously unhealthful.

                                    1. re: dmd_kc

                                      When I was in high school, I loved that instant udon. I could eat a whole bag (w/ egg cooked in so the yolk was runny). But, after being off of it for so long, I was surprised at how overly salted/flavored/artificial instant ramen tastes. I do love good ramen, though, and so much better for you than the instant stuff. I'll also confess I can't make Kraft mac and cheese from a box w/out instructions, even though I must have made cases in my younger days. It's how I survived grad school, 5 boxes for $1!

                                      1. re: chowser

                                        There are actually cooking instructions for instant ramen?

                                        I used to just crush them in their bag and eat them like potato chips ...

                              2. I am actually planning on going to get my Master's degree in Family and Consumer Sciences (the "new" name for "Home Ec") when the economy improves because I'm extremely passionate about teaching people how to eat properly and cook. There are still middle and high schools that offer this curriculum although the sad reality is that these programs along with PE are getting cut due to budgetary restraints. I hope that by the time I finish my schooling that the government will realize that requiring Home Ec in school is beneficial and necessary to instill basic nutrition, cooking, and health skills in the young people of this country. If not, I might find myself with a lot of grad school debt and no job opportunities which I do not want to think about!

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: Erika RollerGirl

                                  I think home ec is better placed in middle school than in high school. As people pointed out above, there just isn't a lot of space in a typical HS schedule to be able to add in another yearlong requirement. I was in a magnet program in the early '90s and even then we didn't get an elective every year. I think one of our classes had to be a "skills" course, but we could choose among various courses like shop, typing, drafting, home ec, and some others.

                                  1. re: queencru

                                    Another possible venue to learn these vital skills, like mpjmph lists: basic cooking, basic home repair (where's the water shut off , fusebox, etc., change a lightbulb, etc.), sewing (sew on a button, mend small holes and fallen hems, etc.) is to have them in summer camps, which many kids attend through most of middle school.
                                    In high school, many summers are taken over by jobs, AP courses, etc. but there is still room to run such a course over a few weekends....

                                    1. re: queencru

                                      Ours is an elective in middle school. It works well there, as scheduling goes. Are there many school systems that don't have it as an elective, does anyone know?

                                      1. re: chowser

                                        our school system does "cooking" as one of the many parts of "home and careers" in middle school. Probably amouns to about 6 weeks total (in 3 years).

                                        1. re: chowser

                                          I was a sub 8-9 years ago in my system (a very large one) and it seemed like new middle schools still offered it as an elective and as part of the 6th grade "wheel" that introduced the kids to the electives. I did my teaching internship at a newer high school in a rural area and don't recall it having any sort of cooking courses. That was something you would need to get special assignment to do at another nearby school, while my school had the animal husbandry/farming programs.

                                    2. I entered junior high nearly 50 years ago (oy!) but still remember some of the home ec
                                      curriculum, which was 7th grade, I think. Basic muffins with a bowl and wooden spoon, tuna noodle casserole, punch made with tea, fruit juice, and ginger ale, and we learned to sew a simple sleeveless top. There were quite a few sewing machines available. I know they are still made because 6 yrs ago I bought my current, basic machine at a Singer trunk show to replace the 9th grade Xmas present that broke (only because the dogs knocked it off the table). It is a sturdy model that is made for classroom use.

                                      The boys had shop class. If anyone would have liked to be able to take the distaff course, or both, they never fought for the right. It would be nice if these things were universally offered but in their absence, it is more feasible to learn cooking at home than sewing, carpentry, or electrical. Kitchens are ubiquitous; sewing machines and power tools are not part of many if not most homes. If the parents don't know a particular skill, it's a lot easier for a kid to teach him/herself now than when I was young. Videos abound and there are many more books and topical magazines, not to mention websites, than when I was in school.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: greygarious

                                        Back in those days my junior high offered home ec for boys and I took the class.
                                        All the guys (even the jocks) wanted to take it because they knew they'd get to eat. I kind of remember learning the basic sewing stitches and sewing on buttons as part of the class.

                                      2. I had Home Ec, and I think that I was the only one who actually liked to cook, so I did all the cooking and my table mates did the cleaning up. You can lead a horse to water... Actually, the Home Ec room was where the teachers had their lunch, so the other thing that my table mates would do was to replace the sugar in the the sugar canister with salt. THAT was how Home Ec worked in my day -- almost everybody hated it and no one took it seriously!

                                        1. Because in the 21st century the American public education system isn't about preparing kids for life. Rather, for most schools the goal is to achieve certain minimum results on high-stakes tests while walking a budgetary tightrope.

                                          The fact that programs like Vo-Tech, Home Economics, Driver Education, PE, Music, Art, etc. may be beneficial to the students or give them an advantage in real life is irrelevant. Increasing budget shortfalls are forcing schools to make difficult choices. And anything that isn't protected by a collective bargaining agreement or mandated by local, state, or federal regulations is subject to being cut.

                                          There are lots of people insisting on reduced taxes and chanting things like "the government is the problem." In my experience, it's these same people who complain the loudest about the quality of our schools, roads, and police forces. You can't have it both ways, and this "starve the beast" mentality has managed to screw a lot of kids out of a decent education.

                                          Of course, plenty of government dollars still flow to Halliburton, AIG, and Wells Fargo. But I'll bet Dick Cheney's grandkids don't have to worry about their teachers getting laid off.

                                          5 Replies
                                          1. re: alanbarnes

                                            I don't disagree about the pressures and incentives these days in schools. However, if I have a choice between my kid having AP French available (lots of schools are dropping it because the enrollment might be rather low) or having Home Ec taught, there's no way I'll choose Home Ec. My daughter will figure that out one way or another (and I'll help as much as she'll let me), but helping her get into the college of her choice is my top priority right now.

                                            1. re: DGresh

                                              That kind of "choice" is like getting to decide whether you lose a hand or a foot. It shouldn't be an either-or situation.

                                              Public schools have an obligation to provide an education to all kinds of kids. Yes, preparing the best and the brightest for admission to and success at elite universities is important. But it's also a good idea to teach somebody who's going to end up in the middle quintiles of the socioeconomic ladder how to make a few simple healthy meals. It might even be more important than knowing how to recognize the preterite tense.

                                              I went to a public high school where I not only took half a dozen AP classes, but also learned how to make a cheese sauce and do an engine rebuild on a VW Bug. Why can't my kids do the same?

                                              1. re: alanbarnes

                                                I think perhaps the difference is that when I (and perhaps you) went to college, the "conditions" for acceptance to an elite college were different. Heck, I took exactly two AP courses. The only two that were offered. And I got into an "elite" school. Now, things seem very different. Different world.

                                                1. re: alanbarnes

                                                  In some states, it's not even about just getting into an elite school, but about getting into college at all. I'm in Florida and most of the public universities have sub-50% acceptance rates. The ones that don't tend to be in more remote areas. Kids have to load up on dual enrollment and AP classes to make themselves competitive enough to get in anywhere. It's also no longer a given that you can do a junior college program and be able to transfer into a 4-year university after completing your associate's degree.

                                                  Obviously this isn't the case in all states, but where it is the case, I don't think school districts can be blamed for taking away home ec in favor of more college prep courses.

                                                  1. re: alanbarnes

                                                    Thank you for speaking out on this, Alan. That's the real issue here--the people who want to eliminate the public sector so they can selfishly spend money on yachts and gated communities. Meanwhile, we have to deal with his idiotic debate about whether home ec or French is more important.

                                              2. Personally I think they should scrap the entire AP system. The college or university is going to collect the same amount of money with or without AP courses and it is extremely rare that a student who took AP courses impresses their instructors/professors. AP courses are taking away a lot of schedule space that could be better utilized.

                                                The sexist notion hurt Home Economics as it did wood and metal shop. Schools complain that they would have to charge a fee for these types of classes when from day one they send home huge lists of materials that they require for every subject. I am so glad that all that is over for me and my wallet.

                                                Home Economics along with wood and metal shop gave students an introduction to various fields while providing many things that their parents were not able to teach them. It also allowed some students to discover that they had talents that had lay dormant throughout their schooling.

                                                Too many schools waste money on "look at me" marketing nonsense and not enough on preparing students to meet the real world.

                                                1. Home Economics (or "Health" or "Consumer Science') isn't more prevalent in the U.S. for the same reason that many school districts have eliminated music, art and physical education. If it doesn't help a school boost its numbers for whatever standardized testing is required to keep funded, it's out. Schools live and die by their state-mandated test results. Anything else is a luxury that they frequently can't afford, although I notice that there always seems to be enough money for the football, basketball and baseball teams.

                                                  1. Some of the more practical classes that kids could take for life skills are no longer available and it really is a shame. We expect kids to be geared for college but we forget that there are other skills aside from essay writing and excelling at academia. Handling tools, hammers or frying pans, is a great skill to have. Cooking, sewing, basic handyman skills would serve kids well. Should really start in middle school, like a life skills class - with no gender bias like I had as a kid. In the mean time, we still look to clubs like scouts, 4H and such and by all means bring those kids into your kitchen! I did and my 23 year old is now a foodie too! AND one that can cook, bake etc..