Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Food Media & News >
Oct 19, 2013 12:01 PM

Should home ec classes return to schools?

This article has been making the rounds the last few days and it stirs up one of my personal pet peeves.

I think the lack of basic cooking skills today is appalling. A millennial person I know posted it on his blog and was in defense of young people who can so easily now go to their phone, type in "how to make pasta alfredo" and boom--they know. Huh? I certainly hope my doctor doesn't "learn" things that way.

I'll never forget the time my 16 year old niece came to visit me in Boston and we decided to eat in one night. We were talking in the kitchen and I handed her a cucumber to cut up. She stopped talking & looked at me with total befuddlement on her face. She had no idea what to do with it. Really? Really, really?

Oy, I shudder to think what anyone under 30 would do if we were suddenly hit by a meteor and there was no take out or Lean Cuisines to grab while you're heading for safety. I guess that would probably be a challenge for me too, but at least if I FOUND food, I could cook it!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I went to Hunter College in The Bronx(Class of 1968)
    My major was Home Economics-
    I taught for a short period of time teaching Food Preparation-
    The young ppl today need to have classes in Home Ec.
    In N.Y.C. everyone took shop classies in Junior High School(grades 7,8.9).
    They were the best classes I ever took.

    2 Replies
    1. re: jpr54_1

      Had to look up Hunter 's history when you said that it was in the Bronx. I was thinking...maybe you're talking about another CUNY school like Lehman or Hostos. My sister goes there and its in Upper Eastside Manhattan so I was a bit confused. Turns out you were actually the last graduating class to go there while it was still part of Hunter. It became Lehman College right after you graduated, one of Hunter's sister schools in the CUNY system.

      1. re: PrinceZuko

        yes-and we were very very angry about its name change-
        fortunately our diplomas say Hunter in the Bronx-

        we woke up one day and saw Mrs. Lehman on tv saying how happy she was-we were astounded and unhappy.

        we went to Hunter in the Bronx for a variety of reasons-including it's suburban like campus:it was co-ed; and it's academics.

    2. Honestly, I believe Home Ec should be an elective rather than a requirement. Cooking skills are essential but academics takes priority. Students are only in school from 8am to 3pm. AP Bio, AP Physics, AP Calculus...all much better uses of their limited time in school. Its part of why home ec faded out of school curriculums. And remember, raising a child involves BOTH the parents and the school. You cant rely on schools to teach everything. Schools are there to mold a child academically. Parents should teach their child to become independent and survive on their own. If someone's kid cant cook, its the parents' fault. Honestly, you should be screaming at your niece's parents rather than complaining about whats being taught in schools. Her parents cook for her now. Well, college is coming and they wont always be there to feed her. It seems they haven't even thought about this. That or they thought very little about their kid's future. Its time for them to get her involved in the kitchen and teach her how to feed herself rather than assume schools will raise their children for them.

      45 Replies
      1. re: PrinceZuko

        Ha! You are right about that and believe me I have done so for years. Her mother did not know how to cook.

        You make a good point about the parents' involvement. I was lucky that I learned from my parents AND at school. Girls didn't take shop but I was my dad's little helper and learned a lot about handyman work and engineering, so I was covered on both sides.

        1. re: PrinceZuko

          Sadly not all parents know how to cook either. They don't have skills to pass on other than dialing the phone to have a pizza delivered or showing the kid where the nearest fast food and convenience stores are. Or how about parents with two jobs who have precious little time to help their kids with their academic homework, let alone time to show them how to cook. Ever watched those Honey Boo Boo "cooking with Mama June" videos? Yeah, she's doing a good thing teaching her child how to cook. I agree completely that schools are primarily about academics. But they are also about creating well rounded individuals. A semester or two of home ec, along with a couple of semesters of shop class - both of them coed, would not kill a students schedule. Of course funding becomes an issue. Teaching math, english, or a foreign language just takes a textbook and a decent dedicated teacher. Things like shop and cooking require equipment and supplies.

          Oh, here are a couple of those videos

          1. re: KaimukiMan

            I did that, took home ec AND shop, our home ec was a wash out. all they taught was how to compose a canned pear and cottage cheese salad and some embroidery stitches. through this I really nailed that coveted 'fag' label. shop wasn't much better as the teacher was often off getting stoned with a music teacher (although I did learn how to use a drill press and a pad sander).

            I was hoping for a simple bechamel and the chemistry behind a gastrique, a sear vs. a braise; how to hand cut a dove-tail and when to use lacquer vs. linseed oil. but no, the curriculum for both was written by "Good Housekeeping".

            1. re: hill food

              In my jr. high school boys were required to take shop and girls were required to take home ec. No gender mixing was allowed. Period. No exceptions. A girl in our class wanted to take shop so bad. Her parents were on her side. The school would not bend. Different times.

              1. re: KaimukiMan

                When my sister and I were teenagers, our dad refused to let us get our licenses unless we could change a flat tire. I found it annoying at the time but it's definitely come in handy over the years!

                1. re: Hobbert

                  It was a homework assignment for my son when he was talking drivers ed. I know it in theory but calling AAA is so much easier!

                  1. re: chowser

                    Oh I agree but the cheapskate in me is thankful we know how. It would drive me nuts to have to pay somebody to change my tire when I've got all the equipment right there :)

                    1. re: Hobbert

                      The tire change is free but you have to pay for AAA. It's worth it, just for the dscounts alone. It hasn't happened often to me but guys are chivalrous. The few times I have had tires go flat, guys have stopped and changed it for me.

                      1. re: chowser

                        for chowser - It IS worth it - but the last time I called AAA for a flat the "guy" who showed up and fixed it was a woman older than late 50's me! I felt like such a wuss!

                      2. re: Hobbert

                        My husband tried to change our tire (even though we have AAA) and managed to break/bend the jack doing more damage! I love AAA.

                  2. re: KaimukiMan

                    That's what I remember, too--gender division. We learned how to sew, embroider, iron, clean house, cook. Oh, be subservient and how to have dinner on the table for the family for when dad came home.

                    1. re: KaimukiMan

                      My parents MADE me take shop - and my brother home-ec. I thought it was vastly unfair because I LOVED cooking and while shop class was interesting, I was the only girl and it didn't actually teach me anything that I ever used in 'real life'. (She didn't want me to take sewing class either... which just mean that I never learnt to sew.)

                      1. re: KaimukiMan

                        I wanted to take shop, as well as Home Ec (requirement in my jr. high, too), but they wouldn't let me. My Dad told me not to worry, that I already knew more than the damned teacher anyway since I worked weekends with the family on renovating houses and could do plumbing, electrical wiring, and use power tools. That knowledge has stood me well, though. I can fix a toilet faster than most of my male friends, and then go cook a gourmet dinner.
                        Home Ec was okay - I learned a few things I hadn't at home, especially the use of sewing machines (I got interested and enrolled in Singer's summer classes) since they scared my Mom. I liked that we had kitchen set-ups and were required to actually COOK! Then our food was critiques by taste and presentation.
                        We also had required music and art classes. I loved those requirements and think kids today are definitely missing out! Bring back Home Ec, PE, art, music and all the other classes that aren't considered fundamentals. If we want to teach people how to think and explore new concepts, those classes should not be electives! We need a well rounded group to take over the world.

                        1. re: KailuaGirl

                          In an ideal world, we'd do that. But given that we're falling behind the rest of the world in academic subjects, taking time away from those to require those other subjects? That would position our kids to cook and clean and take care of the cars and houses of those who are running the tech corporations of those from countries that stress academics.

                      2. re: hill food

                        My most memorable class was prime rib roast & a perfect baked Alaska prepared & eaten at 9:30am in jr high!

                      3. re: KaimukiMan

                        <<they are also about creating well rounded individuals>>

                        at this point, the evidence is in that the schools are FAILING at adequately teaching the academics.
                        why would you try putting this additional, very dubious, very subjective, time-wasting "responsibility on them?

                        strongly disagree.

                      4. re: PrinceZuko

                        I've taken both home ec and calculus, and there's no question home ec was more important! There's more to home ec than just cooking, too. Sewing, that was helpful -- for a while I even made some of my own clothes, and at least I know how to fix a hem or sew on a button! The "ec" side of planning, budgeting, etc. is something everyone needs to know. And I'd add in basic home repair skills, too. I have a friend who does estimating for a construction company. She says it's not uncommon for people to call them and need someone to come out and replace a switch plate. A housecall is $150 for something that costs $1 and requires unscrewing and replacing two small screws.

                        As for "the parents should teach them at home" -- that can be said of almost anything. Parents can read, so maybe they should be responsible for teaching their kids to read. Same with basic math.

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          HomeEc doesn't get you into college though. Calculus does.

                          1. re: juliejulez

                            (1) Most people still don't go to college, (2) calculus didn't get me into college; calculus is actually only necessary for a very small number of fields, (3) too many students are forced to take classes that don't contribute anything to their future at all.

                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                              Your #3 is an interesting observation. But, I'd like to know what classes don't contribute anything to a future still developing?

                              Sometimes the very thing we are talking about: learning skills that are no longer avail in elementary school, have value when you least expect it. So being forced(?) to take a class (college pre-req, part of the humanities, gym, etc) might actually wind up having value...

                              What are you referring to?

                              1. re: HillJ

                                I resented my father making me take calculus when I wanted to take yearbook. I hated math wanted to study English, and said I'd never take it again. Ironically, I ended up being a math major. And, was far more employable than being a literature major.

                                It really is about learning to think, challenging your mind. A sit up on its own is meaningless but having core strength is priceless.

                                1. re: HillJ

                                  Most people will get along fine in their lives with trigonometry and calculus. If you're planning on going to college, and in a field where math is necessary, then fine. But school curriculums these days are designed to treat all students as if they are college prep, whether they are or not, which just leads to kids feeling that school is irrelevant and dropping out. How many kids have said about algebra "when am I ever going to use that"? When was the last time you needed to solve a quadratic equation? Anyone? The sad part is that some aspects of algebra do have everyday practical applications, but the kids aren't taught those!

                                  On the other hand, everyone needs to eat, and while knowing how to cook isn't essential, it will certainly lead to being healthier and saving money. That's what "home ec" is for!

                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                    When you are 15 years old, you don't know what you want. You don't know all the possibilities that you are forgoing by not taking certain classes. Yes, you can always start over as an adult but that's getting harder and harder to do, not just because adults have jobs and usually families, but because it is getting more expensive just to get through daily life, much less adding a return to school and incurring more debt to the mix. I did it, and fortunately didn't rack up much debt, but I did lose several years of highest income potential along with several years of retirement savings.

                                2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                  Yes but schools are focused on what colleges want... not what is actually useful :) That was my point... I guess I should have explained it better.

                              2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                I recall a good amount of math required in home ec. The type of math I still use today, whereas I lost my calculus in probably 2002...

                                Only math I touched in college was statistics. Well, I had to take pre-algebra just for sake of taking a math. I had forgotten that much I dropped down to math 96 - not even college level. 10 years later still have not used my math, trig, etc. Statistics is still very useful, though.

                                1. re: youareabunny

                                  Speaking of statistics I've always found this one staggering;

                                  6 out of 4 people aren't good with fractions.

                                    1. re: youareabunny

                                      Thinking about it now, yes you are correct. Sadly I might be one of them. :-(

                                      1. re: youareabunny

                                        Commercials that advertise products at a fraction of the cost drive me crazy. 99/100 is a fraction, and pennies on the dollars. How many pennies, 99?

                                      2. re: youareabunny

                                        I taught a friend's daughter how to bake before she started kindergarten. My friend, who lived next door and was a single parent, was very ill and slept for about 20 hours a day. I took over childcare (I was already home taking care of my Dad) so we did a lot of baking. That little girl knew fractions before she started school! She would lecture her friends about how to tell which was a larger or smaller amount.
                                        Today she bakes desserts for a restaurant she works for, and is a bartender who creates cocktails (fractions are always useful!). Her main job is as a bartender, but she gets to use those skills she learned as a child in her adult life. She's using them to put herself through college.
                                        Her mother got well and taught her daughter sewing, furniture upholstery and recovering, and fashion design. Everything's good!!!

                                        1. re: KailuaGirl

                                          I need a child like that in my life! My Ex's kid was only interested in licking the beaters.

                                          Lovely to read :)

                                      3. re: Ruth Lafler

                                        Then what do you recommend to a parent who doesn't teach their child what a cucumber is? Or doesn't teach them basic cooking/life skills at home? What else aren't they teaching them?

                                        You've got home life, extended family, school, peers, society and your own sojourns in life (just to name a few) to teach you what you need to know before you ever step foot in the working world.

                                        While college isn't for everyone a TRADE is. Earning a living is. If Home Ec isn't offered in most public school anymore, what do you suggest replaces outlets for these basic skills?

                                        1. re: HillJ

                                          If no one taught them, then how can the teach their kids? Part of the problem is that our microwave/take out culture has been going on long enough that we now have a generation of parents who were never taught to cook (just as we now have teachers who can't spell and don't know grammar).

                                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                            I think you've painted some very broad strokes. No disrespect to you Ruth, I asked for your thoughts. I can't relate to this kind of broad stroke thinking that x happens because y didn't happen.

                                            1. re: HillJ

                                              I didn't mean to imply that *no* parents can cook. Just that one reason many kids can't cook is that their parents don't cook.

                                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                That is for sure. In the case of my niece, her mother did not then and still does not know how to cook, for many good and some just plain lazy reasons. Not long after the "cucumber incident," for Christmas I sent my niece a huge carton of cooking utensils (pasta pot, tongs, a nice knife, America's Test Kitchen cookbook, spices, etc.) with a note that said "Learn to cook. It can change your life." She took my advice, got a job in a restaurant, observed, learned, paid attention and became a fine cook.

                                                1. re: sandiasingh

                                                  Well why didn't you add all of that valuable detail to your original post? What a big PS that is!

                                                  You provided value to whatever was lacking at home or in your nieces experience.

                                                  Hence one small point, that how we learn and what we learn doesn't get lost if Home Ec isn't avail to teach us. If schools fail to provide well rounded courses for our kids and we're not happy with it that doesn't mean we fail our kids. And WE can be anyone who cares enough (as you did) to reach out and teach by example.

                                                  1. re: sandiasingh

                                                    my former neighbor was an ex-kindergarten teacher and an amazing mom. but unfortunately she didn't know how to cook and everything her child ate was out of a box or takeout. after much digging turns out her mom is a recovering anorexic and didn't eat and keep much food in the house. of course, that's not always the case for people who don't know how to cook and i find a home cooked meal is the best BUT, i'm not sure if it's my place to judge those who don't know how to cook. my sister hates cooking. she does it surprisingly very well and begrudgingly bc she knows it's good for her family but if it were up to her, there would be no cooking ever. and some kids are forced to do things like math but they may find a love for it and vice versa for cooking.
                                                    i guess my point is that not everyone will enjoy cooking as not everyone will enjoy math. and some kids will find they love math and end up using it like an architect or engineer.but cooking is a life skill bc everyone needs to eat but how does it get presented into the classroom?

                                                    personally, i wish they had a how to get a job/interview in my last semester in college. or how to go from studying art theory to filing paperwork at a crappy gallery office101. ha! that would have been nice!

                                                    1. re: trolley

                                                      trolley - yes in artschool, we had a required class about preparing/presenting ones portfolio, how galleries review work and make a profit, submitting proposals for public works set asides (ie the 1% for Art programs) but I always thought they should have included some tax, liability and employment law.

                                                      some instructors over in 3-D would go into detail about the logistics of setting up a shop, leases, 110 vs. 220 voltage, basic equipment costs and how to cut corners, etc.

                                            2. re: HillJ

                                              Actually, the schools do teach kids about cucumbers, they just don't teach how to properly slice them. (I'm referencing condoms and sex ed.)

                                            3. re: Ruth Lafler

                                              speaking as someone who earned her living from knowing calculus and advanced statistics, i'm here to tell you that i got NOTHING out of those idiotic sewing classes.

                                              also, NO to the idea that most parents CAN teach advanced math and science even if they wanted to teach them.

                                              your ideas really explain why the entire economic base of this country is suffering.

                                              i certainly don't want the school system preparing my daughter to work in a sweat shop setting in sleeves.. . . . .

                                              1. re: westsidegal

                                                "most" is the operative word. a cousin home-schooled hers and all are establishing themselves in advanced mathematics. theoretical, computer engineering, jazz rhythm structure, etc.

                                                1. re: westsidegal

                                                  It's interesting that this conversation has evolved into one about the unimportance of higher level math. I think we live in a math-phobic society, sadly, and the US is falling further behind the rest of the world in STEM subjects. How many people would argue against learning anything about art or reading anything more than a newspaper because few people do as adults? Should we get rid of literature? Shakespeare? Picasso? Medieval history? Should schools only teach what an average middle aged person in the US uses?

                                                  1. re: westsidegal

                                                    I had two semesters of statistics...if it were not for the daily ten point quizzes I probably would not have passed. : )

                                              2. No. Schools have enough to focus on. Besides a self taught cook is worlds apart from a self taught doctor. Read a cookbook . Watch an educational cooking show. Trial and error.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: LA Buckeye Fan

                                                  Read a cookbook, exactly. People at work are shocked that I can cook when I bring leftovers that I or the wifeacita have made. I tell them if you can read, you can cook. Cookbook, trial and error like you say. I cut my teeth on Chef Boyardee pizza in a box, third gradeish, and no, never took home ec.

                                                2. I absolutely think Home Ec should be taught in schools, as well as shop and all the other practical skills that have fallen by the wayside - but I also agree that they should be electives.

                                                  This begins to go off Chow topics, but there was a trend in education a few decades ago to phase out vocational electives because we were raising young scholars - I don't know whether it was elitism or the women's movement or just funding cuts, but somehow these subjects were seen as "lesser," with the few electives that survived (like art and music) squeaked by because they were "cultural" (and in some districts even they have been cut). It's a massive disservice to both young people and society - I work in education, and the majority of students feel like idiots because they're not good at AP Calc and AP Physics, but they take them anyway so they can try to go to a good college...while in the meantime, they're getting C's in subjects they don't care about and will never use [which is potentially preventing them from getting into a better college] and graduating without the barest skills for the real world. They can create matrices but they can't balance a checkbook. And then they feel worthless if they grow up to be a mechanic or a stay at home mom because those aren't the jobs they were educated for, they're jobs people take as "fallbacks" (never mind that they actually enjoy and are good at fixing cars, or actually desire to do the self-sacrificial and difficult job of raising children). Academics are important, but realistically, the majority of adults don't need advanced math and science - even if they're movers and shakers in society. The education system has NO idea what they are trying to produce, so they keep producing 19th century intellectuals because it seems more impressive.

                                                  Sorry - massive rant because it's a passion of mine. =)

                                                  1. I went to private schools without a home ec requirement or option.
                                                    However, i "helped" mom in the kitchen, was responsible for my own breakfast from amd early age and frugal gourmet and julia child were among the few pbs tv shows we were allowed to watch.
                                                    I packed my own lunches, made cookies with grandma and did not spend my spare time in front of a phone or computer