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Should home ec classes return to schools? - the sequel

Too many posts in the original thread! My original answer stands - no, it is a waste of scarce time when the schools can't even manage to teach the basics. However, making the T-day dessert just now stirred up an old memory of my 7th grade home-ec class. We managed to learn to make stewed prunes. Can you imagine teaching something like that? Most kids, at least back then, hated prunes, much less stewed prunes. But I just made a dried fruit compote for my T-day dessert and I could help but think of that ridiculous home-ec class. As I recall, we also made chocolate chip cookies using the recipe on the back of the Tollhouse chip package. And that was pretty much it. The rest of the time, we learned to sew.

Yup. Waste of time. I'm pretty sure I could have mastered cooking on my own because I did! No one taught me except TV cooking shows, Harold McGee, and more recently, the internet.

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  1. While I agree with your assessment and your memories of years ago, today HS kids could benefit by a revamped version of what basic skills are and are needed in the 21st Century.

    If schools took 1/4 of the budget away from sports programs to fund a life skills class (mandatory) the balance of basic education, health & fitness and the long list of questions left unanswered for young people could be addressed.

    So while I totally agree the old model of Home Ec would be a complete waste of funding, I'd like to see a new more valuable mandatory class installed.

    Who's trained to teach such a course and what area of the country will take pride in offering it as a model for all schools is all I need to know.

    3 Replies
    1. re: HillJ

      I don't know how much of a budget most schools have for sports programs these days. If my kids experience is an indicator, there is practically no budget and parents of the kids in the sport pay for the program out of pocket. Most of the stories I read about HS sports programs are about how they have been cut and that the athletes and parents are raising the funds to pay for the programs. I'm always seeing car washes to support X teams these days. Staff teaching positions are being cut. So I am firmly in JV's camp. If you can't pay for the basics, home ec is a luxury that can't be afforded. If you make the case for home ec, I could make the same argument for lots of other life skills which I think are much more important.

      1. re: Bkeats

        Where I live (and I wouldn't call us the exception by any means) the school district receives a very generous allotment of budgeted funds for sports, coaches, travel games, equipment and field maintenance. Extra sports programs outside of the school are paid for by parents. So my children participated in school and community team sports. My tax dollars pay for the district programs and I paid for the private/community team clubs. This year a nearby town voted down a 5 million dollar referendum to rehab their entire athletic field but still spent close to $1 million on their current athletic program.

        And sure any of us could make the argument for skills which we deem more important. I'm not arguing that Home Ec as we experienced it isn't outdated, I'm suggesting that a new formula for basic skills become mandatory.

        Does this idea vary state to state, town to town-you bet. Where I live, where my children went to school, money was spent to compete in sports and parents supplemented with private lessons and extra sports clubs on top of school programs.

        1. re: Bkeats

          Another thought that comes to mind is the very recent addition of anti bullying mandates that have been implemented in (NJ) schools. Years ago, parents, teachers, districts had their own way of denying or dealing with bullying in school, during school hours on school property. No one could agree if there was a problem let alone how to deal with it.

          Today, NJ mandates teachers to attend workshops on the taxpayers dime to learn how to deal with the approved steps for reporting and handling bullying. Same teachers, same districts but now there's money applied to these issues.

          FWIW, school do have the power to accept or deny whether they are serving their students fully. School districts spend where they want to; with or without 'cuts' and I've attended enough Board of Ed meetings in my lifetime to know that's the truth.

          eta: Just think of the trade off, invest in life skills or invest in anti bullying programs. Plus, why not combine them at the student level rather than leave the education piece at the faculty level? Makes me wonder.

      2. These life skills are a perfect opportunity for volunteers from the community, especially retirees. During middle and high school kids I know kids still have free classes; I assume many use this time to nap, same as we did. Instead they could sign up to learn something that interests them: basic car maintenance, cooking, sewing, etc.

        At my office a few years ago I was at my desk during lunch, and sewing a loose button back onto my coat. One of the young guys walked by and marveled that I knew how to do that. So I invited him to join me and I'd show him how. Next thing I had a little seminar going as a bunch of guys wanted to learn it too. These are the kinds of basic skills that I bet kids would sign up to learn if they had the chance to learn as an alternative to doing nothing during free classes.

        8 Replies
        1. re: Niblet

          Niblet, that's fantastic and I applaud you for taking the moment and turning into something valuable. Here in NJ, liability laws prevent the public from entering a school as a volunteer without a) a full fingerprint and background check, b) an approved class designed and approved by the Board of Ed and c) a commitment of time long term-like the school year. Even summer school volunteers are hard to come by. I have seen retirees offer to do exactly what you're suggesting and been turned down or discouraged by a, b and c as I have outlined. So, they registered with their local senior center and joined the Grandparents Club to help young people with homework, basic skills and so forth. Under a senior or community center there appears to be no real issue with volunteering.

          But you are on to something !

          1. re: HillJ

            Several years ago, a friend and I volunteered to teach kids to knit in an after-school program, here in NJ. There were no background checks, approval from above or any commitment for long term -- just a huge amount of appreciation from all the students involved. I guess times have changed. What I remember most is that we expected about 5 fourth-graders, and 25 signed up. The parents who chaperoned really wanted to learn as well, so it was chaos all around.

            As for Home Ec, I think it is really important for young people to learn to appreciate wholesome food by having them introduced to vegetables and other things they may scorn. Fresh tomato sauce on whole wheat pasta; mushroom and spinach on pita bread as shortcut pizza; roasted carrots -- what is not to like? Perhaps the best way to do this is to have classes teaching them how to prepare simple food that if actually nutritious, to wean them off of chicken nuggets and Burger King.

            Off topic, but perhaps even more important is to bring back music and art classes.

            1. re: pitterpatter

              Were any school teachers in the room with you pitterpatter or did the school permit you and your friend to volunteer without any faculty supervision? I don't know how far back you are referring but in our community a wonderful program that you are describing would require Board approval and at least one teacher supervising your volunteering an after school program. I don't know how many parents would be permitted to stay, rather than drop off their kids, but it sounds like your school was far more relaxed about the opportunity than ours is.

              In our school an after school program teaching kids to knit would be considered an art program. And only the luckiest of schools still have a music/band program for performance and competition.

              The list of things that have changed is mind boggling. I'm very glad to hear your school is open to community support. As I said originally, these examples can and will vary state to state and town to town. You're fortunate if your school is open to new ideas.

              1. re: HillJ

                There were no teachers in the room, and I don't think the parents were limited in any way. This was eight years ago. Our town and local K-8 are both very small. I don't think everyone knows everyone -- I certainly don't, as I don't have kids of my own so never got to know folks through that avenue. However, there must be only one or two degrees of separation for everyone in town, so people are accountable for their behavior. I am interested in learning whether the school has changed its policy --

                It is rather horrifying how many "non-essential" programs have been dropped, especially when you consider how much we pay per student to educate them. If we are not the highest in the nation, we are pretty darn close.

                1. re: pitterpatter

                  Right now our pps is $14,500.00; the cost of a new car. If you do find out if the policy has changed, I'd be interested in that information. Because, what was once a more relaxed policy in our district is anything but and it was parents who asked for more mandatory guidelines re: volunteering. Our PTO was responsible for launching a big campaign about all sorts of efforts of this type coming thru PTO only. In other words, you had to have a child in the school to volunteer and all programs had to be Board of Ed and PTO approved. Wound up turning some great ideas away but like I said, parents voted for this policy.

              2. re: pitterpatter

                I wasn't introduced to healthy food choices in school through Home Ec or by eating cafeteria lunches in school. I learned these things from my family, friend's parents, reading books and figuring things out on my own. Home Ec did not provide lengthy detail about anything in my day. It raised and validated one thing: homemakers.

                Today, I do believe school cafeterias are doing better by offering healthy choices, health and nutrition is covered (some) in certain subjects, parents are talking about food choices, more food shopping choices exist and restaurant menus are covering light or healthier fare on their menus. Folks who enjoy BK or McD are going to eat there no matter what is avail. as an alternative and as long as it's not the mainstay of your diet, moderation of fast food won't kill ya.

                What did have an impact on me and on my kids when they were in public school was field trips. Do schools still schedule off site field trips? We'd go to farms, food manufacturing plants, gardens.

            2. re: Niblet

              I never had free classes in middle or high school, and I spent time in two different districts. The only "break" I had was 30 minutes for lunch. We didn't even have study hall. By the time I enrolled in everything required for admission to my state's public university system, I only had time for one elective each year. I used that one elective for band every year until 12th grade, then I dropped band so I could take an extra AP science class. I said it on the other thread, and I'll say it again here - I seriously would have resented mandatory home ec, and it likely would have hurt me in terms of future academic endeavors. I already knew how to cook, clean, sew, change a tire, and balance a check book because I learned at home. It would have been an absolute waste of time for me. I have no problem offering home ec in schools, but it shouldn't be mandatory.

              1. re: mpjmph

                I did not suggest mandatory home ec, but rather an alternative for those with an occasional free class -- not you, clearly -- to learn basic skills as an option.

            3. Just Vi, if there was one class each week that I would select before any other in public high school it would be financial literacy. Teach young people how to save money, spend wisely and invest in their own future.

              If I had to pick one elective that would serve a young person well it would be that. Without money, your choices in life are considerably limited.

              1 Reply
              1. YES! And as early in the curriculum as possible.

                I was a preschool teacher and I can tell you that more and more kids have no idea where food comes from other than the salad bar and frozen food case in the grocery store or take out. No one at home is cooking FOR them much less WITH them.

                They need to understand what fresh food is and how it can be turned into things that are delicious, empowering, healthy and far less expensive. If someone doesn't start doing that pretty soon they will be a captive customer base to the food manufacturing industry that will make them fat, sugar/fat/salt addicted and economically exploited.

                Meanwhile, cooking is a precursor to sooooo much math, science and social education that they'll miss out on all those opportunities too. So don't waste HS time if that's the consideration. Start it in preschool. Continue through elementary school where it can be a vehicle for understanding our own culture (agriculture, transportation, urbanization, diversity, commerce, etc) and then related and exotic cultures around the world. By the time they get to HS they'll have a richer understanding of their worlds and bodies, have sharper minds ready to learn and be poised to be more competent and resourceful adults.

                1 Reply
                1. re: rainey

                  I could see it in pre-school and elementary school. What a fun way to learn fractions, for instance! What a great way to teach about plants and why they are different colors and about photosynthesis. What a great way to teach chemistry.

                2. Girls were required to take home ec at my junior high. Teacher showed us how to open a jar of Ragu and boil spaghetti noodles. Later, we bashed a bunch of LifeSaver fruit candies and inserted them into store bought slice and bake cookie dough. I'm not sure, but I think we opened a few cans of condensed soup, and unwrapped saltines, for "a nutritcious lunch."