Let’s Bring Back Home Economics Class

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 
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“Hey, Mom, do we have a double boiler?” my 12-year-old son asked me the other day.

“Ummm…no,” I said, trying to remember what a double boiler even is, and whether or not I’ve ever used one. “I think you can just make one yourself using a pot and a mixing bowl…or something like that?”

“Oh, okay,” he said. “But we should really consider getting one. We made brownies from scratch in F.A.C.S today and actually melting real chocolate made them so good.”

“F.A.C.S” stands for Family and Consumer Sciences, the modern-day Home Ec class that my son has been taking this semester at his middle school. Almost every day, he comes home telling me about some new yummy food he cooked, the “cool” cooking equipment he used, or some other cute and endearing story about his adventures in measuring, mixing, cooking, and cleaning up.

Let me tell you, when I found out that my son’s middle school required all seventh graders to take Home Ec, a part of me rolled my eyes hard. When I was a kid, Home Ec was also required, but I mostly remember it as a class that I thought was super dorky — a total blow-off class that no one took seriously.

And despite the fact that both girls and boys took the class when I was in middle school, I remember my mom telling me that back in the day, only girls were required to take it, so I immediately branded it as totally sexist.

I was sure that my son – who loves math and video games with a passion, and who acts like wiping down the kitchen table after dinner is equal to actual torture – would feel the same way I did. But surprisingly (although he may not admit it!), his F.A.C.S. class seems to one of the highlights of his day.

Not only that, but he’s learning actual life skills … you know, skills he’ll use long after middle school is a distant memory.

Besides learning how to use a double-broiler, he’s learning how to read a recipe, how to prep the stove for cooking, how to measure stuff and use measuring equipment, how to crack an egg (this was big for him, because he would never let me teach him how!), how to follow a recipe correctly — and most importantly, how to clean up after himself when he’s done.

It’s more than that, too. He works on teams with his fellow students on these cooking projects, so he’s learning about cooperation and teamwork. My son has told me that respectful communication is emphasized in the class as much as teamwork around the execution of the recipes.

After this unit, the kids are going to learn about etiquette, nutrition, and career exploration. And get this: the kids are going to spend a unit completing a few sewing projects – yep, on a real live sewing machine.

I am just so overjoyed about all of this. Not only are these skills all kids need to know (even sewing comes in handy sometimes!), but many are skills I have failed to properly teach my son. I mean, I ask him if he wants to help me make dinner, and I occasionally force him to wash a few dishes, but he really doesn’t know his way around the kitchen like he should.

Honestly, most domestic-type skills are just plain annoying to him. But for some reason, not when they’re taught at school. Somehow, getting to cook and bake and clean up is really cool when you get to do it at school. Who knew?

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With the stress placed so heavily on academics these days, I am very happy for my son to have a hands-on, practical class built into his schedule. In addition to all the real-life benefits and applications of the class, it’s a much-needed break from the pressure of his other classes.

Interestingly, my son’s school is one of a dwindling group still offering Home Ec. According to NPR, the number of Home Ec classes has sharply declined; in the decade leading up to 2012, the number of schools offering Home Ec dropped by 38%.

The reason for this, as NPR explains it, is partly that there are fewer teachers entering the family and consumer science profession. But it’s also because of budget cuts, and the fact that schools are allocating their funds more toward academic coursework and away from “life skills” classes like Home Ec.

Gayla Randal, an educational and program consultant for the Kansas State Department of Education, explained why she thinks Home Ec has dropped out of favor in the United States over the past decade.

“Society couldn’t get over the stereotype of the home economics teacher,” she told NPR. “Anything that wasn’t about a test score was scrutinized,” she added, referencing No Child Left Behind and the rapid increase of standardized tests.

Yet teachers and most parents agree that Home Ec teaches skills that are necessary to be a highly functioning adult. To me, “life skills” should be as much a goal in education as learning algebra. When was the last time you actually used algebra in real life? On the other hand, I’m sure you’ve completed at least one task in your kitchen today.

Clearly, some of our kids aren’t learning this basic stuff from us.

“Sometimes we take for granted that kids know how to wash dishes,” Susan Turgeson, president of the Association of Teacher Educators for family and consumer sciences told NPR. “I never thought I was going to have to explain, step by step, how to put the drain plug in, the amount of soap to be used.”

Ummm, yeah, my son has absolutely no clue what a drain plug is or how to soak a sink of dishes. Sigh.

As a mom raising two boys, I feel like it’s even more pressing that my sons learn these skills. I like that Home Ec is a required, graded class for kids at my son’s school. It underlines the fact that domestic skills are just as important as what he learns in any other class.

I’m sure as heck not raising a man who can’t cook a decent meal, work the stove, or wash the dishes. NOPE.

So, let’s bring back Home Ec. everywhere, please? Thankfully, we are past the stage of believing that only girls need to learn these skills. But if these are skills that everyone should know, well then, teach ‘em to everyone!

Our kids will be better off as students, as adults, as partners, as future parents, and just better overall citizens of the world.

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