Home Economics in School: Yes or No?

September 6, 2011 | By | Comments (32)

When I started working at Real Simple, a former colleague said “Real Simple is for people whose mothers didn’t teach them how to do all that stuff.” I knew exactly what she meant by that stuff: cooking; cleaning; ironing; doing laundry; planting perennials; balancing a checkbook; painting a wall; painting a fingernail; sewing on a button.  All of those small-but-important things that perhaps a whole generation of women neglected to learn while they were running for class president, serving as captain of the swim team, studying for AP Statistics. (I know, I know: All of that got us out of the kitchen and into the boardroom, and millions of women—and men—are grateful for that. Until they have to sew on a button.)

Me? Well, my mother was a home economics major in college, and I learned to set a table practically before I learned to tie my shoes. I also learned how to sew (everything from school uniforms to prom dresses), to launder clothes, to clean a bathroom, to mow a lawn, to grow zucchini and tomatoes and then make a healthy dinner with them. Did I complain constantly about domestic duties? Probably. But I still use that knowledge today.

Two weeks ago I decided that, because he is 16, Eldest should know how to do laundry. (Something is wrong if you can drive a car but don’t know how to wash your dirty soccer socks.) Yes, it took me till he was 16, but better late than never. As I was showing him how to use stain remover, why it was important to zip up zippers before laundering, how the measurements on many laundry caps are so ridiculously confusing, I realized that I needed to start on his younger brothers sooner rather than later. These skills might not get them into college, but they will get them through life.

Then today in The New York Times I read an op-ed by Helen Zoe Veit, an assistant professor of history at Michigan State. Her piece argues that we should reinstitute home ec as a class in schools to fight obesity in this country. If we all could learn to cook healthy food from scratch, we’d all stop being so fat. Her argument makes perfect sense to me, and not just because it would mean that my kids could make dinner for me (which they do, but only occasionally, and Middle makes only hamburgers; “my specialty,” he says), thus allowing me more time to sit around and do nothing. Home ec would also help my kids prepare for life.

Does your school have home ec? If not, should it? If so, can I move to your town?

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