There are a lot of complaints that what is being taught in schools is not very practical in the real world. And unfortunately, that is very true!
High school is a time that begins as a rite of passage from middle school and can end in questioning whether any of the information that is being stuffed into the brain will ever really be useful. Classes that encourage health, like Physical Education are being cut and rigorous spitting out of useless facts (or lies) is required. Students are forced to learn complex math equations that may never be used in life outside of the classroom. They then go on to graduate having no idea how to actually survive on their own.
Classes such as home economics deal with such essential life skills, teaching pupils how to cook, clean, budget, manage their time, prepare for job interviews, and even communicate with others. In essence, it preps them to adult independently. Weaknesses and strengths are identified early so that they can be resolved and strengthened before real-life stakes, such as money, work opportunities, and relationships, are on the line.
The result is more informed, self-reliant, and confident young adults that are prepared for the financial, employment, health, and relationship decisions that have lasting effects throughout their lives. Academics are clearly important, but the educational system is doing a clear injustice to this generation by not providing the life-skill classes necessary to thrive in everyday life.
School curriculums have slowly evolved from generation to generation to exclude life-skill education in place of more and more advanced academic studies. It’s left a tremendous gap in how Gen Z and Y handle life in contrast to their more life-savvy Gen X and Baby Boomer counterparts.
Now, many areas of the nation are seeing “adulting classes” pop up, which makes us wonder if education is really so advanced when graduates can’t sew a simple button on their pants.
Most millennials can tell you all about Pythagoras’ Theorum and compose a Hamlet essay, but can’t tell you how to unclog a toilet. A record number from this generation hold high school diplomas, college degrees, and pass AP tests. Yet, when it comes to life skills, the majority of millennials admit they’re not so skilled.
The rate of college attendance for high school students is somewhere around 70 percent. The official four-year rate for graduation is about 33 percent. That means roughly 70 percent of high school students may end up in real-life situations pretty quickly and may be doing so very unequipped.
A college professor of mathematics recently had to diversify the scope of her course to include basic fundamentals because her students were clueless that buying a property resulted in paying taxes on it. It’s a recurring theme for educators of all levels.
Flickr | PatricksMercy
These educators aren’t the only ones noticing how inept this generation is at life basics. Many parents are complaining that the things their kids are taught in school aren’t practical. Indeed, the ability to solve a complex scientific or mathematical problem may be impressive at a NASA job interview, but it really isn’t so helpful for a college kid trying to figure out how to wash their own clothes or cook their own meals.
Prep schools aren’t teaching kids such skills today. Students aren’t introduced to the essentials of household management and the bare basic skills to get through everyday life, much less keep it in order. Few schools even offer such elective classes, and most certainly no longer make them compulsory for graduation.
The roots of Home Economic classes began at MIT with the first woman admitted to the college, Ellen Swallow Richards. She continued on to become a chemist and instructor at the school and helped to create MIT’s Women’s Laboratory, which existed from 1876 to 1883. The goal of the lab was to advance the scientific education of women at the Institution.
One area of Richard’s focus was to make the home an efficient running machine. The first home economics courses incorporated a variety of scientific disciplines into the classroom and aimed to professionalize the work of women. According to the Chemical Heritage Foundation, “Richards was very concerned to apply scientific principles to domestic topics — good nutrition, pure foods, proper clothing, physical fitness, sanitation, and efficient practices that would allow women more time for pursuits other than cooking and cleaning.”
What started off as “Home Economics” eventually changed to “Family and Consumer Sciences.” The seven areas of life skills that are covered in the class were: Cooking; Child Development; Education and Community Awareness; Home Management and Design; Sewing and Textiles; Budgeting and Economics; and Health and Hygiene. In a nutshell: life skills.
According to an NPR report, the last decade has seen a 38 percent decrease in the number of students signing up for FCS classes. And they’re suffering because of this.
According to that same NPR report, present-day FCS classes “might now include subjects such as community gardening, composting, and even hydroponics.”
In an op-ed piece of the Dallas Morning News, Marti Harvey said she’s encountered too many students who didn’t even know what property taxes were.
“It’s a failing of our educational system that students don’t leave high school with this basic understanding, among other things,” she wrote. “That’s why we need to bring back the old home economics class. Call it ‘Skills for Life’ and make it mandatory in high schools.
“Teach basic economics along with budgeting, comparison shopping, basic cooking skills, and time management. Give them a better start in real life than they get now.”
Harvey also said these are skills that all students should know, whether they’re college-bound or heading right into the workforce.
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She added, “We tend to be a society of extremes. Right now we’re trying to send people into STEM kind of careers. However, I think administrators and legislators also need to think about people coming out of high school or even college without the ability to manage their money and to know how to lead a productive life.” With the introduction of a mandatory Home Economics class, not only do we prepare students for the responsibilities of the real world, but we ensure that they receive a balanced, holistic education that covers both the important academic subjects as well as the skills they need in order to survive as adults.
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Whether someone works outside of the home or not, without basic life skills, there’s unnecessary chaos. As a result, these individuals feel frustrated, fall into debt, and become overwhelmed with all the responsibilities of life. Especially when there are young children involved, not having basic life skills leads to disaster.
Today, some students can perform advanced mathematical equations yet they don’t have any clue how to handle their basic financial obligations. What is comes down to is an imbalance in the current educational system. Earning a college degree is great but if students end up without any real-world knowledge, they’re doomed.
In an era when nearly everything can be ordered via an app or a drive-thru window, and when people now eat more prepared food than homemade, the case could be made that Home Economics is irrelevant. (Especially in districts where the budget forces a choice between Home Ec and, say, history.)
But I’d argue the decline of cooking makes Home Ec even more vital: By neglecting to teach young people basic life skills, we’re perpetuating a problem with enduring consequences for the health and well-being of our children. Ironically, many parents meanwhile load kids’ schedules with gymnastics, swimming, violin practice—all arguably laudable skills that impart life lessons, but nothing you need to know to live.
If kids aren’t learning to cook at home, and not learning it anywhere else, the tacit message is that cooking is not important. But it is—vitally so, for economic, health, social, and cultural reasons. A number of countries known for progressive education policies—notably Finland—recognize that a modern take on Home Economics is vital to a fully rounded school curriculum. In the United States, parents, guardians, and educators need to advocate for Home Ec, just as we fight for art, music, and language studies.
While Home Economics started off as a feminist pursuit, it seems time to bring it back and offer it as a required course for all students to be fully prepared for life outside of their growing-up situation, whether that be college life or the Standard American Life. We can even give it a modern name that the kids will understand, like Adulting 101. Maybe even #Adulting.
Learning to cook (and clean and mend) matters, and our kids will be better for it. After all, when else are they going to learn what to do when the sausage catches fire?