When I was in middle school, we had mandatory units of sewing, cooking, and woodshop classes. By the time I hit high school, those classes were still available but were no longer compulsory and lacked much-needed updates like lessons on balancing a checkbook (I’m old, OK?), looking after a home, and other vital life skills. This was back in the late ’90s; in 2019, home economics classes are nearly extinct, and it’s causing a serious problem for kids today.
Home ec classes still exist, but there aren’t many of them. According to NPR’s The Salt, as of 2012, only 3.5 million US students were enrolled in Family And Consumer Sciences classes, as they’re now called. That may seem like a lot, but considering the fact that it represented a 38% decrease over the previous decade, that’s cause for concern. I shudder to think how much worse those numbers are now.
Kids are seriously lacking in the life skills department. Many young adults have no idea how to create and follow a budget (or even open a bank account in the first place), sew a button onto a piece of clothing, or even cook a meal. In the age of convenience, everything is outsourced or simply ignored. Young Americans owe roughly $1 trillion in debt. They live on McDonald’s and convenience foods because they can’t (or simply won’t) cook. They rely on fast fashion that’s inexpensive and easily disposable when a button inevitably falls off or a zipper breaks rather than fixing it themselves because hey, there’s more where that came from.
School is supposed to be about education. Once a child starts school, they spend more time in the classroom than they do with their mom and dad, especially if one or both parents work full-time. While there is a certain onus on parents to teach their kids as best they can, they can’t do everything. Simply put, if school is a place of education, why isn’t much of that education focused on skills kids will actually use once they leave?
We need home ec more than we need algebra. Sure, you may not need to hand embroider a handkerchief these days, but there’s something to be said for having the basic skills necessary to look after yourself and your house with some amount of confidence. I can’t tell you the last time I need to balance integers or solve long-form equations, but I’ve needed to be able to figure out how much money I was going to have left after paying bills and taxes every month. I have needed to make myself dinner at the end of the day and iron a shirt for a job interview. These are the practical kinds of skills way too many young people are missing these days.
It’s not just for women—home economics are for everyone. While much of the decline in home ec classes in schools coincided with women getting out of the house more and into the professional world, the idea that it’s somehow sexist or outdated to teach men AND women how to take care of themselves is absolutely ridiculous. Home ec isn’t just for girls, boys require the same skills and could also benefit from this kind of education, so hopefully schools get on board again soon.
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