Home Economics usually brings to mind sewing aprons and cake baking. However, home economics classes taught much more. These classes acted as a bridge during the 20th Century for women to enter into institutions of higher education and later into professions. When first introduced in the late 1800s, these classes helped girls prepare for life on the farm helping their families. As universities conducted research, home economics classes taught advanced classes in nutrition and hygiene as well as economics. Women who graduated from these advanced programs went on to teaching positions to pass on this knowledge. This led to positions in hospitals, restaurants, hotels, and even government. Thus, what is usually thought of as a class for repressed women actually prepared women for the real world and a career.
Whether a woman is a homemaker, career-driven, married or single, handling personal finances is a skill that everyone needs to know, and yet is no longer taught in most schools. In 2010, Americans owed over 2,400 billion dollars in consumer debt. The news is filled with stories of foreclosures on homes; and homeownership, that icon of the American Dream, is declining. Though the recent recession has certainly hit many families hard, it is also clear that most people do not understand the basics of managing personal finances.
Home economics classes taught students how to open bank accounts and how to balance a checking account. Modern classes have expanded to teach the difference in debit cards and credit cards. The students were also encouraged to think long-term, as the importance of savings and retirement accounts were explained.
The options for retirement are so varied now that this topic could be a class all its own. Modern home economics classes break down the differences between IRA’s, both traditional and Roth, and 401(k)s. Teachers also analyze the way the stock market works, so that students can make informed decisions when investing their money.
All of this is real-life knowledge and skills that can benefit everyone. Since most high schools and universities have cut home economics classes from their offerings, these vital topics are no longer taught in many schools. The information is out on the internet, but it is scattered around on hundreds of confusing sites. Many experts believe that the modern state of millions of households would be vastly improved if people were taught at a young age how to manage their money.
- The Development of Home Economics – This brief overview describes the evolution of home economics from the domestic arts to the modern teaching of life skills.
- Senate Bill 151 – As the economy struggles, one state senate debates mandating that personal finance is taught to all high school students (PDF document).
- Teachers Agree That Personal Finance Should Be Taught – While a vast majority of teachers agree that personal finance should be taught to high school students, they feel unprepared to teach it because they have never taken a class in it themselves (PDF document).
- Web-based High School Home Economics Curriculum – This high school course concentrates on the financial aspects of family finances and understanding how the economy works and affects the individual.
Nutrition and Cooking
While cooking is perhaps the skill people most associate with home economics, like personal finance, it is a practical skill that most people will need during life. Health experts are alarmed at the rise in obesity in the nation, which is thought to be caused by a combination of factors, like a more sedentary lifestyle, prevalence of fast food, and the high use of overly processed foods in the home. In a society when both men and women are preparing for careers, basic skills like cooking are often neglected. However, a home economics class can prepare anyone to prepare healthy and nutritious meals for themselves and their family no matter their schedule.
Home economics classes can teach the latest research in nutrition and food safety. This is a constantly changing topic as scientists learn and understand more about how the human body works. A home economics teacher can then take this knowledge and help the students apply it in their lives. They can teach the proper ways to select, prepare, and cook vegetables. Learning the different cuts of meat and how to prepare them can not only improve health, but can help keep the budget in check as well.
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges for modern families is the balance between eating healthily and not spending a fortune on groceries. A home economics class is the only course which can help students get a handle on this skill. Where else can a student learn about coupons, organic foods, whole grains, or how to grocery shop if they aren’t learning this at home? The class can also teach students how to incorporate modern kitchen appliances like rice cookers, bread machines, and crockpots to make nutritious meals in less time.
- Moms Call for Help in the Kitchen – A recent study shows that even educated mothers today feel they need a better grasp of basic kitchen techniques as a coping mechanism during the current recession.
- Cooking with Kids – Teaching about nutrition and cooking is best taught by having the students actually cook. This site gives practical instructions on how to accomplish this in a classroom setting.
- Food and Nutrition – This classroom material would constitute a basic food and nutrition class in either junior high or high school.
- Home Baking Association – Home economics teaches baking as well as cooking. This association helps parents and teachers pass on safe baking skills to children or anyone else who wants to learn to bake from scratch.
At one time, all young women needed to know how to sew in order to have clothing for their families. While modern home economics classes still teach sewing, the repertoire has expanded. Along with basic sewing skills, pupils can also learn how to make curtains and other items for the home. They are also taught about different textiles: their qualities, care, and purposes. This includes how to do laundry properly to extend the life of clothing.
Advanced classes even delve into both fashion and interior design. While most people don’t sew their own clothing anymore, everyone must wear clothes. These classes help students understand what colors complement them, and how to dress their body style. Learning how to recognize quality clothing is also a key skill. Millions of dollars are spent every year in home decorating. Learning some basic skills the professionals use can help students in the future when they are establishing their own homes.
- Educational Projects in Textiles – The University of Wisconsin-Madison has a 100 year history in the home economics field. The faculty and students have compiled an extensive textile catalog used in various areas of research and conservation.
- High School Home Economics – Bishop McDevitt High School in Pennsylvania describes its two year course in textiles.
- Family, Career, and Community Leadership of America – Far from being relegated to the kitchen, this modern association of students and professionals in the home economics field encourage leadership qualities while developing the students’ skills in 11 different areas.
Skills For Life
While these three categories encompass a great deal of what home economics classes teach, it really only scratches the surface. Some classes teach basic home repairs, child care, family interactions, and even community service. Instead of a class for housewives, it is really a class in skills for real life and a great preparation for many careers. In a society where most children grow up with a mother who works outside the home, many of these skills are no longer being passed on from parent to child. Home economic classes need to be returned to high schools and universities across the country.
- Misconception about Home Economics – A brief overview of traditional home economics, this article dispels many misconceptions about how home economics has affected women.
- Modern Home Economics in California – This California program describes the role its classes play in preparing students for their futures.
- Home Economics: Important for the Future – Home economics teaches important skills used in everyday life.
- International Federation for Home Economics – The IFHE defines the four areas of practice of home economics and their practical uses in the 21st Century.
- Brief History of Home Economics - Learn about how home economics began on this page.