Bring back home economics.
The argument is nothing new, but a Boston Globe essay published a few months ago by Ruth Graham offered a fresh take on an old idea.
Graham’s essay, “Bring back home ec! The case for a revival of the most retro class in school,” made a compelling case for a new kind of home ec that would help address the specific needs of a new generation. She argues there are three areas in which young people today struggle most: health and nutrition; financial literacy; and general self sufficiency.
Home economics has a storied history dating back to the late 1800s. There have been many iterations of this course, and its curriculum has helped teach a vast range of skills to students from elementary school to college. In the Depression era, Eleanor Roosevelt urged girls to enroll in home ec “to learn how to run an efficient household.” It was a staple in junior high and high school classrooms through the 1960s for many young girls and even some boys.
“In 1959, about half of all American high school girls were enrolled in home ec,” Graham writes, “where they learned how to cook, sew, make a budget, and, crucially, how to shop.”
However, as historian Helen Zoe Veit notes, “Today we remember only the stereotypes about home economics, while forgetting the movement’s crucial lessons on healthy eating and cooking.”
The most common argument for a home ec resurgence concerns the declining health and rising obesity numbers for young people who rely on cheap processed foods.
Almost one-third of Americans under the age of 19 are overweight or obese, Graham reports, and the number is closer to 50 percent in minority populations. Frozen meals or fast food are the go-to for many families, a habit that’s often hard to break in young adults who live on their own.
Instead of simply training girls to be housewives, a modern home ec could teach students to cook healthy, easy meals and make smart choices when shopping at the grocery store.
The course could also teach invaluable lessons on how to make a budget, balance a checkbook and handle the many tasks that come with student loans, credit card payments and other financial responsibilities. Even general self sufficiency has become a struggle for young adults, a record number of whom still live at home. And more specialized skills like sewing, car care and even basic home maintenance could be covered.
I cringe when I think of how unprepared many young people are — especially if we were to remove YouTube tutorials and Pinterest from the equation.
In the words of Ruth Graham, it’s time to bring back “a forward-thinking new kind of class that would give a generation of young people — not just women, but everyone — the skills to shop intelligently, cook healthily, manage money and live well.”