I am what I would call the sandwich generation in the world of middle school home economics. Old enough that I was required to take cooking and sewing in junior high school, as it was called back then, but young enough that I also had to take wood and metal shop since women’s lib was just taking hold.
Just as Billy Jean King was kicking Bobby Riggs butt all over the tennis court (Google it if you are too young to know what that means), my school system changed its requirements for seventh grade boys and girls to take all the disciplines of Home-Ec together.
I don’t know exactly how long that lasted since no one takes any Home-Ec anymore, but it was Camelot for a time with both sexes having to learn how to care for themselves and their future homes. One quarter of the year a class of 12 boys and 12 girls would take cooking where we learned the most basic skills of following a recipe and how to properly measure and pre-heat. I vividly remember making a refrigerator biscuit pizza that I was appalled at, but I guess it was something we could make, eat and clean up from in 40 minutes.
The next quarter we moved on to sewing where the befuddled sewing instructor had to change the curriculum from learning how to make aprons to something more unisex. T-shirts was her choice, which was a huge failure because teaching kids who have no idea how to use a sewing machine to first sew stretchy material was a bear of a task. I never saw one kid ever wear the shirt they made in class, but it gave everyone great knowledge of how to thread the machine since we never had the tension right to sew knits.
The third quarter brought some relief to the boys as we moved into metal shop. We made some kind of colonial looking candleholders, which involved cutting sheet metal, bending, and soldering. The boys were greatly disappointed that the xy chromosomes gave them no real advantage in metal shop. It was much more like sewing than they had anticipated, having to follow a pattern and prescribed steps.
The last quarter was the wood shop where we made either a cutting board or a cookbook stand. I still remember Mike Martin complaining that we were only making things for girls and asking why we could not make something useful like a bat.
Somewhere along the year we learned how to balance a checkbook and make a budget for a home. What a great year of useful learning. I bring all this up not to wax nostalgic, but I fear that we have whole generations who only know how to microwave food and throw out perfectly good clothes because they had a button fall off. I am less worried that we don’t have enough wood cutting boards since they are harbingers of salmonella bacteria, but learning to budget a household income would still be useful.
Without Home-Ec some people never learn how to cook for themselves and live lives of frozen meals and take-out food. Not that knowing how to cook kept me from getting fat, but I certainly could not lose weight if I did not know how to cook.
Perhaps we have a subset of kids who are homeschooled and are getting lots of Home-Ec, but what about the rest of our children? I think that I should start a campaign for a new adolescent reality show called “Can you manage a household?” Kids who don’t know what to do with dried beans and uncooked rice would get voted off first.
If you have kids, teach them how to cook something from scratch this week and if you are a kid ask your parents if you could go to the grocery store with them and learn how much it costs to feed your family. The one thing I don’t suggest is making your own t-shirts, but an apron is useful for both boys and girls.