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The future of home economics
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A friend of mine recently posted a piece from The American Conservative entitled “A Radical Defense of Home Economics” on Facebook. The article highlighted an essay called “Workingman’s Bread” in New Inquiry by Christine Baumgarthuber on the “history and possible future of home economics classes.”

Baumgarthuber’s article posed a question originally asked by Juliet Corson, of the New York Cooking School, who helped implement cooking courses into schools across the U.S.

“How well can we live if we are moderately poor?”

Corson would take women to their local market and teach them to select the best foods before heading off to class where she taught them to prepare it. The school was originally run in her home, where she taught everyone from maids to housewives. Corson’s shining-glory however was a book she wrote in 1877 called the Fifteen-Cent Dinners for Workingmen’s Families. The book was free for people who made less than $1.50 a day. The 34-page book helped families create three meals each day, with something special on Sunday’s and holidays.

The American Conservative noted the similarities between “traditional conservatives” and the “radical left” on issues including home economics.

“Traditionalists and radicals alike have deep reservations about the bureaucratization, rationalization, and consumerism of American life, and lament the damage such forces are doing to local communities and to families,” Alan Jacobs writes. “But while these groups formulate very similar critiques of the current order, they arrive at those critiques by very different intellectual paths. I wonder if that will always prevent them from making common cause with one another.”

Home economics serves both conservatives and liberals in various economic levels, whether they are practicing with one person at home full-time or with both working, from different philosophical standpoints. The idea that women should be in the home could be a conservative view that is now a progressive woman’s choice, just as men and women can now enjoy their creative side and choose to work in the home.

My time working at a natural and organic grocery store, that is definitely pricier than your local Walmart, has afforded me the opportunity to see who buys and does what. Despite the cost, you’ll see a large variety of people who differ economically and politically, in sexual orientation and faith beliefs. Yet, they all care about how their food is grown and where it comes from. I’ve seen just about every kind of stay-at-home mom possible while working the front end of the store. All of them seem to enjoy the process of making a home and raising children, whether it be because of their “traditional conservatism” in religious or economical beliefs or their “radical left”-nature, which can also include religious beliefs and conscious conservative lifestyle.

Home economics courses are non-existent in school these days, although there are plenty of schools that offer classes that would be a part of home economics education. In conversation with some of my very crafty friends, the subject of home economics has often come up: where were those classes when we were in school? Before my family moved to South Carolina students were required to enroll in a consumer sciences class during middle school. The course taught cooking and some homemaking skills like basic sewing, but I never came across such an all-encompassing course or courses in the public school system in Columbia. Many of us had working moms who did, and still do, a great job keeping a home and taught us how to take care of themselves, but weren’t “professional homemakers” by choice or financial circumstances.

An article on highlighted a study that found female breadwinners still do most of the housework, however. Women have gone into the work force and are making great strides. Although women still make less money overall than men, they still are bringing home sizely checks; sometimes more so than their partners. The article ousted the assumption that because women are bringing home more bacon and bread, men are doing the dishes via “in-depth” interviews with 30 unmarried, cohabitating couples. The couples were divided into three groups: conventional, where the man was the breadwinner; contesting, where at least one of the partners wanted “a more equal relationship;” and counter-conventional, where women acted as the primary breadwinner. The study, conducted by two University of Indianapolis researchers, found that women in counter-conventional relationships do as much housework as women in conventional relationships. Housework was more equal in contesting relationships. The researchers found reported that the men in counter-conventional relationships were likely to keep their “masculine privilege” by “holding on even stronger at home.” A simple lesson from the study would be for any couple married or unmarried to discuss how they might go about being effective in and out of the home. A New York Times article, Just Wait Until Your Mother Gets Home, pins about 626,000 men maintaining a part-time or home-based business while taking care of the home while their wife works, according the U.S. Census Bureau.

Schools provide students an opportunity to take classes in specialized areas such as print making, child care development, carpentry and residential construction, cosmetology, auto collision and automotive technology, all necessary in homemaking, but I don’t know if they make the connection to how it serves in the home as its own entity versus paid work out of the home. The California Department of Education has a Home Economics Careers and Technology program that widened the “narrowly focused,” “traditional” structure of societies in the 1950s to feature courses that “reflect the changing social and economic patterns.” The program has eight content areas: child development and guidance, consumer education; fashion, textiles and apparel; family and human development, food and nutrition; housing and furnishings; individual and family health and leadership development. All of which teach personal, family and work managements skills, providing a solid foundation for “career exploration and specialization in careers related to home economics related occupations,” according to the website.

Baumgarthuber’s conclusion finds that “in their ideal form, home-economics courses encourage a radical re-skilling, fostering familiarity with food in its natural state (as opposed to the likely more familiar state of being wrapped in plastic or Mylar) and a respect for the kitchen wisdom that determines our health and contentment.” She claims that home economics classes “mount resistance” to forces that belittle normal human activity to “one-click purchases.” Today, those who participate in home economics combat consequences of an unhealthy food industry according to Baumgarthuber; and, might I add, combat unnecessary consumerism and celebrate the creativity and resourcefulness of an individual despite their economic position or belief system.

With more and more people making use of the Internet and starting their own creative businesses, in addition to the economic downturn where people might find it more cost-effective and entertaining to create things for themselves and their home, it would be worth consider re-introducing a home-economics course that emphasizes the need for basic lifeskills for both men and women.