On 14 June 2018, Tove Danovich’s “Despite a Revamped Focus on real-Life Skills, ‘Home Ec’ Classes Fade Away” appeared on NPR.org. The article opens with a quotation regarding the current state of instruction in what was once taught as home economics and is not taught as family and consumer sciences (FCS) in the United States. It moves on to note that FCS classes are not swelling as might be expected in a period of increased attention to food, but that they are instead dwindling–by more than a third from 2002 to 2012–likely in response to the prevailing testing culture at work in public schooling. Danovich moves on to gloss the history of FCS classes and their socially problematic nature before moving into description of current FCS course content. Schools’ requirements for such coursework receive some attention before the article cites a dearth of FCS teachers as a major obstacle. The article concludes with an assertion of FCS courses’ relevance in students’ lives; their utility is usually swiftly evident.
A couple points emerge as of peculiar interest for me. One of them is in the quoted comments by Montana’s Megan Vincent: “In the good old days you got that at home[sic]” and “But now you have two working parents…these courses fill the gaps for what parents can no longer do.” The former rankles a bit, since the “good old days” were hardly good for a great many people–and the litanies of ways in which and the people for whom they were not needs more rehearsal than can be given it here. Related is the latter; the comments assume that parents could ever do what the class does. While in some, perhaps many, cases such a thing was true, it was never so universally the case as the comment–indeed, the kind of comment–comes off as assuming was. How many jokes, after all, center on parental ineptitude? And how can a joke enjoy currency if it does not speak to something easily seen in people’s lives? A look at the tables and pantries and lives of a great many people, across generations, suggests that they were not and are not the best informed about how to cook and eat well–and a thing not known cannot be taught, not reliably.
Another point of interest, although one that does not irk, is the later-reported comment from Carol Werhan that “FCS classes make for ‘a well-rounded, world-literate human being, which makes a great workforce and a great community.'” It reads as much the same kind of thing that is typically deployed to justify humanities coursework and programs to increasingly corporatized higher education and its “consumers.” I do not think it will be as ineffective for FCS as it has been for, say, French, because I do agree with the comment about the field’s obvious utility–but I have not seen such rhetoric work well often or at all.
Still, looking back–as I do too often, and seldom to my benefit–I 1) do not recall that an FCS class was on offer at my high school (and I attended high school before No Child Left Behind), 2) wish there had been such a class or that I had seen it, and 3) wish I had taken it. While I’ve learned to cook more in the years since (I cook dinner for my family more nights than I don’t, and I make breakfast through the work week), and I do a fair bit of the laundry around my family’s house, it’s taken me those years to learn how to do so with even the modicum of skill I have. (I had various house-cleaning chores as a youth, and I still keep a pretty clean house much of the time.) It would have been a good use of a fourth year of high school to take such classes as FCS, which would have helped prepare me for some parts of my life since with which I’ve had to struggle. Even then, I needed and should have had the sense to take a break not only from the scholastic demands of “regular” classrooms, but also from my life’s overwhelming focus on meeting those demands. Had I done so, I think my being exiled from academe might have been a bit easier to handle than it was–and that would have been decidedly welcome.