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Why Home Economics Should Be Mandatory

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I was a rotten high school student, a shirker and smart-ass of the first rank. I even found myself purged from a typing class for bad behavior-an event I regret to this precise moment, since touch-typing is obviously a convenient skill for someone in my profession. Afterward, I had to choose another "elective." Naturally, I seized upon home economics-in which, I hoped, I'd spend my time amusing girls with wisecracks and whipping up desserts from boxed mixes. If memory serves, that's exactly how it played out-especially the bit about the just-add-water confections. Mmmm, instant cake.

In other words, I retained just as much from my home ec class as I did from my failed stint as a student of the keyboard: which is to say, nothing. Yet Ruth Graham's recent Boston Globe essay "Bring back home ec! The case for a revival of the most retro class in school" strikes me as spot on. Graham isn't talking about the home ec of my misspent '80s youth, nor that of quaint stereotypes featuring "visions of future homemakers quietly whisking white sauce or stitching rickrack onto an apron."

She means a revitalized, contemporary home economics for all genders, one capable of at least exposing youth to basic skills that so many adults (i.e., their parents) lack: "to shop intelligently, cook healthily, [and] manage money." And I think such a reimagined home ec should move from the shadowy margins it now occupies-the field has been rebranded as "Family and Consumer Science," Graham reports-and become mandatory for all high school kids, and-why not?-even elementary school ones.

I have witnessed firsthand the vexed state of basic cooking skills among the young. When I helped run the kitchen at Maverick Farms for seven years, I noticed that most of our interns couldn't chop an onion or turn even just-picked produce into a reasonably good dish in a reasonable amount of time. And these were people motivated enough about food to intern at a small farm in rural North Carolina. If I had their cooking skills, I'd be tempted to resort to takeout often, just to save time.       


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