Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Home Economics 2010


My Mom, Bonnie Leman, used to teach Home Economics and English. She loved her years at Park College and enjoyed the opportunity that Domestic Science studies gave women in the 1940s. Eleanor Roosevelt was a big supporter of Home Economics in the 1930s and encouraged international conferences on the relationship between family, community, and the role of education in women's lives. Seeking an education in the field of Home Economics made it possible for many women to enter college, and later, was the critical pathway into many fields of business success. My Mom went on to found and run Leman Publications as editor of Quilter's Newsletter Magazine. She was an extraordinary success as an entrepreneur, author, and community builder. I am very proud of my mom.

In 2010, Home Economics as a field of study, is absent from most public schools. Our young people may have an interest in the basic life skills like cooking, sewing, child care, nutrition, and personal finance. Unfortunately, most school districts cannot afford to have a qualified Home Ec teacher on the job. If you are a parent in the age range of 20-40, you may not have enjoyed a well-rounded Home Ec experience yourself, and beyond the basics learned at home, may not be able to teach your teenager how to use a sewing machine, repair garments, or build a special diet for an athletic lifestyle. I know this is true because almost every day moms enter one of my classrooms and tell me that they never learned these skills, and now that they have kids of their own, it is no longer acceptable. They need a teacher to teach their kids how to hem a pair of pants.

I recently polled 39 fellow artists on the popular website etsy.com, asking them what should be taught today in Home Economics. Here is some of what I heard, paraphrased for space--

"I think kids need cooking skills. They need to learn how to take care of themselves."
"You need to teach the attitude that it is awesome to be able to make things with your own two hands."
"Not just cooking but appreciation of food and sources of food."
"Financial stuff. How to avoid credit card debt, balancing a checking account, etc."
"Basic repair related sewing and clothing care...how to sew on a button, fix a hem, iron a shirt."
"It would have been nice to take a trip to the grocery store and make a 'budget' meal with ingredients you picked out."
"How to do your own laundry. Lots of people I graduated high school with didn't even know how to do their own laundry!"

There are many debates going on about this Home Ec topic and the feelings and opinions raised by the conversation. Should parents be teaching this stuff in the home? If parents understand nutrition, why are so many kids today overweight? Should women and men take equal responsibility for family resource activities? Does Home Ec for girls differ from Home Ec for boys? Is this really just about consumer habits? Are our public school systems supposed to be teaching anything outside of academic subjects?

I'd like to know what you think about all of this. Would you be willing to share your comments with me? As a woman who was lucky enough to be raised by a talented home economics teacher, I may have a rose-colored view about how the basic family resource skills are passed down, taught, and encouraged in the larger community. I'd love hearing what you think!

Here's to you, Mom. You are my hero.

1 comment:

rnewman said...

What a great story! Here is my two cents... As a working woman with two young girls, this really hits home. At first, I was determined to teach my daughters that they could be independent, career-minded women and achieve whatever aspirations they desired outside of the home. After all, I was raised by a professional, working single mother who did both the housekeeping (although somewhat poorly) and the bread winning. As my girls have grown, I've begun to realize that they need to also learn more traditional skills. They now have their own chores, they help each week with the grocery shopping, and, I'm teaching them to sew. We run at least part of my Etsy business together for a charity that they have chosen. Being a woman in today's society is different than in ages past. However, we cannot neglect to pass down the traditional skills that home economics, our mothers, and our grandmothers have passed down before us.