Home Ec Deserves A Spot In the Latin Curriculum

Eleanor Pontikes Have you ever seen Eddie’s Million Dollar Cook Off? It’s a Disney Channel original movie (back when they were great) where a young Eddie Ogden forsakes his talent for baseball and his teammates for cooking. And, after registering for a home economics class, Eddie learns how to cook and experiment with food before being encouraged by his teacher to enter into a cooking competition run by the one-and-only Iron Chef Bobby Flay? Well, I have. And while the movie shared stories of baseball, cooking, parental expectations, and friendship, it also shaped my views and understanding of what a Home Economics class is. For the longest time, I have understood Home Ec as a class on cooking and domestic chores. But, it turns out, the history and structure of home economics is much more complicated. Originating in the late 19th century, home economics was a progressive class for women to apply scientific principles to the domestic sphere, such as healthy eating and sanitary education. Ellen Richards, whom many consider the creator of Home Ec, was an MIT and Vassar College graduate. She used her bachelor’s degree in science to create a curriculum based on applying scientific knowledge to the home. After graduating, Richards was appointed instructor in the Sanitary Chemistry department of MIT and used her position to serve the homeless and better the sanitary conditions of Boston. She even helped with the passing of the National School Lunch Program by Harry S. Truman with her own private program that fed nutritious meals to children in Boston. Along with the support of other women and activists, as well as the Morrill Act, which created land-grant colleges in the US, Richards’s program grew beyond the collegiate level into the high school curriculum. And while these programs may seem to enforce the conventional roles of women during this time period—perhaps limiting women to a more confined role in the home sphere—Richards and other supporters of home economics believed that the main goal of this class was to make household chores more efficient in order to encourage lives and job opportunities for women beyond the home. Of course, many schools like Cornell University did not share this attitude, reinforcing typical female roles through the “practice” of child rearing sessions, among others. These practices contributed to the decline of home economics in the 1960s and 70s when women’s rights activists denounced the program, fearing that it contributed to the oppression of women. In 1994, in an effort to change the view of home economics and appeal to both women and men, the class was renamed “Family and Consumer Science.” For many, the name change does not have a significant impact on their attitude or view of home economics. Like I did, many still think the class only teaches people how to cook or sew. But imagine the possibilities of implementing a class like this in the Latin high school curriculum, especially with current ideals and prominent issues. With college debt reaching $1.3 trillion in the US today, compared to $510 billion in 2007, it’s obvious, now more than ever, that personal finance or resource management classes would help high school students create realistic plans for college and the future. Home economics could cover this material while also teaching students how to file taxes and write résumé. Learning basic survival skills such as making a grilled cheese or sewing a button back on are an added bonus. At Latin, maybe this class wouldn’t follow the outline Ms. Rogers had in mind a hundred years ago, but it would honor her goal of creating a more efficient and self-serving group. No longer would Generation Z be compared to the financially flailing group of Millennials, but we would have the chance to fix the issues of our predecessors and become a new population with the knowledge to do more than struggle over college debt. While public schools are mandated to follow a certain core curriculum, Latin has more wiggle room to create its own curriculum as a private school; we have already created some unique classes (Nazi Mind, for example) in the past. I am not alone when I say that Latin students would benefit from—and enjoy—a class like Home Ec, one that has a direct application to “real life.”]]>