Federal funding for American Home Economics and Household Management classes was first mandated in 1917. Originally, these high school and, after World War II, college courses were promoted as vocational classes for women, since even a woman with a college degree was expected to make homemaking her primary vocation. Home Economics courses gained popularity in the early 1900s in response to cultural changes perceived as potential threats to white, masculine, middle class laborer’s domestic values, such as urbanization, industrialization, and immigration. In the 1960s, Home Economics classes experienced a decline in popularity, partially due to cultural changes. Egalitarianism between the sexes was a primary political goal in the feminist movement. Since the curriculum for twentieth century Home Economics classes supported the idea that a woman’s only valuable vocation was as a homemaker, who was preferably also a wife and mother, its cultural relevance was no longer universally accepted. The practice of using allowing students to use orphaned babies to practice child care was also eventually perceived as harmful to child development.
The decrease of Home Economics lessons in high schools and colleges has had practical consequences as well as political ones. In an Airtasker survey of two thousand milennials in the United Kingdom, only 33.6 percent said they regularly performed household tasks, such as changing a lightbulb, cleaning a car, painting a shed, defrosting a freezer, assembling pack furniture, fixing a curtain rail, and putting up shelves. The others either didn’t know how to perform these tasks, or preferred to pay others to perform them. A Canadian high school is trying to change this growing trend, teaching the skills from Home Economics, without the gendered biases.
E.J. Lajeunesse High School, a Catholic high school in Windsor, Canada, has offered Life Skills classes to over one hundred high school students in 2019. The Life Skills classes are designed with the knowledge that a contemporary high school student’s adult life probably will not be entirely domestic. Life Skills classes include lessons in sorting and doing laundry. cooking, performing basic household maintenance such as patching holes in drywall, using power tools, checking the car oil and changing a tire, and balancing a household budget that includes credit cards.
The idea to offer Life Skills courses was the principal’s, but the teachers developed the curriculum. Mélanie Moir, one of the leaders of the six themed workshops that make up the class, said one of the most rewarding developments is watching students discover the professional viability of household skills. She says one student, who plans to become a surgeon, realizes his new sewing skills will make him more precise when he is suturing. Gaining a new, practical skill set may be the primary benefit of taking a Life Skills class, but it isn’t the only one. This is also adult educators’ way of making sure students get the guidance they deserve when entering adulthood, regardless of the stability of their home lives or their socioeconomic class. Moir says student feedback is positive.
1. Mira Agron/Dreamstime.com