Elimination of Home Economics leaves students ill-prepared for life

Students+in+a+college+home+economics+class+in+1942+at+Shimer+College%2C+a+now-closed+institution.+Grady+no+longer+offers+courses+in+home+economics.

Shimer College/ Wikimedia Commons

Students in a college home economics class in 1942 at Shimer College, a now-closed institution. Grady no longer offers courses in home economics.

By Katie Sigal, Henry W. Grady High School

Reading, writing and arithmetic prepare students to graduate, but Home Economics classes prepare students for life. 

While Home Economics was a popular class available throughout the 1900’s that taught students essential life skills, such as cooking, cleaning, household management and finance, it now rarely shows up in classroom curriculums. 

Home Economics classes were taken out of Grady over 20 years ago to make room for more technology-oriented classes, like engineering. 

Former Home Economics teacher LaReese McNew began teaching at Grady in 1983. The absence of home economics classes from Grady’s current course list surprised McNew.

“I think that Home Ec. should be a part of the curriculum,” McNew said. “There are a lot of students at Grady who would benefit from the material. There are things taught years ago that kids could use and even make money at, if they then go out and get a little more training. All of that was done away with by taking away home economics. The skills taught in Home Ec. are never not going to be used.”

When Grady offered a Home Ec. curriculum, the classes were electives and optional and because these classes were also less popular, it was harder to get students to enroll in them.

“Interest was my biggest struggle as a Home Economics teacher,” McNew said. “Kids had to be steered in the direction of taking the classes. Classes like textiles and food science were easy to sell to students but unpopular ones like finance were difficult.”

Perception of the class plays a big part in why many schools do not offer it. Some believe that only girls benefit from Home Ec., and it was their duty to take the class. However, when McNew taught the course, this was not the case. 

“The curriculum was not designed to only benefit girls,” McNew said. “The skills taught were universal. I taught the class from the aspect of teaching students, male and female, how to get along on their own, how to cook their own meals and how to budget. The class was not benefiting one gender more than the other.” 

While some still hold the belief that the Home Ec. curriculum is rooted in sexist beliefs, others disagree. Sophomore Gabby Berger explains that the class could benefit both boys and girls if they were required to take it.

“In my opinion, I don’t think that Home Ec. classes are sexist at all,” said Berger. “I can see how people could view it in that way because there is this narrative that women have to cook and clean and that class teaches them that, but those are life skills that should be taught to every student, regardless of gender identity. I don’t think that this class promotes being a housewife at all.”

A benefit of Home Ec. was it didn’t confine students to the classroom. McNew brought students into the real-world.

“We did a lesson on how to buy groceries, and when I went to the grocery store for my food classes, I always tried to bring along some of my students to teach them what real life is like,” McNew said. “Then, I noticed small holes in the walls around the school, so the kids in my classes and I would walk around to spackle them up. I also had a plumber come in and teach us how to change a washer on a sink.”

McNew emphasizes that if Home Ec. is not taught, young adults end up going into the world without basic skills. While some students’ parents might teach them the necessary skills at home, others  will graduate without any knowledge of those skills.

Kayln Levens, who graduated from Grady in 2015, said taking a Home Ec. class would have helped her in college.

“In college, you’re basically thrown off the deep end into real life,” Levens said. “Although you might pick up on small things that your parents did, no one really teaches you how to be a functioning adult. It’s knowing little things that would have helped me, like which laundry detergent to use or how to sew on a missing button. If I were to have taken Home Ec. classes at Grady before I graduated, it would’ve helped me tremendously with learning life skills, and it would’ve made the adjustment to college a lot easier.”

Some students, such as freshman Ryan Carter, aren’t opposed to the idea of Home Ec. coming back. Carter believes that she and others would learn valuable information.

“The class would help kids know how to cook, which is a really important life skill,” Carter said.  “It would also help kids know basic things to help around the house like how to clean, for example.” 

Sophomore Keegan Kronenberger agrees. 

“I feel like I would benefit from home economics because of all the skills it teaches,” Kronenberger said. “Leaving high school is going to be hard to get used to, and if I were able to take this class, it could help me adjust. Not just this, but Home Economics could give me a break from the regular curriculum and give us something new to learn.”

McNew emphasizes the Home Ec. prepares students for life.

“I was teaching the students how to survive on their own,” McNew said. “Even the little sections like sewing buttons on coats for kids that were going to college that really weren’t interested in learning to sew but needed to know little things like that in order to live on their own really made a difference.”

This story was originally published on The Southerner on March 31, 2021.