When I was in Junior High boys couldn't take Home Economics. We were all funneled through wood and metal shop. I was a klutz in those two classes but am grateful for the skills I learned. I was exposed to some great technologies, for example, we did sand casting in metal shop. Our shop teacher never let us near the molten metal but we did everything else. I probably will never take up sand casting but it helped me to understand the process and a little bit about the properties of metal. I did learn some skills that were more practical. I learned to use power tools safely. I learned the names of common hand tools. I'm not afraid to take on minor repairs in my home. I was taught things in those two classes that I've used my entire life.
With that said, I wish I could have taken HomeEc. I loved to cook as a boy and experimented a lot in the kitchen. I often think that if I had understood that men could cook for a living, I might have picked that as a career path. By the time I was aware of restaurant chefs, my interests had moved on.
I wish I had learned to sew. I don't think I would have taken to making my own clothes but there have been numerous times where it would have come in handy. A design for a tent I would like to have built. Puppet bodies to go over the mechanical structures I created. Costumes for Halloween. Some of the other things those lucky girls learned in class I picked up out of necessity once I left home. Ironing. Washing. Cleaning. I would have sat through a lecture on cleaning products for the chance to cook.
I wasn't given that chance because of my gender. (I wonder how many women from my generation feel the same way about not getting to take shop?)
When I started teaching in the early eighties, HomeEc and Shop had been integrated. Boys and girls took both. I saw guys walking around with their sewing projects. I oohed and awed over the towel racks the girls created from cherry wood. Everyone got to cook. Everyone got to learn about tools and how to use them. I think this was good. Knowing this stuff gives us an understanding of how the world works. Of how people make their livings. Of where the products we buy come from and the labor that goes into their creation. I think it's sad that these classes have been slowly pushed out of the schools.
I don't expect a 7th grade shop class to create a working carpenter. I don't believe that every child that goes through home economics will be able to put a home cooked meal on the table every night. But, they might have the beginnings of the skills needed to do minor repairs. Cook a meal. Sew on a button. Not get ripped off by the plumber or the mechanic. Follow a recipe without fear. Know how to do a load of laundry. Aren't these things we want our kids to know? Don't we gain a broader understanding of our world when we learn how to interact with it in a variety of ways? What happened to the idea that it's a good thing to expose kids to a wide variety of topics and skills?
This is the article that got my mind riding this train of thought. In the UK they are going to require cooking classes for their secondary students. Why? To try and help prevent obesity. The reasoning is that if kids know how to cook they will make better choices when it comes to eating. Will it work? Only time will tell.
[Image: Chili Verde: Photographed by al gunn, 2007]