As I was doing
the laundry yesterday, carefully reading the instructions on the tag
hanging from my daughter's fake leather shorts, I do what I often do while
performing household chores: I said a silent thank you to Mrs. Mesec, my home
economics teacher from seventh grade. I can still picture her, hands on hips
and glasses perched on her nose as she admonished us, "Read before you wash!"
I not only
learned how to do laundry in Mrs. Mesec's class, but how to make a grilled
cheese sandwich and how to sew a gym bag. It's not that I hadn't learned any
basic household chores at home, but as the youngest of five I often felt that by the
time it was my turn to be taught the ways of the world, my tired parents just
crossed their fingers and hoped I'd marry someone who was really handy with a
can opener and a frying pan.
Of course, my
own kids don't have a Mrs. Mesec to teach them how to hand-wash a sweater,
because home economics classes were eliminated from our school district's
curriculum years ago. This was due to budget cuts, but mostly as a result of
the backlash against the classes for being gender-specific and perpetuating the
1950s housewife stereotype. And while it's true that there were mostly girls
in my class, at 11 years old I wasn't so much concerned with the sexist
implications of the curriculum as I was grateful that I was getting to make an apple
pie instead of having to conjugate verbs in French class.
survived many more years but they too began to get phased out in the early
2000s and were eventually completely eliminated from our state's schools; it was a
move that met a lot of resistance in my district comprised of many
Her son had found something he could make a living at, and by eliminating the program the school was showing how little they valued anything other than an academic pursuit.
I remember a meeting that I attended when the phase-outs first began. A mother got up to
speak about how much this was going to hurt her son. She told the crowd, in a
wavering voice, how being in shop class had help him finally find something he
was passionate about—fixing cars—and the pride he had in what he was doing.
She said that her son had found something he could make a living at, and by eliminating the program
the school was showing how little they valued anything other than an academic
pursuit. She begged board members to reconsider and to keep in mind kids like hers who might not be going to Princeton or Harvard but had found
something they loved to do that gave their life meaning. There wasn't a dry eye in the room when she finished talking.
And she was
right. According to recent figures, 75 percent of the students in California will not
attend a university, yet they are taking classes that will help them get into
UC and California State schools. Where does that leave the kids who want to fix cars,
or become chefs or build furniture? Why is the desire to learn a trade so
looked down on in our society? According to statistics, there is a higher
probability of a kid becoming employed in a skilled trade than for becoming a
professional sports player, yet there is vast funding for sports programs
in our nation's schools.
(The same can
be said for visual and performing arts classes that have seen vigorous cuts in
the past few years, and are often not considered "serious pursuits.")
I say we
bring back home economics and shop classes. Eliminate any gender requirement,
and modernize home ec by emphasizing real-world skills like cooking in your
dorm-room's microwave, balancing a checkbook online and not only washing, but
designing your own fake leather shorts. Shop class could teach not only how to
fix cars, but how to design cars and innovate fuel alternatives.
old-world skills would be appreciated too—I certainly wouldn't mind if
someone would teach my girls how to make a killer grilled cheese sandwich.