I will admit that I am not one of those “bell to bell” teachers. If I get through the content and information I need to get through, or the students finish an activity early, I am not going to punish them by adding more work just to keep them busy until the end of class.
Often times, that means we’ll end up talking about a wide variety of topics while they get a chance to relax and wait for their next class. These topics usually range from sports to other classes to whether or not The Mandalorian does the Star Wars universe any justice (SPOILER: it does).
What I have found in a lot of the conversations with students about what they do at home is that many of them don’t know how to do things like cook a basic meal, iron their own clothes, do their own laundry, manage their finances, and so many other important skills. And, while I will readily acknowledge that these are things that should be taught first at home, there are plenty of things that students are forced to learn in school that they will never need to know again.
So why exactly did we stop emphasizing home economics?
As someone who loves to cook, I started it late. I’m teaching myself basic skills I should have at least picked up living on my own in college, but instead, I was busy doing other things and never really learning those habits. I grew up with a certified financial planner for a father and still never really learned to manage my own finances or balance a checkbook (I am very fortunate to have a wife who pays attention to bank accounts and credit card statements).
As a coach, I am floored by the number of times athletes have shown up either in the same dirty clothes as the day before (which were dirty then, too) or have left practice gear at home because “it’s still in the washer,” as though it hasn’t been twenty-four hours since they last used it. When our team travels, we have the boys dress in a shirt and tie to present themselves as young men, not as boys caught up in whatever society is telling them is cool at that moment. Still, the number of shirts that are wrinkled and the number of ties that we as coaches have to tie because these young men never learned how is far too high.
I do believe in the social snowball effect, where little things become major social issues. I find it impossible to believe that the growing number of young men and women who can’t cook for themselves and can’t take care of their own finances and clothing is unrelated to the decreasing academic performance of our students and, on a larger scale, the general apathy toward work in our society. Ignorance of these skills is the biggest barrier to being able to carry oneself as an adult, and we should be doing what we can both in school and out to make sure they have those skills.
So, yeah, make home economics a bigger part of the high school experience again. Give kids the opportunity to learn basic life skills, rather than equations they’ll never use and how to write fictional stories for three weeks and never do again. Give them something they need. Make them better citizens by the end of the year, rather, than drones who can recite something that only fits in that one class.