She took home ec in both middle school and high school in
Today, Hobson has her own design business and does consulting work for real estate agents.
"I knew I liked it and I made good grades in it, but I know home ec has changed majorly since I was there," she said. "When I took home ec at the middle school, I remember us having to do a board where we had to create a 'dream room' with samples of wallpaper, fabrics, paint and carpets. They judged it and I won. Looking back, I should have realized this was where I belonged."
One hundred years ago, the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 introduced home economics to extension programs in the U.S. as a way to improve the quality of home life. The instruction included cooking, clothing, home furnishings and family relations.
Three years later, the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917 provided funds to support the teaching of home economics in secondary schools. Students were taught how to eat better, dress well, care for their homes and spend money wisely.
Today, home economics is called family and consumer sciences. It's still taught in high schools, colleges and universities, but some of the original goals have fallen by the wayside.
"They're missing basic skills, like sewing," said
The four FCS classes offered in
"Each district must offer the family and consumer science course Family Dynamics," Guilfoyle said. "All other FCS classes can be offered at each district's discretion."
The Resource Management class is new to the fall curriculum for
"That one is being phased out," said Evet Topp, director of
Culinary arts offered
THS also offers an Occupational Program, which includes culinary arts, early childhood education, marketing and economics, and career pathway experience (which used to be called co-op).
"Our culinary arts program is so huge we can't even take all the students that want it," Topp said. "We have 60 to 64 students in that class and 175 that want to get in."
In culinary arts, students receive hands-on experience that will prepare them for employment or continuing education in the food service industry.
But those aren't the same types of skills that students learned in a home economics cooking class, which might have included planning a week's worth of meals, budgeting for those meals, and cooking those meals by combining foods that were nutritious and pleasing to the eye.
"When I started teaching,
Posey said she believes technology is the reason for the de-emphasis on cooking and sewing.
"I think the thinking was that people were using the microwave to cook and buying their clothes in stores because it was cheaper to do so," she said.
But that's not all that's missing in the classroom today, Posey said.
"In home ec, we emphasized manners and things like formal table settings," she said. "Now, people don't even know how to place the silverware anymore because they eat at fast-food places. Manners have really gone to the birds. Etiquette is lacking. But it's important to know it. You will need to know it when you go to interview for a job and you're out at a restaurant. We also taught fundraising and how to give back to the community. All the niceties have fallen away."
Stitching and stewing
"It was very strict," she said. "People think it was just stitching and stewing, but we had to have eight hours of chemistry, four hours of bacteriology and a nutrition class with a lab. In clothing, we had to learn to tailor a suit or a coat with a lining. I majored in home ec because I knew I could use it every day in some way for my family."
Wildmon ended up being a teacher, and taught life skills to seventh-graders and traditional home economics to eighth-graders at
"The architect they hired afterward met with the teachers," she said. "He liked home ec and he gave us three rooms. We had a huge lab with four kitchen units and across the hall was a clothing lab with about 10 sewing machines. The thing about it was the girls loved it. They always wanted to get on to their projects."
In the kitchen, she taught things like nutrition, international cuisine and baking.
"Anybody can cook if you can do two things: read a recipe and understand it, and measure. Home ec taught you those things," Wildmon said.
"In the eighth-grade class, we did things like decorate cupcakes and cookies and make miniature pizzas and I taught about comparative shopping," she said. "We taught how to set a table, the different serving dishes used, the difference between china and earthenware."
She taught her students how to sew on a piece of notebook paper without thread.
"That's how they learned because they didn't know which side of the sewing machine to sit down on," she said. "We taught important, basic life skills that everyone needs. We need home ec now more than ever, with more mothers working outside the home and with more single-parent homes. Technology moved in and pushed home ec out, even though I thought we were keeping up with the times pretty good."
Going back in time
"Old home ec went hand-in-hand with the old ag program," he said. "I'm an old ag teacher and it was to the point where the boys took ag and the girls took home ec. It was a full-credit course. Enrollment kept going down, down, down, so MDE decided to offer Family Dynamics as a half-credit course, and enrollment picked up. We have to keep relevant for what's going on today. Old home ec and sewing was waning and in order to stay relevant, MDE moved to the new curriculum."
"We have a pretty high enrollment in it," he said. "And it has a good diversity of young men and women. It's not just the girls anymore."
Now that cooking and financial management have managed to creep back into school curricula, maybe sewing isn't too far behind.
"We noticed a trend at extension of people being interested in a return to sewing skills -- old-timey skills -- as the recession deepened," said Clark, 60. "A lot of young women are showing interest. Pinterest and social media and TV programs might be spurring this. Young mothers want to sew for their children, and once they get the bug they want to learn more. Extension fills the gap -- the things that schools aren't teaching anymore. And that's why extension was started in the first place -- to bring research-based information to the common consumer."
That irony is not lost on Clark, who noted that extension is celebrating 100 years this year.
"It's interesting to see that we're going back in time to pick up these skills," she said. "Everything old is new again."
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