“If I were king of the world, I’d bring back home ec,” Robert Block told me.
The declaration from the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics came after a freewheeling conversation we had last week about several children’s health issues, including nutrition and childhood obesity.
When I asked him about the recent spate of efforts to tackle obesity, he reminisced about how different things were when he was growing up. That was before portions were super-sized, before screens had invaded our lives and back when schools offered courses on basic homemaking.
A combination of changing social and academic trends pushed home economics off the curriculum in the 1970s, and for years there wasn’t much interest in bringing back a course associated with antiquated gender roles.
Now, with increasing evidence that both girls and boys are lacking some basic skills, Block is not alone in his nostalgia.
Last week Slate writer Torie Bosch, too, argued for re-introducing the classes. “You could make the case that home ec is more valuable than ever in an age when junk food is everywhere, obesity is rampant, and few parents have time to cook for their children,” she wrote.
Two children’s health experts made a similar argument in a Journal of the American Medicine Association piece in 2010. After citing the sobering statistics on childhood obesity, the authors concluded that “providing a mandatory food preparation curriculum to students throughout the country may be among the best investments society could make.”
Though home ec might cover several topics that kids are arriving adulthood without (i.e. financial literacy) , it’s in the area of nutrition where we can witness the spoiled fruits of our modern focus on speed and efficiency.
I am a top offender in this regard; both my girls think cooking involves responding to a series of beeps. I can blame our busy lives, but really, I find cooking to be drudgery and my family’s lack of appreciation for whatever I produce to be reason enough to turn to frozen alternatives.
Not a good excuse, but my reality. And I have to think it’s plenty of other parents’ (who have more legitimate reasons) reality, too.
If our school had a class where my girls learned to wash and grill a piece of chicken — or, perhaps, a science class that used basic cooking to teach concepts — maybe it’d begin to make up for my parenting fail.
Some might argue that this is what family weekend time is for and they might be right. But that doesn’t translate into change.
Some might argue that kids, in order to be competitive and successful, need to focus on academic coursework instead.
Block, for one, disagrees.
“Some people think of that as a wasted hour,” he said. “But those are valuable skills. I gotta think more valuable than reading Euripides.”
What do you think? Is it time to bring back home ec?