Bringing Back Home Economics

The skills taught in home economics—now often referred to as Family and Consumer Sciences to be more inclusive—are just as vital now as they were when these courses were first created.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Yes, I can do geometry, but can I cook anything other than rice without burning my eyebrows off? No. Sadly, I am hardly exaggerating. I could do with a few lessons on how to cook, sew, and file taxes.

In the United States, home economics classes were traditionally targeted at women. They were designed to prepare women for home life, and thus, courses often centered around cooking, sewing, interior designing, and budgeting. In colleges and universities, groups of women sometimes lived in “practice apartments,” where they were supervised and graded while they took turns running the household. At Cornell University, infants were obtained through orphanages and child welfare associations so that women could practice raising children.

These courses were a way for women to receive a higher education at a time when they weren’t allowed to do so in most college departments. But because these classes were geared toward women and taught skills centered around the household, they were considered sexist. As a result, many schools removed home economics classes from their curricula in the ‘60s and ‘70s. However, the variety of skills taught in home economics—now often referred to as Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) to be more inclusive—is just as vital to everyone now as it was when these courses were first created. Many of us leave for college right after high school, so we have to do a lot of things alone for the first time. FCS classes prepare students for this independence.

Families often don’t have the time to teach children many of these skills. Schools have the responsibility of preparing students for any career they want to pursue and ensuring that everyone graduates knowing these basics. But high school students, especially students at Stuyvesant, often have extremely tight schedules. Therefore, some skills, such as sewing, should be taught in elementary or middle school.

At my mother’s school in Kolkata, India, she had sewing classes from elementary school through 10th grade. We still have some very well-loved stuffed animals she made as a teenager, along with a few of the dresses and shirts she made. Learning any type of needlework—sewing, knitting, crocheting, or embroidery—can help students of all genders and backgrounds in a variety of ways: we can repair clothes we love and even make our own clothes or lovely gifts.

When I was in 5th grade, my class made chili together. We worked in groups to cut the different vegetables. Not only did we have a lot of fun (my table got to cut the bell peppers, and we really enjoyed trying to make all the slices look identical), but we also learned about nutrition and a little bit of the science behind cooking. To accommodate busy schedules, Stuyvesant should be flexible about which year students take a cooking and food science course. It could even be a one semester class on the basics of cooking. We could bring ingredients from home and follow recipes at school like students at a middle school in Wales did in the ‘90s. If schools teach us how to cook practically and on a budget, we can hit two birds with one stone: we would learn how to make nutritional meals while also spending money effectively.

As we ready ourselves for college and life after high school, financial readiness is extremely important. Students worry about budgeting and filing taxes in and after high school, so Stuyvesant should establish a mandatory one semester class on this topic for juniors or seniors. According to a survey conducted by the National Financial Educators Council, being financially illiterate—not knowing about one’s earnings, savings, spendings, etc.—cost the average American $1,389 in 2021. Currently, over 50 percent of American adults feel stressed when they have to think about their personal finances. If we learn about long-term savings, investments, and loans before we really have to deal with them, we will feel much more confident in the decisions we make with our money.

Some of these classes already exist as after-school clubs, but if schools make them a mandatory component of everyone’s schedule, students will have a more well-rounded education in these practical skills. We will feel much more comfortable and prepared for life after school. The skills in FCS are still important—we just need to make sure that everyone learns them this time around.