Get in the Kitchen!

Stuyvesant students are very academically intelligent, but out of the classroom and in the home, they are left to their own devices without a formal education in domestic living, causing a gap in their knowledge of basic tasks.

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By Ashley La

“Separate the underwear and whites from the darks and heavier clothing.” My mother has insisted that before I head off to college, I must learn how to do laundry and become a competent adult. As she was listing off the rules for types of fabric and detergent, it dawned on me that I had been clueless about laundry until the shamefully ripe age of 16. I have attended a specialized high school for three years, yet I could not complete a seemingly simple domestic task. Despite Stuyvesant’s plethora of electives and APs, there is a glaring absence of any home economics’ classes. Aside from a single section of the highly popular Personal Finance course, practical education options at Stuyvesant are nonexistent compared to their academic counterparts.

Most Stuyvesant students are “book smart”. They excel academically, study way into the night, ace SATs and ACTs but often lack practical “street smarts.” Devoting countless hours to homework, essay writing, and studying detracts from hands-on, real-life experiences that are crucial for developing practical skills. “Book smarts” are important, especially when many students at Stuyvesant expect to have careers in STEM fields or academia and enter rigorous institutions of higher education. However, doctors or lawyers still need to take care of their homes. Many students will decide to leave their parents’ homes after graduation and will need to acclimate to a completely new environment independently. Stuyvesant’s bubble of structure and support will pop upon graduation, and many students will be left unprepared for the responsibilities ahead. 

The lack of education on household tasks for young people often disproportionately impacts women later in life. This phenomenon, known as the “double burden,” is prevalent in American working-class society, where women are expected to work outside the home in addition to taking on the majority of unpaid domestic labor. Without accessible home economics classes, many men try to justify their inability to contribute to home duties with their lack of knowledge. Weaponized incompetence can arise from men not viewing housework as a necessary skill in conjunction with limited access to such education. Men should learn household chores regardless of whether they live alone or if they have a partner. As many women are encouraged to take STEM courses, men should also be introduced to women-dominated tasks, especially to possibly change how society undervalues domestic labor. The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development defines unpaid labor as tasks such as grocery shopping, cleaning, doing laundry, taking care of the elderly and children, and household maintenance. The New York Times reported that if women earned minimum wage for these hours, they would have earned $10.9 trillion in 2020. Domestic workers run every household around the world but are ignored by economists and the average person alike. As society does not value traditional “feminine work”—only deemed so because of years of harmful gender norms—at least monetarily, we need to change the way we recognize labor and skill to include childcare and household tasks alongside high-earning jobs, starting with high schoolers. Home economics’ courses today can emphasize the value of domestic labor for all and change the harmful history of discriminatory “housework” classes for young women.

Home economics’ classes in the U.S. in the early to mid-20th century was a ploy to keep women in the kitchen, as only high-school-aged girls were allowed to take the course, because they were expected to learn how to take care of the household for their eventual husbands and families. This class perpetuated traditional gender norms and declined after the popularity of the feminist movement in the 1960s and 1970s. Now, as the educational focus has shifted towards standardized testing and college-preparatory courses, the goals and standards of American schooling have completely changed. Without a home economics’ course, many teenagers are usually taught informally about homemaking, and young boys are often never taught at all. A new Home Economics class would be co-ed and include training for all aspects of labor, including those taught in a shop class, to recognize the problems with the outdated Home Economics curriculum from the last century. A comprehensive curriculum for Home Economics includes sewing, nutrition, budgeting, parenting, home management and organization, environmental sustainability, and mental health awareness. For example, a unit on food science and cooking could involve a project of students making food from scratch at home and sharing it with the class. Encouraging students to connect to their cultural backgrounds and learn family recipes while also learning the importance of keeping a clean, sanitary kitchen goes beyond the heteronormative stereotype of learning how to cook simply to please a romantic partner. This is a systemic solution to the discrimination and the critical undervaluation of domestic labor and alleviate the issues that the double burden phenomenon places on women. 

While the Personal Finance course at Stuyvesant delves deeply into financial literacy, a Home Economics class would also incorporate some elements of budgeting to encourage students to make informed financial decisions and avoid debt. Such a class would foster self-sufficiency and be a valuable and practical subject for many upperclassmen who are preparing to move away from home after graduation. This class can assume the responsibility of teaching students how to file taxes, mend clothing, and participate in childcare through hands-on methods and traditional PowerPoint and note-taking. If offered as an elective, students would be eager to apply the knowledge from the classroom to their everyday lives, especially to prepare for living alone. Classes could further promote enthusiasm by incorporating assignments such as doing laundry at home, cleaning the bathroom, or taking the initiative to cook a meal for themselves or their families. Though Stuyvesant may currently lack the resources to create a completely immersive Home Economics program, as the course grows in size, it could branch out to use various appliances outside of the classroom. 

By integrating Home Economics into the curriculum as an elective, health teachers could lead these classes and provide students with a more expansive understanding of adult life compared to the freshman health course. Home Economics as a core class is unrealistic, however, there is a demand for a course on practical skills, as we have seen with the popularity of the Personal Finance course. Home Economics can be a course that follows Career and Technical Education (CTE) in New York State, which at Stuy, consists of computer science and drafting requirements. CTE programs are defined as instruction in agriculture, business and marketing, family and consumer sciences, health sciences, trade and technical education, and technology education. Home Economics encompasses an intersection of multiple of the listed disciplines and could be offered as a way of completing these requirements. 

Home economics allows students to take a break from the rigorous coursework, use their hands, collaborate with peers, and engage in brand-new activities. Not only that, it breaks down gender stereotypes and can emphasize the significance of commonly overlooked and unpaid labor. Implementing a comprehensive Home Economics program at Stuyvesant would be a significant step in changing the culture of sending academically accomplished individuals into adulthood without basic life skills. Stuyvesant students, especially, have fewer opportunities to learn these skills because of busy, working parents and their own high-commitment extracurriculars. In my case, I am in a privileged position where I can learn from my parents how to live alone successfully. Different family situations may cause some students to have less access to education about practical skills. Stuyvesant can offer Home Economics to help many students from disadvantaged backgrounds that have less time to learn these important skills. Recognizing the merit in household duties aids not only students but also caregivers down the line as they claim their essential role in society which often goes overlooked. We should empower our students with life skills that last a lifetime or at least help them get along with their dormmates.