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Written by Jay Deagon @HomeEcConnect

MY PRIVILEDGED FRIENDS AND TEACHERS – READ THIS NEWS ARTICLE FROM SWAZILAND

Don’t turn schools into war zones

My deepest respect goes out to my Swaziland Home Economics colleagues! Reading this article reminded me about a conversation I heard from an African Home Economist attending the 2012 IFHE World Congress – this desperate and dedicated lady was getting very angry – and rightly so – the conversations around her were about abundance. She was saddened that she could not make anyone understand that buying a new coffee machine for school was just not important. The individuals, families and communities she serves on a daily basis are dying from hunger, war and disease. She wanted us (privileged people) to remember the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, their purpose and importance. I heard a similar conversation from one of our Pacific Island colleagues… The Solomon Islands is one of the poorest countries in the world and they are right next door to one of the richest – Australia. I acknowledge that Australia has abundance and scarcity too. Extreme poverty is all around us and, in my opinion, is an unacceptable state of affairs. Where has our humanity gone?

I cannot sit here with my laptop, freshly ground coffee, cold milk and homemade potato and leek soup without taking a reality check. What can I do? I believe the International Home Economics community has a lot to offer – they just don’t realise it yet or know where to start. If anyone is interested, I have a few ideas… Register with HomeEcConnect or email me. Registration with HomeEcConnect is free, secure and moderated. Let’s discuss some options together.

We need to get real, share resources and remember our privilege.

The other thing that reading this article did for me? I remembered how totally AWESOME Home Economics is!!! No doubt about it! I’m very proud to be a Home Economist.

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Written by Jay Deagon @ HomeEcConnect

At different times we all find ourselves at the point of wanting to scream out the obvious. Like a braveheart or Greenpeace speech that makes people go to the ends of the earth for a cause that they never knew existed. Well, this is my Greenpeace speech… think of me as Drew Barrymore in that save the whales movie (Big Miracle, 2012). So desperate, overwhelmed by the challenge and feeling helpless but still determined.  I feel like my profession is dying. The ice is freezing over the breathing hole of Home Economics and I just can’t let that happen. We need a big miracle.

One of the most frustrating things a Home Economics professional (me, other teachers, industry people and academics) hear is that Home Economics is on the extinction list. Millions of people are prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to save the whales, gorillas and rhinos. Millions of dollars are spent on public media campaigns, research, rangers and habitat protection. Protection of our wildlife is essential – because if we lose these animals – we lose our humanity. Humans become little more than top predator animals. The problem is, humans are destroying not only the animals and their habitats… we sometimes forget or turn a blind eye to the fact… we are also destroying our own habitat and ultimately… ourselves. The list of crises is well-documented and becoming increasingly overwhelming to contemplate for the average person. I shall remind you of a few of the global crisis conversations:

  1. Obesity caused by over-nutrition and sedentary lifestyles
  2. Death and disease caused by malnutrition
  3. Inadequate and unsustainable household practices
  4. Over-consumption of resources
  5. Breakdown of family relationships
  6. Chemical waste caused by the production of textiles
  7. Food insecurity
  8. Financial/economic crisis
  9. Lose of diversity
  10. Inadequate waste disposal procedures
  11. Consequences of water pollution, drought and floods
  12. and the list goes on and on so I don’t think that I need to go on… you get the picture

Well – you know what? I actually have a solution. Home Economics education. Home Economics is already in place in thousands of schools in many countries around the world. Each school teaches according to the needs of the local people, often incorporating global perspectives. With a rich history spanning over a century, we continue to educate new generations with practical solutions to many of the things listed above. As a whole profession, we just aren’t very good at telling people about what we do and why it makes a difference. This is one reason why Home Economics is on the endangered list.

Home Economics has been called the “silent” profession. But we certainly are not silent people. Have you ever heard a Home Ec teacher’s commanding voice raised in a kitchen with 15 electric egg beaters going? or giving instructions over the noise of 15 sewing machines? We are busy people. But we don’t have much time to organise press releases for the local news papers. Instead we just get on with our jobs on a day-to-day basis.

We teach your children about food (nutrition, food literacy, kitchen appliances, washing up, cleaning, hygiene, body image, menu planning, experimenting, organics, religious practices, celebrations, agriculture, transport). We teach your children about clothes (textiles, fashion, organics, chemicals, artistic creation, child labour laws, ethics, recycling and up-cycling, design and construction). We teach your children about sustainability practices in the home (light bulbs, washing machines, fridges, eco-friendly furniture, aesthetics, ethical consumer choices). We teach your children about money (rental and loan agreements, bank balances and budgeting). We teach your children how to live within their means. We teach your children the importance of sitting down with the family to have a meal. We teach your children how to use a knife and fork and where their food really comes from. As my colleague James McIntosh puts it, “from farm to fork”. We teach mathematics, literacy, geography, history, culture, technology, design, innovation, creativity, critical and independent thinking (see my Home Economics Hamburger). But most importantly, we (usually) have fun teaching and learning together. We teach about respect for self and the importance of service to others. We teach about caring for our environment. We give your children regular opportunities for success. We prepare your children for life. We teach your children how to become independent and autonomous. We teach your children how to care for their children and the children of others. We teach about what it means to be a human being living an everyday life. Sometimes, home economics is the place where students first realise what their passion is, and what their future job might be. It is not what we teach in Home Economics but why… That is what makes our profession so vital to the health and well-being of individuals, families and communities. We often teach in very simple ways but these simple ways have lifelong impacts on boys and girls, men and women, and everyone else who doesn’t or won’t fit inside a labelled box.

I admit that much of the evidence of our success is anecdotal and not supported by “evidence-based research”. To give you an idea about anecdotal evidence I will tell you a little story. One of my favourite memories during my Home Economics teacher internship involved a year eight student (14 years old). At the end of our lesson (yes, we cooked fried rice) I turned on some music and encouraged the students to sing while they cleaned up the kitchen. Imagine 24 students, each with their own assigned job (team work and responsibility) singing The Village People’s  YMCA song while cleaning up. Admittedly it was a little like a scene from Glee. As we left the room, one student came up to me and said “I didn’t know cleaning up could be so much fun!” She had the biggest grin on her face. It was priceless. I knew I had made a difference that day. I had changed that student’s perception about washing dishes – that is NOT an easy task! There are many, many more stories out there just like this one; teachers doing their everyday job and students learning important life lessons.

Oral stories and anecdotes like this one cause a problem for the profession. Research is vital because governments won’t listen if we do not provide “evidence-based research” to back-up our claims. We lose funding and departments close. However, governments do also listen to “the people”. While academics work furiously to gather evidence (like me, I am doing research in the field as are many others around the world) the profession still needs the voice of the people. We need the collective voices of teachers, students, parents, carers, doctors, health professionals, celebrities, Jamie Oliver, Pink, Michelle Obama, Richard Branson, Julia Gillard, Ophra, The Elders, His Holiness Dali Lama – anyone listed in Time Magazine’s 2012 top 100 most influential people – I don’t actually care whose voice – so long as it is a positive and productive one.

As a profession few of us use our public voices, few of us will challenge articles, comment on issues and list ourselves by our profession.  People make a lot of noise when they feel passionate about saving something that they love. Why aren’t we making noise about Home Economics when we are on the endangered list? This “noise” gets us noticed.  I see too many complaints about departments closing… without opposition. So fellow global professionals, do something now, be visible, yes you too Home Ec teacher in the small school, you have something to say.  Too much press recently has been about departments closing; keep them open now with your noise.

We cannot allow such a precious profession to become extinct. Please, give a shout out for Home Economics. Tweet your favourite Home Economics story. Write a blog about it. Tell your local newspaper… but whatever you do… proudly tag it #homeeconomics. We support you and we need you to support us.

HomeEcConnect Website: www.homeecconnect.com.au

Twitter: @HomeEcConnect

Facebook: HomeEcConnect

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Research Survey by Jay Deagon @ HomeEcConnect

Urgent and global calls for ways of securing human existence through sustainable practices have caused an upsurge of discourses on spiritual health and well-being in contemporary literature, curriculum guidelines and other formal and informal communications, including home economics definitions and curriculum frameworks. However, spiritual health and well-being is an elusive concept. The purpose of this survey is to gain perceptions of spiritual health and well-being and its relationship with home economics. Using the concepts under investigation, the outcome of this doctoral study is to construct a model of spiritual health and well-being relevant to the field of home economics.

Follow this link to the Survey:

Take the survey

Or copy and paste the URL below into your internet browser:

https://griffithisbr.us.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_8oaySCZM86AkCCU

Please forward this survey link to as many home economics teachers, students and professionals within your networks as possible so that a meaningful international and cross-cultural representation can be obtained. This survey will be open for 3 months from 9 November 2011 and will end on 9 February 2012 to ensure that it has time to travel around the world.

This is an anonymous survey. Please be assured that any identifying information that you might provide will be removed, so that no individual or institution will be identifiable in any reporting of this data.

Thank you for your assistance.

Jay Deagon MEd BEd
Doctoral candidate
Griffith University, Australia

Register at www.HomeEcConnect.com.au if you wish to participate in further research or find out more about this project.  Also follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

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Opinion Paper written by Jay Deagon @ HomeEcConnect 

This Youtube video is apparently the product of one bored student in a home economics class.  At least he knew he was learning about Tacos!

My observation is that home economics has suffered from ‘bad press’ for over a century. Is it coincidental that a passage from the 1901 Lake Placid conference papers can be directly quoted today and still hold relevance? Editor of the Boston Cooking School Magazine, Mrs Janet Hill wrote

“The chief concern of thoughtful men and women today is for the physical, practical and economic welfare of the community. In the attainment of these results journalism in the past has played a conspicuous part, but the science of home economics has not yet been considered seriously; the latest thought is looked on as food for a reporter’s ‘story’ or the filling of so much space”.

Home economics is not “women’s work”, nor is it an antiquated “fluffy subject” for the meek and mild.  I believe that home economics is a severely underestimated, misunderstood and misrepresented subject for study and academic discipline. We would not be having this conversation if we were from a “hard science” academy such as chemistry, biology or mathematics. Home economics is a multi- and interdisciplinary applied science that draws its knowledge from many sciences and applies it to human situations. Home economics is, in my considered opinion, one of the most valuable “frontline of defence” tools we currently have to address some of the world’s most pressing issues.  Regardless of the origins of influence, may it be due to lack of respect, oversight, imbalanced value of the role of family, corporate greed, deliberate misinformation or patriarchal oversight. Since 1901, the home economics message has remained clear – teach individuals, families and communities survival skills for an ever-changing world.

Can't stand the heat on TwitterHome economics is serious business.   I am currently in two minds as to the current upsurge in ‘revival of home economics’ discussions.  On one hand, I am rejoicing that my chosen field is getting much-needed attention in the media; on the other hand, I am getting a little  distressed that the valuable work home economists are doing is being overlooked and dismissed by so many.  How deep is this problem?

For the past few months I have been monitoring internet activity through Google alerts for “home economics” and the #homeeconomics hash tag. I have found a few disturbing trends that I would like to share – not only with the global home economics community but with the general public.

  1. There is a distinct lack of quality “home economics” news;
  2. General public comments about “home economics” are not encouraging, frequently
    misinformed and sometimes malicious;
  3. Developed countries are currently talking about “home economics” in relation to “the obesity crisis” and current effective home economics practices are being glossed over;
  4. Amy Hoaks, a journalist who writes the “Home Economics” column for MarketWatch,
    has tagged “home economics” to everything financial and real estate related in America;
  5. Teenage Twitters & YouTubers think that “home economics” is either a “bludge” subject, not exactly inspiring or the place where they eat cupcakes, cookies or tacos;
  6. An exceptionally proactive generation of retired and well-respected home economists are passing away; and
  7. The most popular “home economics” line from a movie is said by Tom Hanks in a mature audience segment of Forrest Gump.

These have been the main items of focus in online media (News Articles, Twitter and Youtube) for the past few months.

For over a century, the role of journalism in spreading messages about home economics has been, at best, just “media filling” –  pieces of “feel good” news about how lovely the food was that those delightful home economics students cooked.  Do not get me wrong, this is excellent news to be reported.  However, apart from hospitality and catering, where is home economics? At this point, I wish to point out a few exceptional stories that I have found (see my previous blog or the HomeEcConnect Facebook page). Unfortunately, these stories are few and far between.   It just seems that in 100 years, not much has changed. This has been somewhat depressing news for me.

I believe home economics is one of the most valuable subjects available in schools. It (should) teach about self-reliance, independent and critical thinking, food and nutrition, clothing, shelter, the critical role of ‘family’, sharing resources and skills, love, respect, social justice, equality, how to shop as an aware, conscious and ethical consumer of goods and services… basically – the importance of sustainable practices for the future security of the planet and its people. These are basic human needs and rights.  It is no small matter that the future of humanity depends on us (re)learning these basic human survival skills. We seem to be losing sight of what is important. The skills taught in home economics are not inbuilt human instincts, they are skills. It is home economics’ honoured position and capacity to teach these skills that inspires me to advocate for home economics.

Home economics is a global phenomenon. There are thousands of home economists doing extraordinarily valuable work around the world. Home economists are found at grassroots intervention levels working directly with students in schools; representatives within policy and decision-making areas at local, national and international associations and agencies; and industry professionals ensuring that the health and well-being needs of family are kept in focus.

I have no doubt that home economics will “survive” but the difference between home economics “surviving” and “thriving” comes down to a concentrated effort of spreading positive messages that infiltrate public and government opinion. How can we, as a profession, achieve this? One insightful member of HomeEcConnect pointed out that sharing our news is probably the most effective way. It is the old adage… if a tree falls in the forest…? If we are truly doing all this inspiring and effective work and don’t tell anyone – how will anyone outside the profession ever know?

I empathise with the busy home economist. So much time and energy is spent delivering programs and marking assessment for the local communities they serve, they do not seem to have enough time to advocate for their own profession. For many home economists, the ‘ethic of service’ is strong.  Specific subject areas get attention, for example, food and nutrition and the obesity crisis, but what about home economics in its entirety? I understand that it is different in different countries, counties and states, but as a whole and holistic subject, home economics does much more than teach “bout cooking n sewing n shit”.

I don’t know about you, but for me, home economics is a serious and life changing business. Legitimising home economics will come down to how much of our professional work we share with the world. It is essential that we keep connected.  We know what is “wrong” with the world and with home economics… but what is going right?  Many home economists are well-informed through their professional associations and newsletters, but how often do we share news through means of mass communication?

One of the most valuable lessons I learnt during my own undergraduate home economics education was to advocate for my own needs and to stand up for what I believe in.  Until now, home economics may have been undergoing a somewhat silent revolution. For over 100 years we have kept working and moving forward; but with the world in crisis and home economics offering some solutions, now is not the time for silence or fear of the unknown. We are a courageous and innovative profession. We need to tell people about the work we do or home economics will continue to be glossed over in the media and by governments who grant us funding.

I am an independent voice for home economics.  One purpose for me building the HomeEcConnect website is to unite and invite you to share your positive home economics experiences. It may be generational and I may be criticised for having this opinion, but unfortunately, home economics’ future may depend on ‘they who shout loudest’ – because at the moment – the media and general public are drowning out our voices.

I am one voice, I need yours.

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I came across an article on the web published by the Manilla Bulletin about a home economics teacher in the Philippines who cooked a rice noodle dish, known locally as “sinantak”, and although the article did not report the reason, unfortunately, her students were poisoned.  This resulted in two deaths and “downing” 42 others (Lazaro, 2011).  Any home economics teacher would agree that this a nightmare become reality.  So, firstly, I must send condolences to the teacher, her students, all families involved and the communities affected.  Second, this article brought to my attention what is being reported about home economics on the world-wide web.

Any topic that receives negative news coverage can be damaging and counter productive to all the positive, life-changing and exceptional work that goes on.  Food poisoning stories, like the one above, can perpetuate negative opinions about home economics in the general public.  I have also been following “home economics” on Twitter and the news is not good there either!  It doesn’t help that we have students who ‘tweet’ negative comments about their home economics classes for the world to see.

Is spreading bad news the reality of home economics in digital times? 

I strongly believe that we need to balance the negative with the positive. Our collective home economics web-presence needs strengthening.  We need more inspiring home economics news stories and tweets!  Stories that celebrate our successes and challenge negative perceptions.  I would like to think that our good stories outweigh the negative ones.

To start the ball rolling, I have collected some interesting news about home economics people achieving extraordinary things.  For example, did you know that the current Director-General of the World Health Organisation, Dr Margaret Chan, has been voted by Forbes in the top 100 most powerful women in the world a couple of times and she started her career with a degree in home economics.  Also, there is a researcher working in Antarctica, Luann Hoganson, who holds a home economics degree.   At the school level, a teacher inspires her students to succeed… it was reported in another online news service that a Californian Home Economics teacher, Michelle Baker, received a State Award for “Outstanding Advisor Award” (Barrientos, 2011).  I love Michelle’s quote in the news article:

“The most rewarding aspect of teaching is seeing my students succeed… I know that the students are learning something that will prepare and enrich their lives. I strive to prepare my students for life after high school and think about the big picture. I hope to provide them with the tools to reach their goals in life.”

To me… the people in these stories are inspirational.

Do you have a good news story about home economics?  

I invite you to write a blog or start a discussion about a positive and inspiring home economics experience you have had or have come across… What happened?  Was it at home, school, somewhere totally random? What home economics knowledge was involved? How did it make you feel? Why were you inspired?

A collection of positive home economics stories on the web would be powerful knowledge to share!  I look forward to reading and sharing stories.

Comment here or register with www.HomeEcConnect.com.au to share your story.

Jay Deagon

References to source links:

Barrientos, B. (2011, April 7) Kern Valley teacher wins a state award.  Retrieved April 15, 2011 from http://www.bakersfield.com/blogs/thegrade/x529881073/Kern-Valley-home-economics-teacher-wins-state-award

Lazaro, F. (2011, June 16). Luistro visits ‘bad food’ victims. Retrieved June 19, 2011 from http://www.mb.com.ph/articles/322951/luistro-visits-bad-food-victims

University of Wisconsin-Stout (2011) Press Release: Extreme alumni: Stout grads working in Antarctica.  Retrieved June 19, 2011 from http://www.weau.com/news/headlines/Alumni_working_in_Antarctica_112554049.html

World Health Organisation (2011) Director-General: Dr Margaret Chan.  Retrieved June 19, 2011 from http://www.who.int/en/

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