Posts Tagged ‘lifeskills’

This blog is in response to a recent article which declared that Hugh Acheson (another high profile TV and media chef in a long line of high profile TV and media chefs who are not Home Economists) is planning to remake Home Economics curriculum in the United States. Read original article via this link. I read this article and all the ideas are fantastic! I do not see fault in Hugh’s ideas:

“We’re sort of redoing the whole curriculum to give kids the life skills so that in their 20s, they actually know how to poach an egg, or make some jam, or make a chutney, or make some pickles, just bare-bones cooking necessities that people seem to have forgotten how to do”.

Speaking as a trained high school home economics teacher, isn’t this what home economics is already about? Which led me to question the reason why Hugh decided to do this “all new” not-for-profit home economics curriculum makeover:

“Acheson noticed the need for a reassessment and redesign of what’s going on in home ec classrooms when his daughter came home from school after learning to cook red velvet cupcakes from a box and croissants wrapped in bacon from a tube.”

Ok – so I will side with his daughter’s home economics teacher for a moment and ask:

  • Was the lesson about reading instructions?
  • Was the lesson about grossness (aka critical evaluations) of packet mixes?
  • A lesson on the differences between raising agents?
  • Was the teacher having a rare fun food day?
  • Was the teacher a trained home economics teacher?
  • Did the school purchasing officer stuff up the ordering of raw ingredients?
  • Was it a lesson on kitchen utensils and ovens and the content of the product didn’t matter?
  • Maybe there was not enough money in the school’s bank accounts to buy organic and/or local ingredients?
  • Perhaps Hugh’s daughter just wanted to make Red Velvet Cup Cakes because her friends all say they are amazing?

I am Australian and thank goodness I have never heard of “croissants wrapped in bacon from a tube” but perhaps his daughter’s home economics class was learning about the French Revolution? I would revolt too if a croissant came in a tube!

All these questions relating to the teacher’s possible motives, led me to also question Hugh’s qualifications. Does Hugh’s media personality/chef status make him a qualified home economics teacher? Short answer is no. Is Hugh an education expert with a 4 year teaching degree? Does Hugh have a four or five year developmentally appropriate curriculum plan which teaches “the basics” where each skill mastered becomes more complex in the next course unit? Believe me – it is a very tricky thing to make curriculum developmentally appropriate, aligned with cross-curriculum priorities, and assessment, and still teach young human beings how to become responsible adult human beings! Canada’s and much of FACS (USA) existing home economics curriculum is actually pretty amazing! The aim of home economics is to empower students so that by the end of the 4 or 5 years of study, the student is not only a confident person in the kitchen but can also make ethical, aware and sustainable decisions for themselves and others. I have written else where about the benefits of the whole home economics curriculum.

I also started to wonder, did Hugh speak with his daughter’s home economics teacher? Did Hugh offer his daughter’s teacher his expertise to enhance his daughter’s and her classmates educational experience? Has Hugh spoken with the local or national home economics associations? The IFHE? Me?

On several occasions I have urged home economists to look at their lesson and curriculum plans because THIS ARTICLE is the reason we get a bad reputation. Hugh believes that home economics needs a makeover… hasn’t this already been done in each and every school who offers home economics? If not, then this is just embarrassing for the rest of us who fight so hard to uphold the integrity and academic rigor of home economics.

Again, I urge all home economists to work with parents and your local communities to ensure that they are aware of what and why you do what you do with students… do not allow negative perceptions or public opinion to drive the profession. We must take back control of our subject and re-educate parents and the public about what we do in our schools. What a wealth of knowledge Hugh would have been to his daughter’s school. Alternatively, if the teacher invited him in… would he have been too busy? Working with parents and building relationships is really important for 21st century home economics. “Rethinking” home economics means looking outside the four walls of your classrooms. If you are unsure how to proceed with change – ASK FOR HELP! A wealth of knowledge and experience is usually only a phone call, an email away, or one of your own students might hold a key to a new doorway.

In the meantime, I would love to hear from Hugh about his plans!


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I listened. I cringed. I celebrated. I am talking about a recent radio interview on Radio Boston called “Home Ec For All” with Ruth Graham, author of Bring back home ec! The case for a revival of the most retro class in school.

In her interview, Ruth was articulate and intelligent about the history of home economics. She did an excellent job representing home economics and had done her homework. I also applaud Alice Lichtenstein’s essential work in the original article “Bring Back Home Economics” written in 2010. But, it would have been nice to hear from a Home Economist. I did love that the husband of a retired home economics teacher phoned in to bat on her behalf.

An interesting point was raised about processed foods being introduced into home economics classes in the 1950s and 60s. The theory and level of technical skill required to make bread and white sauce is still essential knowledge. Making bread and sauces are “the basics”. With this knowledge you can expand your repertoire and make lots of other things! I’m sure that Escoffier would have agreed with me. Assembling pre-packaged foods is not what home economics is about.

Contemporary home economics allows students to re-connect with the food system. In addition to lifestyle diseases, food security is also a serious issue. Home economics can provide students with opportunities to learn self-awareness; responsible consumer actions; basic life skills; service to others; and environmental sustainability. When home economics is given the opportunity to do what it is intended to do, this learning takes place. The role of home economics education as an agent for social change is a very important conversation to be having right now. However, we need an increase in public awareness about the plight of many home economics departments around the world. Closures and cut-backs are not acceptable.

In light of the above, what follows is my commentary on some current issues surrounding home economics. This commentary is my personal opinion and is informed by 4 years studying public conversations about home economics on the Internet, and forms a small aspect of my doctoral study.

Home Economics “Movement” in the 21st Century

What is a “movement”? My unofficial definition is a movement is called a movement because people take action. Let me give you an example of a “movement”. Amongst other things, the Romantic Movement (circa. 1770-1850) was thought to be a reaction to industrialisation. People lived and worked in horrendous conditions for the benefit of the ruling classes. Romanticism is also associated with The French Revolution (circa. 1789–1799). “The People” of France broke away from the ruling classes in a bloodied battle – and won democracy. That revolution was an act of desperation and reaction to oppression and hunger. Do not underestimate what people will do when they are hungry and angry. “The People” were not only fighting for equal distribution of food, resources and services but also art, science, intellectualism, individualism, and freedom. “The People” and their everyday stories became the heroes. Is this story looking familiar?

I am not suggesting a bloody revolution… just a revolution. Thankfully, ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’.

For those who didn’t know, home economics is not “dead”. In fact, in some countries home economics is alive and well. However, in some other countries, home economics does need a renaissance. “Home Economics” is a recognised household brand – but “The People” seem to have forgotten what home economics has done over the years to improve their everyday lives.

From its beginnings over a century ago, home economics has been successful in many campaigns to improve the health and well-being of individuals, families and communities. So much so, that home economics knowledge is embedded into many people’s daily lives, practices and industries. For example, hand washing, food preparation, kitchen designs, child care facilities, fashion and textile trades, workers rights, increased places for women in universities, and the United Nations “Year of the Family” which in 2014 celebrates its 20th anniversary. Yep… all influenced by home economists. Did you know that home economists work in some top level jobs? For example, Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of World Heath Organisation, started her career as a home economics teacher.

To support the efforts of professional home economists, what is done at grassroots levels also makes an impact. The outcomes of an organised joint effort are policy changes, increased funding and resources. From recent media activity and comments, “The People” are remembering home economics and want to create opportunities for students, teachers, universities, schools, families, communities and societies to re-learn basic skills and elevate the status of home economics.

How can this be achieved?

Write letters, post blogs, make phone calls, ensure you have the correct information and keep it positive. The International Federation for Home Economics Position Statement: Home Economics in the 21st Century document very clearly states that home economics is alive and kicking, and also outlines the purpose and functions of home economics. I encourage journalists, bloggers, nutritionists, historians, parents, teachers and principals to read and refer to the IFHE Position Statement.  In particular, bloggers and journalists, I respectfully request three things: 1) refer to the IFHE Position Statement in your articles; 2) use photographs of home economics from the 21st Century; and 3) source your information from a Home Economist, an IFHE representative or your local home economics association. For me, one point of concern raised in Ruth Graham’s article was reluctance for home economics teachers to speak “on the record”. I was taken aback by this comment. Have you not seen the stuff posted by home economics teachers on Twitter? Amazing, innovative and very noisy! There are many home economists willing to speak about the positive impacts of home economics. Like these Home Economists did:

Shop, cooking classes help keep students engaged by Mary Ann Urban, a former home economics teacher from Boston.

Open Letter Regarding Faculty of Human Ecology by Christie Crow, Graduate 2009, Faculty of Human Ecology and
Education, University of Manitoba

One HomeEcConnect Facebooker also noted:

Many [home economics] courses are based in the “life literacy” skills needed in today’s world which include most if not all of the skills mentioned in these comments – nutrition ed and wellness (includes food prep), consumerism and resource management (which is more than just personal finance), child development (to help with parenting), healthy relationships and balancing work and family responsibilities. Unfortunately, many of these courses are considered elective, and placed behind the college prep, college credit and academic courses even though most have high enrolments and student interest. If you want to make this change to their education happen, call your local school board and request FCS [home economics] courses be part of your schools graduation requirements.

Is anyone listening?

Yes – apparently they are. Admits these repeated calls to “bring back home economics”, Northern Ireland’s Department of Education has done a good thing (she says understatedly). In a recent media release from Stormont Executive, Department of Education, it was reported that Education Minister, John O’Dowd, had officially opened £900,000 worth of new facilities at Shimna Integrated College in Newcastle and wait for it…. funding included £499,906.86 towards new home economics facilities. Reported by the Belfast Telegraph on Friday, 18 October 2013, it was noted that Northern Ireland’s Department of Education’s ‘Education Works’ campaign highlights the vital role families can play in helping children do well at school and improve their life chances.

Will other governments follow the example set by Northern Ireland? Funding is vital for the revitalisation of home economics departments. As indicated above, over the last few months, I have seen an increase in news coverage about home economics. This is encouraging but we need to keep the conversation alive.

The key message: family and community involvement

I love the African proverb “it takes a village to raise a child”. Despite the tendency toward urbanisation, closed in and fenced off housing, home economics departments can offer children one of the rare opportunities to nurture a sense of community spirit and learn vital life skills. We need to keep the pressure on school principals, P&Cs, university faculties, and governments to provide funding and resources to make this happen. Positive outcomes come from ensuring that local students and families are involved in decisions about what home economics skills are tailored to local community needs. By reaching out into the local community, students and families will feel empowered to stand up and fight to keep their home economics community alive and thriving.

Join the 21st Century Home Economics Movement

Ensure everyone’s voice is heard – your, theirs, the students, and the local community. Home economics departments must reach out into their communities or closures will continue to go unnoticed. We don’t just ‘teach’ about the health and well-being of individuals, families and communities – we involve them! Consult families and communities, and update the local curriculum accordingly. Everyone has a role in Earth’s future and home economics is an exceptional curriculum tool to promote active involvement. I encourage all home economists, students and parents to get involved in the 21st Century Home Economics Movement and enjoy the feeling of solidarity and connectedness along the way. Know that what you do makes a positive difference. Let the home economics revolution begin.

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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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Australian Cattle
Australian Cattle – photograph by Lynne Nathan
Written by Jay Deagon @ HomeEcConnect

Home economics is one of the best subjects for teaching across the whole of curriculum.  Some years ago, there was a matrix table available through the Education Queensland website (sorry, I couldn’t find it for you) that mapped out the cross-curricular nature of all the subjects available in the Queensland curriculum.  Home economics was one of two subjects (the other was Art) that covered maths, english, science, social studies, geography, technology, history, health, lifeskills… and creativity and aesthetics.  As an “all-rounder”, you really can’t go past home ec as a “whole” subject.  All this and it has hands-on activities to keep students engaged.

So why is it that a maths teacher gets public acknowledgement in online news media for using sewing techniques to teach maths as an innovative teacher activity? “Teaching Maths with a Needle and Thread”

What frustrates me about this article?  Quilting is seen as something new, an intrigue and an innovative maths teaching tool.  I ask you, don’t home economics teachers around the world do this vital literacy work with their students everyday?

To give you some indication of the cross-curricular nature of home economics in a practical example, have a look at the multidisciplinary knowledge that a home economics teacher brings to the “simple” task of making a hamburger. I have constructed a table for you to help explain.

Open this link to a PDF that shows a table of the skills and knowledge a Home Economics teacher can draw on when teaching about making a hamburger:

Home Economics Hamburger

All of this knowledge may not manifest in a two-day lesson on hamburgers – but it is the knowledge that the Home Economist brings to that lesson that is worthy of note and noticing.

I had began to write this blog with anger, vengeance and frustration towards the maths teacher and the reporter but one week after I found that original article… I was relieved to find a Home Economics teacher had come to my rescue… in grand style!  Manchester Teacher of the Year – Mary Anderson. Thank you Mary and congratulations! Read about her everyday home economics teaching techniques here: “Teacher Of The Year Integrates Many Subjects And Skills In Her Classes”.

Lichtenstein Cows
Liechtenstein Cows – photo by Jay Deagon

We should not, and considering the current world food crisis, cannot afford to blindfold our kids from where their food comes from.  The Kill it, Cook it, Eat it television program (and yes I watched it and it was gross) but it showed where our hamburgers really come from.  We cannot afford to shield our kids from this aspect of eating meat.  If they are going to make informed decisions and be ethical consumers – then they need to be aware. Would we all eat highly processed foods if we knew the full story from field to fork?  I think not.  It is a matter of awakening.  Once upon a time – caring for a cow and then butchering it was part of community life.  Everyone had a hand in its rearing, health, feeding, butchering and eating.  It was a celebration of the abundance of Earth to provide for its people.  We do not celebrate communal hard work anymore – we just eat and constantly feel bad about it because we are aware that there are starving children, droughts, animal cruelty and so forth… but what can we do?  Have a reality check! Make Home Economics compulsory education for all!

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