Posts Tagged ‘teachers’

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

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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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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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