Coding is great, but home ec is what we should really teach in schools

By: Magda Walczak

Most of my career so far has been spent working in tech so believe me, I appreciate developers and understand the value of computer science and programming. So when I see stories like the one out of the UK about boosting computer science education, I think it’s great. It’s an important skill for the modern world. For all the great apps yet to be written and all the technology breakthroughs that will be possible due to a sound computer science education, however, I worry about the kids growing up today. Actually, I worry about many of the adults…

How many people do you know that can confidently change a flat tire, cook dinner from scratch, sew a shirt, fix a leaky faucet and figure out why the lawnmower isn’t starting? I bet you that if someone actually does come to mind, he or she is over 40. And that’s scary.

While I have nothing against computer science (in fact, I support teaching it wholeheartedly!), what we should also be teaching in schools is home economics.

I’m fully aware of the irony of what I’m saying. For decades societies have (rightfully!) strived to get more math and science into schools. In fact, many are still behind in those efforts. Unfortunately, instead of bringing in those programs in addition to home ec, they have come in instead of it.*

*By the way, I’m focusing here on United States education because that is the experience that I know. From what I’ve heard, this rings true in other countries, but I don’t know as much about it and would love to hear your opinions. In Australia, for example, there’s a lot of value placed on practical jobs, hence their thriving apprenticeship programs. 

Imagine for a moment if we continue as we have been, focusing on theoretical education and math. We’ll raise scientists, doctors, engineers, programmers, business pros and politicians. All those are necessary professions and any parent would be proud of a child with such an occupation. So far, so good.

What about all the practical life skills? How will these engineers and doctors learn to cook, to sew on a button, or even set a mousetrap? Not from their parents. The generations currently having children already lack a lot of this knowledge. Some people still benefit from having grandparents around who can teach them, but that’s more the exception than the rule. And no, I don’t think YouTube and online tutorials will do the job…

In theory, there’s a “guy you can call for all that stuff.” But is that the best solution? To completely rely on other people? And those other people, how will they learn those practical skills in a society that values theoretical knowledge while ignoring the practical? Presumably, they will need to come out of schools where they don’t have many opportunities to go into the theoretical subjects, that is from poorer schools that are unable to offer those. See where I’m getting at? Elysium, anyone?

By focusing too much on the theoretical subjects and ignoring the practical ones, we’re setting ourselves up for a society with huge class disparity with a portion of society in scientific/mathematical/etc jobs supported by a subclass of “workers.”

Sound far fetched? I don’t think it is. Think back to that list of people you know with all those practical skills. That’s right. The list that contains very few or no people under 40. Now think about the companies with biggest growth, with the sexy headlines. They’re all in tech. Technology and science are cool now. And that’s great! But not at the expense of practical skills.

Like with all things in life, I believe in a balance. Just as we should have a balanced diet, we should have a balance of skills – maybe not a 50/50 split for every person, but not in an extreme where you’re either theoretical or practical, but not both.

My solution? Teach home economics in schools. Make it mandatory. At least in high school.

Imagine if children had a few hours each week learning practical skills. In one year alone they could easily cover basic car maintenance, cooking, baking, sewing, keeping a home clean, ironing, doing laundry. Wouldn’t you want your kid equipped with these basic skills so they aren’t dependent “on the guy you call” to do things for them? I know I would.

But why must this be taught in school? Shouldn’t we just rely on parents teaching kids the basics? Sure. If they live in rural areas or less developed countries, they’ll be covered. Again, think back to your list from the beginning of this post. Be honest with yourself – how many people do you know that could pass on all the skills I listed to a child? I can do probably 3/4 of those, and that’s only because I had the benefit of growing up in the “old country” (Poland) where part of life as a kid was helping with everything in and out of the house. Between my parents, grandparents and army of aunts and uncles, I’m well covered and I will happily teach those skills to my kids. Most Americans aren’t as fortunate as me.

Until home ec is taught in school again – and maybe it never will be – I urge you to think about this and do what you can to teach yourself and your kids those skills. They maybe aren’t as valued by modern society as they used to be, but that are, in fact, very valuable. If you have grandmas and grandpas around, ask them for help. They come from a generation of people who could do things that we now take for granted. Once they’re gone, we’ll be left to fend for ourselves and I’m not that confident in our current skill set.

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Always hungry. Nuts for dogs. Love to travel. I write about marketing, food, web, travel and whatever else strikes my fancy.

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