Magazine article Techniques

Leaving Home Economics in the Past

Magazine article Techniques

Leaving Home Economics in the Past

Article excerpt

Many longtime vocational educators may find it hard to recognize their profession today in comparison to 20 or even 10 years ago, but all recognize the impact that a changing society has had on what they are expected to offer to today's students. With computer technology, expanding career interests and more, the field--and particularly family and consumer sciences--continues to evolve.

The profession has come a long way since 1917, when the Smith-Hughes Vocational Education Act became law and marked home economics, agriculture, and trade and industrial education as the first three disciplines to receive federal funding. As noted in a November/December 1999 Techniques article, high school girls of 1920 formed home economics clubs "to discuss cooking, making clothes and maintaining a happy household." When the Future Homemakers of America (FHA) formed in June 1945, its members gathered items for the United Service Organization to support U.S. soldiers in World War II and students were taught to make "ordered and relaxed" homes for their husbands and children. Little changed into the 1960s and early 1970s--tailoring units focused on redesigning dress patterns, and students learned to bake cakes, breads, pie crusts and pastries.

Today, ACTE members teach family and consumer sciences around the country, reflecting how the field--and students' interests--has changed. "The fact that many programs have changed their names from `home economics' to `family and consumer sciences' reflects how the field has changed over time," according to the Techniques article of a year ago. In the ensuing year, even more changes have cropped up.

The basis for this evolution is pretty straightforward. "Family and consumer sciences education has evolved from traditional home economics education as the needs of society have changed," says ACTE board member Sally N. Combs of the Technology/Career Education division of the Georgia Department of Education. "The past 30 years have seen a tremendous influx of women into the workplace. Economics drives most women to the workplace (and) the tremendous increase of single-parent families also makes work a necessity. The women's movement also influenced this change by forcing the questions of `what is the role of a woman in a modern society?' Reproductive freedom allowed women the opportunity to continue to work. The rise of paid childcare also facilitated this transition, although it is still a management challenge for all families in which both parents work."

Through classes on how to prepare food, plan meals for families who sat down together at mealtimes and shop at markets offering limited choices, "traditional home economics focused on the skills of the homemaker, and improving family life," Combs recalls. Today, however, "family and consumer sciences focus on improving family life and society through total family involvement in decision making, critical thinking, applied academics, and managing a family's resources," she says. "Work ethics and employability' skills that lead to paid jobs play an increasingly important role in our curricula."

Other contributing factors are less well-known: "Since most clothing manufacturing has moved off shore, it has become a luxury to teach clothing construction; it is much cheaper and more cost-effective to buy clothing ready-to-wear," Combs says. "I can't even buy fabric and notions for khaki pants :as cheaply as lean purchase pants." As a result, although fashion design has become a popular niche in the curriculum, repair, fitting, alterations and garment care fit the needs of today's lifestyles more than plain sewing.

At the school level, the perspective is similar. "Basically, in the past 10 to 15 years, major changes have happened to make the image of our profession more oriented to meeting the needs of students seeking career offerings," says Spankie Lou Bassett, culinary arts teacher at Bernalillo High School, Bernalillo, N. …

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