This study explores the need for Home Economics and similar courses to return to the curriculum for middle and high school students in America. At the moment, rethinking and re-introducing these subjects en masse into the country’s educational system will help address several social problems, including obesity and high credit debt load. In addition, this subject will allow students to try themselves in various professions, give housekeeping experience, and contribute to developing students’ financial literacy. The work is based on studying the positive experience of other countries that have introduced or have not abolished the subject in their schools. This valuable experience contributes to a better understanding of how valid the subject of Home Economics is and how it should be rebranded.
Introducing Home Economics-type Lessons into the School Curriculum
Obesity is one of the hottest topics in American society. Being overweight leads to several serious illnesses, which increases the burden on the health care system and negatively affects the average life expectancy of a person. Every year, the government allocates massive subsidies to solve the problem of obesity, but they do not produce positive results. In this regard, the question of introducing the subject of Home Economics into the curriculum of schoolchildren, which is necessary to teach children the proper selection and preparation of food, distribution of their budget, and other household skills, the presence of which could decisively affect the process of combating childhood and adult obesity, becomes relevant again. Thus, this article explores how the introduction of Home Economics will affect the causes of obesity, rather than its consequences, and what additional benefits the introduction of the subject brings to the school curriculum.
The Problem of Obesity in American Society
Obesity is one of the central problems of modern American medicine. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services statistics show that approximately 42.4% of Americans are obese (see table 1). Children also have severe problems, and approximately one out of five children will be obese (see fig.1). There are several reasons why this trend is increasing. For example, Americans eat less at home but more in restaurants, snack bars, and other places. In addition, heavy workloads, the cult of careerism, and other social phenomena have also made convenience foods, uncooked foods, and other unhealthy foods trendy among people.
A healthy home-cooked meal is one of the best ways to prevent obesity problems (Brown 21). At this point, cooking is socially relegated as a specialized skill available only to chefs, but the basics of cooking and homemaking are relatively accessible and easy to learn. Unfortunately, few citizens pay attention to their diet, often due to people’s inability to cook or manage household chores.
Obesity is not a fatal disease, but it increases the chance of developing cardiovascular disease (Adair) many times. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of most deaths worldwide, so it is critical to work on reducing the incidence of this disease. The government constantly sponsors projects introducing healthy lifestyle habits and funds various sports-related organizations to address this problem, but they are still ineffective.
Benefits of Introducing Home Economics into the School Curriculum
There are many variations on what precisely a Home Economics program includes. Typically, this course deals with housekeeping skills, cooking, textiles and design, and budget planning. The return of this course will primarily help young people gain confidence as they begin their independent lives. Danovich writes that the Home Economics course is not intended to create one-size-fits-all specialists but is needed so that future homeowners can begin to feel confident at the stove, learn to experiment with foods, and understand basic culinary skills.
Effiong writes that the return of Home Economics can contribute to national sustainability (45). The author argues that a country is made up of families, and families are made up of people. Therefore, it is essential that each family live more prosperously, which will be possible with the increased availability of information on proper budget planning, and ways to prepare healthy and cheap food. Based on the author’s conclusions, we can say that the introduction of the subject of Home Economics in the U.S. school curriculum can have a lasting positive effect on the well-being of the whole country, as universal knowledge so necessary for modern people can significantly facilitate the household for millions.
Continuing the theme of the need to teach children financial literacy and how to manage their budgets, regardless of whether they go into finance-related professions, it is worth mentioning the high level of American credit. Horimscki notes that the number and size of Americans’ consumer credit have steadily increased each year, with the highest increase occurring among younger generations (see Table 2).
Table 2. Level of Indebtedness of Different Generations. Source: Horimski, Chris. “Consumer Debt Continued to Grow in 2021 Amid Economic Uncertainty.” Experian, 2022.
|Generation Z (18-24)||$16,043||$20,803||+29.7%|
|Generation X (41-56)||$140,643||$146,164||+3.9%|
|Baby boomers (57-75)||$97,290||$95,607||-1.7%|
|Silent generation (76+)||$41,281||$39,859||-3.4%|
Although the level of borrowing is an indirect factor determining the level of financial literacy and household budgeting opportunities, it is the fact that the most significant increase occurs among the younger generation that is central to understanding the problem. The subject of Home Economics, and accordingly, the lessons on budgeting were conducted for many years in the United States. Still, due to insufficient funding and ethical and gender problems associated with the subject, the program began to be phased out in most existing schools. Thus, the older generation educated in this subject shows not such a significant increase in the level of credit debt.
In addition to the direct benefit of the information they receive, students will also gain unique experiences in various aspects of human life. Children will gain more valuable experience in learning various professions, among them design, cooking, and interior planning. Kuusisaari, in his study examining teachers’ attitudes in Finnish schools about the subject of Home Economics, writes that teachers especially value the applied experience and the role of the subject as career guidance material for students (68). Many students learn about their skills and talents, become interested in new professions, or find their hobby in Home Economics.
The Failure of American Home Economics and the Experience of Other Countries
Teaching Home Economics in America dates back to the late 19th century, when the subject was first invented. Over the years, the subject was based on teaching girls to cook and sew, which led to several gender issues surrounding the subject. On the one hand, the course did provide girls with an education and knowledge. On the other hand, it has been denounced by several prominent feminists as an example of the stereotyping of women and their imprisonment in the kitchen. Because of this problem, as well as gradual cuts in funding and a lack of qualified personnel, Home Economics began to be phased out in most schools in the country (Vincenti 309). Nevertheless, there are examples of countries that have been successful in rebranding the subject, rethinking it, and putting it at the center of the educational process.
A striking example of a country that has struggled purposefully and for a long time with the problems of gender focus around the subject of Home Economics in Ireland. Historically, most of the children in the country who studied the subject were girls. Until 1993, no boys chose the subject (McCloud, 386). Thanks to the efforts of the authorities and a change in social attitudes regarding the separation of male and female roles, the proportion of boys in the program has begun to rise steadily. Although it is still much lower than that of girls, it shows an upward trend (see table 3).
The Swedish Home Economics program aims to develop children’s skills in making sustainable food choices, finding sustainable approaches to cooking, and using food sustainably (Gisslevik 52). The Swedish educational system has limited the range of programs taught within the subject, but it has solved the lack of qualified teachers, which has borne fruit. The author notes that parents of students and students are delighted with the subject and note its high usefulness in practice (58). The example of shortening the curriculum to provide better knowledge on a topic directly related to addressing obesity could be handy for the introduction of the subject in American schools.
In contrast, the Finnish educational system has expanded the competencies of the subject of Home Economics to fit the curriculum to current realities. In addition to cooking and budget planning, the Finnish curriculum teaches children the principles of sustainability, environmental awareness, and other knowledge needed by modern man, which positively affects the erudition and lifestyles of young Finns (Kuusisaari 68).
Thus, the introduction of Home Economics into high school and middle school curricula contributes to solving several social problems, the most important of which is the obesity epidemic in the United States. A course that teaches high school students to cook healthy meals quickly and tastefully is designed to address the causes of obesity, not its consequences, and therefore is expected to have a lasting positive effect on reducing the incidence of cardiovascular disease. In addition, the subject of Home Economics can be used to improve students’ financial literacy, help them choose their future professions, discover their talents, and teach important concepts to modern men – such as the principles of sustainable development. Although the subject of Home Economics and its various variations require some funding, they may still prove to be a more suitable and adequate investment in building a healthy society, helping to reduce the burden on the health care system and reducing early mortality from obesity-related illnesses.
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“Overweight & Obesity Statistics.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2021. Web.
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