In Defense of Home Economics.
by Risa Green
When I was ten, I tried to bake a cake for my mom’s birthday. Like a lot of kids growing up in the 80’s, I was a latchkey kid, and I remember being alone in the kitchen, gathering the ingredients, and trying to follow the recipe. I was fairly smart and independent, and used to figuring things out for myself. But when I got to the part of the recipe where it said to separate two eggs, I was stumped. Not knowing what else to do, I put one egg on one side of the counter, and the other egg on the other side of the counter, and then I stood there, waiting for something magical to happen. When no sparks shot out, when no bolt of lightening came out of the sky, when the eggs didn’t change in shape or color, I called my father at his office and asked him to explain what mysterious thing was supposed to happen now that I had separated the eggs from each other. He laughed so hard that he couldn’t even answer, and I gave up. That night, instead of presenting my mom with a home made cake from yours truly, I made her a really nice card and stuck a candle in a stale Hostess Twinkie that I’d found in the back of the pantry.
Two years later, however, in seventh grade, the Case of the Mysterious Egg Separation was finally solved for me by Mrs. Althouse, a very nice woman who taught Home Economics. At the time, I hated Home Ec. Even at the age of twelve, I already had big plans of going to the Ivy League and becoming a lawyer, or a psychologist, and I hated that my school administration was forcing me to learn things as mundane and anti-feminist as cooking and sewing. The class was co-ed, so I couldn’t complain of it being stereotypical or discriminatory (we girls had to take wood shop and metal shop, too), but regardless, it still felt that way. I simply couldn’t understand the point, and let’s just say that I brought with me to the class a less than stellar attitude, reflected in my below average grade.
And so, if someone had told me that more than twenty-five years later I would be saying that what I learned in Home Ec was absolutely invaluable, I would have argued with them like the lawyer that I eventually became. But it’s true. I can’t tell you a damn thing that I learned that year in Algebra II, or Earth Science, or Social Studies. But I can show you a trick I learned in Home Ec for how to make a quick knot after you’ve threaded a needle (just wrap the thread around your index finger and then roll it off the end of your finger with your thumb and pull). I can tell you how to sew a button onto a shirt, and I can tell you that the wormy white thing inside of an egg is called a chalaza, and that it anchors the yolk to the shell, sort of the way an umbilical cord anchors a baby to its mother. And yes, I can tell you what it means to separate eggs. And also how to bake a cake. I only wish that Mrs. Althouse has taught us how to efficiently get dinner on the table for a family of four every night, because it sure would have saved me a lot of years trying to figure it out.