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February 26, 2024
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Home economics shouldn’t stop at high school

Water+boils+in+a+pot+on+a+stove.+Photo+by+Dong+Woo+Im+%2F+Mass+Media+Staff.
Dong Woo Im
Water boils in a pot on a stove. Photo by Dong Woo Im / Mass Media Staff.

While there is debate about whether classes like algebra are necessary for students’ lives, life skills such as critical thinking and quantitative reasoning are objectively foundational for both higher education and students’ daily lives. Graduation doesn’t magically make people have life skills, so why do we stop teaching them? In fact, now that many students are living on their own for the first time, these skills are more important than ever. Dozens of general education classes are, by contrast, “useless”—when will any art major ever need pre-calculus, and when will any STEM major use photography?—but they’re still required. UMass Boston wouldn’t even be the first school to adopt something like this: many community colleges have Family Consumer Science programs and even other UMass schools offer optional life skills classes. 

For example, financial literacy is often the focus of home economics discussions, and for good reason. Regardless of how you feel about the current economic system, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Dozens of services exist to capitalize on the fact that filing taxes is complicated and intimidating—in fact, TurboTax, one of the biggest online tax-preparation software corporations, has spent 20 years and millions of dollars lobbying to prevent the government from simplifying the tax process, according to ProPublica. [1] Taxes are famously one of the most stressful and confusing aspects of everyone’s life; students have to know if they file dependently or independently, what to claim and what not to claim, how to process work-study jobs and a million other things.  

Investing, which is commonly included in general economics classes, is also infamously baffling. It’s hard to differentiate between trustworthy methods of investing or risky ones, especially because many of these services bank on consumers not knowing the difference between low and high-risk investments. Cryptocurrency and its downfall is an excellent example of this: for the past few years, dozens of editorials and think-pieces have extolled cryptocurrencies and NFTs as the investment of the future, and in just the past few months, it has all come crashing down. A financial literacy class needs to focus not just on the mechanical intricacies of investing and its benefits, but also its downsides and pitfalls.  

Nutrition is a topic so dense it has its own medical specialists, but the basics of nutritional science should still be taught to undergraduates in the same way that the basics of math and writing are. Misinformation abounds in conversations about healthy eating, calories, dieting, “good” vs. “bad” foods, sugar quantities, allergies—you name it.  

For example, the idea that calories are the most important thing to watch in your diet is, according to Healthline, “one of the most pervasive and most damaging” myths in nutrition. A calorie is a unit of energy—about 4,000 joules, to be exact—and beyond that, has little to no bearing on whether a diet is “healthy.” [2] More important to a healthy diet is avoiding high-fructose sweeteners and eating varied foods. In fact, eating varied foods is more important than restricting any foods; any highly restrictive diet, according to the National Institute of Health, can cause vitamin deficiencies which could lead to health problems ranging from mild to severe and potentially life-threatening. [3]

A study from January 2023 in the Journal of Nutrition, “Misinformation and Disinformation in Food Science and Nutrition: Impact on Practice,” pointed to social media as a leading factor in rising nutrition illiteracy. The article states, “Health and wellness gurus, or self-proclaimed experts, utilize social media platforms to garner attention through compelling narratives, build audience followings, and influence public opinion by sharing (often) misleading information about food and nutrition.” [4] The solution? Encourage critical thinking in the classroom and actively combat common misconceptions about food.  

Sewing seems like a daunting class to implement, but it’s just as important of a skill as other areas in home economics. The stereotype of the broke college student proves especially true right now, with rising prices and few safety nets for young people. Sewing is easier than people think, and is a fantastic way to repair old or thrifted clothes to the benefit of the environment—and your wallet. The fast fashion industry preys on people’s growing inexperience with repairing their clothes at home while simultaneously producing nearly 2 million tons of waste every year, according to Earth.org. [5]

Home economics extends beyond acquiring technical skills. Lessons about interpersonal relationships, consent and sexual health, and executive functioning may feel silly or embarrassing, but if executed well, can give young people enough baseline knowledge to jumpstart their adult life. Although many of these lessons can and should start in high school, education is an ongoing process, and college-aged students need these lessons more than ever.  

General education requirements should be just that—education about general life. So why aren’t we teaching FCS already?  

 

[1] Elliott, J., & Kiel, P. (2019, October 17). Inside Turbotax’s 20-year fight to stop Americans from filing their taxes for free. ProPublica. https://www.propublica.org/article/inside-turbotax-20-year-fight-to-stop-americans-from-filing-their-taxes-for-free  

[2] Gunnars, K. (2023, June 29). 6 Reasons Why a Calorie Is Not a Calorie. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/6-reasons-why-a-calorie-is-not-a-calorie#TOC_TITLE_HDR_5  

[3] Levine, D. (2021, Jan. 15). Keto Diet Dangers. U.S. News Health. https://health.usnews.com/wellness/food/articles/keto-diet-dangers  

[4] Diekman, C., Ryan, C., & Oliver, T. (2023, January 4). Misinformation and Disinformation in Food Science and Nutrition: Impact on Practice. The Journal of Nutrition. https://jn.nutrition.org/article/S0022-3166(22)13102-0/fulltext  

[5] Igini, M. (2023, August 21). 10 Concerning Fast Fashion Waste Statistics. Earth. https://earth.org/statistics-about-fast-fashion-waste/  

About the Contributors
Elijah Horwath, Opinions Editor
Dong Woo Im, Photographer