08/09/2016 12:32 EDT | Updated 10/26/2016 12:11 EDT

It's Time To Bring Back Shop and Home Economics Classes

As our lives became more hectic and lifestyles more busy, the traditional model of family also shifted. No longer were women staying at home, living out their lives as "domestic goddesses," and increasing numbers of men were shown to be not particularly handy when it came to making and fixing things, and that was okay. But now, our kids don't have those skills at all. What happened?

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Smiling vintage housewife drying and polishing a dish with a cloth

There was a time when "Home Economics" and "Shop" classes were something to look forward to. Mandatory for all, they were admittedly sexist, in that girls in elementary and middle schools were streamed to "Home Ec" whereas boys were sent to "Shop."


These gender-based choices were in keeping with the "natural order of things," as the times dictated, and students were placed in these respective classes that were designed to apparently prepare them for their lives as adults.

Home Economics was there for a few reasons -- apparently good ones --  if you believed the prevailing thoughts of the times:

1. To teach young girls to be good housekeepers and wives  (This was apparently very important)

2. To teach young girls to cook, sew, clean and know everything about running a household (because it was their God-given role in life, after all)

3. To provide young girls with life skills (These apparently were all of the skills that were needed: cooking, cleaning, sewing and baking)

Shop class, conversely, was based on the following premises:

1. That boys would grow up to be men, and men build and fix things (Obviously while their wives cooked, cleaned and sewed at home)

2. That "real men" had certain skills - Building, fixing, and making things, usually including drills, hacksaws and wood (such skills were required because they were the sole means of getting any manual labour or fixing done around the house)

3. That while making, building and fixing things, someone else would be doing the heavy lifting at home (Childrearing, cooking, cleaning and sewing was "women's work," after all)

Times changed and it appeared that we didn't have a need for Home Economics or Shop class as much as we once did. The perceived roles of girls and boys who would eventually grow up to be women and men slowly changed, and with this change, so did the curriculum. Home Economics and Shop classes became relics of a bygone era, with many schools phasing them out altogether, or updated versions of the class only taught in high school as an elective (not mandatory).

As our lives became more hectic and lifestyles more busy, the traditional model of family also shifted. No longer were women staying at home, living out their lives as "domestic goddesses," and increasing numbers of men were shown to be not particularly handy when it came to making and fixing things, and that was okay.

Fast-forward to the present day. We now we find ourselves in a culture where "down time" is a commodity more than ever before and our busy lives have taken a toll on our abilities to manage even the most basic of household duties. Our love of technology has a downside too, as those digital signals that run our lives interrupt them as well. You're never really off the clock, with instant, 24/7 access via any number of avenues is possible, and often expected.

The result?

Very little time to devote to those tasks that once took up so much of our days.

Cooking. Cleaning. Building a new deck out back.

Notice that you're eating out with the family more? Me too.

Now yes, this can be attributed to the increase in work and responsibilities that have come along in our technological age, but can we also agree that this trend has as much to do with our declining abilities to cook and fix things?

Sounds crazy, I know, but hear me out.

However gender-biased they were, Home Economics and Shop classes used to be taught to middle and high school kids to get them prepared for their lives as adults. Young girls were taught to sew, manage the home including budgets and finances, and to cook. Young boys learned how to fix things, to build things and to generally be comfortable around tools.

With the societal shift in expectations as well as the increase in our dependence on technology, it's not wonder that we've arrived at a time where mom can't cook too well and dad is calling Home Depot to get some of those chores around the house completed, and vice versa. 

Time is of the essence but no matter how hard we try, we just can't seem to get enough of it. We're burning the candle at both ends and engaging in a never-ending game of "catch-up" all with the full understanding that it's a game that we'll never win. We're distracted by our phones, we're streaming videos at will and responding to emails and texts all hours of the day and night, because we can.

Because we want to.

Because, we feel, we have to.

So back to the cooking and fixing. Is it any wonder that, regardless of our gender, we don't have the acuity in these areas as we once had?

Life is busy and workdays have morphed from 9 to 5 to 24/7. We're busy, we're tired and we're stressed, and have very little energy for anything that takes even a semblance of effort.

"Let's hire someone to do it" we say to our partners as we dial the name of the recommended contractor just before we call in our order for the kid's favourite pizza.

You do what you have to do, right? This new model works, but is it really a good thing?

Somehow, it's difficult to reflect on ourselves and to realize that we've thrown the baby out with the proverbial bathwater. While we may enjoy the freedoms afforded by being unshackled from the kitchen or workbench, we're simultaneously becoming less skilled, less efficient and more heavily in debt as we rely on others to fulfill even the most basic of tasks (take-out, anyone?).

And don't get me started about housecleaning. For those of us who even attempt the task, it's often not done very well (guilty!) and the end result is that, too, is farmed out to someone who has the time and energy to do our dirty work, literally.

So what happened and why did we stop teaching our kids these skills?

One could argue that there are a number of reasons why it may be time to revisit Home Ec and Shop classes once again. They weren't overall a bad thing. After all, the ability to master household tasks, whether they include cooking and cleaning, or building and repairing things would make a huge difference in the lives of so many. Just think of the benefits: time and money will be saved with the abilities learned in these classes from a bygone era. Perhaps they weren't so bad after all.

In this day and age, the inherent sexism and gender-bias that existed within the old model could easily be eliminated, as most of us would agree that the ability to cook and sew as well as to fix and build things are skills that would be helpful to both sexes. After all, there's nothing like eating a delicious, home-cooked meal while sitting outside on the home-built deck. Right?

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