24 April 2005

They call me "Mr. Family and Consumer Sciences!"

During my first year at my current school, I had a need for some saucepans for a lab. After confirming with the "Home Ec" teacher that I could borrow these, I sent up a kid to get them. My only mistake was that I wrote "Home Ec" on the hall pass.

The kid returned with the saucepans and a lot of literature. The teacher had seen "Home Ec" written on the pass and had a hissy fit. (After working with this woman for 9 years, I've found out that she has lots of hissy fits.) She grabbed all sorts of brochures about her program and then commenced to circle and highlight all the instances upon them where "Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS)" were written. The poor student was charged with coming back and witnessing to me about the error of my ways. FCS! Hallelujah! I see the light!

For those of you who, like me, took Home Ec in high school, let me assure you that FCS isn't really any different. You still learn how to sew and cook and balance the family checkbook. There are a few other courses beyond that, such as "Relationships" and "Advanced Child Psychology." Frankly, I don't think I ever fully recovered from my own Home Ec experience in high school. I was more or less forced to take it, because I went to a tiny high school with precious few elective options available. I remember sewing a hideous skirt. I also remember getting into an argument with the teacher about food. She said that if all the food on a plate was the same colour (e.g. chicken, mashed potatoes, corn) that it wouldn't taste good. I thought that was a bunch of bs. Sure, it might be quite as visually appealing as having some peas on the plate, but that nothing to do with how the food actually tasted. Silly me.

The FCS program at my school has been dwindling over the years. I guess we aren't the only ones. The New York Daily News is reporting that beginning in 2006, 500 Home Ec (their term, not mine) teachers in NY are about to lose their jobs due to lack of interest. The teachers are being encouraged to obtain a different certification---and the district will even reimburse their tuition costs.

I'm guessing from the article that many Home Ec teachers aren't taking the threat of losing their jobs too seriously, as "we have this problem every few years." But I tell you, in a land where NCLB is currently king, I'd be quaking in my boots.

My understanding is that NCLB is not "designed" to make elective options go away. Music, art, drama, shop classes, business ed., and yes, FCS, all have their place in today's high school. I want to see them stick around and be supported. The problem is simply that kids who don't achieve in math, science, and/or English are placed in remedial classes...which serve as their electives. Elective options are going to have to retool their programs to include more rigorous thinking and writing to help support student achievement, or like teachers in NY, they'll see their programs disappear. Gives a whole new spin on "survival of the fittest."

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