Our focus on academic rigor and testing comes under fire from a lot of quarters: that kids need more freedom to be themselves, that we’re robbing teachers of the flexibility to be themselves, that we’re pushing kids too hard.
Here’s a new charge against the modern curriculum: it leaves our kids clueless about a lot of important life skills. You can graduate valedictorian of your class and not know how to balance your checkbook, check the oil on your car or cook an egg.
Some experts are calling for the return of the home ec class. I recall home ec as a dreary high school mandate, a chance to rest my weary head for forty-five minutes at the back of the class before I went back upstairs to another “real” class like calculus or history.
Today, home ec is far from mandatory. Only 5.5 million kids are taking any kind of “domestic sciences” course. Affluent families enroll their children in afterschool courses and camps that teach cooking, woodworking and an array of skills that used to be passed on in a home ec classroom.
Other parents are teaching these skills at home. My daughter will be six next week. She can’t read. Her addition is shaky. But she can sew a button, make her own lunch and do a load of laundry.
Psychologists make much of teaching kids practical skills as a way of boosting their confidence and self-esteem. It’s also useful if you’re the kind of lazy parent who doesn’t want to be hand-peeling your child’s apple slices and laying out his school clothes for him when he’s in high school.
I’m not sure upper-grade classes are the best place to pass these skills on to our kids, though. Developmentally, elementary age children are most interested in what their parents are doing. They want to learn to do these things too.
Having your seven-year-old do housework isn’t very fashionable at the moment, but young kids are perhaps most eager to learn practical skills like how to do laundry, cook meals, write a shopping list and plant a garden.
By their teens, kids have moved into a more cerebral developmental stage. They’re more interested in each other, and (hopefully) in their intellectual pursuits, than they are in simple practical skills.
Are you concerned about your kid’s practical education? What life skills do you consider essential for your child to have before she or he leaves home?