The industrial kitchen displayed all the hectic activity of a reality TV cooking show.

Chefs tended anxiously to their creations – “Do these bread crumbs look browned enough?” – and kept a watchful eye on the progress of their teammates – “That whipped cream needs to be fluffy, fluFF-ie.”

This was finals day for the seniors in the culinary arts program at San Juan High School in Citrus Heights. The teams of young chefs had 90 minutes to complete a menu of sautéed chicken breast with mustard cream sauce, rice pilaf, fresh broccoli sauté, and Danish apple trifle for dessert.

The flashy, industrial quality kitchen facility could be an incubator for the next Alice Waters or Bobby Flay. It also stands as a symbol of the changing face of home economics programs in California.

Once known as domestic education that raised images of young women learning how to be housewives, home economics of today is a popular career program that serves more than 160,000 students across the state. And it’s not just about cooking lump-free gravy or sewing potholders.

San Juan High School senior Joshua deHaydu, 17, took culinary arts to learn how to cook.

Michelle Maitre/EdSource Today

San Juan High School senior Joshua deHaydu, 17, took culinary arts to learn how to cook.

The programs – formally called Home Economics Careers and Technology Education – encompass fields ranging from culinary arts and food service to fashion design, hospitality and tourism, child development, nutrition and interior design.

“I think a lot of people think more about the ’50s or ’60s stereotype, that home ec is all women learning house stuff,” said Joshua deHaydu, a 17-year-old senior in San Juan High’s culinary program. But don’t get caught up on “stereotypes that used to exist,” deHaydu, who has been a back-up left tackle and nose guard on the school football team, counsels, “because they don’t really anymore.”

Mindful of the stereotype, every other state has ditched the “home economics” title, renaming the courses Family and Consumer Sciences in an effort to reflect the evolving nature of the subject matter. California is the only state that still uses “home economics careers” – with an heavy emphasis on careers, said Tanya Wright, education programs consultant in the Agriculture and Home Economics Education Unit at the California Department of Education.

“It just wasn’t the right climate in California to focus on family,” Wright said of the national effort nearly two decades ago to rename the programs. “It was really to focus on careers.”

Home economics has long been a staple in the California education system, dating back at least to 1917, Wright said. The early programs focused on life skills and home making. But a statewide shift in the late ’90s and early 2000s toward career pathways in the high schools helped push home economics to their current focus, Wright said.

Today, home economics is offered as an elective at middle and high schools throughout California. Life skills are still a component of the programs, especially at the middle school level, where students may receive an introduction to nutrition, basic sewing and cooking, and first aid. Some middle school programs even offer babysitting training, allowing students to graduate with industry certifications in first aid and CPR, Wright said.

“Even as we focus on core academic areas, the things kids really want to do are the practical life skills,” said Taudine Andrew, culinary instructor at Rocklin High School. “And these are not fluff courses.”

At the high school level, however, the programs bear little resemblance to the home economics classes many may remember from their youth.

More than 800 home economic career programs operate in the state’s 1,400 comprehensive high schools, offering career-oriented programs designed to introduce students to future professions, Wright said.

A program in San Diego, for instance, introduces students to careers in child development by putting them to work in an on-campus preschool, Wright said.

At San Juan High School, students participate in a three-year sequence of culinary courses and graduate with a California ServSafe Food Handler Card, an industry certification. Along the way, students will run a 75-seat restaurant on the campus and will help cater professional events, such as the 1,000-person holiday luncheon students catered in November at the California Department of Education.

A student whips cream for a dessert during her culinary arts final at San Juan High School.

Michelle Maitre/EdSource Today

A student whips cream for a dessert during her culinary arts final at San Juan High School.

The campus also offers a separate sequence in baking and pastry arts, where students learn cake decorating and other skills.

At nearby Rocklin High School, a newly launched hospitality, recreation and tourism pathway will offer students a three-year program covering all aspects of a career in tourism, from food preparation and service to hotel and restaurant management opportunities, said culinary instructor Taudine Andrew. The program will culminate in a capstone project requiring students to participate in job shadowing or another work-based opportunity in tourism.

The demand for the program, now serving 172 students in its second year, is huge, said Andrew, who had to turn away 100 students this year. The hook for the teenage students is the lure of free food, but once they’re in, students receive an introduction to potentially lucrative careers in one of California’s top industries, she said.

“People think about home economics and they think about cooking and sewing and crying babies, but the reality is hospitality and tourism are all under the umbrella,” Andrew said. “We have a huge tourism industry in California and recreation and tourism are a major part of the economy. We’re training kids to be part of those hospitality jobs.”

The hospitality program expands on the home economics offerings previously offered at Rocklin High School. Students could take semester-long elective courses in childhood development and a course called “Living on Your Own,” where students received a smattering of life skills – some cooking, personal finance tips, and information on healthy relationships and job skills.

“Even as we focus on some of core academic areas, the things kids really want to do are the practical life skills,” Andrew said. “And these are not fluff courses,” she added, noting that the child development class met the “a-g” course criteria required for admission to University of California and California State University.

About 4.5 percent of the home economics technology programs offered throughout California currently meet a-g requirements, most of them in child development and education, Wright said. The number of courses submitted for a-g approval grows each year, she said.

Sandi Coulter, culinary arts instructor at San Juan High School, sees the courses as an important part of students’ high school careers. The students learn something they’ll always need – how to cook a decent meal – but also are introduced to other less tangible skills, such as teamwork, organization skills and the ability to take and follow direction.

“One of the things I see with students that aren’t in pathways is that they don’t really know how to do anything,” Coulter said.

Those are some of the perks of home economic career programs, Andrew said.

“When we say (home ec) people think about their junior high school experience where they sewed a pillow and made Orange Julius and may have had to balance a checkbook, and we don’t think about any of that as being relevant to our lives,” she said. “But when we move away from that and toward the courses we’re talking about, it becomes very relevant again. … You can take the skills from your basic cooking course or child development course and translate that into building a better home life and career for yourself.”

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  1. Doktorskaya kolbasa Grill 2 years ago2 years ago

    very informative

    Our family is a great desire to go to cooking classes.

    30 years ago it was not fashionable.

    And now, the courses can be found an experienced programmer, director of the company or just a housewife.

    People want, and know how to cook at home.

  2. Rhonda Beatty-Gallo 3 years ago3 years ago

    Washington State University, Home Economics grad, 1978. I have a bachelors of SCIENCE in home ec with so much science that I need only two more science courses and I could teach science in CA! The field of Home Ec was so diverse at that time - late 70s, and I chose Foods, Nutrition and Institutional Management (FNIM), with a Communications option. Dietetics, business and research were other "options" to choose from. The courses were … Read More

    Washington State University, Home Economics grad, 1978. I have a bachelors of SCIENCE in home ec with so much science that I need only two more science courses and I could teach science in CA! The field of Home Ec was so diverse at that time – late 70s, and I chose Foods, Nutrition and Institutional Management (FNIM), with a Communications option. Dietetics, business and research were other “options” to choose from. The courses were rigorous and full of bright women who were not looking for husbands. We were career bound, and Washington State was a fabulous university to get that education and experience. Yes, it too has disbanded the Home Economics College, and the different specialties have become parts of other colleges.

    To answer the question posted – I use my home economics every single day of my life. I balance my checkbook – to the penny most times, put two kids through Cal with no student loans, enjoy home canned foods and meals that are nutritious and delicious (as attested to by my kids, husband and friends!), plus I garden through the winter too. For Christmas I whipped up a sleeping bag “bag” w/o a pattern and also made flavored vinegars for the newest member of our family. My daughter cried as she read the collection of recipes I put together in her own “family cookbook” – passed down from grandmothers, aunts, and well-loved memories. It’s Mom that fields lots of questions about “how to do…” and putting together a party or tripling a batch of cookies for a cookie exchange are pretty easy to figure out. Yep, Home Economics was the best choice for me because of its diversity and strength! I love it and I live it! I also notice how, like cursive writing, it was taught so much, and that is to the detriment of us all.

    Replies

    • Rhonda Beatty-Gallo 3 years ago3 years ago

      Googled WSU Home Economics to see just where Home Ec went to. Here is a short but interesting article about just that! http://wsm.wsu.edu/s/index.php?id=265

  3. Mary Thompson 3 years ago3 years ago

    I majored in Home Economics at Michigan State 1947-1951 earning a Bachelors of Science Degree. As the article reports, under the of H.E. there were several disciplines including, Child Development, Foods and Nutrition, Education, Textiles Clothing and Related Arts with emphasis on design and marketing. My choice was Textiles Clothing and related Arts with the objective of a career in merchandising. I knew of NO student who enrolled … Read More

    I majored in Home Economics at Michigan State 1947-1951 earning a Bachelors of Science Degree. As the article reports, under the of H.E. there were several disciplines including, Child Development, Foods and Nutrition, Education, Textiles Clothing and Related Arts with emphasis on design and marketing. My choice was Textiles Clothing and related Arts with the objective of a career in merchandising. I knew of NO student who enrolled in Home Economics at college level who did so to learn how to be a home maker. Everyone was there to prepare for a professional career in one of the disciplines. In the foods and nutrition department there was also hotel management which attracted male students.

    At one point in time Michigan State followed other leading Universities with Home Ec. Majors, and renamed the Major: College of Human Ecology. That defined the direction toward more emphasis on social sciences. It did not set well with those who earned former H.E. degrees. Then a couple years ago, the College of Human Ecology completely dissolved with the different channels of interest dispersed and dissolved into other colleges. My old major became part of the College of Arts and Letters. Nothing of the character and professional intent of Home Economics at college or university level exists. Big loss, for the original major required basic courses in all of the disciplines under the H.Ec. umbrella, and many of those required courses in science in other departments, i.e. chemistry, physics, engineering drawing, etc..

    Replies

    • FloydThursby1941 3 years ago3 years ago

      I’m just curious, did it help you when you had kids, the child development part, to raise them better? What did they advise in terms of helping kids excel scholastically? Did it help you in your career? Did it help you learn about quality food? There weren’t as many food options at that time. I am interested in what the curriculum was like at that time.

      • Ann Chaney 3 years ago3 years ago

        I graduated in 1974 from Radford University, Radford, VA with a degree in Home Economics. It helped me to be the mom I was and am to my kids, which I consider to be a pretty darn good one, and they did too! I understood them better and knew what to expect from the stages that all children go through. Both of my children were achievers in school and graduated from college with excellent paying … Read More

        I graduated in 1974 from Radford University, Radford, VA with a degree in Home Economics. It helped me to be the mom I was and am to my kids, which I consider to be a pretty darn good one, and they did too! I understood them better and knew what to expect from the stages that all children go through. Both of my children were achievers in school and graduated from college with excellent paying careers. The standard of going to school was taught from a very early age to my children, as it was to me as I was being raised, except my mother was unable to attend college.
        I have been teaching HE for 41 years now and I still love what I do. I teach Parenting and Child Development, Early Childhood Education, and Teen Living. I love my students and they love me! As far as the food options, the curriculum taught us to use pure and basic ingredients when preparing meals. Processed/ boxed foods with all the added chemicals hadn’t gotten to be so affordable. Dinner time at my house was a fresh meat, a couple of vegetables and fresh homemade biscuits or cornbread. My grown daughter and son still tell people what great meals were on the table when they were growing up.
        The curriculum even taught me how to physically help my husband built our custom built home. I took plans and redrew them to make them work for our needs.
        Home Economics wasn’t and still isn’t just about ‘cooking and sewing’ as many people considered it to be!!!

    • Gayla Randel 3 years ago3 years ago

      There are many Family and Consumer Sciences programs that are still in existence, however less in number than in the past. Many do not understand the holistic "human centered" uniqueness of the field but rather look at it as separate content fields and so the 'divisioning' seems to make sense. What is loss when this happens is the lack of understanding concerning how people function in real life. One cannot focus on nutrition, … Read More

      There are many Family and Consumer Sciences programs that are still in existence, however less in number than in the past. Many do not understand the holistic “human centered” uniqueness of the field but rather look at it as separate content fields and so the ‘divisioning’ seems to make sense. What is loss when this happens is the lack of understanding concerning how people function in real life. One cannot focus on nutrition, finances, relationships, healthy living environments, safe clothing and apparel, meeting personal needs separately, but it’s within the contexts of the interaction of all of these at the exact same time and the pulling of each against each other that is the key to successful life balance and the field. THIS is what is lost when the field is splintered. The website shared shows where the programs still exist. What we need is a national spokesman to bring this concept to national attention. What we need is someone who is willing to focus on best practice and HOW we can get our societal health back. What we need is our discipline–Home Economics, Family and Consumer Sciences, Human Ecology–to gain our recognition back, regardless of what we call it so the HOW is retained and/or reinstated in our schools today.

      • Sue Stinson 3 years ago3 years ago

        Wow Gayla, could not have said it better. Home Economics, Family and Consumer Science or Human Ecology - however you state it; we are interdisciplinary, holistic and cater to the whole person within society as a whole. I received a Bachelor of Science: Home Economics with a Design and Merchandising concentration from Drexel University in 1980. I have used those skills and knowledge through a career in business, as a teacher and as a … Read More

        Wow Gayla, could not have said it better.
        Home Economics, Family and Consumer Science or Human Ecology – however you state it; we are interdisciplinary, holistic and cater to the whole person within society as a whole. I received a Bachelor of Science: Home Economics with a Design and Merchandising concentration from Drexel University in 1980. I have used those skills and knowledge through a career in business, as a teacher and as a mother/wife. We do need a National Spokesperson – Gayla, I am voting for YOU!