Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte
March 16, 2011
When I was in the seventh grade, during my first year of what was then junior high school, my 5th period class was homemaking. I always looked forward to this particular class because there was something new to do everyday. And since it was scheduled right after lunch, I didn’t have to worry too much about eating our culinary mishaps. Most days we learned to cook simple dishes on the white gas stove. Things like green beans and macaroni and cheese and the occasional hunk of meat were specialties of the house.
Our teacher, Mrs. Templeton, was a large, stern woman who took no prisoners. We learned to make our own aprons and how to properly wash and dry the dishes with those ultra white cotton towels that smelled like a good day outside, and clean the kitchen with military-like precision. Even though my sewing skills were never up to par, resulting in an apron lacking both symmetry and adornment, I aced the rest of the class work. Because I was the oldest sibling of five, with two working parents, I already knew my way around the kitchen. My habit of letting Mrs. Templeton know this as often as I could, made for a very strained student-teacher relationship which resulted in a “C” in citizenship in my first semester, and you guessed it, a note on my report card that read, “Watch your behavior Sheryl.” And even though I knew I could cook better than she, (I mean, please…who just boils green beans with no seasonings whatsoever?) I must have somehow repaired the relationship because for the rest of the year, I got all “A’s’” in that category, with “B’s” in the subject matter because of my aforementioned inability to conquer my sewing demons.
In the ensuing years, the homemaking class crumbled under the weight of budget woes and the women’s movement. And although I agreed with the inevitable demise of the homemaking class with it’s “stuck in the fifties” message that girls and women were destined only to be the little wifey, I have come to realize the good things we were taught during those times that have been could have, should have, been somehow preserved.
Homemaking class taught us table manners and the basic rules of politeness. I am constantly amazed to still see children and adults who lack knowledge of common courtesies. I often think that if people were taught be more courteous to each other, the world would be a bit more relaxed, safe and harmonious.
Of course, there is no substitute for good home training, but I feel that a good academic overview of which fork to use, how to greet people, how to hold dinner conversation and all of those little things that add up to how you maneuver through life are as important today as they were back then. The world has not changed so much that these things are not still expected if you plan to excel in life. That along with the fact that people don’t seem to cook at home much anymore, and we are getting fatter and fatter by the minute, makes a good case for the something like the good old homemaking class. Nowadays, we have the occasional “celebrity chef” who visits the school cafeteria to try to change the culture of unhealthy food offerings, but as far as I can tell, we have nothing in place in our educational system that captures the positive and still relevant tenets of the homemaking class.
But there is also a more intangible, yet potent, lesson to be remembered and carried forth. Homemaking class did not just teach us how to bake the bread and boil the beans and which fork or spoon to eat them with; it taught girls how to work as a team to produce a final product that was satisfactory to all. We had to divide the work, make assignments and agree on processes that would get us to the goal within a forty-five minute timeframe. We had to correctly calculate the math of the recipes to avoid disaster. We were taught to solve problems. And even though there was no amount of problem solving that could save my apron, we were expected to help each other without attribution.
The homemaking class gave us communication and negotiation skills that were not normally available to girls at that pivotal age. We learned the value of working together for the success of the group. Boys were able to play team sports to learn these arts and it was rare that girls had these opportunities. Practicing these techniques as a preteen have stuck with me and served me well as a parent and in my career as a manager and consultant.
These days, when I am in a work or life situation where teamwork, negotiation or compromise are the keys to success, I think back to homemaking class, where these valuable elements were taught to young women at an impressionable age. I have no doubt that many successful women have utilized what they learned in homemaking class and are playing it forward in their work and with their children.
Even if they don’t know it.