The above videos show America’s oldest teacher, Agnes “Granny” Zhelesnik, who turned 102 in January 2016. Zhelesnik didn’t start teaching until she was 80 years old, when she began teaching children cooking and sewing at a private pre-K – 5 school in New Jersey.
This video struck a chord with me on many levels. It’s wonderful to see young children learning useful life skills in a school these days. It’s wonderful to see an elderly person strike out on a new purposeful and meaningful course late in life. It’s wonderful to see somewhere in America’s vast morass of education failures, efforts to teach children important and useful practical life skills exist.
My oldest sister, in her 60s, teaches adult cooking classes at a community college, but she also teaches cooking classes for kids in the summertime. One of my long-term pet peeves, but also deep concerns is how many young adults I’ve encountered in the past 20-30 years or so, who have absolutely no practical life skills. This concern isn’t about politicized feminist ideology vs. traditional family values, but about a society where so much opportunity, information, resources and talent withers away, never developed or fully realized. Living in a world where information on just about any topic is accessible with just a click or touch on a screen, this lack of acquisition of knowledge, training and development of practical skills in America speaks to a crisis of the American spirit.
My oldest sister has the skills of a culinary arts school grad, although she never attended any formal cooking school. Our grandmother started buying my sister cookbooks, when my sister was in her teens and showed an interest in cooking. In high school, my sister was a super-star in her home-ec classes, impressing everyone with her creations. She impressed us at home too. She found a job as a teenager working in a local restaurant, where the owner was a very talented cook, baker and cake decorator. This lady also ran the food services in our school district by the time I was in high school. Our school district had very good home-cooked type lunches back then.
My oldest sister is also extremely talented at all sorts of crafts and way more talented at needlework than I am. What she has always done is read a lot about the hobbies she’s interested in and she also observes carefully how craft and sewing items are constructed. Every hobby she undertakes, she doesn’t settle for mediocrity, but works to master it. She has taken classes to learn many different things. In fact, she took several cake decorating classes and convinced my mother to go to cake decorating classes. My other two sisters decided to take cake decorating classes several years ago too. I am the only one who hasn’t learned cake decorating yet and I still think that’s something I want to learn how to do.
Growing up in a time-warped village in rural PA, most of the people I lived around still lived in traditional families and although many women there worked outside the home, most still knew how to cook and sew. There were two blouse factories in my village, so perhaps the number of women who knew how to sew clothes was higher than normal there and of course, with their being of PA German ancestry, where quilting and needlework were traditional pastimes for women, knowing how to sew was a common skill. My oldest sister worked in one of those blouse factories as a teenager too.
Likewise, knowing how to cook and bake were common skills when I grew up, right in the midst of that 60s & 70s feminist revolution, but perhaps the self-reliant gene really is a part of those bitter PA clingers’ cultural DNA and not just indicative that they’re backward, religious zealots and xenophobes, as President Obama implied.
One of the great ironies of progressive career mothers, and amusing to me, is their desire to find great nannies and caretakers for their children, where something like hiring “Mormon nannies”, whose strong moral values are a real draw for well-to-do parents seeking a caregiver for their children. However, this reality vs the progressive rhetoric always smacks of rank hypocrisy among America’s elitist Leftists.
Teaching home economics in American schools was a progressive idea, not about training traditional stay-at-home mothers or keeping women trapped in their homes. It was about advancing teaching science and scientific approaches to domestic topics, but along with that, training women to pursue careers outside the home, beginning in the late 1800s.
My mother was a “science and math” person – she liked chemistry, she thought trigonometry was “fun” and she embraced the metric system. Besides knowing a great deal about “domestic skills”, she was a registered nurse, who loved to continue learning about medical innovations, she could fix a lot of electric appliances and knew how to do electrical wiring in homes, she was an expert at refinishing furniture, gardening, very good at crewel embroidery. She was a fantastic cook and expert baker. I think she was like many (most) of the women where I grew-up, who were multi-taskers long before the word came into vogue.
Even the “traditional” farm women were businesswomen too. Knowing how to bake cookies is not something to scoff at or mock! Baking is a useful skill to acquire, just like my father made me and my sisters learn to check the oil in the car and change tires. Being “liberated” means learning to be FREE to learn as much and as many skills in life as you can, to lead a fuller life.
As I often do, I started searching about “home economics” after watching the first video of the oldest teacher in America. A 2014 Huffington Post article, by Brie Dyas, caught my attention:
“You don’t hear much about Home Ec courses in schools these days. Even though many voices, from Anthony Bourdain to Slate, have called for its return, there’s still the critique that teaching high-schoolers cooking, budgeting and basic household skills is like saying they should walk around in poodle skirts — a “regressive” idea that doesn’t have a place in the modern curriculum.”
Dyas continues with a history of “home economics”:
“The creation of home ec is often attributed to Ellen Swallow Richards, a chemist and instructor at MIT, who paved the way for MIT’s Women’s Laboratory, which existed from 1876 to 1883 with a goal of advancing the scientific education of women at the Institution.
At the Women’s Laboratory, Richards turned her scientific attention to the study of how to make home life more efficient. According to the Chemical Heritage Foundation, “Richards was very concerned to apply scientific principles to domestic topics — good nutrition, pure foods, proper clothing, physical fitness, sanitation, and efficient practices that would allow women more time for pursuits other than cooking and cleaning.”
Richards’ philosophy — that running one’s home as efficiently as possible in order to make more time for things like, say, education — might be surprising to those who still see home ec as being anti-intellectual. To Richards, home ec wasn’t contrary to feminist principles. After all, she gathered other progressive women in 1899 to come up with academic guidelines for a fuller home ec curriculum that would “liberate” women from house work. The meetings, which occurred yearly in Lake Placid, New York until 1909, led to the formation of the American Home Economics Association. The group lobbied for increased funding for home economics programs. Richards was the president of the group until her death in 1911. (The American Home Economics Association was later renamed the American Association of Family & Consumer Sciences and still exists today.)
But let’s back up a second. Another guiding force behind the formal teaching of home economics was The Morrill Act of 1862, which led to the establishment of land-grant colleges in each state. These colleges, which offered both classical academic and practical courses, were open to women. “Domestic Science” courses were often on the agenda, specifically geared towards the wives of farmers, who were expected to run the household in addition to assisting in farm work.”
Definitely click on the links in Dyas’ article, because they offer more historical information into the progressive idea of teaching women domestic skills in a school setting, using scientific methods and research. The woman who started the home economics movement, Ellen Swallow Richards, was a feminist, the first woman to attend MIT, the first woman in America to earn a chemistry degree, a scientist engaged in a life of scientific research and whirlwind of studies, experiments, advocating on behalf of science being applied to teaching women domestic skills:
Chemist, sanitation engineer, and home economist Ellen Richards opened scientific education and professions to women when she started teaching at MIT in 1884.
“Ellen Richards graduated from Vassar College in 1870 and went on to become one of the first women admitted to MIT, where she earned a bachelor of science degree in 1873. Her focus was on chemistry, sanitary engineering and home economics. Richards blazed a trail for women in the sciences by establishing a woman’s laboratory at MIT and eventually joining the school’s regular faculty. She died in 1911.”
Dyas explains how home economics progressed in the early part of the last century, where some universities used real babies from orphanages as “practice babies” in their training programs, but post WWII, she explains how home economics funding decreased, with the focus being on science programs and the advent of convenience foods quelled the interest in teaching home-cooking.
In typical liberal fashion, Dyas and the Huffington Post staff recommend:
So, what now? We have a few ideas.
– Language matters. “Consumer Science” on its own has broader appeal than throwing “Family” into the mix. “Family” sounds like we’re back in the “practice baby” days.
– Timing matters, too. A high school kid can handle learning how to make grilled cheese. But the student likely won’t remember the in-depth lecture about interest rates, mainly because that’s probably not part of his or her world yet. But in college, with student loan debts averaging in the high $20,000s, it’s a great time to learn things like budgeting and basic business etiquette. Work in the “core” home ec classes from there: Managing laundry, meal planning and cooking.
– Don’t make it part of the formal curriculum. Instead, treat it as informally as freshmen orientation.
– Change your attitude. The sooner we can accept that Home Ec isn’t just for women, the sooner we can have students who have attain stronger life skills.
As always, the first thing with liberals is always to change the words we use to describe something. They know words DO matter, that’s why they are forever insisting we use different words – words they choose – to describe things.
The women I grew up with as mentors must have had some 19th century progressive women in their family trees, because on both sides of my family, the women are doers and not dainty flowers. Even my great-grandmother with the 3rd grade education read the newspaper everyday, could follow crochet patterns and needlework patterns, measure out ingredients and follow instructions in cookbooks and recipes jotted down from other cooks and was supportive of women getting a college education. I never met a woman where I grew up who didn’t want her daughters to attend school and to learn as many things as possible.
Admittedly, I mock the Hillary Clinton/Gloria Steinem type feminists, who pride themselves on knowing nothing about domestic topics, but I mock them, not out of jealousy of their “feminist achievements”, but because they are terrible role models, not only for women, but for AMERICANS. Their “liberation” of women, keeps women chained in an imaginary, perpetual state of victimhood of evil male patriarchy. There is no “equality” that will ever assuage their sense of discrimination, because with them its internalized and constant. Pssst, I think they hate men…
Yes, I believe they are strident ideological harpies, who offer no meaningful lessons or model to follow on how to achieve real-life emancipation or on becoming a self-reliant, free-thinking, independent American citizen. Especially, Hillary Clinton repeats strident, boring, angry feminist boiler-plate political rhetoric, while she relies on a coterie of sycophantic fetchers and carriers, to keep her public image from shattering.
Tiny glimpses of the “real” Hillary aren’t a pretty sight, like when she goes off-script and spews her angry diatribes or wallows in her self-pitying victim-mode rants. Her “damned” emails, as Bernie referred to them, give you a glimpse too – to a woman who orders her staff to fetch and carry, even her tea. She relies on them to handle all the details of her paid job, while she publicly gets all the credit. She’s a woman who relies on her husband to be her political fixer. A woman who relied on her Filipino maid to print out her work emails for her. A woman who is completely helpless on her own. She’s a woman who needs her staff flunkies to stage public outings to make her look “normal” (not like THE QUEEN).
Sadly, too many young women embrace shunning all things “domestic” and by doing so turn themselves into helpless fools in the process. Everyone, both male and female, should learn basic domestic skills, like simple food preparation and storage, basic housekeeping skills, basic household budgeting, how to balance a checking account, and if they’re planning on having children, acquiring some basic child-care knowledge sure comes in handy. Most young people won’t be like Hillary Clinton, with her coterie of fetchers and carriers, but will instead have to rely on themselves (or their parents) to handle all the drudge work in their lives.
The video above is Alton Brown, who has dozens of videos online, and he’s my favorite food personality for many reasons, but mainly because I love his scientific approach to cooking. Of course, he constantly asks my favorite question: WHY? WHY is a question that will keep your life an endless adventure, as you begin each new search for the answer(s).
Watching so many young women whine and embrace frivolous, mindless feminist political causes, while eschewing putting effort into learning real life skills saddens me. Feminist icons, like Hillary Clinton, have devoted their lives to perpetuating myths about opportunity for women in America, by enslaving young women’s minds to feminist dogma, more rigid than many religious cults.
Practical information, how-to videos, reference material is only a click away – embrace the freedom to explore old and new hobbies, pick a favorite meal and learn how to prepare it yourself, ever wondered about a science issue, how something works, or how something was invented, well devote a few minutes a day to researching it. I’ve become a fan of how-to videos with crafting and needlework, because I can pause and rewind as often as I need to, while I do it myself.
I kept urging my oldest sister to start a Pinterest account, where she can set up boards and save ideas, patterns, recipes and inspirations to refer back to and she has now done that. She’s way more computer savvy than I am, so her hesitation was about Pinterest being part of “social media”, not that she wasn’t familiar with computers. I use Pinterest often and while it’s doubtful I’ll ever use most of the recipes or make most of the needlework and craft projects I’ve pinned, these boards are much easier to access than trying to remember which magazine or craft book I saw a pattern in and then hunting it down.
For me, knowing how to handle as many daily tasks, central to my daily life, myself, gives me not just a sense of calm and security, it gives me a sense of FREEDOM. It’s nice to be able to do many things myself, without needing to rely on someone else to do them for me. And for me that’s what being an American is all about – personal liberty.