“Electives?”

These photos from my high school yearbook of 1963 show that while I was enrolled in Latin, French, Biology, English, Social Studies and Algebra, other students were taking Home Economics(the girls) and Shop(the boys.) No one I knew took either class. What was going on? While theoretically I could have chosen Home Economics instead of Latin as my elective, I was never given a choice by either my parents or school counselors.   Sadly, we judged the girls who did take Home Ec as inferior to us. The boys had the same attitude towards Shop and I knew no one who took it. Eventually these two courses, probably some of the most useful classes for regular life, disappeared from many schools altogether.

I still don’t understand this condescending attitude to these classes that prevailed in my high school. We girls were definitely expected to be able to run households when we were grown. The boys were definitely expected to be able to fix things when they were grown. But apparently learning these skills in well equipped classrooms with master teachers was considered “below us.”

I cook every day. I never use Latin. Which elective would have been a better use of my time?

47 thoughts on ““Electives?”

  1. I suppose it depends on how deep the lessons go. Mine was a UK girls’ grammar school in the 60s. Being a girls’ school we had a couple of years of Home Economics but I don’t recall it being an elective. Most of it was cooking, but I do recall an early lesson on dusting (not something I do a lot of even now…) and the inadequacy of the feather duster.
    Back then, we could leave school at 14 (although not many did in the grammar schools) but not for much longer. When the law changed in that respect, the lesson selection seemed to be more about keeping them occupied and not disrupting the rest of the school than actually learning anything.

  2. I took Home Economics in High School, both Foods and Sewing and enjoyed them both. I still remember the delicious meal of Manicotti I made for my family, and that I never got the hang of kitting! I seem to remember a rather crooked yellow scarf! 😉 I also took Pottery which was fun though I’m not talented that way.

  3. I was lucky, as I wanted to do engineering I did woodwork and metalwork (“shop” I guess) as well as the more academic classes. I learnt a lot of useful life skills in this class and was also struck by the falsity of the academic/technical devide. I notice that we did much more arduous maths in the mechanics class than in the physics class – those in the non-academic stream could have outperformed the others in this area.

    1. My husband and grandson are building a back yard house. My grandson(9) is having to do the math. I notice he is eager since it is practical. As I mentioned to Pete, not only were some technical classes more challenging, their job prospects are quite good here. So many kids were pushed into college that there is a real shortage of, among others, machinists.

  4. We had to do Metalwork and Woodwork until we were 13 years old. Then if we were going to stay on at school until 17 or 18, (You could opt to leave at 15 then, and go to work) those were dropped to concentrate on academic subjects. Boys and girls who were going into a Trade apprenticeship continued with the practical classes until they left school, and as in your experience, they were slightly looked down upon by the rest of us.
    That’s probably why I can’t fix a fence or shelf, and have trouble assembling a flat-pack table.! 🙂
    (But I can still quote Shakespeare, as I call someone to repair the fallen fence…)
    Best wishes, Pete.

    1. That is intriguing. I didn’t realize a lot of that, especially about being able to leave at 15. Why did trades get a bad name? Here too. But right now the trades are paying much better than the Starbucks employing humanities majors.

  5. I don’t recall being given much a choice – we had to take either Home Ec or Shop. In Home Ec we did sewing, cooking and child care. We petitioned our school to be allowed to take Latin, but none of the staff wanted to teach it, so we were told no. I wish schools would focus more on practical skills rather than philosophy or watching westerns (as they did at my niece’s school). Students could enter the workforce prepared for their intended jobs, and graduates wouldn’t be burdened with mountains of debt for useless, time-wasting courses.

  6. I hope they’d also bring back those Home Economics subject. I learned a lot from it when I was in grade school. Nowadays, some kids don’t even know how to boil an egg.

    1. I had to take chemistry. It was the year the American schools totally changed the method of teaching. Neither our teacher nor us understood a thing.

  7. As another UK Grammer school student, my experiences were similar. From age 14 choices had to be made; supposedly by the student but in practice, not. If you were considered good at maths, you got to take Latin rather than German. I wanted German; there was no choice despite my father backing me. As has been said, all to do with university entrance although by my era (70s) only the top Oxbridge universities required it unless one was heading for medical studies.

  8. I recall in high school taking Home Ec which included cooking, sewing, and a very emotionally charged teacher. I remember always wanting to roll my eyes at her (but at that age, didn’t we all resort to such immaturity? LOL) I felt her class was an awful experience, but I had/have a great mother who taught us at home how to cook and sew long before then. By the time I was in high school, these “lessons” to me were a waste of time. This was in about ’73 or ’74, so yes, the girls took Home Ec and the boys took Shop. Aside from French–our high school at that time only offered either French or German; I chose the former–my all time favorite class was Art class and specifically, Pottery. I LOVED that class and for years wanted my own kiln. When my three kids were young, we made summer clothes as a summer project and I’ll never forget how much my boys loved using my sewing machine. They chose the wild fabrics and I chaperoned their efforts to make summer shorts on the machine. They had a blast. I knew they’d never take a Home Ec class, so I did the honors at home. Our daughter could care less about sewing but to this day, our boys can make and repair clothes if they wish. 🙂 Overall, it wasn’t the electives I was taught or those my children were taught; it was the home influence that made the difference.

    1. For the same odd reason my group was never allowed to take either music or art. I have no idea who came up with that course for us. I did teach English at an art college for my professional life and loved being around artists. I was able to take a couple of classes there. Glad to hear from you. Must have a little breathing room!

  9. Home economics was mandatory at my school. I think we did it from 7th to 9th grade and then after that it was a choice. I don’t think we ever looked down on anyone who pursued it as Food & Nutrition in 10th and 11th grade. We just assumed they wanted to be chefs. Guys, however, were often discouraged from taking the class at other schools. (My school was all-girls). Funny enough, a year later by college, no one cared if a guy or girl pursued culinary arts.

    I don’t know too many girls who did your equivalent of “shop” but seeing girls as architects, surveyors and building and construction managers in Jamaica doesn’t come with the jaw dropping awe it does here. Women do whatever they want.

    1. I don’t know why it had a class bias at my school. My daughter, who went to a very progressive elementary school, took shop every year. They thought everyone should be able to make things.

  10. Timely! Just last week members of the book club I am in were talking about the life skills we were taught in “Home Ec” and “Shop” classes that – while segregated by gender back in the mid 1970s – imparted some important things about being able to make things with one’s own hands, being efficient and resourceful, and observing different types of etiquette. Many of us learned these things at home, but learning them at school helped to level the field of experience for everyone.

    1. Could you share the titles you read in your book club. You can send them to betsyfrompike@earthlink.net. I have no idea why these courses were considered little better than remedial in my school. I missed the chance to take them. My grandmother, in 1906, protested that her Oak Part school wouldn’t let her take Industrial Arts>

  11. It sounds like we had a very similar high school education. I never use Latin in life either but I’m not sure a Home Ec class would have been better for me if it involved sewing. I’m all thumbs and can barely sew a button on a blouse or fix a hem that’s come undone.

  12. Here in Australia our High School starts in the 7th grade we had to do all the subjects bar a choice between Geography or Ancient History. I took Ancient History.
    Further Electives were introduced in Grade 8… we had a choice between Home Economics, woodworking, metal work or Dressmaking, I took dressmaking which I loved & came in handy when I had my daughters, designing & sewing all their clothes 😀 And at times was able to earn a little added income during those childrearing years…
    We had core subjects of English, Mathematics, Science, the two category of electives above to elect from & then a 6th elective subject to choose from either French, German music or commerce. I chose commerce. 😀
    Jennifer

  13. I actually took both home economics and shop class in high school. And those are the two classes I use most in my life. But I think 2013 was the last year home economics was offered.

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