The evolution of home economics programs

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Go back, through a universe of chalk dust and repeating bells, to a classroom outfitted with a line of squat stoves, a long table stacked with dry goods, a row of teenage girls mixing dough in dented bowls, writing down the equation of a good pie in notebooks tracked by ink and flour. It was 1980, and my freshman high school class was taking home economics, learning how to make a pot of stew, set a proper dinner table, bake and frost a cake, as the last months of the Carter administration clicked down.

But not long after that, my school and so many others discontinued the classes. And when I talked to my former home ec teacher recently, her raspy 75-year-old voice conflating the three decades since she taught me how to make soup, she wondered aloud where home economics had gone. It's a common question.

But home ec has not disappeared, it's changed, evolving into classes focusing on child development, nutrition, family health, food service and hospitality. It hasn't been lost as much as translated. In 1994, the name of the course in most of the country was officially changed from Home Economics to Family and Consumer Sciences, or FCS, in an effort to dispel the impression that home ec was about teaching girls how to be housewives....

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