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Community Corner: Not your mother's home ec
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My husband and I were watching HGTV’s “House Hunters” the other night and I mentioned that more and more, the couple would walk into the kitchen and it would be the men that were most concerned about the layout and the type of appliances.

We got talking about how things had changed since we were young. Having grown up in a farm family, I am not sure my dad knew how to operate the toaster lever, much less a gas range.

When I got to middle school, all of the boys had to take “Shop” class and the girls took “Home Economics.” I went to a very “progressive” junior high school that allowed boys and girls to switch it up for an elective class, but our respective genders were still required to take our “gender appropriate” class.

Family and Consumer Science, as it is referred to today, isn’t your mother’s Home Economics. I asked Diane Hoppe, Platteville High School Family and Consumer Science Teacher since 1986, what has changed the most in the program over the years.

We laughed about the difficulty students had getting the sewing machine to sew straight, and how students today did not seem to have the “fine motor skills” that they used to have. The days of spending hours learning cursive writing, stitching a seam, hand-sanding a wood project, or painting detail have become craft and art as opposed to career skills. It never occurred to me that it would have an effect on a student’s physical abilities, but it makes sense.

Hoppe told me how much of the focus of today’s program is on exploring careers and developing employment skills. If you visit the classroom, instead of rows of mini kitchen replicas, you will see a commercial kitchen rivaling local restaurants. In the Food Service, Foods and Family, and Food Science classes, students learn about nutrition, food preparation, the food service industry, and hospitality management.

In Family and Society and Parents and Children, when students discuss child development, it isn’t just from the perspective of a parent, but also from the perspective of a child care teacher, a social worker, or a pediatric health care provider. Students spend time in classes analyzing the retail business, from the consumer and the producer’s perspective, and examining design in architecture, for commercial use, and in fashion.

You might be surprised to find out that class enrollment (male to female) is a pretty even split.

Interestingly, when asked about favorite lessons and projects in the Creative Careers class, both Macy Johnson and Kelvin Schmidt, Platteville High School juniors, mentioned making a baby quilt for Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin as their favorite. Macy focused on the “good feelings” that come from having made something for others, and Kelvin enjoyed the “hands-on” nature of the project and was surprised by how much patience it took.

I was stunned to find out that four out of five jobs in the U.S. are in the service sector, according to the President’s Office on Trade (U.S. Government Statistics, 2012). Clearly, the skills learned in Family and Consumer Sciences go well beyond the doors of the house with the “white picket fence.” Many of the skills learned provide invaluable lessons on life, on the job, in the home, and in greater society.

What parent wouldn’t want their son or daughter to take “Personal Finance,” one of the more popular classes, prior to graduating? I remember being in a store with my oldest, a child at the time, who was begging for some toy, and when I told her that I didn’t have the money, she told me to “just write a check.” Times had changed by the time I had the same conversation with my youngest, who told me to just go to the money machine.

We can talk all we want about it being a parent’s responsibility to teach kids about money management; however; the societal costs when these lessons go unlearned is high. In Personal Finance, students learn the necessary skills of money management and handling credit.

I think most of us would agree that as adults, we could do a better job handling our relationships, whether it is with our spouse, our children, our friends, or our coworkers. Finding the right balance of productive employment, family involvement, and personal development is tough for all of us in this society with so many competing demands.

I learned a lot in my undergraduate courses in history as I pursued a career as a history teacher, but nothing as important to my adult life as the skills mentioned above. I remember a Physical Education and Health teacher once telling me that students didn’t really get the final grade for his class until they were about 65. I suspect that the grades for Ms. Hoppe’s classes start rolling in about the age of 25 and then keep on coming, right up through the retirement years.

The Community Corner is a weekly column of opinion written by guest columnists UW–Platteville Chancellor Dennis Shields; Platteville School District Superintendent Connie Valenza; Chamber Director Kathy Kopp; Main Street Program Director Jack Luedtke; Common Council President Mike Dalecki, Platteville Recreation Coordinator Jordan Burress, State Rep. Travis Tranel, Platteville City Manager Larry Bierke and Police Chief Doug McKinley.