‘Learning basic ‘life skills’ at school didn’t make me a domestic goddess’

Jun 28, 2019
By all means bring back Home Economics classes, but it does not guarantee domestic success. Source: Getty Images

There’s been much banter of late regarding the return, or not, of Home Economics classes to teach today’s students basic domestic skills. For the benefit of the greater good I offer a picture of shame and embarrassment that was the product of my 1963 Home Ec class. A lover of the domestic sciences I was not.

Robyn McCoy’s sewing from Home Economics class. Source: Robyn McCoy

You would think that pity and common sense would prevail considering my lack of dexterity, ability and care factor but no, not even after the disaster that was my 1963 sewing effort was I finished sabotaging needlecraft. I’ll spare you more photos.

In Queensland, the Education Act 1964 introduced changes in the control of secondary, technical and agricultural education, and raised the school leaving age to 15 (operative in 1965). New primary and secondary syllabuses were introduced over the next five years. What all this meant for we who lived it was that we went to secondary school from Year 8 and kids couldn’t leave school until they were 15 years old. For me personally I was overjoyed because I just knew no secondary learning institution would waste time with all this sewing and cooking palaver.

My happiness was short-lived.

During that first heady week at my new all-girls secondary school I discovered the awful, smack-in-the-head truth. Not only was Home Economics alive and well here, there were two classes each week! Two classes each and every week; I was doomed.

As the weeks went on I discovered sewing was only one of the two classes, cooking and other stuff were also taught. Maybe I could ‘catch-up’ my grades in cooking and ‘other stuff’? Nope, and I think I know why.

Recently, I found the Senior High School Curriculum Guide for Home Economics 1964 (for girls) and, may I say, this explains so much. Included in this mind-boggling 11-point piece of indoctrination garbage is ‘You Should Never Serve a Meal on an Ugly Table’, ‘New Clothes are More Important Than Food’, ‘You can Judge Others by Their Friends’, ‘Keep Home Life in Mind Before Deciding on a Career’ and last but not least ‘Teach Your Children to Repress Their Emotions’.

As seriously demented as these ‘educational points’ were I now know why I could never take Home Ec seriously as I read number 1 point, numero uno, first out of the blocks was … ‘You Should Wash Dishes with One Hand’. (On reading this one just has to laugh. Further discussion is for another time and place. )

The only thing I remember learning for three years (years 7-9 compulsory) of school Home Economics was the teacher reiterating any sewing must look just as good from the back as the front; or the front as the back; something reversible anyway. Also that as a homemaker I was, and would always be, a disaster. Inexplicably, this filled me with immense joy and enormous hope because she was absolutely correct; no domestic goddess me.

But somehow here I am, at 67, a survivor of domestic-duties failure. How on earth did I manage to get through life with this badge of shame, monkey-on-my-back stigma? Admission: Maybe just a few of those little titbits of household information filtered through.

Turns out it was useful to know how to sew on a button or tack up a hem. It was useful to know the difference between boiling and simmering water, grilling and baking or how to mash potatoes and make a cottage pie. Who knew?

For all my lack of interest and ability in all things domestic I honestly believe kids should attend some type of life skills class because Google isn’t always available. Call it ‘life hacks’ if that makes it more appealing. Take it out of the kitchen too, let’s lube the car and learn how to change a tyre, basic knowledge of ‘connect-the-new’ computer/modem/TV/printer/gadget, pay bills, balance a bank account. Please, someone teach the art of flat-pack assembly.

Even though I know my skillset does not include A+ grade sewing (translation: dog’s dinner), I’m still rather proud (yes, proud) of my effort; well Mum said she loved it. Hopefully before I shed this mortal coil, someone, somewhere will explain why the 1960s lady-of-the-house was encouraged to use only one hand to wash the dishes. What was the other hand doing?

Did you take a home economics class of some sort when you were at school? Do you think today’s kids need more education around ‘life skills’?

Keen to share your thoughts with other 60-pluses? You can sign up as a contributor and submit your stories to Starts at 60. While you’re at it, why not join the Starts at 60 Bloggers Club on Facebook here to talk to other writers in the Starts at 60 community and learn more about how to write for Starts at 60. Community blogs published on the website go into the draw for some great weekly prizes.

Stories that matter, delivered straight to your inbox

Sign up to our daily newsletter for more great stories

Leave your comment

Please sign in to post a comment.
Retrieving conversation…