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When my generation attended junior high school during the ’50s and ’60s, girls were required to take eighth-grade home economics, and boys received training in industrial arts.
These courses provided valuable, real-life education that students took with them into adulthood.
Designating home economics and industrial arts as required courses was a wise decision by curriculum planners during those days. Time in those classes was well spent and helped us prepare for the future.
Lessons that my classmates and I learned in home economics class are still with us. We learned how to organize a kitchen and to recognize and use kitchen equipment that was in vogue at that time. We also practiced proper handling and storage of food and how to keep a kitchen clean and orderly, skills that are still important in modern times.
Our home economics teacher would not tolerate sloppiness or carelessness in our classroom kitchen. She constantly drilled us on techniques and skills that made a kitchen a safe, clean and pleasant place to provide for a family’s needs.
Those lessons in nutrition, menu planning and economy in stocking a kitchen ran deeply into our lives.
Let us not forget what we learned about setting and sticking to a household budget and putting aside funds for emergencies in the home.
And setting a proper table — our teacher would accept nothing short of perfection. Our classroom kitchen used no paper or plastic serving utensils or dishes; we set our table with china, crystal, silverware, cloth table coverings and table napkins that we had properly washed and ironed. We set a table that would have made Amy Vanderbilt proud.
There was no guesswork as to where to place a dinner fork, salad fork, spoon or knife.
And, yes, we placed a lovely centerpiece on each table in our classroom kitchen.
I am confident that most of the students in those classes still follow the rules for setting a proper table, at least on special occasions.
How proud we students were near the end of the year when we planned our first meal, did the prep, cooked, served and sat around the table to eat and have pleasant conversation.
We also learned that there were some things that should never be mentioned at the table, that conversation should be pleasant and that all people seated at the meal should be drawn into conversation, one of the responsibilities of the hostess or host.
We also learned how to clean a house and how spring cleaning is different from regular housecleaning and how to divide labor among family members, activities that many people today do not take seriously.
Although some of us girls learned to sew at home, others learned in home economics class. We learned how to operate a sewing machine, pick out a pattern, select materials and notions, cut the pattern out and follow instructions to make a stylish, straight skirt. I was so proud of the perfect zipper and hem that I wore my classic, navy straight skirt to school and church until I outgrew it.
Our dear teacher, Sue Stott, died last year, yet her dignity and lessons in home economics are still alive in our memory.
Young men learned enough in their industrial arts classes to allow them to make many of their own home repairs and to complete simple home construction projects. They learned to identify and use a wide variety of shop tools, select the right wood for specific building projects, follow patterns and blueprints, practice shop safety and many other shop skills.
Many students learned enough to be able to build a deck, a fence or even wooden toys for their children and grandchildren. They also learned what to do in the event of an accident, emergency or breakdown in the shop or at home.
I know of some people who learned so much from Marshall Carr and other teachers that they made a career of woodworking or some other skill that they learned first in the industrial arts class.
The required home economics and industrial arts classes served us well, just as elective classes such as auto tech, electronics, horticulture, animal science, culinary arts and outdoor construction classes do today. All of these real-world classes do their part to contribute to well-rounded education.
When I spring clean or prepare for a dinner party, when my husband builds an arbor for the backyard or a pencil-post bed for our home, we remember that we learned these things in school.
And when I make fruit preserves or my husband turns a fine post on a lathe, we both thank our junior high school teachers for their instruction and for their part in giving us a good start.
Those classes were pure pleasure.
Sanda Baucom Hight is retired from Wilson County Schools after serving as an English teacher and is currently a substitute teacher in Wilson County. Her column focuses on the charms of home, school and country life.