Friday, June 04, 2010

It Turns Out That Ignorance May Not Be As Blissful As We've Been Previously Led To Believe

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects. Robert A. Heinlein, The Notebooks of Lazarus Long
After I posted about our family's decision to take part in the June Food Stamp Challenge (^) a couple of days ago, several friends made more or less the same comment, which was "The government should offer classes to food stamp recipients in cooking and shopping". I know what they're saying, and they aren't being snide or uncharitable - they are stating what most of us come to know at some point or another: learning how to be frugal and wise with resources are valuable skills; skills  which can be taught and learned. 

I agree, insofar as I think everyone should take home economics in school.   Everyone.

So... why isn't it mandatory anymore? As far as I know, HomeEc, as it was known back then, is no longer required in most school districts across the United States.At least not in any of the ones I've lived in since then.

When I was in junior high, HomeEc was required in 7th and 8th grade in the school district we lived in in South Carolina. We moved to North Carolina the summer between 8th and 9th grades, and ended up taking it again the next year, too; three entire years of Baked Alaska, Blanc Mange, and hemming skirts.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that I can whip up one heck of a white sauce (^), and have mad apron-making skills.
Back and front view of a woman wearing an apron intended for cooking and a house cap of the "Dutch bonnet" style. Figure 3 and 4 from "House Aprons and Caps" by Mary Brooks Picken, published by the Women's Institute of Domestic Arts & Sciences of Scranton, Pennsylvania, 1922. In the public domain (^)

I'm not sure when, but at some point, it seemed to become much less important to know how to do all the things that allow us to be independent adults. Where once saying you couldn't cook or repair something would have been an admission of fault, it became something of a badge of honor. 

I have more important things to do than cook. 

I can afford to pay someone to fix my car. 

But the truth is, most of us, almost all of us, don't have more important things to do. We won't always have enough money to pay someone to take care of us and being incapable of performing basic tasks quickly becomes paralyzing. 

No one should be ashamed of being a competent, complete individual who want only the best for themselves and their family. It is not demeaning to know how to cook or clean or drive a hammer or change a tire. It should be demeaning to be willfully ignorant.

Thankfully, the pendulum seems to be swinging back the other way. In the last few years, anyone who has been paying attention can't help but have noticed the renaissance in the "home arts" in the blogosphere and elsewhere. It seems as though everyone is busy knitting, sewing, cooking, canning, and growing stuff. And then writing about it at length. 

This is good, because it turns out that ignorance is a bad thing, not something to aspire to. Being self-reliant allows us to be strong and independent. Relying on others for everything weakens us. And it turns out that being unable to perform basic skills hurts the poor and disadvantaged much more than it hurts the wealthy. 

Wealthy people can often afford to pay others to mitigate their personal ignorance. The rest of us? Not so much. The less we can afford to pay others, the more important it becomes to learn to do it ourselves.

Which brings us back to classes for food stamp recipients. Yes, I think that people on food stamps should take classes in how to shop and cook.  Everyone should take these classes. Everyone should be afforded the opportunity to be independent as they possibly can be.

Everyone should be able to say that they can care for themselves and their families. We should demand that these skills are taught, or take it upon ourselves to teach them, learning along the way  if need-be. We should refuse to raise another generation who thinks that ignorance of basic skills is somehow preferable to mastery. 

I'll leave you with this, a HomeEc film called Buying Food, from around 1950, which teaches the fine art of grocery shopping. It's a bit condescending, but full of helpful information nonetheless. Enjoy.


1 comment:

Confessions of a Closet Hoarder but you can call me Judy said...

The video was cute. It was fun seeing some of the old brands and especially getting to see the old IGA sign on the front of the grocery store. We lived very close to an IGA growing up, and I'd totally forgotten what the old sign looked like. :)

I agree with you that everyone should be taught certain skills. Bugster knows how to do basic almost everything including fixing her vacuum cleaner, wiring, plumbing, cooking, baking, laundry, sewing, shopping for the best price, budgeting, saving, cleaning, painting, etc.. and the list goes on. It's just entirely too important not to teach your kids as much as you can.

Great post. :)