But according Carol R. Werhan, who studies the field of FACS and co-authored the survey, those numbers don't tell the whole story. Twenty-five percent is the number of students who took at least one home economics class at some point. That could mean as little as a nine-week course in middle school.
In the '50s, girls who took home ec spent one hour a day in the class for at least a year — and sometimes four years. Werhan, who will conduct a new survey this summer to update the stats, suspects that the number of home ec students has dropped since the 2002-03 school year, thanks in part to testing pressures. At that time, No Child Left Behind was just gearing up. According to a 2010 Gallup report, one in five principals says that high-stakes testing has led to less time at recess. It's not hard to imagine that FACS has also been a casualty.
You could make the case that home ec is more valuable than ever in an age when junk food is everywhere, obesity is rampant, and few parents have time to cook for their children. Rather than training girls to be housewives, home ec today can teach students to cook for themselves after work once they reach adulthood. More immediately, kids can take what they learn and make easy, healthy meals when their parents are too busy working. Werhan notes that lots of middle- and high-school students are responsible for preparing meals or "making decisions," such as deciding what to buy at the grocery store. (One of the first things I learned to cook as a child was a simple roast chicken, which I would make for my brothers and me when our mother was working late.)
A stronger home-ec curriculum could also rebut the myth that heavily processed foods are cheaper. A recent USDA report concludes that this isn't so. A student who learns four or five easy recipes incorporating healthy, cheap ingredients such as chickpeas can ease the financial and time burden on her parents while helping her family eat better.