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Home economics (also known as family and consumer sciences, home ec., and in some cases, human ecology, home science) is the profession and field of study that deals with the economics and management of the home and community. Home economics is a field of formal study including such topics as consumer education, institutional management, interior design, home furnishing, cleaning, handicrafts, sewing, clothing and textiles, commercial cooking, cooking, nutrition, food preservation, hygiene, child development, managing money, and family relationships. This teaches students how to properly run a family environment and make the world a better place for generations to come.
Sexual education and drug awareness might be also covered, along with topics such as fire prevention and safety procedures. It prepares students for homemaking or professional careers, or to assist in preparing to fulfill real-life responsibilities at home. It is taught in secondary schools, colleges and universities, vocational schools, and in adult education centers; students include women and men.
Catherine Beecher and Ellen Swallow Richards are considered key pioneers in the development of domestic science and home economics in addition to pioneering work taking place in Europe. In North America, the field underwent key developments at a series of "Lake Placid Conventions" organized by Richards and others beginning in 1899. At the first conference, the term "home economics" was selected to describe the domain. Richards then founded the American Home Economics Association (now called the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences) in 1909.
In the 19th century, home economics classes were intended to ready young women for their duties in the home in healthy environments. Classes were first offered in the United States, Canada, Germany and Great Britain, followed by Latin America, Asia, and Africa. International organizations such as those associated with the United Nations have been involved in starting home economics programs around the world.
A common term for the field of study and profession is Home Economics, although human ecology is a recognized variant for the field of study, in particular at the post-secondary level. Home Economics also suffers from redundancy, as 'eco' is derived from the Greek: οἶκος meaning "house".
Home economics has a strong historical relationship to the field of human ecology, and since the 1960s a number of university-level home economics programs have been renamed "human ecology" programs, including Cornell University's program, among others.
Situated in the human sciences, home economics draws from a range of disciplines to achieve optimal and sustainable living for individuals, families, and communities. Historically, home economics has been in the context of the home and household, but this has extended in the 21st century to include the wider living environments as we better understand that the capacities, choices, and priorities of individuals and families impact at all levels, ranging from the household to the local and the global community. Home economists are concerned with promoting and protecting the well-being of individuals, families, and communities; they facilitate the development of attributes for lifelong learning for paid, unpaid, and voluntary work. Home economics professionals are advocates for individuals, families, and communities.
The content of home economics comes from the synthesis of multiple disciplines. This interdisciplinary knowledge is essential because the phenomena and challenges of everyday life are not typically one-dimensional. The content of home economics courses vary, but may include: food, nutrition, and health; personal finance; family resource management and planning; textiles and clothing; shelter and housing; consumerism and consumer science; household management; design and technology; food science and hospitality; human development and family studies; education and community services, among others. The capacity to draw from such disciplinary diversity is a strength of the profession, allowing for the development of specific interpretations of the field, as relevant to the context.
Areas of practice
Home Economics is also called Human sciences based on everyday work where the setting is the house. Home economics has four dimensions of practice:
- as an academic discipline to educate new scholars, to conduct research and to discover new knowledge and ways of thinking for professionals and for society
- everyday living in households, families and communities for developing life skills and develop potential for growth
- curriculum area that facilitates students to discover and further develop their own resources and capabilities
- influence and develop policy to advocate for individuals, families and communities to achieve empowerment and well-being, utilize transformative practices, and facilitate sustainable futures.
To be successful in these four dimensions of practice means that the profession is constantly evolving, and there will always be new ways of performing the profession.
In the past, household skills included: herbal medicine, converting hide into leather, soap making, spinning yarn and thread, weaving cloth and rugs, and patchwork quilting. Further skills were cooking on a wood-burning stove, churning butter, baking bread, and preserving food by drying and by glass-jar canning.
Home cleaning can be analyzed into four parts: litter removal, storage of belongings, dusting, and washing of surfaces. Laundry is a separate subject. Washing of surfaces is the most dangerous and complicated part because of the cleaning solutions. For example, hard water deposits are cleaned with acid solutions and dirt is cleaned with alkaline solutions; they both harm the skin and each weaken the other. Mixing chlorine bleach and ammonia together forms toxic gas. Solvents including paint thinner and rubbing alcohol are toxic and flammable. Disinfectants are poisonous. Even dish water requires rubber gloves.
Dealing with finances is a key element of home economics. Understanding concepts such as debt, credit, loaning, interest rates and so on are important to having a healthy economic home. Life skills such as making a budget, keeping financial records and making frugal purchasing choices are all part of this subject area. As home economics is a very holistic field, one must also incorporate concepts like purchasing power and how consumers can affect the global world.
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The American national professional organization for home economics in the United States is the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences. The leading international organization for home economics is the International Federation for Home Economics.
Home Economics is a vital profession currently enjoying renewed attention in the present era. Our contemporary world is characterized as one of unprecedented transition from industrial to knowledge-based culture and globalized economy, with all encompassing effects on society and culture. The information age is complex, diverse and unpredictable, yet has a strong commitment to retaining those elements of society that are valued, while looking ahead to the imperative of improving the world in which we all live such that sustainable development is possible. Herein lies the potential for Home Economics and the reason for renewed attention to the field of study, as this is the key imperative of the profession.
Examples of enacting the transformative powers of home economics professionals include:
- Home economics professionals were instrumental to instituting the 1994 International Year of the Family which centered ‘family’ as a political issue and has impacted on family life in many countries of the world
- Poverty alleviation, gender equality and social justice concerns are a priority of home economics professionals, with many projects and initiatives conducted in such areas
- International Federation for Home Economics is an international NGO having consultative status with the United Nations (ECOSOC, FAO, UNESCO, UNICEF) and with the Council of Europe
- Home economists partner with other Non-Governmental Organizations to improve the lot of families world wide. Specific areas of collaboration/cooperation include: Peace Education, gender issues, women’s empowerment, women’s reproductive issues, HIV/AIDS, intervention projects for families in distress and other human rights issues
- Home economists are active in lobbying for issues that will improve the well-being of a diversity of families and households
- Home economists serve as consultants in major businesses and organizations dealing with personal home economics, care and consumer services. They are also active entrepreneurs in their own rights
- The current four-year theme on sustainable development for World Home Economics Day is a strong stand that impacts on family life positively
- Home economists are strong advocates for individual and family well-being worldwide, evident in, for example, the development of relevant curricula for schools and universities.
- International Federation for Home Economics (IFHE): Position Statement in: International Journal of Home Economics; Volume 1, Issue 1, available here
- "AAFCS Brand Story". American Association of Family & Consumer Sciences. Retrieved 20 November 2012.
- Phillips, Robert, Editor-in-Chief, et al. 1971. Funk & Wagnall’s New Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnall’s, Inc.
- "Why the Change to Human Ecology?". Cornell University. Retrieved 20 November 2012.
- Mack, Norman, Editor. 1981. Back to Basics. Pleasantville, NY: The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc.
- Bredenberg, Jeff, ed. 1998. Clean it Fast, Clean it Right. Emmaus, PA: Rodale.
- Carolyn M. Goldstein, Creating Consumers: Home Economists in Twentieth-Century America. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2012.
- Nutrition Education - Making it work By Dr. Janet Reynolds
- People and Practice: International Issues for Home Economists by Elanour Vaines, Doris Badir and Dianne Kieren
- Toward an Ideal of the Person Educated in Home Economics: An Invitation to Dialogue by Jane Thomas and Gale Smith
- Sustainable food futures: Lessons for home economics pedagogy and practice by Martin Caraher and Janet Reynolds
- Teachers of Home Economics Specialist Association
- Home Economics Archive: Tradition, Research, History (HEARTH)—E-book collection with 1,000 titles on home economics spanning from 1850 to 1950 at Cornell University's Mann Library.
- International Federation for Home Economics (IFHE)
- American Association for Family and Consumer Science (AAFCS)
- Family Consumer Science Lessons