Aprons, sewing needles and brooms aren't as visible in what used to be called home economics.
Family and consumer sciences is custom-fit for the '90s, covering subjects from entrepreneurships to community service to anti-violence campaigns."There's much more to it than baking and sewing. That's a minor part of our curriculum anymore," said Arlou Vance, a Clearfield High teacher and director of Utah Future Homemakers of America (FHA). "It's basically skills for life. We're teaching (students) the skills they need to survive in the world."
The Utah FHA branch, a 52-year-old organization with 78 local chapters and 2,600 members - 15 percent of whom are male, is gearing up for its state convention.
There, students compete in 11 events March 27-29 to qualify for the national leadership meeting to elect new officers and recognize peer accomplishments. The current national FHA president is Christopher Lindsay, a Provo High senior.
Utah FHA chapters are focusing on community service, including making quilts for domestic violence victims and collecting eyeglasses to send to South America, Vance said.
But students also will compete at the convention in areas including job interviewing skills, parliamentary procedure and illustrated talks.
"They develop self-worth and self-confidence, focus on who they are and their personal goals to become better members of the family and contributing members of society," Vance said. "Junior high is a nice level to get them started because it gives them a sense of belonging."
At West Lake Junior High in the Granite School District, one of five FHA middle-level chapters, all seventh-graders, take TLC, or technology life and careers. The course is split into thirds to cover industrial arts and technology, business, and family and consumer sciences, which at times focuses on debunking gender stereotypes.
"We've gone back to what we were designed to do," said West Lake family and consumer sciences teacher Ruth Merrill.
Home economics developed as a study of the home and family life due to family changes during the Industrial Revolution. From the 1940s to 1960s, home ec became cooking and sewing because those were easier to teach and less subjective than hard issues, Merrill said. Family challenges beginning in the 1970s, however, created a great need for addressing those issues.
Now, food classes focus on choices and how to work with convenience foods in time-pressed households. Clothing curriculum goes beyond sewing to recognizing well-made wares. Communication and relationships skills also are taught.
"I think that knowing how to cook and sew are good skills to know," Merrill said. "If I'm rich, I can hire someone to do that for me. But I can't hire anyone to have a relationship for me. I can't hire anyone to make my marriage work for me."