The need for home economics — with a modern-day twist

“Ruth! Be careful not to get burned by all that data!”

Last October, Ruth Graham of The Boston Globe wrote a spirited article, “Bring back home ec!” Her assertion is based on the practical knowledge required to prepare healthier home-cooked meals as well as the evergreen virtues of financial literacy. She touts the class’s benefits, which include fundamentals for better living, from food safety to smarter shopping. Bringing back home economics for today’s classroom may require some much-needed updates.

Christina Gagnier’s recent blog on The Huffington Post‘s website expands upon a potential unseen risk that may emerge from modern day incidents like the Target consumer data breach; the idea was originally shared via Twitter by Reuters journalist Joseph Menn. The article’s title, “The Data Vulnerabilities of Those Less Advantaged,” summarizes Gagnier’s main point, which concludes:

“While we have decided to protect certain classes of people (children) and information (health and financial), we may not be doing enough to protect consumers who do not have the means, or choices available to them, to protect themselves.”

This could potentially serve as valuable education for young students — a perfect update to the original lesson plan, “the informed consumer,” from old-school home economics classes. Unfortunately, the consequences of uninformed individuals existed long before online shopping and credit cards.

I recently read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which details the horrors, confusion, exploitation and tragedy that can occur when society chooses to protect some over others. Author Rebecca Skloot describes how in the 1950s one woman’s cancer cells — those of Henrietta Lacks — become one of the most important contributions to modern medicine and science without anyone informing Lacks or members of the family.

Half a century later, individuals without education on data privacy could become the next victims of a Lacks-like incident — unknowing of the potential risks or threats associated with where and how they share personal information online.

An updated home economics class may provide some of the necessary skills required to navigate today’s digital complexities. As for students’ parents who will have missed out on these theoretical home economics classes? Perhaps they can enjoy some of the same “trickle-up” benefits instituted in prior efforts related to teaching life skills in schools — for example, seat belts, fire safety and stop smoking efforts.

Of course, the contemporary scenario on data privacy assumes that everyone today has Internet access available at home. Unraveling that reality, however, is for another time.


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