Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Too many cooks?

The government has announced plans that teenagers are to be given compulsory cooking lessons (one hour per week for one term for children ages 11-14), and, surprise surprise, the mothers and commenters at Alpha Mummy are up in arms again. Not content with bickering over the virtues of stay-at-home mother vs working-mother and all other aspects of parenting, they have to give their 'considered' opinions here too.

I thought that so-called 'Alpha-Mummies' would be the first to think that learning to cook was a positive thing. That proper mothers cooked proper meals and would involve their children from the start, encouraging them to make up their own minds relating to the ethics of vegetarianism and so-on. But no, all the 'usual suspects' have their own views. There is Theta Sigma Mummy who is abhorred by the idea of someone involving meat in the lives of her off-spring. There are various mothers arguing about how many A-levels they got, Oxbridge entrance and music lessons being more important than cookery. There is 'BaggofBones' who says and I quote "Whatever you can't work out for yourself from reading a recipe, M&S can provide in ready-made form".Then there is Supermother, someone who thinks she is the last word in the opinions of working mothers (and she may well be for all I know, but she and the other commenters have pigeon-holed her to the extent that she now seems to believe her hype as well). I could go on but I can't bear to as it is rather off my original topic.

It rather seems that none of these mothers think before they start arguing the same old points over and over again. Ideally we want our children to be well rounded creatures who are capable of looking after themselves emotionally, financially, nutritionally and also career-wise with a job which suits them and allows security in the first three areas. I agree that there are some aspects of these areas which are more ideally suited to home or school learning. There are some lucky children who will learn all of these things at home and the school education will merely reinforce and further their education. Sadly, there are many more children whose home lives are lacking in some fashion and will never learn anything academic let alone anything which might actually be useful.

Cooking, I think, is a great place to start with education. I am not necessarily saying that I agree with the current proposals for secondary school but I think that properly worked through and perhaps starting when they are tiny that there is mileage in this idea. After all, food is essential to us, second only to water (and some might argue, sleep). If someone can feed themselves, nutritionally, on basic rations, that seems like a good starting point for dealing with life in general, let alone obesity. Cooking can be used as a medium which is interactive and practical and a light relief but which teaches reading, mathematics (weights, conversions, percentages and so on) budgeting, science ( e.g. chemistry: ice - water -steam; biology: parts of the body and so on). Taken to it's logical conclusion with older children it can involve business models, customer care, financial advice, literary criticism and writing skills. The list must be endless.

I am not suggesting that cooking should take the place of academic subjects. However, I think that a course or curriculum could be devised which would take place instead of say, one general studies lesson every two weeks and which could use cooking as the medium for more serious learning, thereby enforcing within children's minds that cooking is easy and cheaper than its ready-made cousin, that diet, nutrition and being able to look after oneself is an important aspect of life and that cooking is not something merely for women or 'the thick ones' (as one Alpha Mummy commenter suggested). It would also reinforce the idea for children that they can be their own person. Just because Mummy or Daddy is vegetarian (or not) doesn't mean that the child should be subjected to this too. S/he should be able to make their own decisions, but informed decisions. This should extend to ethical decisions regarding price versus animal welfare and other age appropriate issues on which people should be able to debate rationally.


Cumbrian said...

Schools have a job to do i.e. give children life skills. Many parents do not have life skills and are not in a position to teach their children. They don't really understand about discipline, budgeting, debt management, basic food preparation and what constitutes a healthy diet, appropriate exercise, simple household maintenance, commitment within relationships, respect for yourself and others etc. From the time that parents tell their naughty child that the teachers at school will sort them out, the onus is placed on schools to do a lot of what parents used to do. Teaching these skills used to be part and parcel of being a parent. You cannot teach what you don't know and we seem to live in an age of ignorant parents. (I'm doing that blanket statement thing that annoys me so much - we're talking trends here.) Often teachers talk about the problem parent rather than the problem child. "What must it be like for this child to have a mum/dad like that?"
As an ex-teacher I know that the school curriculum is overloaded. I remember a support assistant saying that before she worked in school she didn't realize how little time there is to do everything. The school day flies by in a frightening way. So much to do and so little time to do it. It's very easy for demands to be handed down to the education system but the one thing that government doesn't supply is the time to do it.
I'm not suggesting that we need to pass a parenting test before being allowed to have a child but it's a pity that you can't teach basic common sense. When bringing up a child common sense goes a long way and that seems to be rather lacking in our society.

The Grocer said...

I agree with most of this but I would start the cooking earlier and drop some of the academic subjects at an earlier age to make room.
Cumbrian makes some good points too, schools should be about life skills not exams.

lain said...

I agree with everything you've said here. I took Home Economics/Food & Nutrition/Food Technoloy at GCSE and A Level and it taught me a lot of useful information - not just generally about how to cook, but also how to cook to a budget, and important life skills like understanding different types of credit, household safety etc. Unfortunately it was seen as a soft option - not just by my peers but also by the head of my house, who told me that as a "potential Oxbridge candidate" I should be doing a more serious subject. Incidentally, I don't think I turned out too bad, and I can bake a bloody good Christmas cake too!!

There needs to be a greater acceptance of the value of HE or whatever it calls itself these days. As cumbrian says, common sense is distinctly lacking in our society. Anything we can do to teach children important life skills, whether at home or in the classroom, must be encouraged.