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Building the Foundation

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It is in the home that the child first observes the basic characteristics that signify the final denouement of his or her life: the role of work as an essential element for sustaining life and the inevitability that the rewards of work produce the necessities of life and let us maintain comfortable surroundings. The role of mutual cooperation and service and the sharing of responsibility are observed and absorbed from infancy. The attitudes of parents and siblings toward work responsibilities within the home are rapidly internalized by the young child. The role of outsiders in contributing to the commodities and services of the home and the necessity, in most cases, of one or both parents working outside the home to earn money to pay for those commodities and services are subsequent realizations. That satisfaction and pride of achievement can emerge from work within and outside of the home will be realized and absorbed by the child only if they are demonstrated by the parents.

The home is a workshop, a learning laboratory, a consuming unit, and an inculcator of values. The family's function is to provide a setting within which the individual can develop a sense of security, of belonging, and of acceptance as a person; it is a place for relaxation, for expression, and for control of emotion; it teaches the child to experience success and to absorb failure; and it helps the child develop a value system by observing and sharing experiences with others. These early experiences can be positive or negative; but whichever they are, they will influence the child for life in the world of work-as well as in other endeavors.

Teaching Home and Family Living

If work can be defined as "productive contribution," whether or not it is compensated within the labor market, home and family living has career aspects, not only for homemakers, but for both parents and all other family members. Society can gain by broadening the opportunities for women to fulfill themselves and contribute to a society through every possible career of interest to them. But society can also gain by adding to the prestige and satisfactions of homemaking as a woman's career, whether as a primary activity or in tandem with a job outside the home. Similarly, society suffers as parental responsibility and home-making are ignored or neglected as career concerns of men. If, as has been said of external careers for men and women who have assumed such responsibilities, "no success can compensate for failure within the home," why is there so little attention to preparation for home responsibility?

"Home economics" is still the largest single component of vocational education. Yet it continues to suffer criticism and to slip in prestige, primarily because it has been limited to cooking and sewing-hardly the most vital of homemaking skills-and has been limited to female students. For many years, home economists have attempted to shore up this slipping prestige by stressing preparation for occupations by teaching in conjunction with home economics such related skills as food service and child care. Only recently has this educational component broadened its curriculum to include consumer education (primarily for female heads of households), with emphasis on those in poverty situations.

Successful home and family living involves skills far beyond those of cooking and sewing. The latter has become largely recreational in modern society, and the former is constantly being simplified. As women demand greater recognition and opportunity to exercise their individual creativity and their minds, talents, and skills, they rightly ask: Why are the monotonous, repetitious rudiments of housekeeping exclusively female tasks? Only the biological functions of gestation, birth, and nursing the baby are the obvious sex-limited roles for women. Men daily fulfill their stereotyped, male-oriented roles as breadwinners, often stifling a propensity for combining homemaking skills with their outside careers.

Parenthood is work, and it requires profound attention to detail if it is to be successful.' It is a male as well as a female career; yet both sexes combine parenthood with other career roles. As with other careers, parental responsibility must be learned; but it can be taught, both within and outside the home or the school. The years of elementary schooling, a stage at which the child is more closely associated with parents than in subsequent years, is none too soon for children to become aware of their potential roles as parents and the skills which these roles will entail. Observing parents in action will be the primary means of absorbing insights about these roles; but classroom discussion and application can advance understanding from the intuitive to the explicit. The child can come to articulate the type of parent he would like to be and begin to transform those attributes into characteristics. One suggested activity toward the end of this chapter will aid the child (with the help of the parents and teachers) to become aware of and start to conceive of himself in the parent role.

Consumer Education

If we are to prepare our children to function adequately in the world of work, as well as within the family framework, we must be sure that career education focuses on the family as a basic unit for consuming goods and services. The success of the family in balancing its income for purchasing its necessary goods and budgeting for recreational and other purposes has a great effect upon the stability and happiness of the family members. The elementary school teacher can assist the child and family in this matter by providing a program in consumer education.

During the elementary school years, children form their basic attitudes about earning and spending money. Teachers can provide classroom experiences for children by setting up situations that will give students a chance to become involved in money management. For example, they can design experiences in mathematics classes wherein students can learn about common family expenditures and budgeting. Wherever possible, the educator should attempt to relate the learning of the student in school with his life outside of school. The educator can assign the student to complete a project by shopping for groceries with his parents. The student could be provided with a budget and could find out what he must do to stay within it while meeting family needs. Likewise students could gain valuable experience by participating with parents in buying appliances, furniture, cars, or other major purchases. As well as learning to make decisions in purchasing, the student could gain knowledge about methods of payment, maintenance features, guarantees, etc.

To help children gain knowledge and experience of how family income is obtained, the teacher can provide a "business" lesson for the class. Indeed, the lesson could be far-reaching if several teachers combined their classes to set up a "mock" bank, a grocery store, or a shopping center (with methods adapted to local situations). By following through in this cooperative venture, students would have first-hand knowledge in profit and loss, wages, budgeting, and other fundamentals of business.

To tie the consumer education program to the home situations of the students, the teacher(s) could use parents as resource personnel to give greater personal meaning to the business experience. The parents could suggest situations for the students to "act out" the work roles of actual workaday world people, drawing on their own experiences in their jobs as material for the "play." The same visits by the students to employing establishments in the community to observe the nature of the world of work could be used to emphasize work as the source of family income. In addition, the elementary school teacher can prepare students as consumers by providing role-playing situations in the classroom where boys and girls plan a family's or an individual's budget or allowance.
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