UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Changing conceptions of practice in home economics education Wilson, Susan Worth


This thesis investigates changes in the underlying pattern of beliefs and actions central to the development of home economics education. Examination of the historical context in which training in domestic matters became of public concern discloses the circumstances which fostered the genesis of domestic science, the forerunner of contemporary home economics in Canada. Subsequently, analysing the curriculum of British Columbia schools using the notion of practice illustrates the ways in which programs changed as home economics became accepted as a school subject. At the end of the nineteenth century social reformers perceived the introduction of domestic science as a means of ameliorating many social maladies. Therefore support for training in domestic matters primarily arose from organizations lying outside the school system. Though social and educational reformers viewed the purposes of domestic science differently, together they were successful in promoting domestic science as a responsibility of public schools. Four interpretations of practice identified as customary, instrumental, interactive and reflective conceptions, help us to understand the documents and reports significant to the growth of home economics in British Columbia. These conceptions are rooted in the writings of critical theorists in education and are used in this study to clarify the ways in which the home economics program changed over a period of seventy-five years. As a new subject for British Columbia schools home economics was most closely associated with customary practice, which reinforces the traditional expertise of women. The strong framework of social purpose characteristic of early programs both insulated families from perceived urban-industrial disorder and helped them to adjust to the changes of the era. Analysis of the curriculum since 1926 reveals that home economics has become increasingly associated with an instrumental conception of practice. While the 1979 curriculum begins to acknowledge interactive practice in the family studies area, overall the contemporary course of studies is firmly entrenched in understanding human experience only in instrumental ways. The study makes clear that throughout the evolution of home economics the beliefs and actions underlying school programs are characterized by customary and instrumental concerns at the expense of interactive and reflective practice. If educators are to contribute to the mission of the profession, that of strengthening families by helping them to help themselves, then there is need for a broader interpretation of practice in the school curriculum.

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