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Virginal Mothers, Groovy Chicks & Blokey Blokes: Re-thinking Home Economics...

Virginal Mothers, Groovy Chicks & Blokey Blokes: 
Re-thinking Home Economics (and) Teaching Bodies
by Donna Pendergast


Published by Australian Academic Press
by Donna Pendergast, 2001

Available for $21.95 (U.S. funds, including U.S. postage) from 
Kappa Omicron Nu
1749 Hamilton Road, Suite 106
Okemos, MI 48864
(T) 517.351.8335
[email protected]
(Call or write to find out if you qualify for a discount.)

Foreign orders invoiced for postage at cost.

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Donna Pendergast's book deals with the stereotypes of teachers to explore the bigger issue of teacher identity and the impact on teacher status, supply, and satisfaction. Case studies of atypical home economics teachers* give rise to new possibilities for changing the long-suffering, marginalized status of the "proper" teacher, grieving for a legitimate identity. Her final paragraph puts it in perspective: "The thinking I am proposing in this book rejects the boundedness of traditional truth claims and modernist dualism, and instead alludes to the possibility for enacting a politics of difference. It does not attempt to 'overthrow' orthodoxies, including the heterosexual normativity of mainstream home economics pedagogy, just as four atypical teachers will not 'overturn' it. This thinking neither expects to nor has it embarked on this as a mission. The effect, however, can be unsettling."

Dorothy I. Mitstifer

* Family and consumer sciences education is still called home economics internationally.

In Donna's words from the back cover of the book:

There is an expectation that teachers are and will be transformers of society as they prepare young people to deal with an ever-changing world. While this role has never been greater, the status and respect once enjoyed by teachers has declined internationally over recent years. Diminishing status and negative stereotypes have in turn contributed to a growing teacher shortage crisis. Home economists, as a group of increasingly scarce teachers, have carried their share of negative stereotyping, led by tired cliches such as cookers and sewers and stitchers and stirrers. This book encourages re-thinking of home economics and home economics teaching by providing insights into the embodied pedagogy of teachers who refuse to live by tired cliches. It explores ways in which these teachers engage in fun and pleasure, demonstrating that transformative moments are part of their classroom culture. This re-thinking offers challenges not only for home economics teachers, their profession and home economics as a cultural practice, but for the broader teaching community engaged in embodied pedagogy, thereby providing a paradigm shift for re-thinking the status and perceptions of teachers and teacher professionalism.

Book Review by Claus Jehne (Retired, Queensland University of Technology) 

This book review is reproduced from The Journal of the Home Economics Institute of Australia, Vol. 9, No. 1, page 51, with kind permission from the Home Economics Institute of Australia.

Much has been said and written about Home Economics' problems of legitimization, its negative image and marginalized status in the educational system and in society. And in past decades, little has been achieved by way of recognition of Home Economics' contributions to society and to give it the credibility it deserved. This may be about to change.

Dr. Donna Pendergast, in her clearly written and well researched book with its delightful title, argues that Home Economics' dilemma arises from the way our "modernist" society is organized and how we think about power and knowledge relationships. She challenges us to re-think Home Economics from a "post-modernist" perspective to allow it, and its practitioners, to escape from the bondage of last century's dominant ideology.

In eight carefully crafted chapters the author presents, both on a practical and theoretical level, her observations, insights and conclusions. In particular, she addresses how "the material bodies of Home Economics teachers are read as inscribed by social and cultural meanings about the nature of the discipline" (p. 9). Chapter One, "Setting the Scene," deserves carefully reading as it is a road-map through the possibly unfamiliar conceptual and philosophical terrain of some of the subsequent chapters.

The chapters following, Chapter Two: "Negative History of Beliefs" and Chapter Three:  "Home Economics--Marginal Subject," examine the educational, institutional and societal forces which have shaped and characterized the profession over the past century and have produced Home Economics as a marginalized subject area. Why and how this has occurred is further explored in Chapter Four: "Body Subjects--From Modern to Post-modern Concepts of the Body." Our dualist thought patterns, characterizing present-day "modernist" society, are said to be the root of the problem. Dualities such as center/margin, mind/body and controlled/uncontrolled, which advantage one aspect to the neglect of the other, have resulted in the Home Economics body being perceived as "skilled and suffering."

Chapter Five: "Disciplining the Body of Home Economics Teachers" explains how this duality of "skilled and suffering," having become the conventional stereotype, is unwittingly promoted and propagated by a large majority of Home Econoics teachers themselves in their version of the "proper" professional practice of their subject area. Reference is made throughout to current literature and the author's own scholarship and research findings to support these significant conclusions.

However, readers will be pleased to discover that this is not the end of the book, there is more, there is a way forward for Home Economics. That such limiting dualities are unimportant and inappropriate are graphically illustrated in Chapter Six: "Four Odd Bodies: Home Economics as carnival." Four "atypical" Home Economics teachers, practicing at the margins of present-day Home Economics culture, and their students, are interviewed. It is clear that these teachers transgress convention, that they put their whole being, their mind and body and soul, into their teaching and that, as a result, they make teaching and learning fun.

By accepting the risks and pleasures of teaching in such a manner, these teachers are able to escape from the conventional Home Econoics' stereotype, they see themselves as "skilled but not suffering." The theoretical basis for this is a "post-modernist" re-conceptualization of people, not as fixed entities in a dualist framework, but as subjects shaped and re-shaped by unconscious desires and language. This important theme is further elaborated in Chapter Seven: "Carnivalesque in the Home Economics Classroom." In the concluding Chapter Eight: "A Shift from the Familiar to the Un-familiar--Re-thinking Home Economics," readers are invited to reflect on the possibilities and opportunities that lie ahead for Home Economics in this century.

While the above all-too-brief synopsis of the content may suggest that the book is "heavy going," this needs not be the case. The book can be tackled at a number of levels. On a practical level it is a really good read; there is much that old and new teachers can identify with and use as guidance. On a theoretical level, it may serve as a useful introduction to modernism and post-modernism. On an academic level, the book makes an original contribution to educational scholarship and Home Economics research that should stand the test of time. The book may certainly be read a number of times, and for the reader to concentrate on and explore a different theme at each reading.

With this book, Dr. Pendergast has shown the way forward for Home Economics. It is highly recommended as essential reading for all Home Economics professionals and students. Furthermore, the book should also be purchased by all persons who still champion an out-dated and negative stereotype of Home Economics.