business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

“When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all.”

That typically great lyric, written decades ago by Paul Simon, is something we may need to keep in mind both for clear-headed nostalgia and creative forward thinking. 

I’m decades past high school and frankly I can’t tell you a thing I learned in calculus or Latin, but there are some lessons that have managed to stick with me.  Incredibly, some of them come from the classes in which I was least capable.

I got thinking about this recently after reading an article in the New York Times arguing for the return of shop and home economics classes in high school.  Frankly, I couldn’t agree more.

Yes, STEM classes are more important than ever both to the individuals taking them and to society as a whole, because those skills are so essential to future success. But I’d argue that shop and especially home ec are equally, if not more, essential. And the latter is something particularly important to the entire food industry.

Thanks to the way things were in the early 1970s (my high school days) boys weren’t allowed to take home economics and I’ve always regretted that. Again, I can’t think of a single time I’ve used calculus, but I sure wish I had taken a class in basic cooking or home management.

The Times article makes a lot of points about how classes like shop and home ec broke up the school day, provided students with a range of skills and more.  I’d agree. I have to imagine that many of the challenges we face today with food waste, food safety and basic nutrition would be mitigated somewhat if adults of all ages were better prepared for basic kitchen skills.

The reality is that nothing the Times’ columnist or I can say is going to change that. Schools are so pressed on academic rigor these days that those classes and even physical education are de-emphasized far too often. And that’s a real shame, but also an opportunity.

I wonder if the lack of those classes opens an opportunity for local supermarkets to hold even occasional home ec-style classes, inviting in adolescents or adults for basic cooking, meal planning or cleaning skills. Given that so many companies now have registered dietitians on staff it might help expose shoppers to a range of foods and solutions, while also cementing the relationship of the store to the consumer.

In many ways it would be like classes still run at Home Depot helping weekend warriors learn simple skills in plumbing or carpentry. Only I have to believe the potential audience for basic home skills would be far larger. And skills are always changing. Imagine offering classes in how to use slow cookers or air fryers, not to mention coping with all of today’s varied dietary styles.

KC made a similar point last week in his FaceTime about the death of cursive writing, and while some might say that this is just a case of two old guys ranting about how the old days were better (they really weren't, by the way), I think there is a strong overall point to be made.

Just as cursive is essential for anyone in the future hoping to be able to read the Declaration of Independence in its original form or how shop class has helped me know how to use a variable speed drill, I think a lot of people would benefit from learning key bits of safe food handling or how to use leftovers or to set and stick to a food budget.

But then again, the Paul Simon song referenced at the start of this column was called "Kodachrome" - film that was essential at the time the song was written, long before digital photography largely replaced it and we all started carrying mobile phones with built-in cameras.  

Ask anyone under 20 what Kodachrome is, and I'm guessing that for the most part you'd get blank looks.  What's worse, ask anyone under 20 who Paul Simon is - or, heaven help us, Art Garfunkel - and the looks are likely to be just as mystified.

The definition of "essential" continues to evolve, and we all need to read the writing on the wall.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at

His book, “THE BIG PICTURE:  Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available here.

And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon here.

For information about hiring Michael to speak at your next meeting or conference, click here.