Thursday, February 28, 2013

practice makes perfect

I haven't posted about my almae matres in a while so without further ado...this time I shall deal with the dark side of Cornell (insert dark intro music here).

Prelude (1998):
Before I was Architart, I was Enginerd.  During the summer of 1998 I took an Engineering and Technology summer course at a local university in San Antonio, taught by an excellent lecturer named Dr. Richard Howe.  He was clearly a fan of James Burke and structured his lectures to connect the greatest hits of major engineering breakthroughs from aqueducts to petrochemicals.  Almost all of the inventors were male until we got to the 19th century and Ellen Swallow Richards. Richards was the first woman admitted to M.I.T. and also the first person at the university to qualify for a doctoral degree but the university  refused to grant it to her (they wanted to give the degree to a man even though none qualified).  She was, however, allowed to be an unpaid assistant instructor.  Eventually she said f*#k that went on to become a sanitation engineering expert, introducing the word "ecology" to the English language.

As women began to gain admittance at universities, Richards created the home economics degree.  Most of us have taken home economics courses, which consisted of sewing a pillow and baking a pizza, but the actual degree was far more compelling.  With a mind toward the fact that most women were meant for homemaking careers, Richards devised a curriculum that included chemistry, nutrition, sanitation, economics and household management.  A lot of the relevance has been lost as women have moved into other careers and the remaining modern housewives don't really need to know how to mix their own cleaning compounds although once in a while you hear about someone mixing store bought solvents and being rushed to the hospital from the resultant toxic fumes.

Vassar College granted an honorary doctor of science degree to Richards in 1910.  M.I.T. did not.

Cornell was the first Ivy to admit women in 1870, five years after it was founded.  To this day the home economics degree exists in some form, though it is now called human ecology. The College of Human Ecology comprises departments of Human Development (HD), Policy Analysis & Management (PAM), Division of Nutritional Sciences (DNS), Design & Environmental Analysis (DEA), and Fiber Science & Apparel Design (FSAD).  Students graduate with degrees in Biology and Society, Design and Environmental Analysis, Fiber Science and Apparel Design, Human Biology, Health and Society, Human Development, Nutritional Sciences, and Policy Analysis and Management.

So what's the dark side, you may ask.

Let me tell you about practice apartments.

In the early 1900s, home economics programs across the US introduced practical experience for their child rearing students.  At Cornell, students could live in practice homes where they performed a range of homemaking activities.  The child rearing portion took place with a practice baby.  Practice baby being an infant secured from an orphanage or child welfare association.  This was justified because the infant was being raised according the latest, greatest scientific principles.  To be fair, the infants did not come from ideal conditions (some were malnourished) and what little information is available suggests that the practice babies became sought after by adoptive families because of the state-of-the-art nurturing practices.

Still, I wonder what Harry Harlow and other behavioral psychologists would have said based on their studies on primary bonding and maternal deprivation.

Eventually, the majority opinion shifted away from the need for practical applications of homemaking.  The flower children of the 60's were less inclined to spend their evenings nursing a baby.  Practice apartments were dropped form the Cornell curriculum in 1969.  That same year, armed students took over Willard Straight Hall to protest institutional racism.  It was a time of conflict and social and ideological change.  The babies went out with the blackwater.

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