Monday, February 8, 2010

Behind the White House Photo Opps, School Gardens Desperate for Help

I just wanted to share this with everyone. This came from a DC schoolteacher and was originally posted on another blog. I've wanted to write about this issue since I read the always incendiary Caitlin Flanagan's piece in the January/February issue of the Atlantic, entitled "Cultivating Failure." This snowstorm has given me the time to finally do so.

In her piece, Flanagan criticizes the Edible Schoolyard concept as she claims it doesn't help students in the failing California schools to pass standardized tests. However, as is her way, she doesn't just opine, she pokes everyone in the eye with her extremist posturing. Instead of providing an even, journalistic article, Flanagan begins with a completely hypothetical example of the American born child of an illegal Mexican immigrant farm laborer who is here by virtue of his parents' sacrifice to offer him a better life, entering sixth grade in Berkeley, CA, only to "head out the field, where he stoops under a hot sun and begins to pick lettuce" rather than learn math. She continues with her diatribe by insulting Alice Waters, school volunteers, and ultimately faults the school system for falling prey to the "visionary and charismatic" Waters and "allowing these gardens to hijack the curricula of so many schools."

When I first read her piece I had an instinctual opposition to everything she was saying, but I wanted to stop and think about whether I was actually responding to her thesis or if I was just put off by her hyperbolic and ridiculous assertions. Was she hiding a kernel of truth under a bushel of hyperbole? Has she exposed the Emperor in the "altogether" or is she a bitter and biased shrew all too willing to once again criticize well intentioned school volunteers, not to mention Alice Waters?

After a second thorough reading of her piece, I concluded that her argument was too flawed to be persuasive. While Flanagan is correct that the situation in many California schools, much like DC schools, is desperate, isn't the problem due more to budget constraints not the existence of an Edible Schoolyard garden in several schools? Perhaps most importantly, she did not speak to staff or families in a school with a garden to get their perspectives on how helpful and effective they are as teaching tools and as a means for nutrition education.

We are all distressed by the poor state of many schools today, and as important as it is to shore up the math and reading instruction, it just doesn't make sense to ignore other enriching learning experiences, especially those that can greatly affect the health of the students.

Check out what one DC school teacher has to say:

Behind the White House Photo Opps, School Gardens Desperate for Help

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