So now the Right Wing Peanut Gallery has something to say about school gardening programs.
Its spokesperson is Caitlin Flanagan, a contributing editor and book reviewer at The Atlantic Monthly.
Chef and author Alice Waters started ESY in 1995 on a one-acre empty lot near Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, CA. ESY and gardening programs like it have been adopted by many public schools across the country ever since. In 2008, for example, 3,849 out of 9,000 California schools used ESY, says Flanagan in her recent Atlantic article.
Flanagan objects to school gardens because they take time away from the academic subjects, which causes students to do poorly on their standardized tests and thus subjugates underprivileged youngsters to failed, impoverished lives as adults.
While Flanagan doesn't totally dislike gardening programs, she maintains they should be held after school. Then in an interesting twist, she venomously chides not Waters but the California Department of Education "for allowing these gardens to hijack the curricula of so many schools." And they do this without a single study verifying that garden programs help students pass standardized tests in English and math.
Lisa Bennett, communications director of the Center for Ecoliteracy, not only supplies data on the academic benefits of school gardens that Flanagan says is missing, a common tactic of the Babbling Right, but she provides a masterful and logical refutation of Flanagan's arguments.
Meanwhile, another popular youth program, Will Allen's Growing Power Youth Corps, is providing children with academic and professional experience, teaching them reading and mathematics and developing their entrepreneurial and life skills through organic agriculture. So impressive is his success, that Allen was awarded the MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant of $500,000 in 2008. Prior to teaching urban gardening to inner-city children, Allen was a professional basketball player and later a businessman marketing products for Proctor & Gamble.
Flanagan also criticizes Alice Waters, a chef, for posing as an educator even though Waters and King Middle School Principal Neil Smith collaborated with teachers and community members to put the program together over a two-year period. Their goal was to integrate ESY into the middle school's curriculum, culture, and food program, according to the ESY website.
Flanagan, on the other hand, was an English teacher and college counselor at the Harvard-Westlake School in North Hollywood, California, a school known for its strong academic program, selective admissions, high college matriculation, and well-known parents and alumni. It's in the same league as the Eastern exclusive prep schools of Phillips Academy, Groton, Exeter, Hotchkiss School, etc. Working for the best and the brightest is hardly a credential for critiquing education in poor schools, which so many Right Wing commentators like to do. And they cling to their standardized tests as proof of success. Bah!
Actually, Flanagan's concern about the poor resembles the typical elitist patter that she also exhibited in her book, To Hell with All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife (2006), where she trashes the feminist movement and extols the emotional rewards and social value of the traditional housewife. She works from home, takes her children to school and cooks for her family at night--all with the help of a nanny and a housekeeper.
Such hubris and disdain for the women of the 1960s and 70s who paved the way for women like her to make it to the Big Time is a disgusting display of tiresome Right Wing disingenuousness, which turns out to be a consistent pattern in Flanagan's writing and public persona, as witnessed on the "Colbert Report."
Finally, Flanagan is concerned that the public schools are playing into the "new Food Hysteria" that is promoted by "an agglomeration of foodies and educational reformers who are propelled by a vacuous if well-meaning ideology." Is this jealousy or just projection?
People like Flanagan are anathema to any discussion of the real issues. School gardening programs directly address the question of how we can get children to eat good, nutritious food. It sure isn't easy, especially when one in three American children is overweight because of their fat-laden and high fructose food they eat both at home and in school.
Like Alice Waters, British chef and school food advocate Jamie Oliver has been trying to attack obesity in children. For the past seven years he has been helping Americans understand that the food they eat is killing them. Four Americans die from the food they eat every 20 minutes, and that 10 percent of our health care bills or $150 billion, are obesity-related, he says. That amount is expected to double in 10 years.
One of the astounding realities Oliver discovered is that many kids can't even identify fruits or vegetables in their original form. That is because they are eating so much fast food, processed food, and restaurant food that they don't know what food looks like. Jamie Oliver, too, was recognized for his efforts in teaching kids about food by winning the $100,000 TED Prize.
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