School gardens are a time-wasting fad started by haute bourgeois foodies, write Caitlin Flanagan in The Atlantic. She imagined a migrant worker sending his American-born son to school, where he’s asked to stoop under a hot sun to pick lettuce in what she sees as a school garden of evil.
The cruel trick has been pulled on this benighted child by an agglomeration of foodies and educational reformers who are propelled by a vacuous if well-meaning ideology that is responsible for robbing an increasing number of American schoolchildren of hours they might other wise have spent reading important books or learning higher math (attaining the cultural achievements, in other words, that have lifted uncounted generations of human beings out of the desperate daily scrabble to wrest sustenance from dirt).
Chez Panisse owner Alice Waters, a foodie icon, thought up the Edible Schoolyard when she spotted a barren lot next to Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Middle School in 1995, Flanagan writes.
Inspired by the notion that a garden would afford students “experience-based learning that illustrates the pleasure of meaningful work, personal responsibility, the need for nutritious, sustainably raised, and sensually stimulating food, and the important socializing effect of the ritual of the table,” and spurred on by the school principal, Waters offered to build a garden and help create a curriculum to go along with it.
. . . In English class students composed recipes, in math they measured the garden beds, and in history they ground corn as a way of studying pre-Columbian civilizations.
The idea grew and grew. But Flanagan has found no evidence that student learn more if they spend time gardening and cooking. At King Middle School, site of the first Edible Schoolyard, sixth graders spend 90 minutes a week in the garden or kitchen and more time in class trying to “apply the experiences of planting and cooking” to learning reading, writing, math, history and science. The school’s white students score well above the state average in reading and math; Hispanic and black students score well below average. No evidence supports the idea that classroom gardens help students learn academic subjects, Flanagan writes. Do they learn other, unmeasured things, such as love of chard? She doesn’t care.
If students have yet to meet the fundamental standards of literacy, numeracy and civic understanding, programs should focus exclusively on these.
Volunteers can fill students’ after-school hours with gardening, cooking, sports, music, whatever, Flanagan writes. School time should be devoted to academic essentials.
Low-income students do need more time to learn reading and math, but eliminating electives such as gardening or cooking — or non-electives such as science and history — makes Jose a dull boy.
My sister volunteers in the gardening program at local elementary schools, which educate the high-achieving children of high-achieving parents. Gardening considered a fun way to teach a little science; it doesn’t drive the curriculum.
I once spent a Saturday clearing a weed-choked plot of land that became a K-8 school’s garden. The Mexican immigrant parents didn’t seem to think the garden would condemn their kids to a life of semi-literate stoop labor.
School gardeners strike back at Corby Kummer’s blog.