Let them eat chard

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.

About Joanne


  1. Oh, if that migrant worker parent wants a good education for their child they should just stop complaining, up stakes and move to a school district in which education, rather then the embracing of every self-important self-indulgence, is seen as primary.

    The system’s operating the way it was designed to operate.

    Fashion-conscious school board members are using their positions of elective power to impose their beliefs du jour on the students. What could be fairer then that?

    For parents unhappy with the outcome they have the option of either moving to a district which, until the next election, is dedicated to education or running for the school board themselves, winning and getting consensus to impose a more education-oriented policy. Simple.

  2. At the exclusive, very effective boarding school that family members attended, every student had assigned chores. Up until the’60’s, or maybe ’70’s, one option was working on the small farm that was part of the school. Ironically, the reason for the farm was that the school’s original purpose had been to educated the sons of the local farmers, and in addition to the traditional high school curriculum, their parents thought they needed to maintain their agriculture skills. What goes around, comes around.

  3. Just recently, a parent commented that the garbage cans at the original Alice Waters school illustrate that the kids aren’t eating all that trendy produce. I can’t remember where I saw it, but it was posted on a thread discussing school lunches.

    I have no problem with gardening, or the new urban trend of raising chickens, but neither should be done during school hours. Too much of the school day is being wasted on non-academic stuff. When the kids are doing well (on real tests) in reading, writing, spelling, geography, composition, history, culture (history of art, music appreciation), the sciences, math and basic economics and statistics , THEN we can consider extras. I realize it is easier to focus on gardening, correct attitudes and trivia, but the mission of school should be the formation of literate and numerate citizens who understand the physical and intellectual world, our country and our civic traditions.

  4. I tend to agree with momof4, above.

    I’m also interested in the causality Flanagan implies in the second sentence of the excerpt below:

    Hispanics constitute 49 percent of the students in California’s public schools. Ever since the state adopted standards-based education (each child must learn a comprehensive set of skills and material) in 1997—coincidentally, at the same moment that garden learning was taking off—a notorious achievement gap has opened between Hispanic and African American students on the one hand, and whites and Asians on the other.

    Does Flanagan really mean to imply there was NEVER an achievement gap until the state adopted standards-based education? And isn’t it ironic that on the one hand she seems to blame standards-based education for the achievement gap, and on the other she praises Cal Prep for its focus on rigorous academics (read: high academic standards and focus on results, a la KIPP)?

    Maybe I’m confused here…

  5. Agreeing with momof4. This seems like another example of mission creep. Instead of focusing on the core academics that are the primary job of public education, they focus on feel good distractions. The assumption or desire or illusion that these types of activites will provide enough academic content to make them meaningful is deeply silly and quite probably lazy.

  6. I’m not disagreeing with what’s written above, but what also should be considered is what motivates students to even attend school. Students in low-income areas oftentimes have low-attendance rates not because of “fruity” programs like this, but because they actually only have academic coursework, which hardly motivates them to come. When I was in school history and chemistry were not what motivated me to attend to school- it was the extras like electives and the opportunity to socialize. While I did well in everything else, that was instilled in me by my parents and home life, not by anything at school.

    From the students’ perspective, school is hardly only about academics. While high-achieving students find motivation at home to attend school and do well, low-achieving students oftentimes only find that motivation at school (if at all). If they are pounded every day with test-prep and academics only, they can lose interest in doing well, behaving or even attending. Getting other programs that make them feel like they’re actually a part of something is important. Whether that’s a vegetable garden, a basketball team or otherwise, it’s an important feeling to have.

  7. She’s right, cooking has absolutely nothing to do with Math and Science. Oh wait . . .

  8. If students have yet to meet the fundamental standards of literacy, numeracy and civic understanding, programs should focus exclusively on these.

    Elsewhere, haven’t we been lamenting the focus on “reading strategies” as a replacement for the broad subject-matter knowledge required to make sense of texts?  Say what you will about gardening; knowing the difference between a basil seed, squash seed and a seed potato will add something to many reading experiences, and when the science classes come around to botany the hands-on time certainly is not going to cause test scores to drop.

  9. Richard Nieporent says:

    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.

    I seem to remember that there was a country where this concept of the joys of farming was foisted on the population. I believe that it didn’t work out too well.


  10. If kids are getting good instruction across the disciplines, little time is needed on strategies and test-taking skills. It’s not necessary to keep a garden to learn about plant biology, either. It’s more efficient to do it in the classroom and, especially with lower SES kids, efficiency is critical; if they don’t learn X at school, they proably won’t learn it at all.

    As far as motivating kids is concerned, schools should explicitly state the “why this is important” aspect of learning things beyond their immediate world. Asian families, even the very poor who speak no English at home, tend to do this, but many other kids need to have regular exposition of the path to better opportunities and the steps/effort needed to keep them on the path. Nick, I think that the kinds of things you mentioned should be extracurricular.

  11. Yet another reason why school choice in the form of vouchers is needed. Those parents who feel that this is a valuable use of time can send their kids to that school. Parents who feel that time should be used in other ways can send their kids to schools that better suit their desires. Free market and choice, that is the American way. It has served us well in practically everything else, why not K-12 education?

  12. Kevin Smith says:

    There is a school garden at the high school where I work, but it is only run by the TMD and severely and profoundly handicapped students. Our school agricultural education program does have a greenhouse that they raise plants in for fundraisers, but that work is done after school.

    The elementary school where my wife works do a planting day every year, but that is when the AG. students (FFA really) from my school go over and do a lesson on plants and help the students plant annuals in the school’s flower beds.

    I think this limited program accomplishes the same learning about plants that 90 minutes a week in a garden would.

  13. Swede,

    To say free markets and choice is THE American way is false. It’s been PART of the American way. But no-choice, government-run public schools have BEEN the American way for 200 years –and they have successfully educated most of the heroes of capitalism. Your doctrinaire dismissal of anything government seems to amount to willful blindness. Is the American military hopelessly inept and in need of privatization merely because it is government-run? Doesn’t its competence give the lie to your idea that competition and market-discipline is the only path to competence and efficiency? Are our libraries inept? Are our fire departments?

  14. 90 minutes/week is what, a half-hour M/W/F? Is that what this whole fuss is about? I’d rather have my kids spend half an hour gardening than that half hour spent on the crafty nonsense so pervasive in the elementary curriculum. At least they might bring home something yummy rather than yet another stupid craft destined for the recycling bin…

    I agree with Swede’s comment that this is why parents need school choice!

  15. Ben F- have you ever spent any significant length of time around the U.S. military? My DH spent 5 years in the Army, and while it is top-notch in certain respects, it could learn a whole lot from the private sector in terms of efficiency and management of its resources. I’m not trying to diss our brave servicemen and women but the organization could use a complete overhaul. One of the big reasons my DH got out was because he became so frustrated by the way the bureaucracy constantly interfered with his ability to get the job done. He’d figure out a better way of doing something only to be prevented by red tape.

    Sound familiar to anyone?

  16. I’m a Master Gardener and I’ve set up a school gardening program for lower grades. NO parents ever volunteered. The program was okay, but nothing earth shaking–most kids wanted to pull up every tiny sprout to see if they were “done yet”.

    Flanagan might be over-stating, as it’s only 1 1/2 hours a week, but as Berkeley High is cutting after school science labs, and King Middle, where Water’s first program was set up, has dismal scores for Latin and black kids, I think it’s a waste of time.

    Edible schoolyard isn’t teaching science or biology. If anything, it’s teaching “where your food comes from”, which in California is sort of redundant. Drive to Camarillo, and you can see where food comes from. Guys in fields doing stoop labor–that’s where food comes from. Plenty of families in South Central have chickens in the back yard.

    It’s the Hill School that has mandatory work for students.

  17. Ben F,

    First of all, my post does not indicate “dismissal of anything government.” I’m not sure how you read that message into my post. I guess I should have added that I believe that K-12 education should be government funded (as providing an education is one of the many things that government should do for the populace). It’s just that having schools compete would raise the quality of the schools and enable people to find a school that best fits them (just like we do practically anything else). Second of all, the word “practically” implies that there are things that our government should do and often does well. you are correct that libraries and fire departments and our military do a pretty sold job. However, just because government does a good job with the defense of our nation does not mean that it necessarily does a great job with educating our youth.

  18. BenF said, “no-choice, government-run public schools have BEEN the American way for 200 years” — not so. They haven’t even been PART of it for nearly that long. The compulsory public education movement began in Massachusetts around 1850, and spread from there to other states. It was largely in response to large-scale Irish Catholic immigration, which was greeted with consternation by the New England Yankee elite. For 200 years before that, education was supplied by private schools, and Americans — as de Tocqueville remarked — had very high literacy rates. Indeed, probably higher before than since, as Sen. Ted Kennedy once observed.

    Vermont still does recognize, and pay tuition for, independent schools as long as they are non-religious. Vermonters are not noticeably less well educated than Americans who go to “no choice, government-run public schools.” To the contrary.

  19. Small Vermont towns without high schools used to allow the alloted tuition stipend to go to any school chosen by the parents/kids, whether public, private non-sectarian or sectarian. I knew many kids who attended Catholic schools under this program, which had existed for generations.

  20. Mike Curtis says:

    I was once a public school student. I was once a career military man. I am now a public school teacher. For the past 10 years, I’ve been tending a 2000 square foot veggie garden behind my home. The effort and care it takes before tasting that first summer tomato is certainly not as economically beneficial as waiting for the “farmer’s market” to start selling summer produce, but the work does help me forget all the crap I learned in school and the inefficiency of a large, bureaucratic institution. Not to mention some of the worthless teachings permeating my own school’s curriculum.

    I’ve travelled around the globe more than once and observed people all over the place who worked fields and didn’t speak English. So, I don’t understand the objection of the person who wrote, “can you imagine the parents of an immigrant child being asked to work in a garden at school,” (or words to that effect). Knowing what it takes to produce your own food…now what good could that possibly serve?

    Oh. By the way, my tomatoes are more healthy and better tasting than anything a valedictorian can provide; unless, of course, they learned how to tend a garden.

  21. Linda S:

    OK, 150 years, not 200 years. How does this refute the argument that public schools have churned out the workers and thinkers that made this country great?

    Crimson Wife:

    Bureaucracies are maddening. And indispensable. Corporations are bureaucratic. Corporate workers I know complain about stupidity and inefficiency in their companies. Yet most of my fellow Californians seem opposed to raising taxes until every last vestige of inefficiency is eradicated from government bureaucracy. NO bureaucracy is 100% free of waste.

    We need good COMMON schools like they have in Finland, France and Japan. We need to knit ourselves together. Linda S echoes old nativist spirit. The Anglo-Germanic Protestant element is gating itself off from the immigrant masses, divorcing itself from the public realm, trying to drown government in a bathtub, so they can redirect tax money to their mega-churches and their families. A fractured, tribalist America is their dream. Vouchers and charters will speed the process along.

  22. Even Forrest Gump would say about public schools: Stupid is as stupid does. And, we wonder why people laugh at us?

  23. Ben S –

    “Yet most of my fellow Californians seem opposed to raising taxes until every last vestige of inefficiency is eradicated from government bureaucracy.”

    That is one massively false strawman there, Ben. The truth is that California would have ZERO budget problems today if it held spending to the same per-capita amount, adjusted for inflation, as when it elected Schwarzenegger in 2003. Services are being cut, but we pay more for them. We’re paying for nothing, and as one of those Californians you besmirch, I’ll be damned to pay even more to the state until it gets its act figured out.

  24. Ben F,

    You are completely missing the point. Of course all systems have inefficiencies. However, in the private world, consumers and employees have the option of leaving a very inefficient system and moving to another one. Students and parents stuck in schools they do not like do not have that option unless they want to take a drastic step such as moving or paying tuition at a private school.
    I also noticed that your attempt at persuasion has taken a turn toward making unsupported and empty ad hominem attacks (i.e. proponents of vouchers want “a fractured, tribalist America.”). Goodness Ben F. That’s no way to persuade people.

  25. Swede,

    Perhaps not you, but I do believe that many white conservatives do want a divorce from brown/gay/liberal/Other America. Do you disagree?

    And I see vouchers and charters as making it less likely that we’ll impart the common knowledge and civic spirit we need to be a viable, unified nation. Don’t you see the danger here?

    I’m not missing the point. I’m saying that, rather than open avenues for opting out of our common schooling project, we should all commit to doing the common project RIGHT. The military, libraries, NASA, etc. prove that we can collectively, through the medium of government, do great things. Great deeds are not the sole province of private enterprise. I don’t want blacks going to black nationalist schools, whites going to white supremacist schools, gays going to gay heritage schools, Christians going to Christian crusader schools, Muslims going to jihadi schools, free marketeers going to free market fundamentalism schools, communists going to Marxist schools… We need to BE together and stand together on common ground. E.D. Hirsch makes the case very well in his new book The Making of Americans.

  26. Homeschooling Granny says:

    Ben F
    Our public schools are not necessarily doing a good job of integrating our children and teaching them to get along well together. Ever visit a school at lunch time and see all the self-segregated tables in the lunch room?

    From my experience, I would say that you are perpetuating an unfortunate stereotype when you say that conservatives “want a divorce from brown/gay/liberal/Other America”. This is not what I see.

  27. Ben F,

    Well, first of all, I am not a conservative. I’m a liberal in the old school sense (I belong to the Libertarian party). I have no problem attaching regulations to these voucherized schools. In my perfect world, these regulations would preclude the type of extremist religious schools like madrassas that you reference above. We don’t allow religious indoctrination in public schools today, so I see no problem disallowing it in this case as well. You are right that some fundamentalist Christians will be upset about this, but so be it. They’ll compromise. But Ben F, one size does not fit all. It doesn’t in cars or homes or food or clothing or entertainment and so on, so why would it in education? In fact, once students get to college, they are able to choose for themselves. Why is this desirable but having choice in K-12 not desirable?

  28. Mrs. Lopez says:

    Ben F: “I do believe that many white conservatives do want a divorce from brown/gay/liberal/Other America. Do you disagree?”

    This white, conservative christian, who’s married to a brown liberal… finds you ridiculous, Ben.

  29. Ben –

    What’s the difference between the military, libraries, NASA, and schools? Students can’t be standardized to the degree that solidiers, books, and spacecraft can. The military has a single set of missions, as does NASA, and all resources within the organization can be directed towards those. Libraries, while more distributed, still have a core mission.

    In education, every student is a different mission. Some environments work well for many, others work poorly for all, while some serve niches extremely well. While there may be a common goal, as Hirsch believes, there isn’t a common method. Student populations are incredibly diverse in terms of wants and needs. If your desire is to steer them to a common goal, you should be calling for smaller, independent operating units agile enough to meet it.

    Given the nature of organizations, a large bureaucracy will favor common methods over common goals *every time*. When dealing with diverse inputs, common goals are the opposites of common methods. The military handles this through a basic training process designed to standardize inputs to handle its common methods. Can’t do the same thing in schools.

    Education can never be well-served by a “great national project” model. It’s a chaotic process that has to be managed from the ground up, not the top down. If we’re going to get into top down goal setting, we need to abandon top down management.

  30. Kirk Parker says:

    Perhaps not you, but I do believe that many white conservatives do want a divorce from brown/gay/liberal/Other America. Do you disagree?

    Vehemently! In addition to Mrs. Lopez’ point, just consider who it is you’re lumping together. What ethnic group has the lowest approval of gay marriage? I don’t know, maybe you should ask our President.

  31. Ben F- and exactly who should get to dictate what the “common” schools ought to teach? The reason we’ve had so many culture wars over school curriculum is because the government has tried a “one size fits all” model. Better to allow parents to choose the school matching the family’s values than to continue these kinds of culture wars. Right now whoever happens to be in power is able to force his/her agenda onto the schools. So you get things like Kansas removing evolution from the state science standards and then putting it back in after the election of a new board. I think the decision about whether and how to teach “hot button” issues ought to be left up to the individual schools, and parents ought to be free to choose the one they want.

  32. Sorry BenF but the bulk of the bureaucracy you view as a necessary evil is clearly, and unquestionably, unnecessary.

    The central administration of a school district simply has no value as evidenced by both private schools and that new flavor of public school, the charter school.

    Even much of the bureaucracy internal to an individual school is simply an extrusion of the central administration bureaucracy and could disappear tomorrow without any effect on the school’s educational capacity.

    When you’ve got this many well-paid people doing nothing of value they’ll come up with valueless policies to justify their existence like the policy under discussion. That their continued employment is unrelated to the quality of the education received by the students means a policy that contributes nothing towards education is just as worthwhile as a policy that does contribute to education.

  33. Regarding the repetitive anti-establishment argument –

    Mandatory schooling is an effort to ensure that each generation will have the necessary knowledge and skillset to maintain our nation’s status. Why is it mandatory? There would be too many competing interests in a free-for-all system. First off, the parents. Man public schools have problems maintaining 70% attendance…what do you think would happen if school stopped being mandatory? For-profit systems would blur the line between true education and the diploma as a product, which you can see happening with the dearth of private liberal colleges.
    Is the system perfect? No, nor is it possible to achieve perfection. Its the best we have, though.

    Regarding the actual topic of Joanne’s post –

    The idea of schools teaching concepts like hard work is not a new concept. Schools have long been in the business of character education, which has usually been achieved through actual hard work and not these canned feel-good character-ed programs.
    Secondly, there is a lot of science behind growing vegetables, and if the agriculture programs are tied into science, then good for them. I’d rather have elementary students learn about the development of plants than topics like evolution and genetics, which are too conceptual to effectively learn without a lot of basic background knowledge.

  34. Our inner city school has a garden; it’s called a peace garden because the kids work peacefully with one another when they are tending the soil. The kids take pride in the garden which keeps others from walking on the area which is right in the daily pathway to classes. The walls are not graffitied either near the garden. Our garden is much more about character education than curriculum.

  35. Allen,

    I actually agree with you to an extent: superintendents and principals often foist initiatives on teachers that help their careers but harm education. I’m not sure what the solution here is –CEO’s can be equally harmful to their corporations. It seems to me that more accountability is called for.

    On the other hand, I am SO glad we have administrators for help dealing with building maintenance, schedule creation, quotidian policies (e.g. cell phones, dress codes, report card formats), special ed law compliance, etc. There are a trillion little things that outsiders have a hard time imagining that need to get done. In charter schools, the teachers often get stuck with this deadly load of administrative work, which is one reason they tend to burn out quickly. Bureaucracies are maddening –and indispensable.

  36. Quincy,

    Your post is one of the best that I have ever read. You present an argument for vouchers that I have never heard before, and you do it in a clear and concise manner. Brilliant writing! Thank you.


    Nobody is talking about not making school mandatory. Of course it will still be mandatory. The idea is just to make the system more responsive to individual demands and needs and desires, just like any other industry. Plus, to try to bolster your point by saying that there is a dearth of private liberal colleges demonstrates that you do not understand the quality and well deserved reputation of our nation’s university and college system. Our private schools (and, to be fair, state schools) are some of the best in the world. The post secondary education system is one of the things that any American can look at and truly say, “We are the best in the world at this.”

  37. 90 minutes a week is an enormous amount of time in a public school classroom. That’s 54 hours of time each year which could be devoted to instruction. King Middle School has a -12 API. The black and hispanic kids make up at least 39% of the school, and maybe 56%, depending upon how “multiple or no response” breaks down.

    The black, hispanic, and low-SES kids aren’t (on the whole) returning to homes set up to provide more academic content. The public school classroom is their only chance to encounter reading, writing, math, history, and science. If 1/3 to 1/2 of the school population aren’t proficient, it’s time to look at the allocation of resources in the school. Feel-good pandering to upper-class hysteria, with no record of academic improvement, has to go. This school receives a “2” on the “2008 API Similar Schools Rank.”

    It’s great to have a gardening club. After school. If it intrudes into the school day, that school day could be shortened. However, if a significant proportion of the students show gaps in their academic preparation, then it is unconscionable to devote that time to upper class fads.

    I will also point out that, on the whole, agriculture and food preparation are not areas of the economy which offer highly-paid employment, after graduation. (If the kids reach graduation.) This sort of fad does fit very well into the long history of romantic, progressive education in our schools. Sure, gardening can be fun. However, the students will never get back the time they spent weeding.

  38. Ben –

    Division of labor and bureaucracy aren’t the same thing. The role you’re assigning to the bureaucracy can also be handled by a support organization responsive to teachers. Bureaucracies are dedicated to control by their very nature. Bureau + kratia = office rule.

    The difference between the organizations we need and the organizations we have in education is whether we can structure schools to respond to the needs of those actually educating the students. Again, top-down goals require bottom-up execution.

  39. Ben: Apparently, it needs to be restated: Japan, Finland and France are much smaller than the US, the populations are less mobile and all have a specific national curriculum. Finland and Japan are vastly more homogeneous. I’d like to see recent data on France. The “ethnic French” are one category, but very different from their North Africal Muslim population, with which they have historically had little social interaction. I understand that there is a great deal of physical separation (housing and community) between the two groups, so I wonder if the ethnic French commonly attend school with the Muslims. The photos and videos I saw of the rioting in Parisian (and other) suburbs in the recent past suggested that those communities were exclusively North African. I also wonder if there is an achievement gap between the groups, especially for girls. Given the European Muslim tendency to keep girls (and women) in the home, is there good data on their school attendance? Has anyone seen recent data on these questions?

  40. PS: I find it interesting that those who are quickest to mention Japan, Finland, Korea, Singapore and France as places to emulate on educational matters also seem very quick to condemn a national curriculum. All of the above have national curriculums and I believe that has been true of France for at least a century. I don’t know about the others.

  41. Bill Leonard says:

    Ben F:

    “A fractured, tribalist America” is the dream of every white protestant conservative? And what, exactly, are the multicultural courses and clubs and societies that are the darlings of every lefty I’ve ever encountered doing, if not promoting tribalism — along with the usual collectivist agenda, of course?

    I think it rather more likely that those parents who can do so are voting with their feet and their dollars when they opt for vouchers, charter schools, home schooling and the like.

  42. Emily Stokes says:

    I am shocked by most of the responses here, and wonder how many of their authors have spent any amount of time in education, particularly elementary. Or how many have ever known a child, for that matter.

    I work at school that has a fledgling and lovely garden program. Like all of our programs, the garden offers opportunities for students to learn facts, test hypotheses, problem solve, negotiate group work, cultivate a willingness to explore new experiences, and more. Best of all, in the garden the kids do this all with gusto and a tremendous joy of learning, which is *the most important thing* you can teach a child. (Actually, that is poorly put. The joy of learning, as far as I have even seen, is innate in humans from infancy. Our job as educators is to harness and channel that joy, rather than to squash it.)

    Of course, it doesn’t have to be a school garden. You could have a go-cart school, where 90 minutes a week students worked on go-cart projects, and, if well executed, the same academic ends could be achieved. (And likewise, either could be taken too far if the emphasis is too content-driven rather than process-oriented.) I believe in many more benefits to incorporating a garden in the school curriculum, including students’ dietary habits, their connection with the out of doors, their sense of environmental stewardship, etc. What I gather from the posts here, though, is that these are a “waste of time” when students could be plugging away at multiplication tables at their desks for yet another hour. As an educator, I know how crucial the mastery of certain basics are, but I also realize that this mastery comes much easier when you actually engage a child’s mind, interest and imagination. And ultimately, I hope to cultivate students who think, not droids that compute.

    Gardens aside, I am appalled by the blanket generalizations made in many of these posts. Have their authors ever personally known or even spoken to a migrant worker, or to any Latino immigrant, for that matter? Many I know read at home with their children, for example. Many I know feel a deep connection to the land and an appreciation for agriculture, and while they wouldn’t necessarily want their children to be migrant workers, they would be delighted to see their children 20 years from now tending a deliciously productive kitchen garden outside their back porch.

    I wish I could write all night, because there are so many thinks I would like to respond to. But alas, I have a job to do, which is teaching children to think, and my writing on blogs won’t help them get there, but my getting enough sleep tonight might.

    But before I go to bed, I think I’ll have a snack from my garden.

  43. Oh, do charter school teachers burn out more quickly then, I assume, district school teachers? Oddly enough, despite the desperate shortage of teachers I’ve been hearing about since I can remember charter schools don’t seem to have all that much trouble finding staff. You’d think the brutal workload would tend to dissuade professionals from wanting to work at charters yet that isn’t the case.

    Let’s try another possibility.

    The bulk of the public education bureaucracy is worthless if not counterproductive.

    A public school can run quite nicely, thank you very much, with no more administration then a principal, a clerk or two and a teacher or two. Specialist tasks can be done for hire on a competitive basis with performance standards to maintain quality. Private and religious schools have been making that point for years but until the advent of charters the districts could hold themselves above such unpleasant comparisons. No longer.

    Since all that work can be done by so few people it stands to reason that when you’ve got a lot more people doing the same amount of work most of them aren’t doing anything to advance the goals of the organization.

    They’re working on their PhD or their tan or the next exciting educational fad. But they can’t be working for the organization, it doesn’t require that much effort to run. Among the efforts to appear to be doing something that’s remotely related to education is the subject of this post. Someone’s got to dream up the ludicrous rationalizations whereby faux subsistence farming is presented as a worthwhile use of student, and I assume teacher, time.

  44. Allen, you’re right about the bureaucracy. Over a decade ago, I remember reading a comparison between DC Public Schools and the Archdiocese of Baltimore schools, with almost exactly the same numbers of students. The Archdiocese had something like 15 central office admin types and DCPS had something like 1300. I’m sure that number hasn’t decreased since then, since DCPS has been more of a jobs program for adults than an academic endeavor. Of course, the kids in the Archdiocese schools actually learned something, too.

  45. Cranberry says:

    Allen, if the administrators’ only job were to run the school, you’d be right. In this state, though, they spend much of their time complying with the hundreds of mandated federal and state reports. Add in all the paperwork involved with each sped case. Much of their time is not devoted to “running the school,” but to doing paperwork.

  46. Kirk Parker says:

    It’s worth pointing out that a commenter over at Corby Kummer’s blog has probably the best response of all: has Flanagan never heard of 4-H or Future Farmers of America?

  47. Cranberry, that’s why I went to pains to draw attention to the fact that charter schools are public schools – they have to adhere to all requirements that apply to district schools.

    As for district paperwork, that’s obviously unnecessary even if it is required. If charters get by without the need to meet the demands of central administration bureaucrats then their demands aren’t related to job of educating kids.

  48. 4-H or Future Farmers of America are voluntary, extracurricular programs, aren’t they? Enrollment in a public middle school doesn’t require a student to participate in 4-H or FFA?

    It also misses Flanagan’s point. She isn’t against agriculture. She thinks that academic activities must take priority over agricultural activities, _in the public school classroom_. _During the school day_. When literate and numerate children have better futures than those who are experienced gardeners, especially when the parents don’t have the means to patch up any academic deficiencies.

  49. Kirk Parker says:

    Cranberry, one suspects Flanagan’s real point is to have Yet Another Opportunity to show off her brilliant hostility in print.


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