In this excellent review of Thomas McNamee’s biography of legendary chef Alice Waters (of Berkeley’s Chez Panisse,) The Atlantic’s Caitlin Flanagan tears into Waters’ effort to turn her celebrity into influence over the curriculum of California schools.
Waters is a major proponent of the importance of school gardens as a teaching tool, the Edible Schoolyard Program, offering students an opportunity to achieve some very high-minded goals, but that does nothing to help them pass math or english exams or get into the university of their choice.
The article debunks, often with brutal statistics and scathing logic, the high-minded movement that has put gardens in 2,000 of 9,000 of California’s cash-strapped elementary and secondary schools. Flanagan then takes a step back, surveys the history of fads in California education, and notes:
With the Edible Schoolyard, and the thousands of similar programs, the idea of a school as a venue in which to advance a social agenda has reached rock bottom. This kind of misuse of instructional time began in the Progressive Era, and it has been employed to cheat kids out of thousands of crucial learning hours over the years, so that they might be indoctrinated in whatever the fashionable idea of the moment or the school district might be. One year it’s hygiene and another it’s anti-Communism; in one city it’s safe-sex “outer-course,” and in another it’s abstinence-only education. (Sixth-graders at King spend an hour and a half each week in the garden or the kitchen—and that doesn’t include the time they spend in the classroom, in efforts effective or not, to apply the experiences of planting and cooking to learning the skills and subjects that the state of California mandates must be mastered.) But with these gardens—and their implication that one of the few important things we as a culture have to teach the next generation is what and how to eat—we’re mocking one of our most ennobling American ideals. Our children don’t get an education because they’re lucky, or because we’ve generously decided to give them one as a special gift. Our children get an education—or should get an education—because they have a right to one. At the very least, shouldn’t we ensure that the person who makes her mark on the curricula we teach be someone other than an extremely talented cook with a highly political agenda?
It is time to pull all of our political agendas, left and right, out of the classroom, save one: the goal to ensure our children are academically prepared for life. Leave the enrichment to extra-curricular activities.
- Alice Waters – Edible Schoolyard Takedown in the ‘Atlantic Monthly’: Wrong, Wrong, Wrong (definitiveink.typepad.com)