Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Dirt on School Gardens

In the current Atlantic Monthly, Caitlin Flanagan takes a good, hard look at the shortcomings of public education and comes up with a surprising fall guy. The blame for the academic woes of our current generation, she concludes, rests squarely on the shoulders of...Alice Waters. Waters, the California chef who introduced millions of foodies to the joys of eating locally, is also the godmother of school gardens (starting with The Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley). To listen to Flanagan, those campus garden beds spell nothin' but Trouble.

In "Cultivating Failure," Flanagan reveals the dirty trick perpetrated 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."

Flanagan's basic beef is that school gardens are glorified time-wasters, depriving kids of a chance to learn serious stuff. Apparently, she's never seen the rigorous projects that use gardens as a place to grow scientific inquiry skills along with vegetables, or to give budding naturalists a place to hone their powers of observation. (For just a few examples, check out this issue of Northwest Teacher. It's a little dated but still relevant.)

Flanagan really goes off the rails when she tries to blame the burgeoning school gardening movement for the achievement gap. Children of Hispanic immigrants deserve better, she suggests, than becoming "our state's new child farm laborers."

Sounds like a load of organic steer manure to me.

Photo by Michael LoRusso, Creative Commons.


Tom Hoffman said...

Thanks Suzie... I couldn't really rouse myself to take this on, but someone needed to.

Jane Krauss said...

Steer manure is a nice way to phrase it! CF can't imagine that "fundamental standards of literacy, numeracy and civic understanding" (Sizer) can be met through an integrated garden curriculum. I just looked at A Child's Garden of Standards (dumb name, not a bad doc)-- it addresses grades two through six and activities align with state standards in sci/math/social studies/eng-language arts. Not sure what curriculum is used for grades seven through twelve but I can imagine botany, biology, business and agriculture tie-ins without trying very hard. I look forward to reading next month's Atlantic letters to the editor.