In this month’s issue of The Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan has written a devastating and mean-spirited polemic on educational programs and the influence of Alice Waters and the Chez Panisse Foundation on schools (hat tip to Katy Murphy of the Oakland Tribune for bringing the article to my attention). The always sharp-tongued Flanagan writes:
It’s the state’s Department of Education that is to blame for allowing these gardens to hijack the curricula of so many schools. But although garden-based curricula are advanced as a means of redressing a wide spectrum of poverty’s ills, the animating spirit behind them is impossible to separate from the haute-bourgeois predilections of the Alice Waters fan club, as best expressed in one of her most oft-repeated philosophies: “Gardens help students to learn the pleasure of physical work.” Does the immigrant farm worker dream that his child will learn to enjoy manual labor, or that his child will be freed from it? What is the goal of an education, of what we once called “book learning”? These are questions best left unasked when it comes to the gardens.
Oh my. Are school gardens really the reason why so many of California’s students are failing the exit exam? I would sincerely doubt it, but Flanagan is certain that the lost hours of ” book learning” now being spent in the school garden have led to mediocrity in our educational system. It’s quite a piece of logic to be able to use rising grades at Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School (my alma mater and the site of the first Edible Schoolyard) to prove that point — “it makes sense given that a recipe is much easier to write than a coherent paragraph on The Crucible.”
Berkeley parent Andrew Leonard has written an equally sharp rejoinder to Flanagan on Salon. I think he pretty much sums it up, so he gets the last word:
Her problem with public school gardens is not their effect on test scores, which she can’t measure anyway, but her cultural animosity against the Alice Waters of the world, the foodies, the organic gardeners and locavores and crusaders against factory farms and monoculture agribusinesses.