Thou Shalt Not Garden

I generally really hate the idea of siding with Caitlin Flanagan about anything, and this is probably going to lose me some of my more militant friends, but I have a sneaking suspicion that when it comes to Alice Waters's Edible Schoolyard program, Flanagan may be exactly right with the calling of bullshit. Maybe not so much with the outright accusations of racial suppression, but there's something rotten in the state of California.

Plenty of people I respect disagree vehemently with Flanagan (and, by extension, my agreement with her), but there are a couple who are on the same side I am. I think the folks who are disagreeing, and taking the anti-Flanagan stance, are generally responding to a perceived argument that teaching kids to garden is a bad idea. That's not Flanagan's point: her point is that the Waters-created curriculum has basically taken over a significant proportion of California schools, to absolutely no measurable effect in terms of improved testing and graduation rates. If you dig past some of Flanagan's more intentionally incendiary bits (the ludicrous opening paragraph, the Jim Crow analogy), there's some good truth-to-power happening here.

If you want the short version (girlfriend is long-winded), I pretty much summarized it for my day job.


Halsey said...

I can't speak to the school garden program as a whole but the kids who are involved in it in Berkeley and Hayward (AW's hometown area) are about a 2 hour drive from the fields where Ms. Flanagan's migrant workers are tilling the soil. They are children who are facing more urban poverty issues than rural poverty issues. Friends* who work in these programs tell stories about the kids who have no idea where a carrot comes from, have never eaten raw spinach and often get the kind of school lunches that count ketchup as a vegetable. Maybe a better solution is to provide these kids with good tasting and nutritional food without the garden but as it stands, a little time gardening seems better than no garden/fresh vegetables at all.

*yeah, I'm a little biased but I also had parents who were feeding me green vegetables and no fear of diabetes, which doesn't seem like too much to offer

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helen said...

Halsey, I think you're right that Flanagan does short shrift to the virtues of teaching kids about where food comes from, and I'm all for that aspect. But if you buy her statistics, the gardening isn't really helping in any arena except "where do carrots come from?"

Hopefully the choice is not so clear-cut, but if I had to pick between a literate population and a food-savvy one, I'd go with the former.

Storey said...

I'm glad Compton has a grocery store, because the Tenderloin in SF, closer to the genesis of Waters' experiment, still doesn't have one. Of course I'm biased about this since I worked there for 3 years.

I actually think Flanagan has a lot of very interesting points in this piece, but ultimately her spade is turned at a problematic point. She relies on the assumption that the only road out of poverty is through improved educational standing. Which I am finding to be an increasingly broken model of alleged class mobility in our society.

Show me a study that demonstrates our alleged class mobility as anything other than a tractor that tills under as many people as it lifts. To the extent that there is an ability to lift oneself out of poverty in the US (and this is diminishing by the day), it's only available at the expense of others getting mashed down. Maybe this is inspiring to some people, because it generates the requisite number of "self-made man" stories to fool another generation of Americans into Reaganomics, but to me it just looks like increasing the randomness on a perilous crapshoot.

If you really want people lifted out of poverty, the solution is no more education than it is school gardens. It's leveling the field of wealth disparity.

PG said...

I think the comments on Phoebe's post may have diminished the extent to which she is on your side, inasmuch as that is the "Flanagan is exactly right" side. I went on at length and with some links about just how wrong Flanagan is (in particular, to claim that black and Latino students are somehow being singled out; the Edible Schoolyard is at King Middle School, where whites are the largest racial group), so I won't repeat it all here.

In brief, Flanagan is recycling the hoary conservative argument (one with which I don't necessarily disagree, btw) that students who are lacking in fundamental skills should not be doing anything during their schools hours -- not music, art, athletics, etc. -- that does not improve their abilities in readin, 'ritin and 'rithmetic. But because this is a dull point, she enlivens it for the Atlantic's audience by attacking Alice Waters. It's a cheap tactic wrapped in good writing.

helen said...

PG, My side is pretty darn far from the "Flanagan is exactly right" side. Mostly I'm on the "Alice Waters is not all that and a bag of organic, sustainably-harvested chips" side. It's different, though admittedly not night-and-daily so.

PG said...

Sorry, confused by your post's saying "Flanagan may be exactly right."

Jess said...

Just read a really interesting response to the Flanagan piece that I thought you might also like to see: http://schmeiser.typepad.com/filthy_commerce/2010/01/eat-the-rich-theyre-healthier-than-the-poor.html

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