Who could possibly oppose the efforts by Alice Waters, founder of the legendary restaurant Chez Panisse and living saint to devotees of local foods, to promote the creation and tending of gardens in public schools so that children can not only eat fresh vegetables but also learn something about the natural world?
That's your cue, Caitlin Flanagan! In the Atlantic, Flanagan argues that garden-chat has pushed aside reading and math in schools that have listened to Waters. I'm not in a position to judge whether that's the case, and Flanagan's evidence is anecdotal (or flatly assertive), but she does get off some good lines. Consider, for example, the argument that, through gardening, students learn the value of physical labor. "Does the immigrant farm worker dream that his child will learn to enjoy manual labor," Flanagan asks, "or that his child will be freed from it?"
Or consider the following passage from "A Child's Garden of Standards," a book that purports to explain how gardening can be incorporated into a rigorous curriculum: "Some families," it says, "particularly those from other countries, may feel uncomfortable when asked to help out at school because their English skills or educational background do not give them a solid classroom footing. For these families, the living classroom of a garden can be a much more inviting environment in which to engage in their children's education."
Writes Flanagan, in language that could wither tomato plants:
If this patronizing agenda were promulgated in the Jim Crow South by a white man who was espousing a sharecropping curriculum for African American students, we would see it for what it is: a way of bestowing field work and low expectations on a giant population of students who might become troublesome if they actually got an education.
Flanagan-the-flamethrower also tests the Waters thesis that decent vegetables are hard to find in inner cities. She is well-placed to do a little reporting: "As it happens, I live fewer than 20 miles from the most famous American hood, Compton." Fewer than 20! She found lots of good-looking veggies.
(Photo via the National Gardening Association.)
The author is solely responsible for the content.
Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.
Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.
Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.
Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.
Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."
Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.
Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.