I believe that gardens are good things; I believe that exposing kids to gardening and other outdoor activities are good things--I believe this with every fiber of my being. Yet, I think the article Cultivating Failure by Caitlin Flanagan for The Atlantic is a thing of genius. If you're a fan of Alice Waters you probably won't feel the same. Similarly, some gardeners are not feeling the love because they see the article as an indictment on gardening-they're internalizing Ms. Flanagan's writing-instead of asking themselves if she has a point.
Strip away the scathing and hilarious takedowns of Alice Waters and Ms. Flanagan actually poses a couple of great questions. Why are the students at the Edible Schoolyard program performing lower on tests than their peers at schools that don't have school gardens? As someone who believes in the benefits of adding school gardens and including them in the curriculum, this is what I want to know the most. How is it that exposing kids to something that brings them closer to nature and the food they eat not improving their test scores?
Corby Kummer, food writer for The Atlantic
, took to his blog to pen School Gardeners Strike Back
, a lengthy rebuttal of Ms. Flanagan's article that ultimately admits:
"Guerrero had no test scores to refute Flanagan; that's never been a focus of the Edible Schoolyard. But nor has the program ever relied on the public funds Flanagan says can't be wasted in what is demonstrably one of the lowest-performing state school systems in the country."
As good as the idea of kids and gardens make us feel, that's not going to get them into college and into good paying jobs. When I leave the house at night I'm not worried about getting mugged or shot by out of work doctors, lawyers and teachers.
When I was a kid I couldn't name anything more boring than math and science. I was certain that I would never have a need for math and science when I grew up, now I see that math and science is all around me every time I step into the garden. It is in the planning of the garden and spacing of seeds and in my efforts to propagate plants. If only I had known then what I know now.
Maybe these kids are performing lowers on tests than their peers in schools without gardens because of issues at home. Or maybe the issue is that people have been swept up in the cult of personality that is Alice Waters, a restaurateur and activist for locally grown food. As good a job as George Clooney did on ER and as hard as he works to raise awareness on various issues; I would not want him meddling in the curriculums of the medical schools that will graduate the people who will someday be performing open heart surgery. Call me crazy.
The second question that Ms. Flanagan raises is if having the children of immigrants picking lettuce during school instead of concentrating on teaching English, math and science is a good idea. It seems like a cruel twist of fate. The comparison she makes is jarring and makes you think. I'm of the belief that gardening, like charity, should begin in the home. Let's build gardens in schools where the kids are encourage to play and learn, but leave teaching to the teachers. I like the work being done in California by La Mesa Verde
in conjunction with the University of California Extension. They build organic vegetable gardens in the backyards of low-income families and provide organic gardening and nutrition courses with UCE's Master Gardening Program. Teach the parents, teach the kids.
I'm sorry Alice Waters groupies and fellow gardeners, but Caitlin Flanagan is right. Unless the purpose of the Edible Schoolyard program is to create a generation of under-educated, under-paid and voiceless migrant farm workers, it is indeed cultivating failure and that's not a good thing.