Failure to Cultivate: A Response to Caitlin Flanagan on School Gardens | Civil Eats

Failure to Cultivate: A Response to Caitlin Flanagan on School Gardens

In the latest edition of The Atlantic magazine, Caitlin Flanagan has written a surprisingly harsh critique of the popular and growing movement to include gardens in our public schools. In a nutshell, she states that pursuing this activity over and above the three R’s will turn our children into illiterate sharecroppers. Right from the start, though, she gets it wrong.

She has the reader picture the son of undocumented migrant workers entering his first day at Martin Luther King Middle School in Berkeley, home of the well-known Edible Schoolyard project, “where he stoops under the hot sun and begins to pick lettuce.”  Her callous disrespect for labor only begins there, but the real problem with her argument lies in her stubborn refusal to accept that a good idea may have sprouted from an ideology other than her own.  She goes so far as to describe it as:

    …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 (attaining the cultural achievements, in other words, that have lifted uncounted generations of human beings out of the desperate daily scrabble to wrest sustenance from dirt)

Ms. Flanagan has chosen to ignore the core purposes of these gardens, only one of which happens to be cultivating a respect for hard work, and only one other of which is a healthy respect for real food.  While she notes that the work of the garden has migrated into each of the classrooms, she ignores the obvious point that this demonstrates: There is nothing taught in schools that cannot be learned in a garden.  Math and science to be sure, but also history, civics, logic, art, literature, music, and the birds and the bees both literally and figuratively.  Beyond that though, in a garden a student learns responsibility, teamwork, citizenship, sustainability, and respect for nature, for others, and for themselves.

The disdain for the left-of-center viewpoints of those who started the Edible Schoolyard is evidenced in her description of Chez Panisse, the restaurant of Edible Schoolyard’s founder Alice Waters, as “an eatery where the right-on, ‘yes we can,’ ACORN-loving, public-option-supporting man or woman of the people can tuck into a nice table d’hôte menu of scallops, guinea hen, and tarte tatin for a modest 95 clams—wine, tax, and oppressively sanctimonious and relentlessly conversation-busting service not included.”  Flanagan’s attempt at snob-bashing populism and appeal toward the sensitivities of those on the right is misplaced, however, because these school garden ideas, while begun in this particular case by those with left-leaning tendencies, actually hold appeal across the political spectrum.  They not only encompass a love of nature and the kind of touchy-feely sensitivities that give conservatives the willies, but also the bedrock principles of tradition and ownership and self-reliance that would be equally at home at a hippie commune or a tea party rally.

While it is rightly noted that the grades at the school quickly improved, the contention that “a recipe is much easier to write than a coherent paragraph on The Crucible” is not only insulting to professional chefs and food writers (like, well, me), but also is patently false.  There is a world of difference between writing a recipe and writing one well, as anyone who as ever come across the words “but first” in a recipe will attest.  The more important point though is the one that Flanagan glosses over: that the passion for learning developed in a garden, driven home by the lightening-bolt of awareness when a kid bites into a vine-ripened tomato she grew herself, is worth essays on ten plays even if Arthur Miller or Shakespeare wrote them all.

Where the argument really goes off the rails though is when Ms Flanagan posits:

    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.

Not “enjoy,” Ms, Flanagan, respect.  This, as I mentioned, is where her disdain for manual labor, something that everyone on the planet (beneath the upper 2% or so of income earners) contends with every day, becomes instructive.  It is predicated on the idea that labor is something to be freed from, ostensibly through strict adherence to “book learning.”  Worse, it perpetuates the misguided dogma of the last several decades that distances us from our food and insists that cooking is a chore, like washing laundry or windows, which should be avoided at all costs as if it were beneath us.  This in turn not only makes her seem elitist herself, but also leaves Ms. Flanagan’s ideas of education as merely a means to create consumers, rather than citizens.

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What follows in the essay is a misuse of statistics that boggles the mind, where she blames a decline in math and English among Latinos at MLK on the gardens.  In legal-ese (and Latin) this is referred to as a Post hoc ergo propter hoc argument, “It follows therefore was caused by.”  Another example of this would be that since all addicts were once babies, then mother’s milk leads to heroin addiction.

This is followed up by an argument that the rampant increase in childhood obesity and early-onset diabetes is not caused by a lack of access to healthy food nor the prevalence of sugary, fat laden food in schools.  Rather she cites, ironically, George Orwell, to argue that it’s because poor people prefer that food.  Please.  And for the record, her research into two grocery stores in Compton as proof that poverty and food deserts do not go hand-in-hand is blindingly shortsighted.

There are more errors of reason, but let me cut to the chase.  Ms. Flanagan sums up by saying this:

    (W)e become complicit— through our best intentions—in an act of theft that will not only contribute to the creation of a permanent, uneducated underclass but will rob that group of the very force necessary to change its fate. The state, which failed these students as children and adolescents, will have to shoulder them in adulthood, for it will have created not a generation of gentleman farmers but one of intellectual sharecroppers, whose fortunes depend on the largesse or political whim of their educated peers.

The belief that we will create better citizens by teaching to the test (an idea she advocates for repeatedly and vociferously) is one that will lead to a generation of closed-minded automatons incapable of learning, thinking, or fending for themselves.  We are far better off with a generation of Citizens who understand that sustenance comes not from factories or laboratories but from the soil and from hard working hands, both of which deserve the respect garnered from experience.  We need Citizens who are healthier than the generation before them; throughout most of human history the rich were fat and the poor were skinny, yet today in America it is quite the opposite.  Fixing that requires direct experience and interaction with our food, something no schoolroom lecture can provide.

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This is not advocacy for some weird Maoist Great Leap Forward where everyone must leave the cities and go farm.  It is knowledge of one of the truest clichés known: You are what you eat.  And as one of Ms. Flanagan’s carefully-book-taught computer programmers would point out, Garbage In – Garbage Out.

Chef Kurt Michael Friese is editor-in-chief and co-owner of the local food magazine Edible Iowa River Valley. A graduate and former Chef-Instructor at the New England Culinary Institute, he has been owner, with his wife Kim McWane Friese, of the Iowa City restaurant Devotay for 16 years. Named for his children Devon and Taylor, Devotay is a community leader in sustainable cuisine and supporting local farmers and food artisans. Friese is a freelance food writer and photographer as well, with regular columns in 6 local, regional and national newspapers and magazines. His first book, A Cook’s Journey: Slow Food in the Heartland was published by in August, 2008 by Ice Cube Press, and his lates book, Chasing Chiles, was released by Chelsea Green Publishing in March, 2011. Read more >

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  1. A couple of sentences in this article almost made me think the author was joking (And so I would say this to our state’s new child farm laborers: ¡Huelga! Strike!). She misinterprets Waters’ statement: “Gardens help students to learn the pleasure of physical work.”, by turning the statement into something that is both elitist and racist. (“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.”) Gardens help students understand the sources of their food. They help students feel empowered. They teach students that growing a tomato is easy and that even when things are difficult, working in a garden can be soothing and rewarding.

    It’s not as if the children participating in a school garden program spend hours a day producing food for the ‘more educated’ students, as her article would have us believe. It’s also never been claimed that a school garden will help students meet all of their English or Math standards, as she implies. A garden is certainly not a replacement for math or English instruction, but offers students fresh air, a connection with nature, life skills, and perhaps an additional approach to learning.

    Finally, her information about populations with a lower SES having equal access to fresh produce is based only on what is available in a CA grocery store. CA has a year-round growing season and so of course, the grocery stores will be better stocked with ‘From CA’ fresh produce. This is decidedly not the case in other city’s ‘food deserts’.

    I agree that our approach to food deserts and food equality needs to be multi-faceted (more supermarkets to poorer areas, as she says), but I don’t agree with her implication that those in support of an ‘Edible Schoolyard’ feel that the school garden will solve all the problems. Quite obviously, an Edible Schoolyard does not REPLACE school!
  2. Thank you so much for responding to that article. You eloquently covered the key points I was pondering as I read Ms. Flanagan's article the other day. Most importantly, the complete disconnection from our food supply, and the ignorance and health issues associated with that disconnect. I certainly hope your response gets ample exposure...and I've a strong feeling you are not alone in your sentiments. Well done.
  3. Andrew
    Can we stop and consider, just briefly, how ridiculous is it that Caitlin Flanagan, and you, and I, are arguing about what's best for every child in not only California, but America? Can we maybe acknowledge that not all 80 million American children should be subjected to the same education? Can we accept that some parents might prefer that their children focus on becoming the first college graduates in the family, while other parents, less worried about their children's financial future, might be happy to take a little time out of math so that their children might learn about food, farming, and self-reliance in a school garden? Why can't all of these parents get what they want?
  4. Christine Cuda
    Excellent response. In reading Ms. Flanagan's article I too was struck by her intellectual elitist tone and wondered several things: 1) just how much time are the children spending in the garden? 2) does Ms. Flanagan know that gardening consists of much more than harvesting (or stooping under a hot sun and picking lettuce as she would have it)? 3) how many high school graduates who did NOT have a garden can identify Euclid and Emerson? How many public schools are indeed teaching much (if any) Shakespeare? And are these included in the required tests for graduation 4) if a farmworker's child is able to learn about gardening from his/her parent, should the children of chefs, carpenters, engineers and doctors be excused from the home economics, woodworking, math and biology courses some schools feel important to their educations because they could "learn it at [his/her] father's knee"?
    Additionally, although I have not had the pleasure of eating at Alice Water's restaurant nor enjoyed her "weird, almost erotic power", as an "educated, professional-class, middle-aged woman" I am appalled by the insulting and condescending remarks about volunteers, specifically women who may choose to give their time to serving the community as "the same kind of woman who tends to light, midway through life’s journey, on school voluntarism as a focus of her fathomless energies". What a snarky and patronizing comment.

    Finally, her assumptions that the poor prefer unhealthy food is a common one and directly related to school garden programs. I contend that good nutrition is something that must be learned. Were we to be offered braised spinach or M&M's I suspect many humans would choose the candy because as I understand it, we are hard-wired to enjoy sweets. Currently however, many schools teach one thing in the health classes and another in the cafeteria - a problem that is also being addressed by many concerned citizens. If children can take home an enjoyment of fresh vegetables AND the family can find and afford them, then we will indeed effectively start to combat the obesity issues that afflict our youth.
  5. Reading Flanagan's Atlantic piece I immediately recognized several off-the-shelf varieties of hackery. 1) faux populism ala Limbaugh--let's flog 'limousine' liberals; 2) faux food populism--let's flog local/organic food advocates; 3) disingenuous concern for poor immigrants; and 4) the worst: poorly supported hot air about public school curricula. Her snipes about the curriculum could have been written any time in the last 30 years to complain about some new-fangled curriculum or approach to education--including any use of computers. Unless she can present her analysis of the curriculum, broken down by time spent per day, and over a school year, then her criticism is meaningless. Perhaps she has done such analysis, but she didn't present it. Instead, her article is just a bunch of petty cultural slights and zingers.
  6. Thank you for responding to the Flanagan article. Your rebuttal is very well written and well thought out. Her article is a straw man post written by a troll.
  7. If Ms Flanagan is concerned about instructional time being "wasted" in the garden, perhaps she could address the outdated American practice of giving children a 3-month vacation in the summer?

    If poverty is the problem, and education is the answer, then surely the system can give children more hours in the classroom by reducing that lengthy break? This would also help strapped inner city parents by reducing their summertime childcare costs.

    It is the case, is it not, that the long summer vacation was originally designed to free children from school so they could help on the farm? Surely Ms Flanagan wants the little ones back behind their desks?

    Perhaps she can take that up as her cause, and leave the gardens alone. There's room for both. In Britain, the summer vacation lasts for six weeks.
  8. Meaghin: Right. It is no more a replacement for school than Phys Ed is - these gardens are a fitting compliment to good education.

    Beverly: The importance of that disconnect cannot be overemphasized. We spend, as a nation, $157B on obesity and diabetic-related diseases every year. If we are what we eat, then most Americans are fast, cheap and easy.

    Andrew: True enough that there is no panacea, and these gardens don't qualify either. But I know from 1st hand experience that they are beneficial to a lot of students, especially the so-called "underprivileged" or "challenged."

    Christine: really appreciate your points, especially #4, since almost no one is learning to cook at their mothers' apron strings any longer. In fact those mothers likely didn't either, sad to say.

    Jack: Your point about the curricula is well taken, and I neglected to mention, in reference to Flanagan inference that Ms. Waters is unqualified to be writing curricula: Since she apparently doesn't do research, she would be unaware of the years Waters spent as a Montessori teacher.

    Thanks to all for the positive feedback
  9. And Wendy: Hear Hear!
  10. Thank you, thank you, thank you Chef Friese!

    I and my fellow edible gardeners and Master Gardeners have been discussing this insulting, ill-informed author's rant against school gardens since yesterday. We have also sent our feedback to The Atlantic, speaking out as experts who work in public school gardens ourselves and actually KNOW what we're talking about. And this is honest and genuine feedback; not just an attempt to defend some paying position in schools (we are volunteers).

    What I found especially powerful were your remarks about school gardens’ ability to enhance lessons in math, literature, science and history. Let us not forget the power of the school garden to spark a kindergartener’s awareness of the environment around them and how they, themselves, individually can make a difference in their wider world.

    Just as our schools (coupled with growing societal awareness) grew generations of kids that are now non-smoking adults, we can grow generations of WHOLE kids – kids who can transform an abstract concept introduced in the classroom (nutrition, calculating perimeter and surface area, pollination, habitats, solar energy, water cycles, ecology, etc.) and enhanced by real-life, hands-on experience in a school garden into an awakening of what’s possible for them in life – regardless of their ethnic background or economic status.

    I have a Facebook fan page called Home Grown Edible Landscapes. Fans and I discussed this article last night. I have to say I was impressed with the number of fans who have gone on to related careers – geologist, urban planner, botanist– who all point to their own memories of learning to love learning through experiences in their own school gardens. I was also equally impressed with the responses from fans who have been life-long edible gardeners because of their introduction to it in their elementary schools.

    Bravo, to you for standing up and voicing so eloquently what we all wanted to say!
  11. I have another scenario for Ms. Flanagan to open with. That "liberated" son of an immigrant field worker enters the hallowed halls of higher learning, where he cultivates a knowledge of (and taste for) Twinkies and fast food burgers and soft drinks--the type of highly processed, highly subsidized food that is rampant throughout our schools.

    As the years go by, the boy, on his ascent towards assimilation into the American masses, eschews the foods his mother and father favor--the wholesome dishes they and their ancestors have been making for centuries--for the American ones that come in boxes and wrappers and neon colors.

    Lo and behold, as the child enters his teens, he crosses the obesity threshold and his parents are informed that he has Type II diabetes. Now, that bright future of dwelling on Shakespeare (and "laughing at the right places") is dulled by loss of vision, dramatically increased risk of cardio-vascular disease and the very real possibility of kidney and nerve damage later on down the line.

    I understand her frustration about the education system in California being broken (and broke)--I'm frustrated too. But her angst seems somewhat misguided.

    Sorry, a bit off-track, but I had to comment.

    Kurt, this is an excellent, well thought out, even-handed retort. My eyes were so crossed when I got to the end of her article, I didn't even know where to begin.

    I'm so curious to know what Caitlin had for dinner after she wrote this . . .
  12. LisaG
    This summer I worked side by side with a "poor immigrant" who was planting a humble garden in his yard. Of all the things this country offers him, his greatest blessing? The DIGNITY OF DIRTY HANDS. Caitlin Flanagan has a lot to learn.
  13. Mitch
    I am myself a foodie and would like to see agriculture and food more apart of the American culture. However, that does not justify the right for tax dollars to be spent on education. The issue Flanagan brings up in her article is a legitimate concern considering the limited amount of education resources and poor education provided in California and the US. It weakens the article that it is more of a personal attack on Alice Waters rather than a critical look at that question of publicly funded gardens. However, it brings up a point that I myself have taken for granted and should be considered by all: what are the concrete arguments for using public resources to garden and teach about gardening in public schools.
  14. Geri: You are quite welcome and thank you for all that you do!

    Lia: That would certainly be an awakening for her!

    Mitch: If you can cite one priority we have that is more important than the health, well-being and education of our children I'll be pleased to listen. But until then, I will continue to advocate for more money being redirected to the schools over any other federal, state, or local expenditure. Our schools should be cathedrals, and if that means we build one less county administration building, submarine or prison, then so be it. We live in a country with more prisoners than farmers, and it's a simple equation: no farmers = no food.
  15. Krista
    Hear, hear.

    I loved her assertion that all that gardening is at the expense of other learning - then she herself states that students spend 1 1/2 hours in the garden each week. Yeah, that's really going to drag them down.
  16. Aunt Deb
    Summer break is, as said by others, historically linked to summer chores. How about a stimulus project to install AC in public schools? I am from the midwest and for summer school we just needed a break from the heat and humidity. I attended anyway but it was hot, hot.
  17. Krista, right you are. If we figure a 6 hour school day, that's 5% of the week. Yeesh.
  18. alice
    Where does she think our food comes from and what does she think of THOMAS JEFFERSON's argicultural America? This is SO wrong on SO many levels-I'm speechless!
  19. When a conservative plants a garden, bakes bread or cans is an example of their right thinking, good living and wise thrift. When a liberal does the same thing it is just another example of their elitist leftist ideology.

    I am so disappointed with The Atlantic for publishing this garbage.
  20. I love that Compton Caitlin from tha hood lets us know she shopped at the Ralph's in Compton once, so therefor poor kids have access to fruit and veg and there is no such thing as a food desert.

    Poor thinking, poorer writing.
  21. Also - am I missing something. It looks like we are not allowed to comment on The Atlantic?
  22. Also - for everyone getting hot under the collar about time the kids spend in the garden... pulease. The average American kid, black white yellow or brown spends about 4 hours a day plopped in front of the boob tube or the xbox. Save your outrage for that Ms. Flanagan and get some perspective.
  23. Thank you so much for this excellent and well-argued response! Many school garden advocates and leaders are preparing responses.

    As the Executive Director of Urban Sprouts, a school garden organization partnering with under-served communities in San Francisco, I've written my response. Would love your thoughts!
  24. Bill McCann
    Kurt Thank you for the beautiful words. As someone who has spent fourty plus years making a living mostly with physical labor I am reminded of a few words that I have carried along with me on my journey. As a simple starter: "dirty hands make for clean money". Tell that to both the bankers and the right wing pundits who espouse a love for the working man but have had no experience of what such a life really is about. As a profound closer I will quote a nobel human who understood physical labor by experiencing it: one Simone Weil who once said"It is not difficult to define the place that physical labor should occupy in a well ordered social life. It should be its spiritual core". Thanks again
  25. This is an amazing an absolutely terrifying and dismaying opinion of education and community. Thank you for quickly restoring some of my faith in humanity -- though there's none left for Flanagan.
  26. Thank you so much for this response. It's what I'd say if I wrote more eloquently. I really can't believe the original article was published... it was so far off the point as to be comical, like someone watching a baseball game and complaining there were no touchdowns :D
  27. Kitty
    Caitlin Flanagan

    This woman is so far off base that it is laughable. I was raised on a farm and I personally know that children who r not exposed to growing/planting often lack in some learning related areas. I am also a licensed teacher with a M.Ed. She is off, she is way off and she doesn't have a clue about school gardens, their positive learning outcomes or education in general.
  28. Such a wonderful response!! I was so angry there wasn't a place to comment on The Atlantic!! I found myself fuming while reading Flanagan's article.

    I simply do not understand how teaching our children to value our earth, to raise food that's mutually beneficial and respectful and to cook it and enjoy it has become a symptom of elitist liberalism?!?! These are basic tenets all of our children should know. If they aren't getting it at home, then what better place than to learn about it at school??

    And of course there's the moderation argument. No, a garden centric education isn't practical, but an education with a balance of the 3 R's and health sounds pretty perfect to me. I guess she's happy that PE is nearly extinct and she's obviously pulling for the Edible Schoolyards to follow suit. It's maddening.
  29. DonBito
    The only thing that this debate has highlighted to me is the new and creative ways that people are using accusations of "the other side's" racism and elitism to absolve themselves of any responsibility to reflect on the racism and elitism of their own actions and reasoning.

    Way to go, white people. Way to go.
  30. Not sure I'm following you Don, but if you are suggesting that I have participated in an attempt to absolve myself you're going to need to elaborate. I hope I'm misunderstanding you, but it seems that you are accusing not only Ms. Flanagan but also me of elitism and racism, and if so it's a charge I'll need you to back up with proof.

    If I am misunderstanding, please accept my apologies and clarify.
  31. Food access is the crux of so many important issues - health, social justice, the environment to name a few - and what an exciting time to see so much support and progress being made in such a valuable manner.

    For all of the hot smoke coming from Flannigan, I'm so happy to see her bad press bring good light to the reality of the school garden movement (and other programs like it). And thank you Chef Friese for your absolutely eloquent rebuttal. Whether it is music, dance, or gardening, these supplemental activities give children the confidence, creativity, and competence to be good students and even greater leaders.
  32. An excerpt from my critique of Flanagan's essay:

    As education in this nation grows more obsessed with standardized testing, it is inevitable that we will lose touch with any notion of a liberal arts education. Sure, upper-middle class kids are "well-rounded" because they have the resources for numerous extracurricular activities. Schools with strong test scores tend to be schools with more resources, i.e. technology, smaller teacher to student ratio, textbooks or educational materials, etc. These students will do just fine. They'll pass high school, go to college and get a job.

    But all those families who lack the resources to afford after-school soccer practice, swimming lessons, studying abroad, or foreign language lessons, etc. where should they go to experience new opportunities? If schools don't offer gardens (most do not), and continue to emphasize math, science and literacy, what sort of extracurricular opportunities will these youth experience?

    In the end, I'd rather live in a society where young people study the world - its cultures, history, art and food - rather than learn how to recite multiplication and periodic tables. I believe that public schools have the responsibility to promote critical thought. This goal is far more attainable when students interact with their world, rather than when they mesmerize it one day and forget it the next.
  33. cybercita
    after reading that article, i wondered if flanagan is suffering from bipolar disorder.
  34. RW
    Ms. Flanagan should just head over to the nearest McDonalds drive thru, choke down a Big Mac, and get over it.
  35. It's a great way to get yourself noticed, though, isn't it?

    No doubt there are lessons to learn to improve how we engage children with food and health. Although a half decent practitioner could deliver the entire curriculum in a garden (yes, even including algebra, and yes, to test standards) if they so wished, there are undoubtedly lessons to learn and approaches to tweak. More long term evidence is being collected and its results must of course be pored over and no assumptions made about them. But that kind of measured response does not get you very much press.

    Anyone can have an opinion and then find evidence to fit it, or indeed ignore evidence to fit. That's fair enough, it's an opinion. But engaging with it is a bit like arguing with 'bloke down the pub' after 9 pints.

    Food initiatives for children (or any educational initiative) cannot be complacent, we must assume there are things to learn and improve. There are and will be evidenced, measured and useful assessments of the effectiveness of learning this way and suggestions for improvement. We should take those seriously. This is not an assessment, it's an opinion.
  36. Ms. Flanagan's response is reductionist, at best.

    Through our program, Healthy Lunch & Lifestyle Project, we use the Garden Classroom for break-out sessions for students who are ALREADY performing below the standard in math and science. The Garden Classroom supplements, it does not replace, traditional classroom curricula. It provides another opportunity to teach children who may not (for a variety of reasons)be "traditional learners."

    Additionally, we use the Garden Classroom for nutrition education; the middle school students who are engaged in the garden and in garden-based nutrition education (which includes cooking classes)are participating in the school lunch program in greater numbers. This is significant because our school meal program focuses on whole fruits, whole vegetables, and whole grains which are prepared from scratch daily. Improved nutrition is positively correlated to improved classroom performance and behavior; surely Ms. Flanagan would not refute the evidenced-based, peer-reviewed research which supports this finding.

    Last, and certainly not least, hands-on learning develops critical thinking skills (which "teaching to the test" does not.) We are a nation of entrepreneurs and I have seen the work of some of our nation's future great minds at work in the garden.

    Thank you for your thoughtful response to Ms. Flanagan's article.
  37. Check out Caitlin - she is weirder than Steven Colbert.

    Long before Alice Waters gummed her first bite of solid food educational experts had been hailing the value of the garden as an instructional tool.

    This is one of my favorites:
    "The garden furnishes abundance of subject matter for use in the composition, spelling, reading, arithmetic, geography, and history classes. A real bug found eating on the child's cabbage plant in his little garden will be taken up with a vengeance in his composition class. He would much prefer to spell the real, living radish in the garden than the lifeless radish in the book. He would much prefer to figure on the profit of the onions sold from his garden than those sold by some John Jones of Philadelphia". - George Washington Carver, an American scientist, botanist, educator and inventor whose studies and teaching revolutionized agriculture in the United States.

    Caitlin seems to me to be a sensationalist and her article is kind of galvinizing the garden-based learning movement in our response to her.
  38. I find it amazing that people could object to school gardens - this in a society where

    1) most people are so cut off from the land we deeply need more fostering of connections to nature, especially in children, and among children especially the millions of city children with little exposure to how things grow;

    2) way too many children do not listen in school, are disconnected from school material - so if gardening can promote interest and improved grades, amazing.
  39. Mitzi
    I'm as conservative as they come, but as a former educator I have to agree with you on this. It is not good for anyone to sit for 8 hours a day, continuously studying to pass a test at the end of the year. Even if a person abhors the acquisition of physical skill, he/she should acknowledge that getting a little fresh air, sunshine, and exercise is a good thing. Most of the kids I taught who were diagnosed ADD or ADHD functioned well in my math/science class, because I kept it practical and hands-on (studying percents, we "went shopping" for food, clothing, cars, and houses, using simple formulas for quick mental calculation as well as traditional pencil-and-paper work. ). We hardly EVER sat for the whole 75-90 minutes, and I never, ever lectured that long. But they wrote a lot, read a lot, presented a lot, did lots of experiments, lit their own Bunsen burners, and did well of the standardized tests. The gardening movement may be too new to have studies showing increased scores, but give it time. When kids have their hands engaged in a task, their minds will be engaged, too. Caitlin really needs to read Booker T. Washington's Up from Slavery and Working with the Hands. She would learn a lot.
    • pcrossfield
      Thanks for pointing us in the direction of Booker T. Washington's Working with the Hands. It inspired a post:
  40. Barbara Gates
    BRAVO! As an elementary school science teacher in Dorchester, in the Boston Public School System, I am constantly delighted with how my students respond to learning in our outdoor classroom. The place-based, first-hand, authentic and relevant lessons learned in the garden compliment all my units, from learning about levers and pulleys in 5th grade as we identify tools as class 1, 2, and 3 levers and see just how work is facilitated with shovels, wheel barrows, spades, hoes, etc, to learning about ecosystems through composting and witnessing the sacred contract our red worms have with the soil in producing our crops. You speak for me!
  41. As others have suggested, Caitlin Flanagan could harvest some valuable insights if she expanded her reading to include the likes of Booker T Washinton, George Washington Carver and Thomas Jefferson ("the greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add an useful plant to its culture; especially a bread grain." Memorandum of Services to My Country, September 2, 1800). I would also add:
    Liberty Hyde Bailey(“Give the children an opportunity to make garden. Let them grow what they will. It matters less that they grow good plants than that they try for themselves.”)
    Wendell Berry (“We learn from our gardens to deal with the most urgent question of the time: How much is enough?”)
    May Sarton ("Gardening gives one back a sense of proportion about everything - except itself.")
    Gertrude Jekyll ("The lesson I have thoroughly learnt, and wish to pass on to others, is to know the enduring happiness that the love of a garden gives.")
    E.O. Wilson ("Biophilia: the innate pleasure from living abundance and diversity as manifested by the human impulse to imitate Nature with gardens.")
    Francis Bacon ("Gardening is the purest of human pleasures. It is the greatest refreshment
    to the spirits of humans, without which buildings and palaces are but gross handiworks")
    Landscape architect Mike Steven ("The Congruent Garden: an Investigation into the Role of the Domestic Garden in Satisfying Fundamental Human Needs," based on interviews with gardeners on the values of gardening in their everyday lives. He
    established that gardens have the potential to satisfy nine basic human needs (subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation,leisure, creation, identity, freedom) across four existential states -- being, having, doing and interacting,
    And my favorite:
    Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses, 1990, p. 13: "A flower's fragrance declares to all the world that it is fertile,available, and desirable,its sex organs oozing with nectar.
    Its smell reminds us in vestigial ways of fertility, vigor, life-force,all the optimism, expectancy, and passionate bloom of youth.
    We inhale its ardent aroma and, no matter what our ages,we feel young and nubile in a world aflame with desire."
  42. Sharon
    While we do need to be wary of marginalising the 'poor' kids, I think there is more to life than book learning, especially in a country where disconnection from food and obesity is such an issue. Its drawing a bit of a long bow to equate school gardens with sharecropping!

    While it should be a societal goal that everyone is literate and adept in at least basic maths, is this aspiring to higher learning the only way to measure success? What about those who are not cut out for/interested in academia? Should all people - whatever their background - aspire to the higher echelons of university study? Or are there people who will be happy to build houses and grow food for a livelihood? Or aren't we going to talk about the people who mine and manufacture computers for all the college students to use, or grow the food they eat? Someone has to do it! It is in fact elitist to suggest that the only kind of education worth having is to read the classics.

    If tending the school garden is an hour and a half out of a week, well so what? Surely good nutrition and physical ed are just as essential life skills as adding up, writing/reading?

    Is it just the school gardens to blame for this sorry state? Or is it wider issues of poverty, family breakdown, atomisation of society - fuelled by the very competitive individualism associated with scrambling to the top of the economic pile advocated by Flanagan?

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