The XX Factor

Caitlin Flanagan: Raze That School Garden!

Caitlin Flanagan may be right that Alice Waters’ school garden movement in California is an undeserving fad. But I don’t see the evidence in her Atlantic essay , acerbic whirl of a read that it is, as usual. Actually, the only specifics about how the gardens affect student performance that I could find sound pretty good, even if Flanagan cites them mockingly:

In English class students composed recipes, in math they measured the garden beds, and in history they ground corn as a way of studying pre-Columbian civilizations. Students’ grades quickly improved at King, which makes sense given that a recipe is much easier to write than a coherent paragraph on The Crucible .

Isn’t this how teachers are supposed to build a curriculum-take one thing that can make letters and numbers come alive and then build on it? I don’t see why we should think that the students’ grades improved because they were writing recipes instead of about Arthur Miller plays. Weren’t they just using the garden as a jumping-off point for math and history lessons? Which could have been substantive or not; Flanagan doesn’t tell us.

I did like Flanagan’s quote from George Orwell to make her point that poor people don’t eat well because they’d rather have a sugar pick-me-up than a dull nutritious meal. The rest of us too, much of the time. Alas, alack that evolution cast us adrift here - the fat-storage survival strategy of old, come back to haunt us.