The XX Factor

Gardening Isn’t Backbreaking Work

Kerry , Emily , KJ , I have to admit, I don’t see why there’s so much fuss if some schools want to get the kids out of their seats and into the garden. I guess we’ve all been reminded that Caitlin Flanagan is quite adept at making us stand around feeling guilty while she scampers off to direct her servants around her own garden. Of course, if schools really are trying to relate gardening back to other subjects, they’ve given her ammo for her smarmy dream-killing. But honestly, what’s so wrong with getting kids out in the garden for part of their day?

Maybe I have a different perspective on this, having attended junior high and high school in a rural school district. Half of my high school class took some agricultural classes, and many of them took as many as the school offered, presumably because they intended to have an adult life working on a ranch. But even kids who looked forward more to ordinary office jobs got something out of the class, if only the chance to break up the monotony of the school day by going outside and working with animals. More than that, I’m sure it opened their minds up to what kind of things they were capable of. Even someone who doesn’t intend to work on a ranch one day could probably get something out of knowing that she could if she wanted to.

I took a lot of subjects in school that are sacrosanct that I would have far preferred to replace with gardening. Art class was torture for someone who hasn’t even mastered legible handwriting, for instance. But as an adult, I actually gardened, and having some foreknowledge of how to do it probably would have prevented many mistakes. Home economics was a complete waste of my time. How much nicer it would have been if we could have gone outside and gardened instead!

Our country is obsessed with the obesity epidemic, and for that reason, we’d never, ever suggest that P.E. be removed from the curriculum because no one is learning math skills from it. P.E. coaches don’t have to justify sports with claims that keeping score improves math skills. Flanagan can mock the idea that knowing more about where food comes from improves food choices all she wants, but there’s a value to really thinking of food as something that comes from the ground and has a specific form, and not something that comes in a box pre-processed. It was gardening that demystified food for me and convinced me that I could and should cook, long before I ever read a word Michael Pollan wrote on the subject.

Sure, having a gardening class for the kids isn’t some great fix-it for all the ills that plague our schools. And certainly, there’s a whiff of condescension to only providing these gardens in lower-income schools. (Still, I’ll bet more than a few fancy private schools have gardens for the kids.) But I bristle at Flanagan’s equation of an hour a day sprinkling water over plants with a water can and the backbreaking work of those who make a meager living working the fields for Big Agra. To equate the two mostly indicates how little Flanagan understands of either. And her entire diatribe about fresh produce in the grocery stores is exactly the kind of glaring logic hole that her pretty prose cannot cover-since when does having a kid goof off with a kid-sized hoe for an hour prevent that same child’s neighborhood from having a decent grocery store?

Photograph of gardening by Photodisc/Getty Creative Images.