Monday, January 11, 2010

"Waters herself is guilty of nothing more terrible than being a visionary and a woman of tremendous persuasive abilities"

Everyone should read Caitlin Flanagan's wonderfully written contrarian take-down of Alice Waters' school-garden program. God, this woman's sentences! I had to read closely, and reread, before I could summon any response other than full agreement and, well, awe. Flanagan is to the written word what Waters is to the fresh local vegetable.

Not that I needed much convincing. I was already of the opinion that there's no special advantage to knowing, in detail, how food is grown, any more than there is to knowing the technicalities of any other aspect of our lives. And Alice Waters could not be better contrarian-fodder - everything she says and does is just so lovely, so well that's nice. Even if there's more merit to the gardening curriculum than Flanagan lets on (and I wouldn't be surprised if there is), there's merit to questioning the unquestioned.

There were a few tiny aspects of Flanagan's argument I didn't find 100%, but before further rambling, I'll leave this to the comments.

22 comments:

Miss Self-Important said...

It is true. She is awesome. But Amber will not be pleased with this post.

Phoebe said...

Why? Does she support the school-garden program, or just dislike Flanagan?

Miss Self-Important said...

The latter, seemingly with intensity. Actually, I am surprised you like her, unless you only mean this article.

PG said...

The very first paragraph of that article was so aggressively ridiculous, I'm going to need some inducement to read the whole thing. My father's family labored on a farm so that he could be the "smart son" to have the leisure, if not money, to go to school, yet somehow my father was never troubled by our growing our own vegetables. (My maternal grandmother has a freaking bean plantation on an extra quarter acre of land on our lot in one of the most expensive neighborhoods in town.) The fact that one generation had to labor in the dirt sunrise to sundown 7 days a week in order to improve life for the next generation, does not inherently make that generation loathe agricultural work performed voluntarily a couple times a week.

I don't know what Amber's exact issue with Flanagan is, but mine is that any time Flanagan gets outside her own experience, she makes a right fool of herself. Flanagan on her own parents' marriage: awww. Flanagan on the younger generation's use of the internet: mildly creepy. Flanagan on the immigrant experience: head-desk.

Phoebe said...

MSI,

I like: this article, her writing generally. Her ideology, from what I can tell of what I've read, not so much. (If my grad program hovers over any theme, it's that there's all kinds of amazing writing by people whose ideas I can't stand, and terrible writing by those I agree with completely.) I remember being horrified by a piece on middle school sex parties, but I'd have to look back at the others to make a stronger case.

PG,

I do, as I hinted at in the post, have some tiny issues with the piece, and the presentation of skilled home gardening and a successful yuppie life as mutually exclusive was one of them. That's one of the tinier ones though - if you get further in the story, I'd be curious to know what you think of her sacrilization of the schoolday. Disclaimer: I'm speaking from personal experience, and not about the failing schools Flanagan's discussing, but I've never known a school day to be start-to-finish academics, even if one eliminates health class, gym class, and so forth. A lot is always nonsense in one form or another, particularly the form of teachers telling you about their personal experience, provoked by nothing more than the sudden awareness that they have a captive audience.

As for Flanagan and personal experience, I'd agree she's not a Mexican laborer, but what makes you think she's not give-or-take as personally connected to immigration and manual labor as you are, i.e. the grandchild of someone in a similar situation? I don't remember anything in this article, at least, about a Mayflower background.

But regardless, I more or less bought Flanagan's point about a farm worker perhaps finding the garden program ridiculous. Bear with me: for one thing, her argument against garden programs is not that farmers/laborers would find them ridiculous, but that they take away valuable hours from math/reading. The 'ridiculous' bit, as I read it, was just to set up early on in readers' minds that this is something worth questioning. If the only problem with the program was that laborers wouldn't get it, I'm not sure she'd have continued with the story. Next, I did find it convincing that a farm worker would find the garden program silly and even perhaps upsetting, because one tends to witness just this pattern among second-generation feminists who could not themselves escape from a fairly set path... and who then see their daughters, who have so much more freedom, nevertheless caring about men, child-rearing, cooking... Ruth Reichl, I think, describes something along these lines. Even if the daughters' interest in domestic matters is not full time and is more akin (not exactly akin - I don't want to argue this point - there are clear differences between gender and immigrant concerns that I can't go into here) to garden programs, it can appear to the mothers as bad news, because what they associate with, say, baking is something quite different from what their daughters do.

Miss Self-Important said...

Also, I think the problem is that these students are not becoming yuppie home gardeners b/c they're not becoming yuppies. She does repeatedly point out that the problem is not gardening per se, but gardening as a curriculum. Perhaps the better analogy would be if PG's family labored so they could send her father to a school where he grew carrots instead of studying the subjects that would allow him to pass exams.

PG said...

Phoebe,

Flanagan's grandparents were American; her grandmother was from Alabama, specifically. (Incidentally, the book review in which she mentions this is one of her pieces of writing that I thought was decent. But then again, it is about abortion, a subject with which she does not have direct experience but has family stories and, in all honesty, the basic connection that any sexually active woman who doesn't want an unlimited number of offspring has with that subject.)

MSI,

But as Phoebe points out, it's hardly "instead of"; gardening is one part of a broad curriculum, and I see it as no more oppressive of the Mexican-American student to have gardening be part of an academic curriculum than home-economics oppresses girls whose mothers fought for sex equality so their daughters wouldn't be limited in their options to cooking and child-rearing. If a practical experience can be spread into other disciplines, so much the better. One reason some students have trouble with word problems in the math sections of standardized tests is not that they couldn't do the math if it were presented simply as 12 x 3/2, but because they get confused when the word problem presents non-math concepts with which they are unfamiliar. I can just imagine the scorn Flanagan would heap on the Harlem kindergarten -- a charter school that gets great results -- that takes kids away from their ABCs once in a while to see a farm.

To return to Phoebe's point about feminists, I've never heard of a woman who opposed home-ec as part of the curriculum so long as it was mandatory for both sexes. Similarly, it would be beyond appalling if the Waters program were only for Latino children, because then it would carry the implication that this is only valuable for them to know as likely future farm laborers -- but of course the program is for students of all backgrounds.

Flanagan's writing style can be entertaining, but again, when she treads into areas where she doesn't seem to know much, it comes off as flippantly silly. "mind-numbingly earnest series of books on lesson planning, policy planning, and public policy" -- sorry, what books on these subjects aren't mind-numbingly earnest?

And Flanagan's apparent inability to distinguish between a field (a single-crop acreage in which an illegal immigrant would be toiling for another's profit) and a garden (a plot of land for a variety of plants, that for the poor can supplement what they can afford to buy in the market) makes her comparison to Jim Crow sharecropping moronic. Seriously, there is a huge difference between spending all of your waking hours persuading a buffalo through a rice field, and spending a 90 minutes a week among your tomatoes, and Flanagan's seeing no difference between the two just highlights her ignorance on the whole topic.

If she wants to advocate for the readin, 'ritin, 'rithmetic approach and eliminate everything from the school that doesn't contribute to higher test scores, that's a perfectly tenable argument. My father had a standing feud with the athletic boosters in our community because he thought it was insane to give money for sports and cheerleading instead of computers and books (or for lifesaving medical equipment like a defibrillator, which one 8th grade football player died for lack of after a sudden attack of heart arrhythmia). I am a big fan of NYC charter schools, including the KIPP brand ones that are as 3-Rs as it gets, and started a pro bono project for my law school's Federalist Society to work with these schools. It's Flanagan's attempts to describe the gardening movement as racist that annoy me.

Phoebe said...

PG,

"I've never heard of a woman who opposed home-ec as part of the curriculum so long as it was mandatory for both sexes."

This doesn't really address my point about second-wave feminists seeing in baking etc. what they were trying to get past, and not looking at it as a fun and innocuous hobby as their daughters might. I'm not talking about an exact correspondence between these two issues (i.e. the specific question of curricula), but the fact that any activity, be it cake-making or plant-growing, can look different to those with different perspectives. I don't think it's fair to Flanagan to say she can't distinguish between farm work and home gardening, a distinction obvious even to the most agri-ignorant. She's saying it might seem ridiculous to a farm worker to send his kids to school to grow plants. Then she's going on to say that the theoretical farm worker happens to be right. She's not saying that the farm worker's right because farm work is in fact the same as gardening, but because, as MSI points out, garden programs apparently detract from social mobility, ultimately leading to... more farm work. It's not that the gardening and farm work are one and the same.

"it would be beyond appalling if the Waters program were only for Latino children, because then it would carry the implication that this is only valuable for them to know as likely future farm laborers -- but of course the program is for students of all backgrounds."

As I understood it, Flanagan is saying that the garden curriculum is being implemented for a largely Latino student body, many of whom are the children of farm workers. Even if Waters never up and said, 'This program's for Latinos,' the program as its implemented is largely for Latinos.

PG said...

She's saying it might seem ridiculous to a farm worker to send his kids to school to grow plants.

Without, of course, apparently ever talking to an actual farm worker. Hey, she's Caitlin Flanagan, she can speak for someone with whom she shares neither sex, race, language, socioeconomic background, nationality, citizenship status...

garden programs apparently detract from social mobility

There's no indication that garden programs detract from social mobility any more than a program that would be very far from the farm worker's experience, e.g. a curriculum based on the works of Matthew Barney. If you're not teaching the material that's going to be on the test, then the kids aren't going to score as well on the test. That's true regardless of what it is you're teaching them instead of the material that will be tested. That the farm worker might be more impressed -- or just confused -- by the Barney-centric curriculum makes that curriculum neither better nor worse for real mobility than a garden-centric one, despite the potential social capital of being familiar with postmodern art.

If Flanagan asserts in the article that the majority of students at King Middle School (where the Edible Schoolyard is located) are low-income Latinos, she's a lunatic. Only 39% of the entire student body is low income (compare that to 42% for the county, and 52% for the state). 89% of the students' parents attended college (compare to 64% for the county, 54% for the state). This report indicates on page 30 that only 15% of the student body is Hispanic or Latino.

It's very possible that a curriculum that diverges from standardized test material serves low-income Latino students worse than it does middle and upper class students of U.S.-born parents. I'm guessing the majority of the 15% of the student body that is "English learner" is Latino (probably some Asians as well), and they should be exempt from garden duty at least until they can read and pronounce all the signs.

But her innuendo that King Middle School is meant to be a sharecropping site for the children of farm workers is crazy: "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."

Phoebe said...

PG,

Let's step back a moment and examine what Flanagan is actually arguing. You never mentioned if you got around to reading beyond the first paragraph, so consider this the inducement you said you'd need in order to do so. My understanding was that her argument was that the garden program pleases yuppies, goes on unchallenged, yet is detrimental to student success. On top of that, she offers an 'isn't it ironic' aside about how it's a plant-growing curriculum that's supposed to offer the children of certain immigrants a leg up, and yet it's to plant-growing that such a curriculum will ultimately condemn them professionally. To make the piece catchier, Flanagan leads with the aside.

It seems to me that your argument is basically that the 'isn't it ironic' was sloppily constructed and poorly executed. Rather than making you want to keep reading, it gave you the impression that she doesn't know what she's talking about. I read it as a clever way of introducing the topic, but I can see how, reading more critically, one might not.

Britta said...

Having read other Flanagan articles, I am going to wade in here committing the mortal sin of not having read this article in particular. I just wanted to note that gardening and manual farm work really share no similarities. Yes, they both involve plants (sometimes), but that's pretty much it. Yes, a farmworker might pick tomatoes, or spread fertilizer on the tomatoes, or what have you, but they are not, ultimately in charge of deciding, "what does this plant need to make it grow better." That is the job of the farmer, of whom the farmworker is an employee (and really only on a broad scale, as the farmer can't really be worried about individual plants). Home gardening requires a huge amount of knowledge of plant biology, chemistry, botany, critical thinking etc., all of which are useful skills and should be taught in schools.
At my inner city elementary school, we grew things all the time in biology class, as it was how we learned about things like photosynthesis, cell respiration, the parts of a plant etc. It was an enormously useful hands one way to learn how science had a role in the world at large, not merely in the pages of a textbook. Also, since young children are also being socialized in school, learning the idea of responsibility and of being in charge of another living thing's well being is not to be overlooked. Finally, the challenge of thinking, "this plant looks sick, what does it need?" Is a great way to develop critical thinking skills.
A clever teacher could really do an entire lesson around plants, teaching math, biology, chemistry, physics, writing, and even reading all through the task of managing a garden.

Phoebe said...

Britta,

And count me guilty of having used a farm curriculum (well, one trip to the farmers' market) in my own classroom. It didn't go as well as I'd hoped, but I could see how, designed differently, it would have worked just great.

As I get into a bit in an earlier comment, I don't believe Flanagan thinks farm work=gardening. Her point was, as I understood it, that a farm worker would react to his child gardening in class the way (and the analogy is mine, not Flanagan's) a housewife with feminist dreams for her daughter might to learning that the younger woman had taken up baking. If Flanagan's wrong, it's in thinking the garden curriculum's doomed to fail, not in holding warped ideas about home gardening vs. large-scale farming.

PG said...

Phoebe,

I did read the whole article after you and MSI replied to my first comment. The problem I have with Flanagan's way of introducing her substantive argument (which I agree with you is basically "the garden program pleases yuppies, goes on unchallenged, yet is detrimental to student success") is that she presumes to speak for the Mexican laborer's feelings about having his son work with plants. She assumes that because "stoop labor" is miserable when done 7 days a week, 10 hours a day, that laborer would be horrified to have his son work in a garden for 90 minutes a week.

I find such a connection to be logically incoherent and thus insulting to her hypothetical laborer. Rather than having the guts to say "I, Caitlin Flanagan, find grubbing in the dirt to be demeaning," she puts it in the mouth of a faceless, voiceless Mexican. That's a bullshit rhetorical move that reveals the poverty of her research for this article. If she wants to talk so much about how the race of some of the students makes this an extra-inappropriate program, why not find out what these Latino students and their parents think about the program? Instead, she only speaks with people on her own socioeconomic level. If there's patronizing here, it's by Flanagan.

The article's substantive point is also sloppy. Sure, test scores will go up more if you follow a KIPP type program, but the proper comparison is between the garden school and a school that does not have a garden but still retains other non-3-R activities. My schools in Texas, for example: we had no gardens, but we did have substantial percentages of the student body who were low income (measured by whether student is eligible for school lunch program), Latino, African-American and English Learners. These were regular public schools that retained programs in sports, art, music, home ec, woodworking, etc. I find it unlikely that these schools are performing any better than the King Middle School, despite their having escaped the scourge of gardening.

However, I think King Middle School would see a significant loss of middle and upper class students if it adopted the KIPP model for all students. The sort of back-to-basics model that is suited for students who are missing the fundamentals is not going to be as well received by families in which students were performing just fine on the exams, and were enjoying the kind of liberal curriculum in which seeing actual plants was deemed useful in learning science.

Phoebe said...

PG,

The concept of 'patronizing' is often so tough to tease out. I see where the intro fails on what in my field would be called postcolonial grounds (the white person speaking for the silent Other) but it's just too easy to get caught up here in a cycle of, 'no, she's the racially-insensitive one' that I'd rather give Flanagan and Waters the benefit of the doubt.

Flanagan might be guilty of being patronizing, but at the same time, that she attempts to put herself into the shoes of someone in a different situation from her own isn't necessarily insulting, but sort of basic to this type of essay writing. (If she found the experience of a Mexican laborer just so foreign to her own as to see no parallels in her own life, this would arguable have been worse.) A quote or two wouldn't have hurt, but nor would they have necessarily been representative - the reader would wonder how the rest of the school community feels. What she'd really have needed would have been a survey, according to racial and professional background... at which point this becomes an article on another topic entirely. But you're right that as a rule, middle-class white people announcing what it's like for the underprivileged and/or of-color is a genre that must be approached with care. Your take on Flanagan in some ways resembles what I remember being my own when reading (the obviously better-researched, but it was a book, not an article) Nickel and Dimed.

As for the rest, I agree that what you suggest would have improved the piece, but am not ready to dismiss it as useless on account of those flaws. Flanagan's goal was presumably to get the discussion started about this program, not to have the final word on the matter; now's the time for the more nuanced critiques that look at these other factors.

PG said...

If she found the experience of a Mexican laborer just so foreign to her own as to see no parallels in her own life, this would arguable have been worse.

But what parallel did she find? You supplied the feminist-mother-with-baking daughter analogy, not Flanagan (as apt as it might be for her in the daughter role). Flanagan did not say, "I imagine that as my feminist mother:my baking :: Mexican laborer:son's gardening."

At least in Nickel & Dimed, Ehrenreich worked as a maid before spouting off on how physically tiring the job was. If Flanagan had stooped to pick lettuce for a year before declaring it sufficiently similar to schoolyard gardening that one could see any connection between the two whatsoever, I'd have more respect for the essay, even if she didn't quote any of the Mexican illegal immigrant laborers she met along the way.

Quotes don't need to be representative of the entire group in order to be useful. After all, Flanagan treats Michael Piscal (guy whose group runs 15 charter schools in South LA) as a useful representative of Successful Educators of Urban Youth. She makes no attempt to survey every principal of a school that has managed to raise black and Latino test scores to see whether Piscal's view is shared by the majority.

Rather, Flanagan quotes when she has someone she wants to talk to and whose quote supports her argument. (See also her quote of an unnamed friend who says "There's only 7-Eleven in the hood" to support her contention that pro-garden yuppies have no idea what the availability of fresh produce in various neighborhoods is.) This makes her essay come across as a rather dishonest piece of advocacy against gardens, most particularly in its claims that are unrelated to test scores.

Phoebe said...

PG,

I agree (and already said) that Ehrenreich's book was better researched, and pointed out that this could have something to do with the difference between a book and an essay. It's unrealistic to imagine that Flanagan would have spent a year farming for this piece, and also pointless - as I keep saying, her point is not that farming feels like gardening. However wrong and wrong and wrong Flanagan may be, this is not her argument.

Anyway, the baking analogy was an example, which earlier in this thread I made a point of saying comes from me, not Flanagan. My sense, from a sense of how humans think, was that Flanagan saw something in her own experience that could relate to the experiences of Made-Up Mexican Laborer, and so was able to imagine his situation. That, or she was just throwing exploitative oh-the-poor-farmers ideas into readers' heads for the sake of it. Or a bit of both.

My sense is that if she'd provided a quote, but just the one or two, this would not have convinced you either - the burden of proof is greater when it's the white journalist presenting the views of Mexican laborers than it is when the same woman's showing what educators, a similar socioeconomic category, believe, and when in doubt, throw in surveys. But maybe this would have made all the difference, at least for that angle. I suppose it depends how she'd have done it...

What I want to know, I suppose, is why you think Flanagan wrote this article, if not because she thought the garden curriculum was bad news. Do you think it was just, deadline time, and isn't Alice Waters an easy target?

Britta said...

I think the problem is the proper analogy is manual farmwork : gardening as factory work : engineering. Her argument is such a faulty leap of logic, because there simply is no connection between farm labor and gardening whatsoever, unless it's plants, or being outside, which is pretty flimsy. (And as someone whose done very minor amounts of both, though more gardening, I can speak to personal experience). Would someone make the same argument, "it's classist for the children of construction workers to take PE, because their parents are outside getting exercise?"
With home ec, mothers were actually at home doing the things you learn in class. Farm workers are doing highly repetitive backbreaking manual labor, they are not contemplating about whether they should be introducing lady bugs to their tomatoes to eliminate the aphids, or observing how the leaves open up in moderate sunlight but curl up slightly in intense sunlight, etc.

Finally, I DID go to an award winning inner city public school where about 70% of students were below the poverty line, but over 60% scored at or above grade level on tests. Guess what? We were gardening! (well, growing plants on the windowsill) And doing art, and hands-on science projects, and exercising, and learning musical instruments, and learning random foreign languages, and learning about the evils of the US, and all sorts of other terrible things that would give any conservative nightmares. One of the key reasons the school was so successful is the principal managed to design a structure that would allow for success across a broad spectrum of abilities (so, no tracking whatsoever, in fact the opposite), but which also made the school attractive enough to liberal middle class parents willing to bus their children in.
But back to gardening, another data point: My sister's environmentally-focused award-winning charter middle school had an entire period where--guess what? Students gardened. Somehow it managed not to detract from learning, but actually augment it.

I don't want to be snitty, but I really find armchair education policy by people who see anything that's not the three Rs as hippy (or now yuppie) mumbo jumbo really irritating, because it's simply not true nor backed by data. (I'm not an expert, but I've spent a lot of time learning in and helping out in inner city schools, so this issue hits close to home). Educating poor children from unsupportive backgrounds is like pushing a boulder up a hill whatever you do, but in some circles it seems like there's a move towards the lowest common denominator factory approach of teaching in inner city schools, where the focus is on what will screw them up the least, which just seems like giving up on the idea of producing a meritocratic society. Also, the whole faux "this is racist and classist" when it's coming from a conservative point of view which is fundamentally inegalitarian is also annoying.

PG said...

her point is not that farming feels like gardening. However wrong and wrong and wrong Flanagan may be, this is not her argument.


OK, what is her point about the relationship between farming and gardening as seen through the eyes of a Mexican laborer? You said "her argument against garden programs is ... that they take away valuable hours from math/reading." But then why all the drama around the fact that this time was spent picking lettuce? Why not just make a general case against non-3Rs education for low-income children? (Which will reap a lot more than 90 minutes a week for extra reading time; PE, for example, is usually at least a few hours a week.) WTF does Ralph's in Compton have to do with whether low-income students should engage in experiential learning or stick to Shakespeare?

That, or she was just throwing exploitative oh-the-poor-farmers ideas into readers' heads for the sake of it.

Well, she wouldn't get to do her bit on sharecropping without the oh-the-poor-farmers. And she does say at the beginning, "It’s rare for an immigrant experience to go the whole 360 in a single generation—one imagines the novel of assimilation, The White Man Calls It Romaine. The cruel trick has been pulled on this benighted child..." If she doesn't think there's a meaningful connection between stoop labor and gardening, where is the "360," and what is the "cruel trick" on this particular child (as opposed to all children whose time is being stolen from recitation of multiplication tables)?

My sense is that if she'd provided a quote, but just the one or two, this would not have convinced you either

No, if she'd had some actual illegal immigrant Mexican farm workers who said, "Spending 90 minutes a week on gardening is harming my child's education," I would have been convinced that at least some parents felt that way and I would consider their opinions worthy of consideration. Parents should have participation in their child's education. This is something that the garden schools hope to make easier by having part of the curriculum not be based on conventional education, which hope Flanagan mocks as Jim Crow thinking.

I would find that less infuriating if I weren't thinking about the difficulties my own mother experienced in trying to volunteer at my school when I was very young and her spoken English was still a work in progress. She would have had a great time being able to work in a garden instead of trying to, say, read a story in an accent comprehensible to East Texas kindergarteners.

What I want to know, I suppose, is why you think Flanagan wrote this article, if not because she thought the garden curriculum was bad news. Do you think it was just, deadline time, and isn't Alice Waters an easy target?

They're not mutually exclusive. Flanagan apparently believes that low-income children should receive a drill education that will enable them to pass standardized tests. This is an arguable position and if her essay had been solely about that, I'd have little quarrel with it. I also probably wouldn't have read it, because it would have been too boring for The Atlantic to publish or for you to link (so far as I can tell you have no particular interest in the education of low-income students). Such an argument, at least when made competently, is made up mostly of empirical work and reference to experts in the field.

So Alice Waters makes for a convenient hook that allows this essay to be published with an absolute minimum of research. Instead of straightforwardly bashing everything that distracts from the 3 Rs (which, as Britta notes, is a well-worn conservative theory about education), Flanagan looks for an Atlantic-friendly spin: gardens are an especially bad distraction because they are beloved by yuppies who don't understand life in Compton and who do not feel the Mexican laborer's pain as Flanagan does.

Phoebe said...

PG,

"But then why all the drama around the fact that this time was spent picking lettuce? Why not just make a general case against non-3Rs education for low-income children?"

This was a subset of a case against non-3Rs, on account of this particular one having gained, according to Flanagan, universal acceptance. What I think would have strengthened the piece is if she had mentioned if there were other non-3R courses at these schools already, if they'd been reduced, etc.

Re: 360, again, what I believe she meant by this is that ultimately the students will fail and be back at farming, with an added 'isn't it ironic' that this particular non-3R involved growing plants.

"so far as I can tell you have no particular interest in the education of low-income students"

We're both here arguing nonsense about Alice Waters on blogs, are we not? Do I need to cite past volunteer tutoring experience at a school like the ones being discussed, that was in no way farm-related, to have this discussion? (Because yes, I did this at one point, and was dreadful at it, and should never again teach math to anyone, underprivileged or otherwise.) As it happens, currently, for personal and other reasons that would require another post entirely that I don't intend to write any time soon, the question of the American diet interests me more than the question of pre-college education.

I really appreciate your comments and your style of argument, it gets me thinking more sharply than I would otherwise, but you can win your argument here hands-down without hinting at me being unfeeling.

So, to maybe redirect this slightly, do you see any good in Flanagan's calling into question the garden program, or is it all shoddy research and pandering to the Atlantic readership?

Phoebe said...

Britta,

You're right that home ec gets closer to housewife than gardening to large-scale farming. In terms of your experience in school, it does contradict Flanagan's point, but Flanagan claims that there's no evidence that a garden program works. What you're saying, then, is that there is, and it does. Either it's just the Waters program in particular that doesn't, or that, as PG contends, Flanagan doesn't know what she's talking about.

"Also, the whole faux 'this is racist and classist' when it's coming from a conservative point of view which is fundamentally inegalitarian is also annoying."

True in nearly all cases. Even though I maintain that Flanagan was less wrong than everyone else seems to think, I agree with you and PG that the Jim Crow reference went too far.

MSI, where have you gone? Shall I just concede a Flanagan (and WWPD) fail and exit this thread tail between my legs?

PG said...

without hinting at me being unfeeling.

Sorry, that was not my intent; I should have been lengthier and noted that you blog on the subject of locavorism & such frequently but rarely discuss education below the collegiate level.

Flanagan makes no good particular case against the garden program. It's 90 minutes a week and it's something that ties pretty easily into the subjects that even conservatives generally think people should learn, like biology. It also supplies the school's lunch program.

The only thing she seems to have identified as problematic about the gardening in particular is that it's a "360" for the son of a Mexican laborer to spend some school time on gardening, whereas the Twyla Tharp dance practice class presumably would be sufficiently far from farm work as to pass muster in this regard. She does not make a substantive case that gardening is worse than the dance practice or some other non 3R activity would be.

So I have to say that her article as a whole strikes me as fairly useless. It's not a strong entry in the "stick to the 3 Rs" genre, and it's alternately offensive and ridiculous in its specific attacks on the gardening program.

Phoebe said...

PG,

And sorry, on my part, for misunderstanding your intent. If I don't blog much about 'real' public schools, whether underprivileged or the suburban ones (mis?)represented onscreen, it's because I have limited experience of schools that are representative of, well, anything, and there's only so much I can say about the aforementioned failed tutoring stint. (As in, I considered mentioning that my high school was awfully 3Rs, and that didn't seem to take away from its appeal to parents of all socioeconomic backgrounds, but then I remembered that this particular high school represents nothing at all, certainly not the schools Flanagan's mentioning, and so is irrelevant to the discussion.)

This thread's been an interesting experience, because I was all set to write a post listing just where I thought Flanagan went wrong, and had indeed started drafting that post, but decided to give positivity a try and write only about what I liked in an article (here: contrarian, a take-down of something/someone sanctimonious, finely-constructed sentences, a belief that it is not in fact fundamental to know the details of how food is produced), for once, and let the comments, should any appear, be the critique. Granted, what I came up with was far less sharp or critical than what you and Britta did.