If you’re a Filipino and none of the names in the next two paragraphs is familiar to you, don’t worry about it. The names won’t matter after the first two paragraphs.
A few days ago, there was this article in The Atlantic entitled “Cultivating Failure.” It was written by Caitlin Flannagan and it is a criticism on Alice Waters’ The Edible Schoolyard program. In a nutshell, The Edible Schoolyard program is a hands-on gardening/horticulture program where “teachers and the garden staff work together to link garden experiences with students’ science lessons for truly integrated experiential learning. The garden is carefully planned to grow a wide variety of seasonal produce that favors the Bay Area climate; it shifts and changes from season to season, as we seed, grow, harvest, and rotate crops with new groups of students each year.” The garden aspect of the program is augmented by kitchen classes.
It began in one school and has spread. Now this Caitlin Flannagan says, “I have yet to find a single study that suggests classroom gardens help students meet the state standards for English and math” and concludes that the The Edible Schoolyard program is robbing children of worthy education. Her article caught my eye because it was compared to a Sarah Palin speech and you know how I feel about Sarah Palin.
I have to state outright that irrespective of the political and social agenda, and cultural and economic background, of Alice Waters, I disagree with Caitlin Flannagan. Two reasons. First, I am not the patron saint of the textbook approach to education. I don’t regret my very bourgeois education, I love philosophy and literature and the humanities but they are icing on the cake — they are nice, even useful, to master but they are not essential to survival. Second, experiencing a lesson, say watching a crop grow and how pests can ruin it, makes a more lasting impression, and provokes better understanding, than merely reading about it.
Now, then, in a totally unrelated news report, my disagreement with Caitlin Flannagan is illustrated.
More than a quarter of teenagers believe bacon comes from sheep, not pigs. Almost a third think oats grow on trees rather than in fields and just under a fifth believe eggs are a vital ingredient in making bread.
If you’re following me on Twitter, you may have come across the link to that article. In a generation of ready mixes, bouillon cubes and processed food, this is what happens. Children who grew up in a farm, or who have spent time in a farm, or have done gardening at home, aren’t likely to make those mistakes.
What is so objectionable about integrating actual gardening with the science lessons of urban kids? Hands-on learning is good. I know a mother who taught her kids their fractions by cooking — you know, one-fourth cup of flour, three-fourths teaspoon of salt, half a pint of milk… Even business and math can be integrated with gardening. If one can grow a dozen mango trees in a thousand square meter plot, and each tree can yield a thousand fruits every season, then how much money can one expect to make in a year?
Sometimes, all it takes is some imagination to help kids learn. And the thinking that there is no other way to educate children other than through classrooms and books don’t really know much about education. Nor children.