Sunday, January 17, 2010

The School Garden Movement: Farcical Fad or Fabulous Foundation

Caitlin Flanagan's Atlantic article argues that school gardens are robbing students of a "real" education, especially immigrant students whose parents work the fields. She writes, "The cruel trick has been pulled on this benighted child by an agglomeration of foodies and educational reformers who are propelled by 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)." Blogger Ed Bruske and others have already provided fantastic arguments against Flanagan's essay, but I wanted to add a few points from my own homeschooling, intuitive gardening perspective.

It's not just science, writing and math that kids learn from the garden. It's not just that their whole regard for their bodies' and where food comes from improves. Or that they learn about the positives of diversity and how to overcome hardship by working together. People who garden, kids or adults, in schools or at home, are more grounded people. Which is to say they entrain with the energy of the garden. Though they probably don't know it, they spend time working with nature spirits. They learn about seasons and dirt and weather, not just from books but through their bodies.

Kids who DO things instead of just learning about them truly learn things, and more importantly they build the foundations for higher learning, as in the Benezet study in the 1930's that found that children learned math better if they weren't given formal math training until 7th grade. Their education focused on the ability to think, read, and discuss their thoughts with others (what Benezet called "read, reason and recite"). These kids who weren't taught rote math were then able to pick up higher math concepts very quickly when older - much more quickly than those with "formal" training in long division and fractions.

That is what kids in gardens are learning. They learn to communicate with each other and with the land. They learn about self efficacy. They learn to learn. And perhaps they also learn that the hard work their parents do or did in the fields is of value, that poverty doesn't come from dirt under your fingers (or pesticides in your lungs) but compartmentalizing classicism that separates "learning" from "doing" and values reading over real relationship with the earth.

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