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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

School Lunch Soapbox - They Might As Well Move In

{Fair warning:  There is no sugar coating in this post.  My blood pressure is up and my soapbox is mounted.}

Back in April, NPR did a story that flew under my radar.  Not that my radar is all-encompassing, but I didn't see or hear about it until this fall when the non-profit that I work for held a webinar with a presenter from Vermont discussing the Farm to School program.  In his presentation, he highlighted that a number of schools he works with in Vermont now have supper programs for students.

Supper programs?  What are supper programs?

Feeding programs, in schools, to feed kids supper before they go home.


I couldn't believe it.  So I looked it up.  And in the aforementioned NPR article, it states that there are supper programs in all 50 states.  I don't know which school(s) have supper programs in North Dakota, but apparently we have some somewhere.  I'd love to visit with the administrators of this school.

To say that I am incredulous would be an understatement...What's next?  Going home with each kid to make sure they do their homework and tuck them into bed at night?  Where is parental responsibility?  Why have we as parents abdicated ALL our rights and responsibilities to the schools government?

It is bad enough that the majority of schools have breakfast programs because somehow many parents cannot get it together to put a healthy breakfast on the table before school.  But now we are asking the schools to feed them supper as well.

Back in the early days of public school, the schools were only asked to teach.  That's it.  Just teach children how to read, write and do mathematics, understand the natural world, appreciate music and art.  Trust me, as a former teacher, it would be wonderful if that's all the school system had to do today.

Instead, we are teaching character traits, moral ethics, sex education, anti-bullying tactics, drug and alcohol education, and self-esteem...just to name a few.  All of these things were taught at home, by parents to their children utilizing their religious (or not) value system.  And let's not forget all the things that we lost along the way, like many art, music, home economics and physical education courses.

And, until 1946, there was no national school feeding program.

We've wondered what has happened in American education that we have fallen so far compared to previous times in our nation's history and compared to other nations.  And we've begged and pleaded that more money be spent on education.  We've promised that more money will solve the problems that have plagued our educational system.  Have we seen the results of that tactic?

Perhaps school systems need to do less and parents need to do more.

{I'll let that previous statement sink in for a minute...}

Perhaps school systems need to do less and parents need to do more.  More parenting.  More talking about sex, drugs, alcohol, character, morals, bullies, courage, compassion, love.  More teaching of life skills.  More modeling of lives well-lived.

Maybe if parents did more parenting, the schools could do more teaching.

And if they don't want to do that, then those students might as well just move in because the only role some parents are willing to assume is that of procreation.


  1. Hope that soap box is big enough for two...cuz I'm right there with you.
    ....Except....you and I are speaking from the perspective of parents who do understand about food values, who do cook from scratch most of the time, who place priority on sitting down together for dinner. Who have enough income and a parent available enough of the time to do meal prep, grocery shopping etc.
    I just finished reading "The American Way of Eating" by Tracie McMillan, where she points out that for many people in cities, it is very difficult to shop for normal foodstuffs that you or I would take for granted, even from the supermarket, even not worrying about where in the world it comes from.
    I also just finished reading "French Kids Eat Everything" by Karen Le Billon - a Canadian with a French husband who spent a year living in France with their small (picky) children, in which she describes in some detail the government subsidised lunch programme there, and the cultural perspective - which is that eating well is part of a child's education, from preschool on - and that it is entirely appropriate for the school to olay a part in developing the child's eating habits and tastes. Of course, as previous commenters on your lunch post mentioned - the lunch programmes in France are light years away from what is served up in even the more progressive programmes here in North America.
    So all of that's to say that my hard and fast view that parent's should be responsible for their children's meals has been tempered somewhat in recent months (though I still maintain that for the vast majority of middle class North America, it's true).
    Supper programmes? That's why I'm on the soap box with you. Because for me, that's less about the food and more about where the family in North America is at that time of day. Working? Recreating? Commuting from work 2 hours away? If kids eat all three meals at school, when do they get to spend time with their family? When does parenting happen? If poverty is the reason, then a supper programme is an inadequate bandaid that will not cure the disease.
    The French Kids book made an interesting point. Europeans put a lot more emphasis on food in their daily lives - they spend more time cooking, preparing, etc and they spend time sitting down to eat it together - their evening meal is typically around 730pm or so. That goes for kids too. That is so fundamental to their culture that everything else (work, school, activities) revolves around it. In North America, what do our lives revolve around? Not a family meal, that's for sure. Which might be how we got to have supper programmes in schools.

    1. "If poverty is the reason, then a supper programme is an inadequate bandaid that will not cure the disease." WOW! That is the best sentence I've heard!!

  2. Wow. The family dinner is one of the most important things I do each day. I grew up in a highly dysfunctional family, and yet, we still managed to eat dinner as a family every day. As a result, I place a high value on family dinner. We all sit down together every night. We try and schedule our meal around work and sports schedules so that we can all be present. And it is about so much more than the food. While I am thankful for our public schools (because I choose not to homeschool at this juncture and because I cannot afford private school), I do realize that they are government entities, and therefore are going to have bureaucratic requirements that I may or may not agree with. However, I CAN choose to minimize the government reach. We obviously cannot live in a governmental vacuum, but I do wonder why some parents so willingly abdicate their responsibility and oversight in the name of "free". Every "free" has some strings attached. Thanks for your thoughts, Annie!

    1. "Every "free" has some strings attached." That is absolutely correct! As Uncle Joel says, "There is NO free lunch!"

  3. I couldn't agree more. Wonderful, Annie! Thanks for the post.

  4. Unfortunately, this happens because at some point, a generation skipped out on their parenting duties and raised a set of adults that don't know how to be adults or parents. Fixing that laps will take more than one generation to correct. As with most things, when people experience great hardship, when things get better they tend to "crash" on their duties. While some of those who went through the Depression clung to their survival skills, others went the opposite direction and partied like there was no tomorrow. Those folks tended to not pass on to their kids what had been basic skills every adult possessed prior to that time. Those kids grew to be adults who didn't have those basic skills and values and raised the current generation of parents - some of whom are trying to regain the knowledge from the past to survive this economic downturn - and the others who think they are helpless and rely on the government to address their problems because they lack the skills and knowledge that was passed down through generations of family to those of us who are frustrated. Many of the food programs helping the kids of these "helpless" parents aren't even government - there are a growing number of backpack programs being provided by food banks across the country providing these kids with supplies to get them through the weekend (and many times they are sharing with younger siblings at home). The sad reality is these parents seem to be not just neglecting their duties but largely absent in the home at all so these kids have to be provided with pop-top ravioli because there is no adult to use a can opener for them. The big question is - which generation of kids is going to be sacrificed on the alter in the name of correcting the problems. Pulling these assistance programs with the current under-staffing of CPS agencies to pull these kids out of these defunct homes will only result in more kids starving to death or committing crimes thus continuing the cycle. These assistance programs at least are keeping these kids somewhat "afloat" in the world and helping at least some realize that just because their parents don't provide doesn't mean no one in the world cares. Not an easy problem - not an easy solution.

    1. I agree. It isn't an easy problem and the solution will not be easy either. But at some point we do have to reverse this trend. And it has to happen one family at a time. Maybe neighbors or family or friends reaching out, bringing home ec classes back into schools, etc.

  5. Funny - as I was responding this arrived in my inbox from Feeding America -

    Dear April,

    As we move into a new year, it’s a good time to reflect on the progress we made in reducing hunger in 2012. Through your thousands of calls and emails, op-eds and letters to the editor of local newspapers, we prevented the massive cuts to anti-hunger programs that would have hurt vulnerable families and the charities—like our food banks—that serve them.

    Unfortunately, despite our successes, we weren’t able to convince Congress to tackle the core issues of hunger in America. That means we need to do more. We need to be better. We need to be louder. We need to make sure Congress does not continue to ignore us. I need your help to do that.

    Will you join me in pledging to take our message of a hunger-free America to your elected officials?

    Our first opportunity to fight for reform is right around the corner. Negotiations will be starting soon on the Farm Bill, a key piece of legislation in the fight against hunger. What would a strong Farm Bill look like? It would mean no child has to go to bed with an empty stomach, that food banks are well stocked so they can help our neighbors during hard times and that seniors don’t have to choose between filling their refrigerator or filling their prescriptions.

    Each of us has a role to play in making this vision a reality. I hope you’ll join me in pledging to help us fight for Americans struggling with hunger.


    Brett Weisel
    Director of Advocacy
    Feeding America

    P.S. Please ask your Representative to visit your local food bank so they can understand the importance of the Farm Bill and how it impacts 1 out of 8 people in the community.

  6. Sorry - here's the link to the pledge page if anyone is interested - http://help.feedingamerica.org/site/Survey?ACTION_REQUIRED=URI_ACTION_USER_REQUESTS&SURVEY_ID=4122&autologin=true&s_src=E13111AAV&utm_source=ad&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=E13111AAV

  7. Wow. Just wow. I had no idea this was happening either. As a new mum, one of the first things that was smashed into my tired brain was the importance of family meals. Even studying anthropology, it was shown, worldwide, that families that eat together develop a closer, more open relationship with each other than those who don't.
    All that aside, how are children supposed to even learn how to cook and feed themselves one day if they never view a mature family member doing that very thing?

    1. And that, my friend, is an excellent question! What are they learning and from whom?


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