A Child’s Garden of Controversy

America's gone gaga over the idea of using gardens and small-scale farming to teach children, particularly those in disadvantaged school districts. What many parents assume is that this must have an incredibly positive educational effect, because it seems so damned wholesome and thoughtful. An Atlantic article by "I'm just an old-fashioned stay-at-home mom (with a full-time domestic staff)" Caitlin Flanagan takes aim at this theory. You can kind of get a sense of her point via the tone of her introduction:

"The galvanizing force behind this ideology is Alice Waters, the dowager queen of the grown-locally movement. Her goal is that children might become 'eco-gastronomes' and discover 'how food grows'—a lesson, if ever there was one, that our farm worker’s son might have learned at his father’s knee—leaving the Emerson and Euclid to the professionals over at the schoolhouse."

More an op-ed attack on left-wing elitism (actual and perceived) than a thoughtful analysis of educational policy, the article does do one valuable thing: It points out that measurement of education-via-gardening is difficult to do, and that it should be done more rigorously. But flatly writing the movement off because it fails to directly prepare students for standardized tests is about as blinkered a perspective as one can have on education. The whole article is, in fact, like a game of left-wing label pinball, where the aim is to hit as many loaded terms as you can in as few words as possible.

Moreover: There's no fresh-food crisis in urban America, because Flanagan once saw a Ralph's in Compton with all sorts of great veggies.

But the most irritating part of the article may be her description of Chez Panisse as: "an eatery where the right-on, 'yes we can,' ACORN-loving, public-option-supporting man or woman of the people can tuck into a nice table d’hôte menu of scallops, guinea hen, and tarte tatin for a modest 95 clams—wine, tax, and oppressively sanctimonious and relentlessly conversation-busting service not included."

That's a load. You can eat at Chez Panisse for $60 on Monday nights; $75 on other weeknights. And based on first-hand experience, the service was impeccable—and nobody is more irritated by sanctimonious left-wing crap than this writer, a Madison, Wisconsin native who was forced to relive the 1960s four or five times before graduating high school. Service at Chez Panisse was elegant, minimalist, warm, and welcoming.

Image source: Flickr member Pink Sherbet Photography under Creative Commons