Friday, January 15, 2010

The Gardeners Dig In

Corby Kummer has a long response to Caitlin Flanagan's anti-school garden article. As part of his research, he spoke with Tony Recasner who heads a green school in New Orlenas. Kummer writes:

"Yes, test scores have improved since the program started," Recasner said. But "we didn't go after this to prove causation," he added. "What we know about gardens is that it opens experiential pathways for kids to learn," he said. "Different learning experiences correlate highly with improved test scores. This gives kids a stronger background knowledge in the kinds of subjects that are likely to appear on standardized tests. They'll see the kinds of ideas, people, concepts, and different languages they're exposed to with the Edible Schoolyard appear on tests. It's very helpful."

I believe that children learn through doing things. I'm a big fan of the Waldorf approach for just that reason. But I also don't think that all kids are equally well served by a single educational philosophy or strategy. The success or failure of students in a school with a garden probably has more to do with the quality of the instruction and the commitment of the teachers and leadership than it does with the fact of a garden on site.

I am, as I've written, highly sympathetic to the gardener's position. I want gardens to work. And yet I think Flanagan's provocative article is not without some corrective value.

It's good to think long and hard about why one wants to do certain things and if the thing one wants to do -- build a school garden -- has as much value during school hours to those who would learn there as it would to you, the funder of the garden. It's like what we have to do as parents: when we make a choice, we (or I) have to tease out what's about the grown up parent and what's about the child.

What's too bad is now the question of school gardens is set up as an either or (at least among Atlantic readers), instead of being a potential area for a school to explore. A principal or teachers or parents could ask if a garden would work in a particular school right now. How might it work, whom would it help, and why? Like so much in education, and food, the best answers are local. Top down imports just can't be the way to go.


marjorie said...

i've had both your posts on this issue bookmarked but i gotta say sorry --i have to let go. i CANNOT make myself read something by caitlin flanagan. it is never healthy for me.

uh, i like school gardens? that's my input?

Robin Aronson said...

yes, i know, i should say NO to caitlin flanagan, too..but i can't....and that said, she got me thinking about the whys and whens of school gardens. I think equating migrant farm workers to their children working in school gardens is overstating things -- like equating football with dog fighting (a la gladwell) -- but i also think (now) that as much as school garden stories makes me weep with the desire to BE a garden and Teach Children in a garden, a school garden should be a bottom up enterprise, initiated by the school not mandated by the state or even district.