Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What is gardening doing in our curriculum?

Imagine that as a young and desperately poor Mexican man, you had made the dangerous and illegal journey to California to work in the fields with other migrants. There, you performed stoop labor, picking lettuce and bell peppers and table grapes; what made such an existence bearable was the dream of a better life. You met a woman and had a child with her, and because that child was born in the U.S., he was made a citizen of this great country. He will lead a life entirely different from yours; he will be educated. Now that child is about to begin middle school in the American city whose name is synonymous with higher learning, as it is the home of one of the greatest universities in the world: Berkeley. On the first day of sixth grade, the boy walks though the imposing double doors of his new school, stows his backpack, and then heads out to the field, where he stoops under a hot sun and begins to pick lettuce. ...

The Edible Schoolyard program was born when [Alice] Waters noticed a barren lot next to the Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley. ... Waters offered to build a garden and help create a curriculum to go along with it.

An Aztec dance troupe performed on the day the first cover crop was planted (imagine it as a set piece for The White Man Calls It Romaine), and soon the exciting garden had made its influence felt across the disciplines. In English class students composed recipes, in math they measured the garden beds, and in history they ground corn as a way of studying pre-Columbian civilizations. Students’ grades quickly improved at King, which makes sense given that a recipe is much easier to write than a coherent paragraph on The Crucible. ...

[B]y 2002, 2,000 of the state’s 9,000 schools had a garden, and by 2008 that number had risen to 3,849, and it continues to grow. ...

I have spent many hours poring over the endless research on the positive effects of garden curricula, and in all that time, I have yet to find a single study that suggests classroom gardens help students meet the state standards for English and math. ... We should remember, by the way, that the California high-school exit exam, which so many are failing, is hardly onerous: it requires a mastery of eighth-grade math (students need to score a mere 55 percent on that portion of the test) and 10th-grade English language and composition (on which they need to score 60 percent or higher). And so I would say this to our state’s new child farm laborers: ¡Huelga! Strike!
--Caitlin Flanagan, Atlantic Monthly, on less gardening, more studying

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