Gardening in School – Education or Distraction?

Garden
Homework: Watering the plants

I chanced upon a very interesting article by Gloria Dawson on The Daily Green. This phenomenon is not so much seen in Singapore than in the United States, where gardening in schools was introduced and encouraged, in particular by US First Lady Michelle Obama, to raise students’ interests in gardening, nurture green thumbs as well as environmentalism and encourage healthy eating.

I thought such initiatives were pretty self-explanatory in terms of benefits, are pretty much non-political and non-debatable. Dawson had however found an article by a Caitlin Flanagan that expressed much disdain for school gardens, with the argument that “schools are taking kids out of the classroom” when they need to spend more time in the classroom to learn and be educated on the basics, and then eventually climb the educational system. It was something I never really thought about given Singapore’s higher-quality educational system, but in America where educational standards are dropping and schools struggle to keep students interested, school gardens may backfire in their intentions as well.

Statistics so far appear to indicate that school gardens have somehow helped boost grades and “understanding of lessons”, probably indirect effects of being involved in a garden. It might perhaps create interest in staying in school, or create opportunities to pick up skills such as organisation, leadership and responsibility which would be useful both in lessons and outside of lessons. Unfortunately, the school gardens initiative has caught on with political posturing and people are lambasting the educational system and those who implement the initiative. At least Flanagan’s arguments were not exactly without merit, but it appears that Dawson is implicitly pointing fingers at politicians who are blaming the school gardens initiative to their advantage.

There’s really plenty to learn from school gardens, in terms of skills and knowledge. Where your food comes from, how to eat healthily; children need to know given that they now live in a very much urban society where food is convenient and global and they do not know where their food comes from, what they should eat, how much they should eat and so on. Again, I am reminded of the book ‘The End of Food’ by Paul Roberts that I am currently reading about and will review in due time. Links to other articles about the school gardens argument are in The Daily Green article.

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