Thursday, August 07, 2014

Ban Government—Not Sweets—in Schools to Combat Bureaucratic Obesity

In recent weeks states have been grappling with a host of unintended consequences stemming from new USDA regulations affecting food and beverages available in schools. Chocolate milk was a near casualty in Connecticut. Earlier this month one Washington state school district threw in the towel and banned birthday cupcakes in classrooms. Instead of baked treats, students can share gifts of pencils with their classmates instead, according to school officials.

Just weeks after the new food rules went into effect on July 1, schools in 12 states are working their way around them. As the National Journal reports:

Twelve states have established their own policies to circumvent regulations in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 [here] that apply to “competitive snacks,” or any foods and beverages sold to students on school grounds that are not part of the Agriculture Department’s school meal programs, according to the National Association of State Boards of Education. Competitive snacks appear in vending machines, school stores, and food and beverages, including items sold at bake sales.

Georgia is the latest state to announce an exemption to the federal regulations, which became effective July 1 for thousands of public schools across the country. Its rule would allow 30 food-related fundraising days per school year that wouldn’t meet the new healthy nutritional standards. ...

Tennessee also plans to allow 30 food-fundraising days that don’t comply with federal standards per school year. Idaho will allow 10, while Illinois is slowly weaning schools off their bake sales, hoping to shrink them from an annual 36 days to nine days in the next three years. Florida and Alabama are considering creating their own exemption policies.

Under the new regulations, there are some exemptions for school fundraisers (p. 7), including allowing state education agencies to define what constitutes “a limited number “of school fundraisers (p. 39).

However, it’s worth considering why the USDA has any authority over foods offered outside of its school lunch and breakfast programs (p. 8), and why it has the power to ban fundraisers foods that compete with its meals to be sold during breakfast or lunch time (p. 41). As the school year approaches, expect more news reports about absurd policies resulting from this latest government intrusion into schools.

Maintaining a healthy weight is a goal we can all share, but burying schools, students, and parents in tons of red tape is no way to combat obesity. Perhaps the best way to shed some pounds at school is to shrink the federal government’s involvement back down to its constitutional size.


Is Education Policy Economic Policy?

The person precedes the State in school, work, and life

When the central administration claims to replace completely the free cooperation of those primarily interested, it deceives itself or wants to deceive you  -- Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

A member of the Indiana State Board of Education recently stated his belief that “education policy is economic policy.” 
“Without world-class schools,” writes Gordon Hendry in the Indianapolis Star, “we can’t attract top talent and jobs to Indiana.”

Hendry’s observation represents the predominant worldview among policymakers today. It may also suggest why education reform continues to cost more and achieve less.

It is largely undisputed that government education systems across America are failing. International comparisons suggest American students are falling behind students in other countries. National assessments suggest that socioeconomic as well as racial gaps in performance persist. Employers find that young people are unprepared to enter the workforce without additional training.

Colleges find that students are increasingly ill-equipped for higher education and in need of remedial coursework. Classroom teachers are buried under bureaucratic red tape and media scrutiny and find it hard to sustain their passion for education. Parents and students are unhappy for a variety of reasons, and in greater numbers they’re seeking schools that are peaceful, orderly, welcoming, and effective.

We live with a collective sigh of despair, punctuated by angry controversy over various proposals for reform ranging from school choice to the Common Core standards movement. Yet for all the tax dollars, political capital, and ink spilled on issues of education reform and school improvement, we have failed to ask a fundamental question: Who is education for?

Who is education for: the individual or the State?

Without clarity on this question, all reform efforts may prove to be mere fiddling while our republic burns.

If we want to sustain the freedom of self-government embodied in the American federal system, we must once again become a people capable of exercising and defending that freedom. The role of education is too important in the formation of a free people not to clarify the limits of State action on education at all levels.

To do so, we must inquire into numerous questions that elevate our attention from today’s policy battles and rekindle a broader, constitutional dialogue about who we are and whom we aspire to be.

The founding generation recognized the constitutional importance of education in shaping a people capable of self-government, but largely left the means and content of education up to local communities and states. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787—which laid the groundwork for government support of education and expressed the core interest that government has in education—did not address the importance of learning in economic terms but enjoined that “religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”

Nineteenth-century Whigs, led by reformers such as Horace Mann, took a more controlling interest in education, specifically as compulsory schooling could serve to inculcate white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant mores and values among newer immigrants to American shores. By the end of the nineteenth century, the belief that public schools must continue to protect a moral and cultural center based on WASP values had led most states to pass a “Blaine Amendment” seeking to prohibit use of state educational funds for parochial, especially Catholic, schools.

Progressive reformers of the early twentieth century likewise assumed roles as their brothers’ keepers. Education and economic policy converged as they adapted American schools to an industrializing economy. Applying the new tools of “scientific” management to effect social control reflected the growing belief that centralized social engineering was necessary for a good society. As John Dewey put it, “Organized social planning, put into effect for the creation of an order in which industry and finance are socially directed in behalf of institutions that provide the material basis for the cultural liberation and growth of individuals, is now the sole method of social action by which liberalism can realize its professed aims (Liberalism and Social Action, 60).”

A society of free men and women cannot be one in which an administrative State supervises the details of our lives from cradle to grave. Despite protesting voices—such as those appearing in The Freeman since its inception—our public schools continue to be honed as tools of soft despotism.

Today, education reformers increasingly view our children as fodder for the engines of economic productivity. Leaders of global corporations, education “experts,” and political leaders, having lost sight of the true ends of education, promote uniformity of curricula across the nation, validated by high-stakes testing. The time has long passed for us to recognize that these would-be emperors of the mind—chasing a utopia in which all children can be college- or career-ready by age 18—wear no clothes.
Economic policy is not educational policy. American education has suffered from being made the maidservant of economic growth. Education policy cannot suffice for good economic policy, which should instead be focused on issues such as providing for sound and stable money, constraining government spending and public debt, ending crony capitalism, and repudiating the kind of regulatory and confiscatory despotism that crushes real entrepreneurship and job creation.

Can education promote a prospering economy? Yes, but only when it recognizes the limits of State action on personal moral development and allows schooling to pursue its true end: to help the child grow into a man or woman capable of directing his or her own life with responsibility.

Is education policy economic policy? Only if we believe the laborer or taxpayer is the father of the man. In Towards a Philosophy of Education, nineteenth-century English pedagogue Charlotte Mason observed that we are slow to learn because we have set up a little tin god of efficiency in that niche within our private pantheon which should be occupied by personality. We trouble ourselves about the uses of the young person to society.

As for his own use, what he should be in and for himself, why, what matter? Because, say we, if we fit him to earn his living we fit him also to be of service to the world and what better can we do for him personally? We forget that it is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God shall man live, —whether it be spoken in the way of some truth of religion, poem, picture, scientific discovery, or literary expression; by these things men live and in all such is the life of the spirit.

We are not without guides in reexamining our belief that the end of education is mere economic prosperity. The great classical liberal author William von Humboldt, who helped develop education policy for the Prussian state, understood firsthand the dangers of seeing the child as merely an asset of the State. He clearly perceived the constitutional importance of education and the delicacy of the task of the State’s involvement in administering schooling. “The fruitful relationship between man and citizen would wholly cease if the man were sacrificed to the citizen,” cautioned Humboldt in The Limits of State Action.

He continued: "For although the consequences of disharmony would be avoided, still the very object would be sacrificed which the association of human beings in a community was designed to secure. From which I conclude that the freest development of human nature, directed as little as possible to citizenship, should always be regarded as of paramount importance. He who has been thus freely developed should then attach himself to the State; and the State should test itself by his measure. Only through such a struggle could I confidently hope for a real improvement of the national constitution, and banish all fear of the harmful influence of civil institutions on human nature.

The person, in other words, precedes the nation and the state. To get this backwards and make the State the tutor of the man is to forget the ends of both liberty and learning.

Out in the byways, Americans are exploring a variety of new ways to educate their children, from homeschooling to educational cooperatives, from new private schools to charter schools. Our educational leaders, on the other hand, carry on a conversation that is increasingly a stumbling block to the future of liberty. Treating education policy as economic policy has mired us in polarizing political contests. On the one side are those mired in the legacies of Progressive pedagogy and union politics; on the other side are those who see education primarily as a pipeline of employees and taxpayers. It may be worse when the two sides find some common ground or economic interest, such as that alliance that effected the bipartisan blitzkrieg of the Common Core State Standards.

For the rest of us, for those who retain some inkling of what it means to be free or those who remember the love of learning that inspired them to want to teach, we must recognize that this may be a Baptists and bootleggers moment.

To go forward, we must find common ground. Where better to begin than on the presumption that learning is for liberty, and that children who learn to love knowledge more than post high test scores and who find their schools to be sites of community and connection rather than battlefields will more readily exercise their liberty in ways that respect our constitutional order, promote human flourishing, and generate widespread prosperity?


Dear headmaster, there's much to be learnt from China

Academic success and a rounded education are not mutually exclusive, says Rachel De Souza, in response to comments made by Eton headmaster Tony Little

I visited China earlier this year as part of a large UK education delegation. I went with an open mind, ready to learn and embrace any practices or ideas that would improve our education.

We looked at maths teaching particularly and what I found was breathtaking. At every school I visited the children (rich or poor) were four years ahead of ours. Again and again, we saw the depth of the pupils’ mathematical learning built up over time and their impressive armoury of knowledge and skills. They knew their times tables inside out and their ability to use efficient methods of calculation was absolutely apparent.

In one school, six-year-olds worked on the link between addition and subtraction for two digit numbers. They were clear about the inverse relationship here and could use that to check their answers.

I am reluctant to take on such an august figure as the Eton headmaster Tony Little, but someone has to speak out for our children who need every possible opportunity and support to get into our best universities.

I did not see the ‘straitjacket’ referred to by Mr Little. Rather the essential knowledge that children should have to progress through their education.

I also enjoyed the attitude of teachers who met together most days to analyse what is going well in their classes, what needs to be tackled differently and what the frequent tests reveal as needing improvement.

The phrase commonly used in China “Maths Gets You Everywhere” sums it up – a can-do attitude where the pupils come first and the prime aim is to open up opportunities for children. Bringing Shanghai teachers here and having our teachers going to China can only improve our schools.

What about the criticism of an exams-only education versus a rounded education? It is self-evident that you must pass exams to get anywhere. Put another way, passing exams is a ticket out of deprivation, something that I hope we all support. But I too want our pupils to be well-rounded individuals, the leaders of their generation, contributing to their community and making a difference.

Our extra-curricular activity, the extended day if you will, allows more time for children to study English and Maths. But it also provides time for them to pursue their dreams, go horse-riding or sailing or take part in sport.

One of our pupils in a deprived area of Great Yarmouth began karate as an extra-curricular activity a couple of years ago. He is competing in Canada in September and he has a bright future ahead of him.

I’m sure it’s not what Mr Little was referring to but too often the phrase “all-round education” is an excuse for lack of academic achievement. The two should not be mutually exclusive.


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