Public School 244 in Queens, New York has become the first public school to have an all-vegetarian menu. Sounds wonderful, right? A school is offering only healthy choices to students to instill a life-long habit of eating healthy. I am sure there will be other schools that follow. We know the statistics of obesity among our youth in this country and schools are stepping up to educate our kids and help create healthy patterns; except the only part is that they are not educating. Education is the process of giving tools to a student, imparting knowledge and letting students reason and process what they have learned. Teachers and schools have the professional role of acting as facilitators in the learning process. Creating an all-vegetarian menu does not teach students to make healthy choices it mandates it.
There was a recent lesson in a local school in my area where students were assigned to eat an all-vegan diet for the whole day. Outside of school, parents were required to take part in providing meals that their children could eat according to the assignment. The purpose of the lesson was to teach a “world-view” menu of food that was meat-free as well as encourage students to read nutrition labels and be conscience of calorie counting. The lesson’s objective was appropriate, but the problem was the assignment was mandatory and was required to be implemented outside of the classroom. The parents were not asked to eat vegan but were required to provide a vegan diet for their child. Many parents felt this was an overstep by the teacher and felt that their parental role was being overlooked in how they implemented nutrition and eating habits in their own home.
Both of these examples reflect a growing trend in our public education system. As an educator, I am concerned about the fact that schools are implementing programs that do not give choice to our students. I am also concerned as a parent that schools are overstepping their role in teaching lessons that contradict my parental rights. What a child eats–or does not eat–is not the responsibility of a school to control. The role of school and education is to give tools of learning and to encourage healthy choices. What happens outside the walls of the classroom cannot and should not be controlled. Many teachers and schools use the excuse that they have to teach concepts and skills because parents are failing to do so at home. This is a dangerous philosophy and it encourages the “collective” approach to education.
There is a clear role boundary between being an educator and being a parent. Just because I teach a student who is not getting the correct parental nurturing does not mean I have to, or should, take on both roles. I can only control what goes on in my classroom and I have to respect the role of the parent in how they want to raise or not raise their child. Nutrition is becoming the objective of our schools in overstepping the parental role. This “village” type approach to promoting healthy lifestyles does not encourage personal responsibility. It mandates what a school system deems healthy for the student and does not let an individual or family make their own nutritional choices.
Take note parents of this “food gospel” and how it is being taught to your children. It is an objective of the public schools and it is growing–and parents are the only ones who should be able to decide the nutritional needs of their child.