12 February 2012
The school board’s compulsory Eat Smart!! program failed because eating smart isn’t about food. Well, not exactly, anyway. It’s largely about culture.
Yesterday, I wrote about how cultures can be a source of both strength and weakness. Fishtown culture’s strength is that teen dropouts do not suffer a collapse in self-esteem—let alone a nervous breakdown or a suicide attempt. (Sadly, academic failure does sometimes end that way in nearby fashionable Belmont.)
Fishtown culture’s weakness is that it encourages teens to make short-term choices that harm their long-term interests. Not obvious dead ends like drugs or jail, of course; it usually means stuff like choosing a car over a diploma or voluntarily raising children alone. The teen doesn’t see the impact of today’s choices far into adulthood.
Speaking of short-term choices that harm our long term interests, let us return to the Eat Smart!! Program. It ended recently at Fishtown Central High after a school-board inquiry about an incident in which a teen was locked on the roof in subzero weather for six hours. His mother was suing the board. True, he was part of a fast-food smuggling ring, but the board’s insurer decided to settle. Then, the board decided to drop the Eat Smart!! program, to avoid increased insurance costs from further incidents of this type.
In other words, the board solved its own problem of legal liability, not the students’ problem of poor nutrition. So, the students are now back to lunch at Burger Central and the Donut Hole.
Just think: For thousands of years, people enjoyed only during holidays—and even then only after community fasts and long weeks of toil—the greasy, sugary treats that the Fishtown students eat every day. It’s only common sense that such an unnatural diet takes a toll on human beings, especially if they are sedentary. Recent findings in epigenetics confirm that. But we need not depend wholly on studies when we can look around the main hallway and see that about a quarter of the girls and far too many guys need regular workouts—really bad.
Honey Hamilton isn’t obese because her life revolves around fashion. Fashion ends, however cruelly, at size six. Honey prudently stopped at size two. She is hanging in for her diploma because she wants to take the fashion-design course at the local community college. Many Fishtown High girls are not obese because they either worship Honey and girls like her—in life or in media–or else fear their critical eye. Usually . . . a bit of both.
Years ago, gym teacher Mira Steele led her school’s girls’ volleyball team to a state first place—unheard-of for Fishtown. Many team members, then and later, have eaten one or another version of Mira’s Training Diet ever since, and stayed active, out of loyalty. They passed on the legend and the habits to their kids, who ended up at Fishtown High themselves.
Then, there are the guys who admire Jud Jefferson, the school’s basketball champ. Some whisper he could be NBA material. Jud works out, of course, but he also “eats to win.” Not like those bozos in the donut shop. And no guy who meets Jud’s standards eats like a bozo either. Or fails to work out.
This is culture at work. The school board did not need to compel any of these teens to covet the benefits that good nutrition brings to a growing young body. In fact, the school board could not have compelled them to covet it. The students were attracted to good food because they saw the advantage for themselves, not because someone told them that they ought to see it that way. Never mind trying to make them eat stuff that they didn’t even consider food.
None of these cultures is without drawbacks. But they all emerged spontaneously at Fishtown and they do promote healthy eating. So, the good news is, healthy eating cultures already exist. The challenge is to encourage them and improve them.
Next: Encouraging students to want things that are good for them.
“Fix Fishtown Central High” social work schemes: If low self-esteem isn’t really the problem, what is?
Why proposed improvements to failing schools don’t really work, Part I: Self-esteem rules!
Why proposed improvements to failing schools don’t really work, Part II: Eat Smart!!
Why proposed improvements to failing schools don’t really work, Part III: Stay in school!!
Is intelligence inherited? Is the race to the swift?
Is intelligence inherited? Jane North and Jane South take the state IQ test.
Why you are not your genes, and even your genes are not “your genes”