…by Meg White
The place Meg puts the stuff she wrote
Chicago Public School Students Stand up for Healthy Eating
Categories: Chicago, News

by Meg White

The collective giggle-fest over Vice President Joe Biden’s true but censorable comment at the president’s signing of healthcare reform struck me as pretty sophomoric. But then again, that’s not very fair to sophomores.

Meanwhile, right in my own backyard, real sophomores (and other high schoolers) have successfully organized to change the way more than 400,000 individual stomachs are treated each day.

Thanks to the actions of student protesters at a Chicago Public School (CPS) Board meeting this week, “a major nutritional overhaul of menus” is planned, according to the Chicago Tribune. The students who are forced to feed themselves from these “menus” were quoted as calling the current food available “sickening.”Now, I’m glad to see the Chicago Tribune covering education whenever it deems the subject worthy enough. But their article published today is replete with the egotistical trumpet sounds of undeserved accolades. Just take a look (emphasis mine):

New standards from the Chicago Public Schools Nutrition Support Services address many of the concerns raised in Tribune articles describing the daily serving of nachos, doughnuts and desserts in a district with an inordinate number of overweight and obese children.

…Other issues examined by the Tribune and addressed in new standards include sugary cereals.

Nowhere in today’s piece do they mention the article published in their paper just the day before about the students’ protests.

The only reason the Trib even wrote that self-lauded story that so courageously “describ[ed] the daily serving of nachos, doughnuts and desserts” was because students were finally taking a stand. It’s not like they just invented the field of health or education reporting yesterday up at Tribune Tower. And the same food has been on the CPS menu for at least a decade.

Toward the end of the article, the Tribune credits several organizations and institutions, as well as the First Lady, for helping to affect change. Yet one need look no further than the Tribune’s own article just a day before for the culprit of change. It was right in their lead:

When school officials defend serving a daily menu of nachos, pizza, burgers and fries, they often say they’re just giving students what they want.

But you wouldn’t know it by listening to an angry coalition of high school students who plan to speak out on Chicago Public Schools meals Wednesday at the monthly Chicago Board of Education meeting.

So, like, people have to show up places and speak their minds to get stuff to change? You mean the media won’t do it for us?

Sorry, no. But they might try and take credit for it!

The Center for Science in the Public Interest underscores the importance of having actual students involved in their own nutrition in their School Foods Tool Kit:

Many school leaders don’t know much about nutrition. Others feel compelled by budget constraints to rely on commercial providers of fast food or junk food to feed kids. And still others assume that children aren’t willing to eat healthy foods and therefore take the path of least resistance…

But to move this issue from one of teens that just don’t want to get fat to one of healthy self-advocacy, you need an added ingredient: social justice education. As yesterday’s Tribune article points out, the students protesting at the monthly Chicago Board of Education meeting

…became involved with the issue as part of a school colloquium called “What’s In Your Stomach” led by social studies teacher Jackson Potter. Students in the colloquium — which they take as part of a Social Justice service requirement — work on local issues through hands-on actions and civic engagement.

Potter chose school nutrition as an issue, and the students decided to address it through planting an organic garden, researching school food and testifying at a board meeting.

Now there’s another piece of Chicago-style politics for Glenn Beck to rage against. Oh no: Our children are being brainwashed to think and advocate for themselves, just like the Nazis wanted!

And it’s no wonder Beck doesn’t like it. If the next generation is too busy working “on local issues through hands-on actions and civic engagement,” they might not have time to watch his show!

The key issue in the success of such a program is its wide scope. Students find out their schools — even the brand new ones — were built without working kitchens. They learn about the problems with pesticides and the genetic modification of crops. They learn how to grow their own food and about sustainability on a personal and local level.

When you arm young people with such a wide platform of knowledge, the things they accomplish will surprise you.

In contrast, when we’re all distracted on a national level by the silly gaffes of politicians in Washington, the things we fail to accomplish shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Even in a national context, the accomplishment of these young Chicagoans is a big f—-in’ deal. CPS is the third-largest public school system in the country. Also, it is an agency that is notoriously resistant to public outcry. As the controversial Renaissance 2010 plan unfolded in Chicago, the district closed under-performing schools regardless of the number of students, parents and teachers who stood out front protesting.

And finally, seeing as former CEO of CPS and current Education Secretary Arne Duncan seems to some extent poised to recreate the Chicago school reform system nationwide, the ability of CPS students to affect change is something for everyone involved in public education to watch closely.


Originally published at BuzzFlash.com.

Comments are closed.