School Cafeteria Food is Not Why Kids Can’t Read


Although there is some fuss going on in the cultured foodie-segments of society about the terrors of the food served in our public school cafeterias, it is a fact that Dreadful School Cafeteria Food is not why kids can’t read.

True, the fact must be faced that it is (barely) possible that some children – when feasting their eyes on the day-glo glop scooped out at lunchtime in school cafeterias across the land – may think of that food as a gastronomic prize for their day’s studies, if they are prone to thinking deeply about their food as linked to philosophy and to their life. If the child is like this, he might just go and decide to live up to the promise of it all by becoming day-glo-glop-like himself.

But somehow I think there’s more to it. Somehow, I think the quality of the teaching going on in the school system could also have an effect on the level of education being attained by those who consume it. But please don’t tell my kid’s teachers this – it might come back to haunt me with the mysterious Lowered-Grade Syndrome I’ve heard tell of that can supposedly happen if you don’t make nice with the teachers. This syndrome is of course related to the mysterious Rise-In-Grade Syndrome that one can make happen by revising essays to fit with the teacher’s own particular political bent. Tried and true, this one – in my experience. Not with all teachers, but with some.

My children are in high school now, but I remember the days past with fondness. Upon arriving home from school my kids would fill my ears with happy schoolday anecdotes about many things, including the words their teachers had spelled wrong on the blackboards that day. They thought that was pretty funny.

How did my children know the words were spelled wrong? Probably because they read books. Reading can set things into memory. Why didn’t their teachers have these elementary-school words set (spelled correctly) into their memory at some point – either during their formative years of education or during their four years of required studies in the higher-education system? It’s beyond me.

But tsk tsk. Why am I complaining about spelling, and teachers not being able to spell. It’s such a small thing. Teachers put up with the most incredible challenges in the daily tasks of managing the classroom within the bureaucracy that ties the classroom and all those within it into a macrame-like knotted sculpture of what one can do and what one can not do. Having a teacher who can spell words correctly can be the least of the problem.

I was amused by the stories related to me at the end of school days during elementary-school years. But the end-of-the-day stories I hear now, during the high-school years, are even more amusing. Amusing, that is, in a vaguely horrific sort of way.

Ugly behavior – or more often behavior along the lines of startling behavior that one looks away from quickly – happens in the hallways of  any high school. Sexual harassment is clearly the top winner in this category, with core groups of boys who are apparently unable (or unwilling) to not ‘talk dirty’ to any girl who passes by their line of vision, leaving the girls feeling not so much like students but more like a shambles of a vision wrecked before it even happened. I say that ‘one looks away quickly’ because that is exactly what the teachers do. They appear to have grown blinders.

One good thing (for the kids being bullied – not so much for the bullies themselves) is that the bullies-in-general who burgeon in rank and number during the middle-school years have calmed down to some extent by the time they enter high school.  Alternately it could be that some of them are simply not at school any more most of the time – they’ve fallen through the cracks existing in the worlds of those designated to be responsible for them.

The funniest thing though (and one does need to laugh at something for a sense of relief after looking closely at some of these other things) is that the teachers (who in the elementary system were merely for the most part bad spellers) have become replaced by teachers in the high school system – who are often much more interesting in a number of ways. And when a high-school teacher is amusing, they can be really amusing. Even moreso when they’ve somehow managed to survive the system for fifteen or twenty years doing exactly the amusing things they do.

Not to say we don’t enjoy this. A good story is a good story, and the day ended without a good story about school somehow seems wrong.

But back to the topic. My thesis was that ‘school cafeteria food is not why kids can’t read’. School cafeteria food is the least of it, the way I see it. It is not just the amount of sugar, the ‘balanced diet’, the dreaded soda machine, the frozen pizza and traditionally frightening frozen pea glop.

It can be other things. It can be a teacher who does not teach, yet who somehow manages to go on not-teaching for years. A teacher who sets aside the book planned-to-be-used-as-curriculum in favor of watching movies and having the class stuff envelopes for her latest fund-raising project to bring money into the sports program. One who thinks Las Vegas is in California. One who thinks sweetbreads are something made from bread and sugar. One who insists that the word ‘promenade’ does not come from the French language, does not mean ‘to walk’ but instead was invented to mean ‘high-school prom’. One who thinks the movie ‘Mamma Mia’ is a French movie. One who is teaching students planning on entering the fashion industry to pronounce Cartier as car-tee-urrr.  (Oh yeah. That will go over big in a job interview.)

One has to wonder if either a drug-scan or a brain-scan would be useful in these situations. Or maybe even some standard form of accountability might be found to put in place.

That all this can happen in an ‘AP’ class where college credit will be given for completion of the class is just the cherry on top.

Bad cafeteria food – that’s the least of it. That’s my thesis, anyway. But really, when considering it all at length, I definitely have to keep firmly in mind the always-useful words of Ralph Waldo Emerson:

Sometimes a scream is better than a thesis.

Excuse me. My throat appears to be itching.


2 thoughts on “School Cafeteria Food is Not Why Kids Can’t Read

  1. Yes, there seem to be a lot of not-teaching moments.

    I think “promenade” is the day-glo flavor of “marmalade”, a type of old-fashioned school dance in the cafeteria with lemonade; or of course it’s the nite-glo flavor if an evening dance with martinets for rhythm.

  2. You’re so right! I’d forgotten about those dances.

    Where one could quaff pomade and wax brilliantine! Particularly if martinets were there to punctuate the nite-glo with their vibrant designs.

    And those old-fashioned moments when one could escapade out onto the balcony for a bit of decoupage to slake one’s thirst . . .

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