The purpose of education in the US has reflected our nation’s ever-changing needs. At the beginning of the 19th century, George Washington’s time, the major goal was to create good citizens. In the early 20th century, legal theorist, John Dewey, saw schools as a place to learn how to live and to use skills and knowledge to realize the student’s full potential for the greater good. And in the 21st century, we have the Bush led, bi-partisan legislation, “No Child Left Behind” to teach skills, especially in reading. Its ultimate purpose is fuzzily called “achievement,” notably left undefined. Regulations without revelations as to what our needs are in this most complex of times when knowledge taught is not easily transferable to knowledge/skills needed.
Big question–how do we keep our kid’s interest so that they become good citizens, learn how to live, gain knowledge and skills and “achieve” so they can live in this complex 21st century? My answer: Make “Food” a mandatory course every year of study from pre-school through university. Yes, food. Right up there with reading, writing and ‘rithmetic.
My credentials to make such a bold recommendation as to how to teach the nation’s kids? Thirty years of treating children with all sorts of swallowing problems, and a best selling textbook, Pediatric Swallowing and Feeding, (2nd edition) first published in 1992. What people consider healthy eating. How food plays a role in a child’s development. And, like others, I witness and try to stem the obesity epidemic. I have talked my head off to thousands of families about their child’s eating habits until I am blue in the face. (With that said, there are a number who are able to change, but their numbers are far outweighed by those who just don’t get it.)
My solution: Food as a mandatory subject, every year, every child. Use food as a tool to teach the subjects that bring knowledge and skills and enhance our lives. In pre-school they are taught how to sit at a table, eat slowly, chew their food, and what a “portion” should look like. Build a foundation to use food to teach science (biology, chemistry, physics, and earth science), math (microeconomics through food shopping, macroeconomics through food production locally and world-wide), government (how food is regulated through our democratic process) and even reading (from labels to great scenes in literature that use food as a vehicle to create passion or social unrest).
Food as a social vehicle for equality. Food as a practical way to make us good green citizens. Food as a way to keep us healthy and lower the federal deficit. The possibilities are endless.
We already have a food channel–our link to the other favorite national past time.) My favorite program is the lady (name escapes me, help dear reader) who teaches how to create great, healthy meals for pennies a portion (I sneak a peak in the OR lounge between cases sometimes if the timing is right.)
There are no bounds as to how much benefit we would get as a society and a nation to building our educational programs around the second most important topic for kids (the first being all things electronic). What a great thesis for someone getting a PhD in education! What a great idea for a popular book (Michael Pollan, are you up for another mega-best-seller?)
I, for one, as someone who really cares about our kids and the future of our nation’s health, would love to see such a radical new approach to education and to food. Any takers?