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A couple of years ago, I posted a vision of a bleak future in which Bob McDonnell’s drastic cuts to Virginia public school budgets would necessitate us old folks telling kids what breakfast used to be like back in the day.  Eggs, bacon, biscuits- tasted like a cloud, it did.

In my few years out of the state public school system, I got to see the foods prepared for children in places like China and South Korea.  The meals that the children ate, and that the teachers and staff ate, were , for the most part healthy and filling.   Too much oil, perhaps, but lots of vegetables and lots of protein.  Rice with every meal.  I was full when I was done, and I wasn’t ravenous when I got home.  And I didn’t gag once in the cafeteria.

But in public schools in the United States, it is well known that the food is gross, usually trucked from somewhere else, microwaved, and slapped on a Styrofoam plate with those hateful little meal dividers.  I showed a class of kids a website that had pictures of school lunches from 20 different countries, and they were outraged.  The rest of the period devolved into a discussion of where they wanted to move instead.   

Breakfast got hit the hardest under Bob McDonnell, and that’s really the hardest thing to deal with.  School lunches were bad enough before the cut, but what kind of leader sees breakfast as a fat spot in the wallet?  Eggs are dirt cheap, aren’t they?  Virginia state law requires that every public school student who enters the building before school hours receives breakfast, and that every student who enters the building receives lunch.   Now, breakfasts are little more than a honey bun and some stewed apples.  Our school’s menu lists numerous types of fresh fruit, but I’ve never seen it, just honey buns and stewed apples.  Sometimes cereal.  Rarely milk.  Apple drink instead of apple juice.

Its odd, too, that the anti-bullying movement is happening at a time when public schools are seeing budgets slashed to ribbons.  There isn’t money to fully fund measures to prevent bullying, and instead, little bureaucratic merry-go-rounds are built to prove that at least an effort is being made.  One of the schools in which I work has replaced cash-based school breakfasts and lunches with a kind of debit system.  The parents or guardians of each student place a sum on a card, which the kids swipe at each purchase.  It’s not that different from the meal plan systems at many colleges, but though some college students may make poor dining choices, most know better than to blow an entire semester’s worth of food on two dozen honey buns.  Middle schools students raised in our environment of easy snacks, however, can’t be trusted with that responsibility.

I’ve talked with boys and girls who spent their lunch money for the next nine weeks on honey buns, chips, french fries for them and their friends, all within a couple of days.  One student, age 13, told me, “I’ll just stay in here {the classroom, during lunch}…my lunch money was gone two weeks ago.”  I asked if she’d brought anything to eat, and she hadn’t.  I asked her if she would tell her parents to put more money on her card.  She was afraid to tell them she’d blown it.  Another student, aged 12, told me that he lost his lunch swipes to a friend of his in a game.  The winner, he said, was “rolling in honey buns” last week.

Educating children isn’t an obligation.  A society does it as insurance for themselves and the future.  If we want to train scholars, let’s train good scholars.  If we want to train consumers, let’s do that well.  And if we’ve got good consumers, no one is rolling in anything, especially not honey buns.

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