Has this ever happened to you: You show up at an event only to discover that the location for the event you had planted in your mind is miles from where you are supposed to be?
Last night I arrived with a trunk full of food for a panel discussion on installing gardens in city schools. Except the school where I arrived was on the other side of town from where this confab was actually being held. The addresses of the two schools are almost identical, but in opposite quadrants. So I was a little late. But apparently people were hungry enough to devour the food once the discussion was over.
My wife had made beautiful lavender-dusted scones and whole-grain English digestives. There was a big platter groaning with seasonal grapes and fresh figs and nuts. I had made crudites with an herb sauce from the garden and a spinach-artichoke dip with toasted pita chips.
It was a neat little spread for about 25 people.
But of course the real reason we were there was to promote the idea of gardening in city schools. We had a panel of experts to talk about the benefits of gardening with children and some of the nuts-and-bolts aspects of actually funding and building gardens, all sponsored by the D.C. Schoolyard Greening organization.
Also on the panel was the director of science for District of Columbia schools, Michael Kaspar, who, it seemed to me, had some important, cautionary words for the group. "I was just in a meeting today and it was repeated again: The focus of D.C. schools right now is reading and math," he said
D.C. school children don't test well in some of the basics, such as reading and math. As Mr. Kaspar was saying, school administrators are obsessed with improving reading and math test scores, as mandated by the "No Child Left Behind" law. The point he was really trying to drive home to us garden promoters was, If you can't make gardens relevant to reading and math, your gardening projects are not going to resonate very strongly with school officials.
That's a bit of a wake-up call for us obsessive gardeners who are just working ourselves into a frazzle trying to drum up enthusiasm for the idea of connecting children with nature, with the benefits of being outside, with home-grown vegetables. And we hear so much from celebrity foodists such as Alice Waters on the subject of making the connection between children and nutritious, locally grown food. Could it really all come back to reading and math and test scores?
To my mind, kids in the District of Columbia deserve a chance to muck about in the soil, to witness the miracle of seeds turning into plants, to taste a salad right out of the garden. But apparently we're going to have to work even harder to show that gardens are good for reading and math.
Who knew getting schools to build gardens would be such a struggle? Nothing is as simple as one would like...