You Just Crossed a Line

I just don’t get it. I haven’t been involved with the school system for a long time now, but I still hear things that make me shake my head in disbelief.  This is one of them:

Dad Posts Meddling Note Sent Home by Teacher over Packed Lunch

http://abcnews.go.com/US/dad-posts-meddling-note-home-substitute-teacher-packed/story?id=28438324

Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that my comments in this post aren’t directed at any teachers who act on instructions given to them by an authority higher than themselves.  If any teachers are reading this, I realize some policies and procedures are not your choice and that in order to keep your jobs, you have to follow along.  I also want to be clear that in my life – both during my student years and my parenting years – I have known teachers who I respect and honour as not only dedicated, but also influential and individual in their educational approaches, often standing out from the system itself as examples of non-comformists, who also respected my own ideas.  I distinctly remember a great conversation with one who consulted me on the experience of homeschooling during the preparation of a thesis being submitted towards a Masters in Education, because this teacher had a vision beyond the system. 

Having said that, regarding those who are responsible for certain policies and procedures, I have something to point out:

Parenting choices are none of the school’s business unless there is grave cause for concern about the safety and well being of a child, and in that case there are channels they can go through to address those concerns.  That statement applies to many situations, but today it relates to the control of what a student brings for lunch.

A school teacher shouldn’t presume to know that the snacks sent in a child’s lunch are an indication of need for a parenting course or a visit from the nutrition police, or at the very least, a note sent home to advise on which parts of the lunch were unacceptable.  

If parents choose to send chips, pop and candy alongside the boring sandwich in every single lunch all year, it is no one else’s business.  No one else knows what the child ate for breakfast or will eat for supper.  Those treats might be the only ones that child is allowed to eat all day and it is the parent’s free choice to decide when and where they will get them.  It is not the right of the school teacher to confiscate items deemed to be inappropriate because they don’t meet some nutritional standard.  We live in a free country!  

If a child brings the same lunch every day, the teacher shouldn’t presume parents don’t care to make lunches more interesting or “balanced”.  I, myself, spent an entire year of grade two eating cheese and mayo sandwiches because that is what I wanted, and I made them myself every day.  I was not neglected or starving.  I enjoyed every cheese sandwich and to this day they are a comfort food for me.

The school has no right to require that only certain foods be included in lunches.  Kids often throw away the “healthy” food in the absence of parental supervision and then end up hungry at school for the rest of the day.  If a parent wants to give a child a lesson in health food, they are more likely to do it at home where they can be sure the food is being eaten.

It’s one thing to ask parents not to send peanuts because there is a child in the classroom who is so highly allergic that even the smell will be dangerous for him but another altogether to start “rating” and addressing the nutritional value of foods that a parent chooses to send for their child’s enjoyment.  I don’t believe that the same teacher who sends home a note, or in some other way addresses the parent about some junk food item in a lunch, isn’t going home at some point in their own day and popping a piece of chocolate or a potato chip into their own mouth!

Why does a controversy over a school lunch even matter to me at this point in my life?  It doesn’t matter a whole lot just for what it is. It only matters to people who see it as an indicator of a bigger issue that affects all of us:  we are expected to conform just because the school system says so.  I get annoyed when lines are crossed between personal freedoms and ridiculous policies that don’t respect the same.  And by the way, I didn’t make this into a big issue, the school teacher did, and the father had the guts to stand up.

I had my share of experiences in the school system many years ago as a student and then later as a parent – enough that I could write several blog posts about those alone! – and I learned that my personal choices were not generally well accepted at either level.  I remember my young child being humiliated in response to a decision I made which, while the fault of an individual teacher, was also one of many indications to me that unless we follow the status quo, both we and our children will sometimes be singled out in inappropriate ways.  When it comes to the school system, it’s always “easier” to go along with whatever is proposed or expected than to express a personal opinion that differs. 

But is this really what parents want children to learn?  Apparently not, in the case of this particular father.  Had I received a note home like the one presented in the situation above, I might have been slightly intimidated (that’s sometimes what it feels like dealing with the system) but considering my own experiences, I think I would have politely suggested that if they had an actual concern about my child’s well being, they were free to report me and if not, I wouldn’t be expecting to hear from them ever again about the contents of my child’s lunch.  

As a result, based on recollection of things I’ve actually faced, I might be admonished, I might be called into the principal’s office for an explanation of why it is so important for me to follow

the lunch rules, and I might even be mocked in teacher group conversations because only my disagreements would be noted while my many supportive works and statements would be buried under the difference of opinion. But I’ve learned over the years that those small hurts are worth it to teach my children that there are times when it’s necessary to stand up, even if you’re alone, and even if it’s against some widespread public institution. Kudos to this father for standing up and making the point that HE is the parent and that HE has the right to make those decisions.  Thankfully, the school in this case responded with an apology.  I wonder if that’s because it went public?  My own experience makes me wonder …

 
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