The Globe and Mail is running a series called ‘Fit to Learn’ about children’s health and academic success. Saturday’s article asks Are schools going too far in measuring student BMI and putting in junk food bans?
When asked about who should take on the responsibility for feeding children healthy food and whether schools should provide breakfasts and lunches, Catherine Parsonage, executive director of the Toronto Foundation for Student Success is quoted as saying “Of course it’s not the responsibility of schools. But we are the best delivery point, because by law you know this is where children are going to be.”
Really, Ms Parsonage? By law? That’s where children are going to be?
Perhaps people who are going to quote the Education Act of Ontario should actually read it first rather than perpetuating the lie that tells parents that the law forbids them to keep their children out of schools.
Section 21, Subsection 2 says:
(2) A person is excused from attendance at school if,
(a) the person is receiving satisfactory instruction at home or elsewhere;
It’s that simple. In fact, the province of Ontario has among the most liberal homeschooling laws in the entire world. We are not required by law to provide lesson plans, evidence of learning or to participate in standardized tests. My legal obligations to the government with regards to my children began and ended when I registered their births.
But besides informing Ms Parsonage that she is simply wrong about the laws of Ontario, I’d really like to ask her if she is aware that around 3% of children in Ontario are being homeschooled. And I’d like to know if a random sampling of homeschooled children were to be compared to a random sampling of schooled children specifically concerning their BMI, fitness and academic achievement, what would we find? Are homeschooled children just as likely as their counterparts to eat an unhealthy diet, live a sedentary life and be obese? If yes, will the government be helping to lower the weight of obese homeschooled children, too?
And what if it turned out that homeschooled children were by and large more healthy, less likely to be obese and generally more fit and active than their schooled peers? Would the government like to give us a plausible explanation for this?
Because frankly, I’m really curious. If school is the commonality among children who are unfit or obese, then why is school being seen as the sole venue to solve the problem? Can the source of the problem be the solution? If the responsibility lies with the parents, then why are the schools stepping up to solve the problem at all?
For two years I taught Grade 6 in a predominantly white, English-speaking working/middle class neighbourhood, where most families had two incomes and owned their homes. I was required to teach a unit on nutrition, and I gave my class a challenge to not eat any junk food for 48 hours. They accepted that they couldn’t eat candy, chips or soda, but they were STUNNED that they also couldn’t eat fries, pizza, hamburgers, hotdogs, donuts, ice cream, popsicles, pudding, cake or cookies. Their parents showed up to ask me “So what are they supposed to eat? Lettuce?” Uh, ……yes.
You see, the more the school takes on the role of parent, the more parenting can be avoided by the actual parents. The school system has made it easy for parents to avoid important but uncomfortable topics like sexuality, health and nutrition, and lifestyle choices. So even ‘good’ parents allow themselves to be relieved of some of their responsibilities. They even stop trying. I have seen for example, that parents don’t have to put effort into learning about what the healthy eating habits of adolescents should look like, because the school will tell their children what to eat. And what if the children won’t eat healthily? Well, it’s the school’s fault, of course.
I say we stop making it so easy for parents to turn the raising of their children over to the schools. The ‘Eat Healthy’ campaign will be no more effective than the ‘Don’t do Drugs’ campaign has been for the past 20 years.
In this province, the money for health care comes out of the same pocket as the money for education. If the government really wanted to use the money for one to reduce the money required for the other, they would. The real question is, Why aren’t they?