Friday, September 29, 2006

Learning to eat

From the moment I read the story of the two women who have been feeding pies and chips to their children through the railings of the school in order that the children need not eat the designated morally good food provided by the school I have been pondering the case.

This post by Courtney Hamilton on neo-jacobin has made me think about it again.

I reckon the biggest single problem with school meals these days is the whole system of cafeteria style service. I spoke to a friend who is in the business of managing the provision of catering services to some state schools in London. He brought in a catering company that, amongst other things promised top go so far as to bake bread on the premises. All good, he thought. What both he and the caterers were surprised to discover was the children shunned the food, even though it was good quality but instead turned to sandwiches.
After conducting a survey into this with the children he was shocked to discover the main problem was many of the children had never learned to use a knife and fork, so were unable to handle a plate of wet food. Sandwiches, of course, were easy. As were pies, chips, pizzas and so on that had been banished from the old menu.

This complete lack of socialisation is horrifying. But maybe the schools and in particular primary schools can get around the problem.
Cafeteria systems obviously have advantages. Greater choice for the punter, no doubt some costs reductions and less supervision required. However there are some serious downsides.

Education is not about merely failing to cram in facts, but it has a broader remit, socialisation being on of them. So if one to return to supervised meals, a class round a table, with a teacher or teaching assistant joining them in their meal then certain benefits would accrue. Obviously problems such as learning to eat could be addressed. But also children would no longer hive off to private gangs but would be required to at least get on with their schoolmates. Like in families, the act of communal eating is, over time a great team building exercise. It fosters a sense of belonging and community, something important for the running of a successful school. Even if Johnny hates Jane, they will have to get on and be at least civil to one another due to the presence of the supervisor and of course the realisation that they will be sitting like this day in day out so it is their own interest to. Another useful social skill learnt. Having to get on with people whether one likes them or not.

Of course this is completely ill thought out, but maybe there is something in it. I know that when at my school we swapped systems it lead top a breakdown in discipline.

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