Archive for the ‘England’ Category

What Happened to Centigrade? Confusion Over the Celsius Temperature Scale…

February 14, 2013

thermometer When I started teaching elementary school (as a second career in 1995), I was very surprised to find all the new textbooks now referring to the centigrade scale as the Celsius scale. Of course they are the same thing, but I wondered why the textbooks were now using this term when I had never heard it growing up. Now, I know why.

The short answer is that people continue to call a thing by the same name they, themselves, learned while growing up.  Most adults, and just about everyone in academia through the 1980s, grew up hearing “centigrade” and continued to use that term with their own students throughout high school and university.

The new name, “Celsius,” disturbed me ever since I began hearing it in the mid-1990s; but now that I know there was an actual reason for the name change, it no longer bothers me.  A unit of measurement, called a “grade,” was actually in use.  Therefore, in 1948, the Conference General de Pois et Measures (in France) decided to change the name of the scale to “Celsius.”

The International System of Units

The International System of Units

A second reason for the change in name was that the Conference General de Pois et Measures decided that “All common temperature scales would have their units named after someone closely associated with them; namely, Kelvin, Celsius, Fahrenheit, Réaumur and Rankine.”

The change in elementary-school textbooks began to take place around 1968, and during the 1970s, as districts began to replace their former textbooks.  In the meantime, parents, scientists, and college professors continued to use the name they had grown up with.  Only students born in the 1970s and later would have grown up calling the scale “Celsius.”  (I continue to catch myself saying “centigrade” to my own students.)

In England, the BBC Weather did not begin using the term Celsius until 1985, and the word centigrade continues to to be commonly used in England, according to some sources.

Swedish Astronomer Anders Celsius (1701-1744)

Swedish Astronomer Anders Celsius (1701-1744)

The centigrade scale was known as such from 1743-1954.  In 1948, the scale was renamed the Celsius scale, after the Swedish astronomer Anders Celsius (1701-1744) who developed a SIMILAR scale (but not actually the same scale).  Interestingly, Celsius’ original scale was the reverse of today’s scale; “0” indicated the boiling point of water, while “100” indicated the freezing point of water.

Swedish Zoologist and Botanist Carolus Linnaeus(1708-1777)

Swedish Zoologist and Botanist Carolus Linnaeus(1708-1777)

The Swedish zoologist and botanist, Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778), remembered for giving us the basis of taxonomy (classification of living things into genus and species), reversed Celsius’ original scale so that “0” indicated the freezing point of water, while “100” indicated the boiling point. As the older generations retire and pass away, the new name change will become universal.  It seems to take about three generations for a name change to really become universally accepted in society.

–Lynne Diligent

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Young Student Remembers Past Life?

January 20, 2013

Soldiers

Several years ago, while teaching third grade, the school asked me to have students write stories.  One of my third-grade boys (age 8) wrote a story unlike any I have ever seen in all of my years of teaching.  Instead of writing about the usual kinds of stories which children do, he wrote about his experience as an adult man during war.

His story was about trying to save his family while he was being called off to war.  He was rushing to hide them in the basement and get them necessities, while trucks of soldiers were coming by to pick him up and take him with them off to war.  It was in Europe, and there were trucks.  It’s been several years, and I no longer recall all the details, but the essence of the story has stayed with me ever since.  Out of all the stories my students wrote over the years, it is the only one I can clearly remember today.

As someone who believes in reincarnation, I’ve always wondered if, in fact, this child’s story was a past-life memory.  It was shocking to read.  It sounded like one of the World Wars.  His concerns sounded just as if an adult man of 35 was speaking about his feelings.  There are a number cases now researched and published of young children who remember past lives, and even past lives in wars.

I mentioned the story to his mother, and she responded, “I know.  He’s just like an old man, in a little boy’s body.”

–Lynne Diligent

“Animals Can’t Think, Because They Don’t Have a Brain,” My Student Said.

January 16, 2013

Animal brains

Here in North Africa, we were discussing organs in animals, and I reminded my student that he’d forgotten to mention the brain.  My 13-year-old student said, “Animals don’t have a brain.”  When I asked why he thought that, he said, “Animals can’t think because they don’t have a brain.”

Even though I told him that most animals do have a brain, the conversation continued to trouble me.  I wondered, “How could an intelligent 13-year-old, who is a good student and reasonably good in science have this idea?”  I decided to speak to a teaching colleague from the local culture.

My colleague suggested that I remind my student of the annual Sheep Sacrifice Festival, where a sheep is  butchered in nearly every home (except the very poor).  He suggested I ask my student if he had remembered eating the sheep’s head, and that inside the head are the brains.

Sheep

My colleague and my husband (both from the local culture) explained that since there is emphasis here on humans being able to think and reason, and animals just acting on their instincts, so that it’s generally said, “Animals don’t have a mind.”  My student, himself, apparently interpreted that to mean, “Animals don’t have a brain.”

When I spoke about this to my student, he said, “Oh, YES!  I HAVE seen that!”  I explained that every animal needs a brain even to walk around, even to eat, even to see.  He said, “Thank you for explaining this!”

–Lynne Diligent

Marijuana Use, Then and Now, on College Campuses in Colorado

November 26, 2012


 I live overseas in North Africa, but my home state in America is Colorado.  Colorado is one of the two states which just voted to make marijuana legal.

Yesterday at home, I was sorting through some old boxes and came across the letters I had received while in high school and college.  Most were now moldy, and I was reading through them one last time before tossing them all these years later.

2011 Boulder annual “420 Pot-Smoking Rally” on the University of Colorado campus

To my surprise, in letters from 1973, I had a friend at the University of Colorado in Boulder, who said, “If you don’t smoke grass, there is nothing to do on the weekends.”  He wasn’t a smoker, but implied most people around him were.

In another letter, from my boyfriend, who was a serious student at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley,  said, “I went to a party this weekend where there was only supposed to be beer.  But when I got there, there was a pile of marijuana at least three inches high.  Everyone was rolling cigarettes (with the marijuana) and passing them around.  I passed five (marijuana cigarettes) by to other people, but I didn’t try them myself.   Everyone was stoned.”

Mass exhale of marijuana smoke on the University of Colorado at Boulder campus in 2010, at the annual “420 Pot-Smoking Rally.”

I know a student currently at the University of Northern Colorado.  I asked her what the reaction was on campus to the new law.  She told me all the college students voted for it, and many were running around shouting, “Yay!” with their arms in the air after hearing that the new law passed.  But I don’t think everyone is using it.  The student I know told me that she’s been to a couple parties where she smelled the marijuana smoke in the air, but didn’t actually see any marijuana.

I’m sure I must have been around people who used drugs, but I never associated closely enough with them to know that they really were, other than some cousins I had who used marijuana during the hippy era.  I also attended a couple of parties (in Cape Girardeau, Missouri) where I smelled the marijuana smoke in the air, but never actually saw the product myself.   I used to hear during the 1980s that one or two people I knew in business were using cocaine, but I didn’t know whether to believe it or not.

Interestingly, I’ve lived in North Africa for twenty years, and I hear that tourists are always offered marijuana in the souk.  Yet it’s never happened to me.  My husband (a local) says it’s because, “You don’t look like the type of person who would want it,” which is true!  But with it happening to so many others, I felt a little disappointed that I’d never even been asked, or approached.

I don’t know what the percentage of marijuana users in U.S. colleges was then, or is now, but I’m going to guess the percentages were/are similar.  I’m going to guess that back then, 30-40% of people tried it once, and that maybe 15-20% of people might have been regular users in college (and far fewer once they got out of college).

Legal marijuana clinic in Colorado, prior to marijuana being legalized for everyone.

I’m going to guess that with this new law, maybe 60-70% of youth may try it once, and maybe 30% might turn into regular long-term users.  In April, 2012, a marijuana-smoking rally at CU Boulder attracted 10,000 participants.  But it should be remembered that Boulder has 30,000 students, which means that 2/3 did not attend.

I predict it will be a novelty for a generation, and as health problems start to show up in regular users (such as happened with tobacco cigarettes), people will try to quit, and it will become thought low-class to be a pot-smoker, as has happened today with cigarettes.

–Lynne Diligent

Do Cat Thieves Give Clues to the Origins of Criminality in Humans?

November 12, 2012

Here in  North Africa, I watch the neighborhood animals, who belong to no one, and make their rounds in the same places daily.  We have a lot of street animals, and cats often jump in to our house through the windows (other people’s houses, too), in search of food. Some of them can get quite aggressive, especially with our own cats.  Our cats feel they have to go outside and “defend the yard” every time they see a cat jump in over the garden wall.  Of course they go absolutely wild if a neighborhood cat jumps into our house.

I began to think about these intruders as thieves, because that’s what they would be considered, if they were humans. It’s easier for them to steal food than it is for them to hunt for it themselves in an urban environment.

It’s also easier (than working) for human thieves to do the same–either because they are lazy, or their environment didn’t give them other reasonable options, or because they are more greedy than others (white collar criminals?). I wonder how much of this laziness/greediness could be genetically determined, or if it is somewhat genetically programmed into all of us.  In fact, scientists are now finding evidence of this (see HERE and HERE).

My observation of cats in the neighborhood has lead me wonder whether ALL cats would be thieves if they weren’t fed by their owners.

Therefore, what keeps ALL humans from becoming thieves? Rather than asking the question who is likely to become a criminal (in human society), perhaps we should seek to understand this question  by asking instead, what KEEPS people from taking the easy route of becoming a thief/criminal? Instead of asking who cheats and why, maybe we should be asking, “Why doesn’t EVERYONE cheating/lying/stealing? What keeps those of us who are law-abiding citizens, so?”

I wonder if the answer lies in the environment.  Instead of saying that the environment causes criminality, perhaps the reverse is actually closer to the truth.  Perhaps we would all be criminals, except for if we have a positive environment which, as we are raised, gives us POSITIVE REWARDS (such as RESPECT or ADMIRATION) for becoming law-abiding citizens.  Those who grow up in impoverished environments (or cultural environments) where they never experience these rewards, are unlikely to become honest and law-abiding.

What do others think?

Middle Eastern Student Shares REAL Reasons Behind Anti-American Protests

September 21, 2012

Anti-U.S. Protests in Pakistan

The Arab World does not hate America because of their materialistic culture, their television programs, or their freedoms.  It’s not about that.  The real reasons behind the anti-American protests come down to an imbalance of power between the United States and the Arab World.

This week, one of my students commented on the recent violence occurring in reaction to the anti-Islamic video and the French caricatures.  She expressed a viewpoint which has merit, but which I have not seen reported elsewhere.  Quoting my student:

“The Muslims feel in competition with the West.  They feel that they have to be better, on top, the winners.  Every time the West does something, even on television, Arabs feel they have to compete.  For example, when America created the show America’s Got Talent, the Arab World created Arabs Who Have Talent.  When the West created The Voice (with Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton) the Arab World created The Voice in the Arab World.  To copy American Idol, they created Arab Idol.  They copy every single thing!  They always feel in competition with America, because they feel America hates them, and does not like Arabs.  They always feel they have to be the best, but particularly better than America, most of all.”

Egyptian Winner of Arab Idol

My student also explained that the reason Muslim populations always take the side against the United States in international disputes is that they feel the REASON America doesn’t help Palestine is because they are Muslim, and that they help Israel because they are Jewish.  (Of course, not every person believes this, but generally speaking, it is quite commonly believed, even among the well-educated.)   “Here,” my student said, “they always take the side against America because they believe America doesn’t help Palestine because they are Muslim; they help Israel because they are Jewish.”

Today I watched to see what the reaction in third-world countries would be to the second print-run of the French caricatures.  Surprisingly, I found only very minor protests against France, and continued protests against the U.S., such as mobs burning the U.S. flag and pictures of President Obama in Pakistan.

Why were the protests against France so feeble, while weeks after the YouTube video, the protests against America continue so strongly?

A BBC interview with Pakistanis, on the streets of Lahore following the protest, also supports this same point-of-view my student had.  The BBC asked, “Where is all the anger coming from?  Is it all over a low-budget movie, or is it something else?”  Half of the respondents said it was because of hurt feelings over religious insults, while the other half said something different:

“They’re not just angry because of the movie.  They have their personal political issues, their personal problems.  They are angry about the wars (U.S. power in the region).”

“Whenever the powerful countries try to take over the resources of the weaker countries (how America is perceived in the entire Middle East), obviously the people living in those countries will try to protect their rights, and try to protect their resources.  Every country should have equal rights with every other country (angry about lack of power).”

“They are angry over poverty and unemployment.  There are many rich people and very poor people, and the difference is very great.  They are angry because they don’t have enough food, and mostly because they don’t have enough power.  So they are not just angry because of a simple movie.

Basically it comes down to a question of power.  Those who are choosing to protest actually have underlying anger issues at the United States that go far beyond the YouTube film.  What they are angry about is the imbalance of power–that the United States seems so overwhelmingly more powerful than the Muslim countries, and the Arab World.  There were comparatively few protests against France  because France does not have the same overwhelming power and influence when compared to Muslim countries.

At the end of my discussion with my student, I asked, “So, what you are saying is that the only way to get the Arab World to stop protesting against America  is to stop helping Israel, and to become weak (at least weak enough to be no threat to the Arab World)?”

“Exactly!” my student replied.

–Lynne Diligent

Is “Handwriting without Tears” a Good Program?

August 1, 2012

The Handwriting without Tears curriculum  is currently being implemented in many schools throughout the United States.  Is it a good program?  I have been asked to give my opinion.

I am an expert teacher of handwriting, and have over 20 years of experience in teaching both printing and cursive at both the Kindergarten and Grade Three levels.  So the opinions below are my impressions from what I can gather about the program from the Handwriting without Tears website and from online information (at present I live and teach overseas, and have not seen or used the program myself, nor ever heard of it, before being asked for my opinion).

This Program Directly Addresses a Major Problem

One of the main problems with teaching handwriting (both printing and cursive) is that most current teachers have never had any instruction themselves in how to teach these skills.  This program takes students from Pre-Kindergarten through Fifth Grade.  It appears that the program is well-thought-out in terms of appropriate motor skills for preschoolers.  Specifically, it appears that the program TEACHES THE TEACHERS HOW TO TEACH IT.

In order to teach cursive writing well, teachers need to be more competent and confident in their skills than this

In order to teach cursive writing well, teachers need to be more competent and confident in their skills than this

It is not so important which program is used in teaching handwriting (although I personally found D’Nealian more difficult than other styles to teach well).  The important thing is, does the TEACHER feel confident in his or her own handwriting skills, and with the methods to be used in communicating and practicing those skills with students?  These days, most teachers do not feel confident with these skills (either because they were never taught as students themselves to the point of mastery, or because they had no instruction in how to teach it, and they don’t remember it from when they were young).  This program DIRECTLY addresses these problems, which I would say is a big plus.

The other big plus with this program is that all teachers in the same school are being trained in use of the SAME program.  It can be frustrating and confusing for students when they go from class-to-class, and each new teacher has a completely different type, standard, method, and approach to teaching handwriting.  So this factor is especially helpful for students.

Handwriting Standards By Grade Level

This programs sets in place standards to be achieved between Kindergarten and Fourth Grade.  Frankly, these standards do look a bit low to me, speaking as a veteran teacher of many years.  However, their video (on home page) mentions that the program only takes ten minutes a day.  Looking at it from this perspective, the standards are good.

Writing Style

Printing Style for “Handwriting without Tears” (as found on the internet).

This printing style is the same as traditional printing, as it was taught before D’Nealian style (slanted, with tails on the ends of letters, which most probably CREATED all the handwriting “tears”).  This vertical block printing is both the most legible, easiest to master for the student, and easiest to teach for the teacher.

Desk strips in the new “Handwriting without Tears” cursive style.

I do not like the new Handwriting without Tears cursive style at all; in fact, I find it quite ugly.  It is completely vertical, and devoid of both lead-in strokes or tails (lead-in strokes are used in the traditional cursive methods, while tails replaced lead-in strokes in more recent methods such as D’Nealian).  My thoughts are that the vertical style was adopted in this method to do away with the need to turn the paper.  Slant is not very difficult to master on a sheet of paper, but is nearly impossible in a workbook, such as is used in this program (and other recent programs).  No doubt a simplified style was adopted to help students with dysgraphia.

Conclusion

In recent years, it seems that the major problem in teaching handwriting has not been whether the students learn cursive at school; it has been whether the students’ writing is legible at all!

Speaking as a veteran expert cursive (and printing) teacher, looking through the program, it seems very expensive with many unnecessary bells and whistles (expensive manipulative and workbook materials and expensive workshops).  None of these things are at all necessary to teach cursive effectively.

Preschool manipulatives for the Handwriting without Tears program.

For teachers who have no idea how to teach cursive, and who have never been taught, this program does offer good support.  The use of manipulative materials can be fun for students and give new teachers of handwriting confidence in what they are doing.  (I was fortunate to recall how I was taught as a child; I also had the support of another cursive teaching expert, a generation older than myself, who still happened to be teaching in the same school).

Overall, I would come down in favor of this program because it addresses the following issues:

1.)  Handwriting instruction IS being given to students, with a focus on at least achieving legibility.

2.)  Teachers ARE being given good support and training.

3.)   The program seems to be well-thought-out over several years, and all teachers in the same school are being asked to use the same teaching methods, and same style of printing and cursive.

4.)   The program maintains an emphasis on the positive and fun aspects of handwriting, with students and parents,  through use of manipulatives, and by working only ten minutes a day (according to the video.

–Lynne Diligent

How to Help Students Improve Their Topic Sentences

June 8, 2012

Writing a good topic sentence is surprisingly still a problem for many middle-school students. Students usually have one of two problems. The first problem is that many students write an incomplete phrase as a topic sentence, putting a period at the end. These students are confusing titles and topic sentences. The second problem is that the topic sentence students write is not general enough to the whole paragraph and should really be another supporting sentence.  This post will only deal with a solution to the first problem.

I discovered an easy one-on-one method to help students work on the problem of confusing title phrases with topic sentences. I suggest having a long list of about fifty simple essay titles prepared. Point out that titles are not complete sentences. Ask the student who has trouble to change the title phrase into a complete sentence. Many students will immediately change it into a question. While a question can be used as a topic sentence, I don’t them use questions, because this doesn’t solve their basic problem; it allows them to get around their basic problem.

If the student just cannot change the title into a declarative topic sentence, then help him. Give him three or four examples; then move on to the next example. This technique works even better with two or more students in a small group. Ideally, the group should be composed ONLY of students who have the same problem. (It’s of no help to anyone to be placed in a competitive group–or class–with others whose level of competence far exceeds their own.)

Points can be kept with a tally-mark system of who can come up with the best topic sentence. I also give students a chance to change and adjust their answers (after hearing another child’s answer) before I choose whose answer is best. If they are all equally good, I give points to each child.

Here are two examples:

Title 1: How Technology Affects People’s Lives

Example Topic Sentences:

A. Technology affects people’s lives in many ways.

B. We would be lost without technology in modern life.

C. Technology can have either a positive or negative influence on our lives.

Title 2: Comic-Book Heroes

Example Topic Sentences:

A. My life as a child was filled with comic-book heroes.

B.  Comic-book heroes inspire us in real life.

C.  Real-life heroes are better than comic-book heroes.

The second student problem, that of using as a topic sentence one which should really be a supporting sentence is a little more difficult to solve, and requires more one-on-one work in a different approach.

–Lynne Diligent

A Health Problem in North African Schools and Society?

May 16, 2012
Typical American school restroom for primary-school girls

Typical American school restroom for primary-school girls

As an American teacher living in North Africa, I was complaining to a public-school teacher friend in the same country about my perception of lack of adequate toilet facilities for girls in the international school where I taught previously.

I said that we only had had only four girls’ toilet stalls for four classes of girls.  Each elementary-school class had about 30 children, and about half of those were girls, so we had four toilets for about 60 girls.

The problem was that for several months, two of those toilets WEREN’T WORKING.  For more than two months, ONLY ONE TOILET WAS WORKING.  (For reference, current American law requires that for students over five years old, one toilet needs to be provided for every 20 pupils.)

My friend began to laugh, and told me that in his small-town school of 1600 students (approximately 1,000 boys and 600 girls), there were only three toilets for girls, and three toilets for boys!

No wonder my own school didn’t view getting the toilets repaired quickly as a problem in need of urgent remedy!

Modern school bathrooms in the United Kingdom (England)

Lurking in the background is a behavior assumption which is still unclear to me.  I have been told by some in North Africa that it’s “not polite” to use the restroom (toilet) anywhere other than one’s own home (or relatives’ home).  Yet when I asked other people, they haven’t heard of any such “rule.”

This is the type of toilet found in most schools (public and private), but as you can imagine, they are not nearly this clean.

Many public toilet facilities are unclean, but the cleanliness issue is not the subject of this post.  The AVAILABILITY of toilets, and whether or not it is socially acceptable to use them, is the topic.

When I go out with my North African husband, and we are away from home for several hours, I think it’s normal to need to find a restroom.  But my husband gets very upset and complains that “other people don’t need to use the bathroom” and that I “must be drinking too much water” or that it’s “embarrassing” for HIM if I need to find a restroom!  I wondered if this is normal, or just my husband?

When I mentioned to a North African woman friend that my husband didn’t want to take me to a musical event in the evening which he goes to regularly, and I mentioned that the reason he gave was that I said I would certainly need a bathroom during the course of the evening (8-10-hour event), she immediately agreed, “Oh, yes, that would be a big problem!”

The type of evening musical event which my husband and friend indicated would be “a problem” to take me to (if I should need a bathroom).

Doctors in North Africa have told me often over the years that people here don’t drink enough water.  On the other hand, both men and women over the years have told me, “Yes, it’s true all the doctors say to drink more water, but I don’t do it because then I would need to go to the bathroom!”

At this large music festival in Morocco, I wonder what all these people are doing about finding a restroom–are they all “waiting all day, until they get home?”

My North African husband drinks very little water (he tells me he drinks about half a glass once a week).  He does drink Coke, juices, coffee, and milk, but not much (by the standard of drinking one-and-a-half liters of liquid a day–and doctors recommend at least a liter of that be water, or four glasses a day–in America, we are told to drink eight glasses of water a day).

All of the above is similar to a problem I once experienced with a Greek lady in America, where my best friend was Greek.  My friend’s grandmother was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, and I offered to take the grandmother out for an afternoon in order to give his mother a break from her care-taking duties.  During the afternoon we went to a movie, and had been gone from home for about three hours.  In the middle of the movie, the grandmother got up and walked out.  I assumed she must need the restroom (she was losing her ability to communicate in English), so I took her there.  But she did NOT need it.

Later, when we got home, my friend’s mother said that in her entire life, she had NEVER seen her mother use a public restroom, that in fact, her mother (who came from Greece at the age of 18) could “hold it all day.”  Being born in America herself, she said she could not figure out how her mother could do that.  (Like North Africans, she probably was purposely not drinking any water.)

Women’s public restroom in American movie theater

So now that I live in North Africa, I wonder if this could be a Mediterranean-wide idea.  Is it that WOMEN shouldn’t use a restroom in a public place, or is it that NO ONE should use a restroom in a public place?  Is this why schools seem to think many restroom stalls aren’t necessary for children?

In most schools here, students go to school for four hours, then go home for lunch, and then come back for an additional four hours.  However, at the schools in the countryside, students are often walking 6-7 kilometers to school (4 miles) each direction, and certainly would not be walking “home” for lunch.  What are they supposed to do?

At our international school we kept foreign hours from 8:30 am – 3:30 pm, but it was still a half-hour drive for most people to-and-from school.  Believe me, it took a lot of time (when we should have been teaching) to get all the girls through the restroom when there was only one working toilet.

I hope I will have some feedback on this issue from men and women in North Africa and the Mediterranean areas, as well as from anyone experiencing any similar problems in their schools or otherwise!

–Lynne Diligent

Part II: The Shocking Truth about Children’s Eating in England and America

May 5, 2012

Children are picky eaters–it’s normal.  In the past, children would have eaten junk food if it were available–but it just wasn’t widely available.  Fast food restaurants are not to blame.  Society, which expects parents to work 60-hour weeks, is to blame.

In American society, where we have no maids or help at home, nor extended families to help out, fast food and pre-prepared food (which can just be reheated, or served as is from the store container) is the solution to a time-crunch problem (see Part I of of this series). What’s different today, from in the past, is that with the proliferation of junk food everywhere, parents at home and nutritionists at school have basically given up trying to force children to eat healthy food.  Gone are the rules of sitting at the table until vegetables are eaten, or (proper portion sized) plates are cleaned.

Package of chicken nuggets, which can just be opened and reheated. Chicken nuggets aren’t even real pieces of chicken, which is why children complain if parents try to make them at home using real chicken. (In fact, as Jamie Oliver demonstrated to children, they are made out of pureed chicken scraps (mostly skin, fat, and a tiny bit of meat) left over on the carcass after all the meat has been cut off. They are an invention of the food processing industry to see how much money can be salvaged from the last bit of waste.

Parents no longer have the time or energy to make or enforce such rules, much less to cook fresh vegetables from scratch.  But sadly, most of these children are not even being served the delicious frozen vegetable combinations that children of the 60s and 70s grew up with.

It seems that family meals are now a thing of the past in the majority of households.  With everyone “grabbing what they can on the run,” or “eating whenever they feel like it on different schedules,” as well as everyone working on their own computers in different rooms, family mealtime doesn’t even exist in many homes any more.

British Chef Jamie Oliver, known for making fresh produce accessible to all.

When I saw Jamie Oliver’s School Dinners, which showed children in England who didn’t know the names of common vegetables (such as potato and tomato) I just couldn’t believe it.  But to my surprise, in his next program, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, Jamie came to America and showed us American children who did not know the same common vegetables!  But all of these children knew what French Fries and ketchup were–they just didn’t know anything about potatoes and tomatoes.

English Chef Jamie Oliver, who emphasizes fresh produce and its health benefits, showed us both British and American school children who did not know what tomatoes and potatoes were.

In America, in the 1960s and early 70s, we still had healthy, well-balanced lunches at school.  These were all planned on a monthly basis, and published in advance so everyone could decide whether to eat the hot lunch, or bring a lunch from home.

Let’s take a look at those lunches.  All included a protein, a green vegetable, sometimes a yellow vegetable, a fruit, a roll (bread), and a dessert.  The green vegetables were sometimes cooked spinach, cooked green beans, cooked peas, or something similar.  The typical fruit was a few pieces of canned apricot, canned peach, or canned applesauce.  Sometimes the desserts were two cookies, and a brownie.  Students went through one cafeteria line, and everyone was served the same healthy lunch.  Pizza might be served once a month, and hot dogs might be served once a month.  Those were very popular days.   Macaroni and cheese might be served twice a month, and red spaghetti with meatballs might be served twice a month with a small bit a fresh salad.  The only drink given was a small carton of milk, and once a week, students were given the choice to have chocolate milk.

tacos for school lunches

While this is a modern lunch tray in a school which obviously cares, I’m certain that the majority of kids drink the chocolate milk and eat the taco, while throwing away the rest. This was true in the 60s and 70s, and it is why so many schools have done away with trying to serve things that kids won’t eat (vegetables and fruits).

So what actually happened to these lunches?  Did students eat these healthy lunches?  Not generally.  The meat or chicken and mashed potatoes with gravy,were generally eaten.  A few kids ate the canned fruit, but more threw it out.  Hardly anyone touched the green vegetables because canned green vegetables generally do not taste good, are overcooked, and often stringy, and canned spinach is pretty disgusting.  some kids ate the fresh salad, but more did not.  So roughly 50 percent of the food was thrown away into the bins every day.  Parents and school districts lamented all the wasted food, as well as the cost of all of it.

Were we taught about nutrition in those days at school, and at home?  Of course we were.  Most mothers were cooking healthy, balanced meals and teaching their children about the four food groups, as well as pointing out those groups on the plate when they were served.  Most people were eating properly-sized servings at home and remained at a healthy weight.

The four food groups, as taught in the 1960s and 1970s.

Families went to a nice restaurant about once or twice a month, and to inexpensive or fast-food restaurants no more than twice a month.  No one bought pre-prepared food at supermarkets, in fact, supermarkets did not yet sell that.  Many mothers did use frozen vegetables, which were of higher eating quality than canned vegetables.  But more people ate canned vegetables because they were cheaper.

The generation before that, most people were still canning vegetables at home in winter, and fresh produce in summer.   I still remember my mother talking about growing up in Colorado during the 1930s, where getting ONE orange in the Christmas stocking was considered a worthy gift from Santa Claus.  Fresh fruit was still expensive and rare, especially during winter.  By the 60s and 70s, few people were still doing that.  Those who could afford it began using high-quality frozen foods to reduce food preparation time, and those who could not afford it ate canned vegetables.   Fresh foods were available, but they were not in as wide variety as they are today, and they were always expensive.

Did all of this make us eat our vegetables at school, or even like them?  Of course not.  Because of the disgusting quality of the canned green vegetables at school, many people got turned off green vegetables for life.

Cooked spinach, served directly out of a can on a lunch tray is disgusting to most people, particularly children.

This is why you still find many men in their 50s and older who still won’t eat their vegetables!  (Women eat more vegetables because they are still more concerned with meal planning and the health of their families.)

When I was four, I was a very picky eater and refused even to eat things like steak.   Only by the time I was in high school did I  come to appreciate the good-quality foods my parents forced me to eat at home.  In those days, the concept of “children’s foods” and “adult foods” did not exist.  Children were served, and expected to eat, the same foods as adults.  Many children of today never learn to appreciate these good, fresh foods.

Most children are picky eaters, and if left to their own devices, will always choose a junk-food diet.  The difference is that when that junk food is not available anywhere, most children do eventually learn to appreciate healthy foods.  The problem with many of today’s children, as exemplified in the television program Jamie’s School Dinners, which can be seen HERE, is that with today’s proliferation of junk food, adults have given up and started serving children the junk food they crave–not as an occasional treat, but as their regular fare.

Unhealthy lunch tray that many kids crave.

Typical school diets in England of pizza and chips (French Fries), according to a nutritionist who analyzed the meals, lack even minimal vitamin C and iron; these diets also promote heart disease, diabetes, and cancer,” she says.  All the problems being treated in the National Health Service come back to what we are feeding our children.”   This means that they will most likely never learn to appreciate good food, and wind up with poor health in middle age, as a result.

This is happening in America, this is happening in England, this is happening in the third world.  It is even happening where I live now, in North Africa.   In North Africa, in the upper-middle-class school where I taught, where students bring lunches from home, parents often send healthy lunches, including salads with many fresh vegetables and even three or four pieces of fresh fruit.  However, many other parents send white bread and french fries, sometimes with cooked ground beef, a whole sack or can of potato chips (crisps), sugary drinks, and a whole sack of cookies.  Most of the kids who eat like the latter are overweight, and of course share their junk food with their friends.  So many of the kids bringing healthy lunches don’t eat their healthy food (a few do) and instead eat the junk food their friends bring.  Before 1999, this junk food wasn’t even available, but with the first supermarkets opening, a much wider variety of processed products became widely available.  Now that many more women are being educated and working outside the home, they no longer have time to make the home-cooked meals typical of North African cuisine, especially in the larger cities.

So what is to be done?  If families care for the health of their children, they should make an effort to prepare home-cooked meals at least a few times a week.  Most importantly, YOUNG children (starting at age two or three) need to be INVOLVED in the food preparation.

Teach children how to help prepare vegetables while they are still young enough to be interested.

Yes, it’s trouble for the adults, but this is the age (before 7) when they are interested and want to listen to their parents’ ideas.  By age 8-9 it’s the very last chance.  By age 10-11, peer pressure has completely taken over.  It’s too late.  They will only be interested in assisting you to make their favorite junk-food dishes.  At preschool ages, they love learning about fruits and vegetables, and different ways to prepare them.  Make the most of this chance if you have young children.  If you give them an appreciation for good food when they are young, even if they later go heavily into junk food, they will come back to an appreciation of good food in their 20s, as they have money to start enjoying nice restaurants, and as they start their own families and think about the health of their own children.

–Lynne Diligent

Part I:  Devaluation of Support Roles at Home is Driving the Increase in Junk Food Consumption