Sometimes I get a reader comment which merits a full post in response. Such is the case with two comments (and later, a third) submitted by reader “bw1″ to last week’s cupcake post, “A Passionate Dad Defends the In-Class Birthday Treat, and I Respond.”
In essence, bw1 feels it’s my job to instill in my children the willpower to resist classroom treats rather than asking the school to remove those treats. And bw1 is not the first reader to make this argument. Right after I started this blog, a “libertarian” mom wrote in response to my post “Outing Myself” (wherein I lamented my hypocrisy for hating the in-class birthday treat but bringing them nonetheless):
Personally, I aim to be the kind of mother who speaks with authority and raises children who listen. Asking my legislators to assist me, because I don’t want to be the “mean” parent, seems terribly weak.
Before I address the “backbone” argument, let me first reprint the first two of bw1′s comments here. (For clarity, where bw1 is quoting text written by me, I use italics):
“But my question to him is, is there a legitimate reason why some parents no longer want their kids eating a cupcake at school every time a classmate has a birthday…. ?”
Interesting question, but completely irrelevant. If you don’t want your kid eating those cupcakes, then it’s YOUR JOB as a parent to instill that in your kid. It’s not the rest of the world’s job to eliminate opportunities for your kid to sin against your wishes.
Let’s look at the “no longer” part, as if the concerns of some new-age anti-sugar parents represent some new an novel issue never see before, which can’t possibly be addressed within the context of liberty known in past generations. I have news for you, it’s nothing new. I spent my entire K-12 career knowing that, during Lent, I was not to eat meat on Fridays, and although numerous opportunities presented themselves at school, from lunch trading to cafeteria offerings, etc. my parents managed to somehow teach me priorities such that I abstained. Similarly, my Jewish classmates never availed themselves of all the traife that was available.
What astounds me is the conceit with which you assume the rest of society must be constrained to protect your children from any temptation to deviate from your dietary beliefs. What makes you think the public schools should serve as your personal food inquisition?
Then bw1 checked out my earlier post, “The Birthday Cupcake Debate Heats Up,” and added this comment:
Just took a look at one of the other posts that you said addressed these concerns, and your logic there wasn’t any more impressive:
“To me, cupcakes in school are a lot like second-hand smoke.”
Because abstaining from an available cupcake is as deadly as not breathing, right?
But why should I be put in the position of asking that of a seven year old, glassy-eyed with envy as 24 of his peers sit around him, licking cupcake frosting off their fingers?”
1.- as you approvingly quoted, “. . . if you go with the flow in America today, you will end up overweight or obese.” Thus, the ONLY HOPE your child has for a non-obese life is learning to resist peer pressure and that it is possible to survive being the odd man out.
2.- Just saying no to the cupcake lays the groundwork for just saying no to the cigarette, and later the joint, that your child WILL be offered at some point in his school career.
3.- maybe you might want your kid to develop some character and backbone to do what’s right.
4.-in 8 years or so, you’re going to want your kid to be able to resist something FAR more tempting than a cupcake, which many of his peers are enjoying, so that you don’t end up a premature grandmother.
Newsflash – a sizable number of the world’s religions involve dietary restrictions that fall outside the secular American mainstream. MILLIONS of parents whose faith placed them in the position of not just asking, but demanding under pain of grounding or even corporal punishment, that their grade school children abstain from what others are enjoying, have still raised well adjusted kids who’ve gone on to be productive, contributing members of society.
Similarly, this is nothing more than you wanting your kid to conform to your beliefs. Sorry, but that’s no more society’s job than teaching them to say a rosary.
Here’s my response to bw1 and other readers who share the same views:
Thanks for your comments on these posts. Without oversimplifying, I think I can fairly boil down both comments to two key ideas:
- It’s my job — and mine alone — to teach my child to resist the cupcake, and it’s “not the rest of the world’s job to eliminate opportunities [my] kid to sin* against [my] wishes.”
- It’s ridiculous for me to compare a cupcake to second-hand smoke; only “some new-age anti-sugar parent” could possibly care about an innocuous cupcake.
Assuming that’s a fair recap, let’s take each point in turn.
Don’t Remove Temptation – Instill Backbone
I wholeheartedly agree that it’s my job as a parent to instill in my child whatever values he’ll need to resist the many temptations life will throw in his path. You mention several of these as examples: junk food, cigarettes, drugs/alcohol and unprotected sex.
However, it’s quite notable that with respect to every one of the public health concerns you hold up as examples, schools are already serving as active partners to assist parents in their efforts. Almost every public school district in America, through its health/hygiene curriculum, tries to inculcate students with anti-smoking and anti-drug/alcohol messages, offers a modicum of nutrition education, provides mandatory physical education and promotes either abstinence alone or provides sex education with an underlying abstinence message.
That this health education is taking place at all points up the rather obvious fact that the school environment is not the equivalent of the world at large. Outside the school walls, the world is very much a free-for-all and children will certainly need plenty of “backbone” to navigate it safely. But inside the schoolhouse, society quite deliberately picks and chooses which messages it wishes to convey to its children and the values it hopes to instill.
Were that not the case, following your manner of thinking to its (admittedly absurd but perfectly logical) extreme, what would be wrong with teachers handing out cigarettes, drugs, pornography, weapons etc. in the classroom and trusting that each parent had done a good enough job at home to teach children to resist? What would be wrong with a teacher indoctrinating children to commit acts of terror, if parents had instilled sufficient “backbone” in their children to reject those messages?
We are concerned about what happens in the classroom because our children are quite literally captive to all that takes place there for the majority of their waking hours during the most formative years of their lives. We care very much about what is taught, and about who is teaching it, and, yes, even what food is made available there, because we know that young children, despite all the best efforts expended at home, are inherently impressionable and do not always have the “backbone” to act as we hope in the face of powerful teacher influence, peer pressure and primitive bodily urges (like the desire to eat a cupcake).
Now, as already noted, it’s patently absurd to compare offering a child a birthday cupcake to encouraging him to blow up a building. But this leads to the second of your two arguments.
Is That Little Cupcake Really Worthy of Concern?
In your comment, you imply that only the “new age, anti-sugar parent” could care about a cupcake in the first place. But sadly, bw1, it’s not my kooky “new-age” thinking that’s necessitating larger school desks to accommodate overweight and obese children. (Really, could any development be more emblematic of the problem at hand?) We are in the midst of an alarming and well-documented public health crisis, one that affects one-third of our children and two-thirds of our adults, that weakens our economy and our national security — and which will almost certainly cause the premature death of a large swath of this generation of Americans.
And it’s a crisis that simply did not exist while you were admirably exercising your firm backbone, avoiding meat on Fridays back in the day. Something categorically different is going on in today’s schools, a seismic shift that affects all children, not just those few with a religiously-restricted diet (and not even just those who are overweight, as a steady diet of junk food has adverse health effects other than obesity).
In the face of draconian budget cuts, many cash-strapped schools around the country currently: rely on daily fast food and junk food fundraisers (at some Houston ISD high schools, there is a veritable “food court” set up each day by student and parent groups selling fast food); operate junk-food-stocked school stores to fund extracurricular activities; advertise sugary cereal and junk food on the sides of school buses; offer foods like fried chip nachos and bright blue slushies in their own cafeterias as so-called “competitive food” to drive profits; let corporations selling junk food co-opt the educational process and infiltrate the halls, classrooms and sports fields with their advertising; and sell off their “pouring rights” to the highest beverage company bidder. And even apart from the financial incentives to offer junk food, there are still the well-meaning teachers who offer candy as a reward for good behavior or correct answers, and, yes, there is this custom of allowing sugary birthday treats, which in a crowded classroom (again, budget cuts) can mean that 1/6 of the school year = Cupcake Day.
I suppose you will say that even in a junk-food-rich school environment like this, we must still demand “backbone” from our kids. But why on earth should we have to do that? Why can’t our schools be a trusted ally in raising the next generation well, rather than yet one more battleground for parents already outmatched by the almost two billion dollars a year in the direct advertising of junk food advertising to their children; by a fast food outlet on every corner; by highly processed food, chemically engineered as never before to make every synapse fire in delight; by the dance teacher, soccer coach or even fellow soccer mom who “fuels up” our little athletes with Oreos and Capri Sun; and by a host of other obstacles which I can assure you your own parents didn’t have to contend with?
Finally, I’d like to turn to my original post in which I compared the serving of a cupcake to my child without my consent to exposing him to second-hand smoke. I wrote there:
To me, cupcakes in school are a lot like second-hand smoke. Sure, you have the right to light up a cigarette at will, but you don’t have the right to do it in an elevator where I have no means of escape. Similarly, when my kid is sitting in school he’s entirely captive to what goes on there. And when you bring your two dozen cupcakes to class, you might be inadvertently violating all sorts of things I care about with respect to my child and how I choose to raise him.
You’ve needled me a bit in your comment by writing with sarcasm:
Because abstaining from an available cupcake is as deadly as not breathing, right?
But that’s not quite fair, is it, bw1? Because you conveniently omitted my own qualification to the second-hand smoke analogy contained in that same post:
Now, I can already hear you saying two things. One, a cupcake isn’t a deadly agent like cigarette smoke. That’s certainly true and I like a good cupcake as much as anybody – maybe more. But lately . . . I feel like I just don’t have the luxury of viewing any individual treat in a vacuum anymore. . . . [I]n today’s world, is a cupcake just a cupcake? Or do we have to view it in the context of an American child’s entire lifestyle, which is likely to be relatively sedentary, rich in highly processed, sugary, salty and fatty foods, with frequent, unnecessary snacking and all the rest?
As everything I’ve just laid out illustrates, there has been such a radical shift in the food environment of today’s children that, as one TLT commenter, Traceh, so succinctly put it, it is “NEVER just one cupcake” anymore.
Thanks for reading TLT and commenting on the blog. If you wish to reply, we can continue the discussion in the comments section of this post.
* = bw1′s use of “sin” in this context is intriguing. I can assure him/her that my opposition to junk food in schools is neither a religious nor moral crusade, but simply borne out of concern for children’s health.
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