May 31, 2011
Alternatives to a School Field Trip to In-and-Out Burger
You may recall that my son's school took an official school field trip to In-and-Out Burger as part of their lessons on food distribution chains and economics. I sent a polite but pointed email to the school principal explaining why we were opting-out of that trip. The principal sent me an appropriately polite response to my email and invited our suggestions of alternatives. My wife Lisa sent the principal this email describing what she did with Jacob instead of the In-and-Out Burger field trip:
I just wanted to follow up with you about alternatives to the In-N-Out field trip. Since both the field trip & our decision to pull Jacob was kind of last minute, I didn't have much time to research alternatives. I ended up taking Jacob out for breakfast at Hobee's & while there, discussing the cost of his entree & what went into that. We discussed the expenses restaurants incur (cooks, servers, rent, utilities, etc.); we also touched on the differences between "fast food" restaurants & other types of restaurants as well as regular vs. organic. Then we made notes about the ingredients used in his entree. From there we went over to Trader Joe's and priced out those ingredients (going through the store with a notepad & pen, noting prices, quantities & serving sizes - we didn't actually purchase anything). Then, we came home and calculated the total price, and then did a lot of division to calculate the price of one serving. (BTW, the $8.50 Florentine Scramble at Hobee's can be made at home for $2.83, and that's with about 50% organic ingredients to boot! :-))
The same morning Jacob's class went to In-N-Out, our daughter's class went to Hidden Villa Farm where they saw how crops are raised, eggs are harvested, goats milked & pigs born. I thought that was a nice view into "where food comes from," and since HV also sells commercially, they can also discuss/show how they choose what to produce, how they package, transport, market & price it, etc.
If I'd had more time, I would have looked into possible "behind the scenes" tours from places like Whole Foods Market, the local Farmers Markets, Trader Joe's and other local farms. If you would like me to research these sorts of options further, please let me know.
Lisa's alternative excursion made quite an impression on Jacob. He became especially interested in organic foods, but the cost accounting also seems to have made an impact. Lisa also told me that several people at Hobee's and Trader Joe's overheard her talking to Jacob and gave her unsolicited compliments for her efforts.
In terms of alternatives, I think a visit to Hobee's is a little better educationally than a visit to In-and-Out Burger, but I think both of them are inferior to a trip to where students could get multiple vendor perspectives, such as a farmer's market. I think it would be really neat to hear different farmers at a farmer's market explain why they think their product is superior to their competition and why it's financially advantageous for farmers to sell their product via a farmer's market as opposed to other distribution options. My guess is that the students would never look at Safeway's the same after hearing that.
May 15, 2011
Thoughts About a Second Grade Official School Field Trip to In-N-Out Burger
[Introductory note: next week my son Jacob's class is taking a school-sanctioned field trip to In-N-Out Burger during normal school hours. We have decided not to participate in that field trip. I sent the following email to the school principal explaining this:]
I know you get a lot of gripe emails. This isn't one of them. We love the school and have been super-pleased with the education and other support that Jacob is getting. However, we decided to opt-out of an upcoming field trip and we wanted to explain why. It seems to us that there may be an issue that warrants further scrutiny in future years.
This coming week, Jacob's class is going on a field trip to In-N-Out Burger. [Jacob's teacher] has indicated that the trip has the following pedagogical objectives:
"Students understand basic economic concepts and their individual roles in the economy and demonstrate basic economic reasoning skills.
1. Describe food production and consumption long ago and today, including the roles of farmers, processors, distributors, weather, and land and water resources.
2. Understand the role and interdependence of buyers (consumers) and sellers (producers) of goods and services.
3. Understand how limits on resources affect production and consumption (what to produce and what to consume)."
These are great pedagogical goals, but we're a little confused how a trip to a fast food restaurant advances those goals. It seems like any single vendor is going to extol the virtues of its offerings. Without any critical analysis of those explanations, the vendor's explanation will be impliedly endorsed by the school and treated as credible by students.
This could be especially problematic in the context of fast food restaurants, whose resource allocation practices and efforts to advertise to kids have come under significant criticism; yet unrebutted favorable descriptions of their practices will not yield any insights into those concerns. Jacob is very much still learning how to critically scrutinize marketing claims, and I don't think he is ready to defend himself against such a subtle form of marketing. I suspect most other 2nd graders are about the same place.
Ordinarily, I'd recommend counter-speech as the fix, such as bringing in a critic of fast food restaurant marketing and practices and letting the students decide who they find more convincing. However, that back-and-forth sounds pretty sophisticated for a 2nd grader audience, and certainly it is well outside the lesson plan.
Thus, my wife and I are left wondering (a) if a school-sanctioned field trip to any fast food restaurant actually advances the stated pedagogical goals, (b) if it does, if there are more effective alternatives (my wife Lisa has been researching options and can provide suggestions if that's useful), and (c) even if not, if the risks that the field trip acts as a form of surreptitious marketing to kids outweighs those pedagogical benefits.
Despite all of this, we are not complaining because we've decided to opt Jacob out of the field trip this year. It's a small nuisance to do so, but we understand its our decision, and we are comfortable with that decision. Given that many classes sought to participate in the In-N-Out Burger excursion, I also want to reinforce that we don't intend to criticize [Jacob's teacher] or single her choices out. Instead, we hope that the faculty and administration will review the pros and cons of any fast food restaurant field trip for future years; or if that conversation has already taken place, we'd welcome any further explanation about the deliberations.
Many thanks for listening and for your and your teachers' and staff's hard work and dedication to educating our children. We remain very appreciative.