David Preston

No Such Thing As Free Lunch

Published about 1 month ago • 3 min read

Most Tuesdays I deliver a taste of what I’m reading, watching, and thinking about, right to your inbox. Here’s your Taste of Tuesday.

March 12, 2024

Obesity. Low IQ, math, and reading scores. Behavioral problems. Follow the trail of crumbs…

School cafeterias are poisoning children. Ever since the Nixon-era Department of Education required school cafeterias to cut costs and pay for themselves, and schools started outsourcing food prep, Big Food companies like Aramark, Cisco, and McDonald’s have mass produced garbage for our children to eat and drink. Congress has aided and abetted this by approving ketchup and pizza as vegetables. Now schools provide ultra processed commodities like cereal and OJ that include nearly four times the recommended daily allowance of added sugar.

What does sharing and competing for food and other resources say about human nature? If we’re left to our own devices, will we pursue our own selfish interests and grab what we can until others die or the resources run out? Or are our social systems more complex and less predictable? Are we capable of honoring free will by inventing more collaborative ways of stewarding our environment, the resources in it, and even our relationships with each other? Garett Hardin’s “Tragedy of the Commons” and Elinor Ostrom’s research are juxtaposed here: The Miracle of the Commons.

I read Ostrom after I started teaching collaboratively and people had already started using the term Open-Source Learning. I was delighted to discover that an academician of her caliber was writing about phenomena that seemed familiar in my experience but rare in the literature. My observations were consistent with Ostrom’s; when I trusted students and treated them as learners, colleagues even, hell did not actually break loose. They did some very amazing things, and over time the extraordinary became ordinary.

That’s not as hard or even as interesting as it sounds, except that it happened in schools, where powerful forces pressure teachers and students to maintain the status quo.

School cafeterias are a prime example of how we set our students up for failure. When I was a kid my parents made my lunches and I quickly learned to do likewise, because “beefaroni” looked and smelled disgusting. My parents weren’t health food nuts – this was the 70s and early 80s, after all. We still thought margarine was good. I ate Cool Whip by the spoonful.

But I knew enough to avoid the cafeteria.

Open-Source Learning integrates physical fitness because our neurology (and therefore the quality of our thinking and decision-making) requires a lot of energy and depends on our metabolic processes, which in turn depend on getting nutrition.

I understand that it’s difficult for many people to find affordable, accessible, nutritious food. I also understand that teachers have a very difficult time speaking up and doing things differently. That is exactly why we need to have these conversations.

👔 School Is Not Business —

Many academics and policy makers contend that schools should run like businesses. This is horrifyingly bad thinking. School is about learning and helping young people develop, which is a complicated multivariate process that takes decades and is insanely difficult to properly document. Business is about outcomes and bottom lines that can be measured in finite cycles. I started teaching in 1992. That same year, I saw the movie Glengarry Glen Ross. I imagined Alec Baldwin’s (unarmed) classic monologue in a middle school faculty meeting, sounding something like this.

📵 How Parents Can Support Classroom Concentration —

Stop texting your kids while they’re in school.

📺 What I’m Watching (and recommending) —

Several times in this space I have complained about our collective lack of imagination. Why, I have often wondered, do TV and movie studios rely so heavily on previously produced work? Are we just lazy? Nostalgic? I still don’t know, but every once in a while a remake comes along that does the original proud (and has better effects). Such is the case (at least two episodes in) with Shogun, which stands on the shoulders of James Clavell’s 1975 novel and the 1980 Emmy-winning miniseries. From The Guardian: “Strap yourself in for a wild adventure in feudal Japan. This lavish adaptation of the classic samurai novel is beautiful, intellectual fare that amply rewards your full attention.”

🙅‍♂️ What I’m Watching (and recommending you avoid like the plague) —

I don’t know where I got the idea. I don’t know why my wife went along with it. I don’t know why neither of us gonged it after 5 minutes. I don’t know why we watched the whole thing. All I know is that people should get their shit together, Czechoslovakia and South Korea do not a space race make, there is no way you could see a purple cloud from Jupiter hanging around the evening sky on Earth, no one needs to see a big talking spider give Adam Sandler a hug, and I was not then, nor am I now, on nearly enough drugs to enjoy the fact that I sat through the movie Spaceman. That’s all I have to say about that.

🤔 Quote I’m pondering —

"What are clouds, but an excuse for the sky? What is life, but an escape from death?"
― James Clavell, author of Shogun

Thanks for reading, and please feel free to reply to this email. Which bite is your favorite? What would you like to see more or less of? Any other suggestions?

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David Preston

Educator & Author

Latest book: ACADEMY OF ONE

David Preston

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