Everyone remembers the rectangular pizzas of their public school days. The McRib equivalent. The tater tots. Public school lunches did not come into being in the broad sense until the early 20th century with the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. In the 19th century boarding school students received meals but urban and rural schools were either sent home for lunch or were required to bring their lunch to eat at the school if they lived too far away to make it home and back in time. With a greater focus on child psychology, sociology, and welfare in the early 20th century schools sought to even the playing field in terms of what children received nutritionally. Although the offerings in public schools have changed over time, scientists and social groups have always argued about what constitutes a nutritional lunch.

Childhood obesity is on the rise, and the Sauron eye is now focused on the effect that school lunch might be having on the epidemic. As is the case with many other aspects of current educational reform, blame needed to be placed on something in the public school lunch menu in order to distract from the greater problems, i.e. underfunding, urban vs. suburban vs. rural needs, differences in socioeconomic status, etc. In this case we would like to offer up as our sacrifice to the school reform gods: chocolate milk. (As covered by The Washington Post.)

With their added sugars chocolate and other flavored milks have been on the chopping block in several school districts including those in Florida at large and in Los Angeles. The reasoning behind this movement is that if we cut out flavored milk, children will no longer be fat (or less so). However, the statistics show that 70% of the milk that is consumed in schools is flavored, and so some parents and nutritionists are saying that the other nutritious benefits of drinking low- or non-fat milk of any flavor (calcium, vitamin D, protein, etc.) outweigh the the harm of any added sugar (which, by the way replaced old flavored milk which was flavored with high fructose corn syrup in favor of a more natural sweetening agent). Basically the fear is that if you take chocolate milk away, children will not choose regular milk and miss out on the nutritional benefits that they might not otherwise get at home.

The list of official groups which oppose the removal of chocolate milk from school lunches includes the following:

School Nutrition Association
American Academy of Pediatrics
American Dietetic Association
American Heart Association
National Medical Association

But what do they know? Anything sugar is BAD for kids. Get rid of chocolate milk! Kill the witch! Sacrifice the lamb! Make them believe that if they get rid of this, then everything will be okay…until we have to get rid of chocolate pudding. Or the McRib substitute. Or corn. Eventually we could be back to everyone bringing their own lunch which wouldn’t hurt anyone, right? Parents know best! Kids will always get everything they need at home. We have no right to say that parents are not feeding their children well. We just have to trust that it happens!

First chocolate milk. Then other things. Then it’s the end of public school lunch programs.

First it’s performance pay. Then school closures because there are either a) not enough teachers or b) horrible test scores. Then everyone has to attend a charter or private school.

Where does this leave our poor children? Our marginalized children? The families whose only hope is school lunch or free/reduced breakfast?

Some of you may be saying “But this seems like you are overreacting. It’s just chocolate milk. They’ll still offer milk and it’s not as serious as you are making it out to be.” Trust me, in a blog I wrote back in February I made a statement that with cuts to public education and a move to private and charter schools we could see moves to relax child labor laws, because if we cant put them in prison we’ll have to put them to work because a lot of kids won’t qualify for charter schools and families won’t be able to afford private education even with vouchers (which won’t exist anymore if the governments aren’t funding public education). A few weeks after my post Maine governor LePage announced plans to change the child labor laws in order to give kids “more options for their future” (read: we don’t want poor and disadvantaged kids mucking up our schools and our scores so we have to give them someplace else to go).

It starts with chocolate milk. It starts with performance pay. It starts with “hard decisions” that involve cutting education funding before taxes are raised. It starts by offering up “personal choice through vouchers” for senior medical care in lieu of Medicare. Nothing is too small to lead to a collapse of the social services meant to hold up the citizens who might not otherwise be able to hold up themselves. Do not be distracted by the pretty words, the claims that it’s all about YOU and YOUR CHOICES, or that we just want to focus on the CHILDREN! Won’t someone think of the children!! Their words may seem like gold in a new age bringing forth amazing change but not all that glitters is gold. Sometimes it’s just a wet turd shimmering in the sunlight.

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