â€œMy momâ€™s the best cook in town; her hamburgers are out of this world!â€
â€œNo, my momâ€™s the best; you should try her apple pie!â€
So it has been from time immemorial.Â But if a current trend continues, thatâ€™s changing.Â Soon the boast will be, â€œMy school serves better dinners than your school!â€Â â€œNo it doesnâ€™t!â€ And so on.
According to a 19 Feb 2012 AP article, “The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act,” signed into law by President Barack Obama in December 2010, provides federal funds for the after-school dinner program in areas where at least half the students qualify for free or reduced price lunches…. The Congressional Budget Office estimates there will be almost 21 million additional suppers served by 2015 and that number will rise to 29 million by 2020.â€
The rationale is understandable.Â Lots of kids donâ€™t get anything to eat at home, or at least, not anything healthy.Â If theyâ€™re hungry in the evening, they wonâ€™t be able to concentrate on their homework, and if they go to bed hungry, they wonâ€™t sleep well, and they wonâ€™t be attentive in school the next day.
Similar rationales have been used for other meals.Â Lots of schoolkids couldnâ€™t go home for lunch, so they brown-bagged their lunches to school.Â But to make sure kids got a hot meal at noon, the federal government initiated a hot lunch program of federally-subsidized noon meals.Â Some kids at my school bought them, but most of us preferred the sandwiches our mothers packed for us.
Then school officials started complaining that kids werenâ€™t eating breakfast at home, so they came to school hungry and unable to concentrate.Â So several decades ago the federal government began subsidizing school breakfasts.
And now supper as well.
At the risk of being labeled anti- healthy, hunger-free kids, I respectfully object.
Yes, I can trot the usual catechism of objections:Â Nothing in the U.S. Constitution authorizes any federal involvement in education except for military training, and this program adds more millions to our already-staggering deficit.Â However, the same can be said of many federal programs.
But this involves something more.Â Providing meals is a function of the family, and meal-time is or should be a family occasion.Â Now that family function is being usurped by the public school â€“ first lunch, then breakfast, and now supper as well â€“ and please pardon my language; I donâ€™t mean to get into the regional and cultural dispute as to whether the evening meal is â€œdinnerâ€ or â€œsupper.â€
Increasingly, the public school is replacing the church and the family as the social and cultural and educational center of our childrenâ€™s lives.Â As Sidney Mead wrote half a century ago,
Of necessity the state in its public education system is and always has been teaching religion. …the public schools in the United States took over one of the basic responsibilities that traditionally was always assumed by an established church.Â In this sense the public school system of the United States is its established church.
In this context one can understand why it is that the religion of many Americans is democracy â€“ why their real faith is the “democratic faith” â€“ the religion of the public schools.
Sidney Mead, The Lively Experiment, the Shaping of Christianity in America (Harper & Row 1963) 68.
So whatâ€™s next?Â Evening athletics and social activities (oh, thatâ€™s right, we already have that several nights per week), and evening study halls for those not involved in athletics?Â Bedtime snacks to make sure kids sleep better?Â As Rush Limbaugh asked, â€œWhy even send the kids home?â€
If the family is to be preserved as the basic unit of society, we need to carefully watch these trends.