Back in the stone age, I brought my noon meal to school in a Davy Crockett lunch box. It was made of cheap metal and, had I eaten it, the taste would have been similar to the sandwich inside -- usually bologna or tuna on soggy bread. My mother also included an apple (usually thrown, not ingested) and some Mallomars cookies: 800 calories each.
According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, my standard lunch would not have been acceptable at the Little Village Academy public school in the Windy City. The principal, Elsa Carmona, is quoted as saying that her students can either eat the school cafeteria food or "go hungry." Wow! Tough dietary deal.
Ms. Carmona went on to say that some parents are morons who allow their children to eat garbage, and that is not going to happen on her watch. The Tribune quotes her: "It's about ... the excellent quality food that they are able to [eat here]. It's milk versus Coke."
Many students at the Little Village Academy qualify for free or reduced price lunches. Those who don't, pay $2.25 for a meal. Some parents say that $11.25 for the week is far more than the brown bag lunches cost.
Predictably, Ms. Carmona's edict has caused an outcry, and now she says she was misquoted by the Tribune. Her lunch opinion is not a mandate, just a suggestion, she insists. But this story is not exactly an analysis of the federal budget. It strains credulity that the Trib got it wrong. What most likely happened is that Ms. Carmona got some heat from on high and is backtracking.
About one third of American kids are now overweight, and poorer children are the most likely to be in that category. So, educators are correct to be concerned about the nutritional welfare of their students. Every school should be encouraging good health, right?
But forcing parents to buy school food is going too far. This is nanny state stuff. I know that under President Obama, the nation is heading in that direction, but it is now time to pause and smell the meatloaf. Parents are the primary caregivers when it comes to raising children. The school educates kids, but has no right to dictate lifestyle choices. If there is a problem that impacts a student's ability to learn and socialize, the school has an obligation to bring the situation to the parents' attention. But telling kids what they can eat at lunchtime usurps parental authority.
Now, it is true that some parents usurp their own authority by neglecting their children or acting like nitwits when making decisions for them. But that is the price of a free society. The government cannot legislate good parenting, even though it has spent trillions of dollars trying.
The folks running the Little Village Academy need to wise up about this free society business. In America, we allow freedom of choice. And while kids can't choose their parents and vice-versa, when it comes to choosing the meal plan, parents should rule.