Snail’s pace of environmental education

snails kissing for the camera, Winchester School Garden


Jan Wong’s silly article “The Horticultural Revolution” ( or as it says on the cover of the magazine “The Stupidity of School Gardens”) in the October edition of Toronto Life just begs for a rebuttal. In advance of the article being posted digitally, I am posting my response here.

Thanks to Jan Wong, I now know that teaching children not to kill snails is communist propaganda. I am not sure how the snails organized into trade unions, but apparently they have done so under the cover of school garden programs offered by my organization, Green Thumbs Growing Kids. Likely they’ve become so clever, and hired me as their covert operator, munching on children’s textbooks left behind in the garden, as the garden commands so much of the children’s attention that academic subjects suffer. Surely the kids don’t need to know where food comes from, or get dirty, in pursuit of the academic success that awaits if they wouldn’t spend so much time caring for snails or lettuces.

Wong missed the point that hungry children don’t learn, and the school gardens feed children real food, high in nutrients that growing minds and bodies require.

Wong’s use of the terms “stupid” and “mucking around”, comparing gardening to fixing toilets, plays on elitist images of working people as dirty and ignorant. The only value she admits is when the youth enter the marketplace and sell produce, which begs the question of how exactly the produce would get to the market if nobody raised it. Agronomists, crop and environmental scientists as well as the entire agri-food industry (1 in 6 Ontario jobs) depend on some knowledge of soil – dirt, if you will. As far as low test scores cited by Ms. Wong, there’s never been any research at Winchester School, so no link has ever been established. School garden research elsewhere in fact suggests the opposite, finding that gardening improves academic test scores, improves nutrition knowledge and uptake of healthy foods. (Toilet-fixing might be improved as well; there’s a research project there I’m sure.) Anyway, it’s not as if students miss class time to garden – garden programs are curriculum-linked and are a hands-on opportunity that deepens classroom learning by engaging children through their senses. Horribly communist, I know. We even make it possible for low-income families to share the produce in summertime – proof of our leftist plot!

Seriously, although there are numerous connections to the Ontario K-12 curriculum, many teachers do not access the garden because of the challenge of teaching outdoors. Notably, Ms. Wong cited no teachers opposed to the use of gardens for instruction or recreation. Back to the standardized testing that forms the backbone (snail shell?) of her slim(y) argument, it is probable that low test scores are related to teaching methods in the classroom or behaviour issues, and it should not be forgotten that many children are functioning in their second or third language when they write the tests at Grade 3 and 6. The EQAO itself is under scrutiny as questions have arisen about its ability to provide an adequate measure of evaluation. At Upper Canada College, students have gardening programs woven into their curriculum, and I have never heard that the sons of high-powered corporate parents are achieving under their abilities or joining the Communist Party because of the beautiful food gardens at the school. But maybe my snails haven’t gotten up the hill yet. Beware.

Sunday Harrison

Executive Director

Green Thumbs Growing Kids

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