Plastic Bags and Other Evils
This week's "Daily Journal" guest columnist is Julie Gilstrap, Research Publications Coordinator for the John Locke Foundation
RALEIGH I remember the first time I heard about recycling. I think I must have been in about the fifth grade, and there was one kid in my class whose family did this weird thing where they sorted their trash. This greatly confused the rest of us. My teacher did a sort-of interview with her, asking her how it worked and why they did it.
I remember thinking that it sounded onerous and slightly gross. However, at that time, you could get paid for your recyclables, so it wasn't long before my coupon-cutting mother had me crushing cans at her office and toting them down to the recycling center with her. We started sorting trash at home, just like everyone else.
Well, everyone except my grandparents. They continued to throw all their trash away in a single trash can that got taken away to the landfill once a week. I was appalled. I mean, here were my wonderful, loving grandparents destroying the earth I was to inherit. Couldn't they see what awful damage they were doing?
And so I laid into them about the vital importance of recycling, and, to this day, my grandmother still sorts her trash. It's stuck for decades.
It has been many years since I was in elementary school, and the environmental movement has moved forward by leaps and bounds. We've gone from recycling to the Nissan Leaf, and kids are no longer even vaguely confused by any of it. But one thing remains the same. Schools, it turns out, continue to spend lots of time and energy indoctrinating kids on environmental issues, and they still send kids home enthusiastically to win over their parents.
I saw this at work just last week when I ate lunch at school with my favorite third-grader. As we sat and ate our lunches, she told me about the Earth Day picnic they would be having the following day. The kids had been encouraged to pack lunches in such a way that they would throw nothing away. The third-graders with whom I was eating, being particularly astute, could already see that this was going to be difficult.
We examined the table in front of us and found all kinds of great sins. We had paper bags and paper napkins. There were several plastic sandwich bags. I'm pretty sure I remember seeing a juice box. There was definitely one of those little plastic cups of fruit with a peel-off plastic top. Paper wrappers. Plastic forks. There was environmental carnage everywhere.
And these kids were convinced this was a problem. They were going to go home and reprimand their parents, insisting that they pack lunches in more environmentally friendly ways.
There are lots of things about all of this that concern me. Of course, there are myriad questions about the environmental impact itself. Is it really worse to throw away a juice box than to buy a large bottle of juice (a plastic bottle that will have to be thrown away itself) and fill a reusable bottle that will go through the dishwasher, using water and energy and soap? I don't know. That's a complicated question.
What about hygiene? Plastic packaging does help keep food clean. And metal forks? Well, the TSA, at least, thinks they're super dangerous. Surely a real education would teach kids to think about trade-offs and the complicated nature of these issues rather than just feeding them a simplistic "create no trash" message.
But there are far more fundamental issues that I find even more worrying.
First, I'm concerned about a school system that attempts to make kids into environmental zealots critical of their parents. The kids with whom I was eating lunch last week have good, responsible parents. I know them. They pack healthy lunches and make sure their kids get to bed on time. They spend quality time with their kids. They're informed about the world and environmental issues. They are also trying to get multiple kids out the door and to school on time, stay on top of homework, and ensure their kids have good lunches. For all sorts of reasons, fruit cups and juice boxes make sense for these busy families.
I don't like that the school is, inadvertently I'm sure, vilifying those parents and their decisions. I don't like the arrogant attitude my school encouraged me to take with my grandparents. I don't like that these kids are being fed the notion that they know better than the adults in their lives.
The other major problem I see is that the school seems to be teaching kids very effectively about the evils of sandwich bags, while demonstrating considerably less success with multiplication tables. As both a taxpayer who pays for that school, and a friend concerned about the education of particular kids I care about, that worries me.
It seems that fundamentals are being ignored so that schools can advance a political agenda. The fact that my 9-year-old buddy has to count on her fingers to figure out 6x5 is a problem, and it's one that the school should be addressing. I'm paying her teachers to educate her in math and reading and history. They need to do a better job with that, and leave plastic bags and other decisions about lifestyle to parents.