A Learning Garden for Every LAUSD Campus

THE BOSTICK REPORT-It is abundantly clear to me that our culture is suffering from something. Recent shootings in Santa Barbara are, sadly, not uncommon. While I do believe that a lack of gun control is partly to blame and that we must pursue legislation to do all we can to better control access to deadly weapons, those actions are but a band aid on the larger societal problem. 

We are in the midst of a global transformation in how we live our lives, shifting from rural farm-based societal dispersion and towards mass urbanization. There are many benefits to this shift, mainly in the form of more efficient use of resources and an increased potential for upward mobility. 

HOWEVER, we are increasingly disconnected from the natural world in our urban environment. Simultaneously, our personal and professional migration to rely more heavily on technology has conspired with our concrete jungles in a manner that is degrading our humanity and connectivity in communities where people are ironically closer geographically yet more emotionally disengaged from each other. Density, as it turns out, is a lonely world. 

These cultural shifts are not overnight changes. That means the structure of our solutions must be oriented towards changes in how we operate within our world. In this, we must pursue our solutions and shuck the passivity we’ve been using to get along. 

Learning gardens will be our salvation. Maybe salvation is a strong word, but I think that when we look at correcting the course of culture shifts, we must focus our efforts generationally and that means we adjust our methods of teaching children. The pat and seemingly trivial panacea response to our problems that “our children are our future” might sound trite, but it is true. The problem with tackling societal problems is determining where to focus… what task to pursue. It’s the point where the rhetoric falls to practicality. 

On a practical level, our students are suffering from obesity along with increased incidents of diabetes and hypertension. At the same time, we are experiencing a general loss of the kind of robust cultural education we once had in the form of PE, Art, and Music. Combine these trends with our increased urban isolation from nature and you have the ingredients for a disaster. Or an opportunity. 

What are learning gardens? They are essentially community gardens on school campuses. They are outdoor science classrooms for students to immerse themselves in practical demonstrations of biology. Teachers working with students in a learning garden have added the dimensionality of a learning experience that is academic, tactile, and experiential. 

But, learning gardens are also an opportunity to teach managerial and entrepreneurial skills to children, especially when connected to local farmers’ markets. Teams of students must study the produce-market trends, research of weather trends, design efficient plots and methods of irrigation, coordinate harvest efforts with marketplace opportunities, and generally manage a small, cooperative business where the success of others depends heavily on each student making good on their responsibilities. 

Additionally, the presence of a learning garden on a former concrete slab alters the entire perception of the school site. Where there was once a stark, unwelcoming heat pad is now a lush, mysterious ecosystem replete with life. It is inviting and encouraging for both the students and community surrounding the school. Much like the presence of a drop of water in the desert, the beautifying effect of a learning garden within the pocket of a larger urban jungle multiplies in its value and emboldens the spirit. 

Ask a child to show you his tomatoes and he will shine. Even the most reticent, shy, and broken spirit will lighten up at the chance to show how his love for a plant was powerful. Students working in learning gardens care more for their schools because they represent more of what those children feel inside. 

Kids coming from broken homes, abused or abandoned and lacking in the kind of nurturing they need to remain open to others will whither up or harden without attention. Place them in an urban oasis of a learning garden and they will enter into a contract with their own capacity. Tend to the garden and it will thrive. Ignore or abuse the garden and it will not. It is in this relationship that potentially wayward children are given the chance to understand that no matter how awful their existence may be, they are still people of power. 

Learning gardens are not the universal salve for our cultural problems and they won’t produce mass change overnight. Yet, they are an opportunity that merits strong consideration. As we struggle to provide our children with robust educations, we must strongly consider the value of budgeting for this structural change in our schools. 

The good news is that building a garden on our school campuses is not a new idea. It is something that is beginning to bubble up, but the successes we have seen in implementing their creation is something that has largely come from outside our school districts. Groups like Enrich LA, led by Tomas O’Grady, are acting from outside the power structure and being the change we need. 

It is my opinion that the focus of our power structure, specifically the LAUSD board, should begin embracing what people have pushed for from the outside. Let’s commit our educational resources on building capacity to learn, feel, and grow rather than continue along the path of iPad scandals, administrative waste downtown, and a dehumanizing curriculum based largely on test scores and compartmentalized learning standards.


(Odysseus Bostick is a Los Angeles teacher and former candidate for the Los Angeles City Council. He writes The Bostick Report for CityWatch.)







Vol 12 Issue 45

Pub: June 3, 2014