The other day I gave in to something I never do: bought some things in the grocery store just because they looked good, without looking at the ingredients. One of these items was corn dogs, which I remember eating fondly at the poolside of my friend Kyle’s house when I was young.
These corn dogs were by no means an innocent food product. They contained many ingredients I would normally try to stay away from, including three types of processed sugar. However we ate them anyway for a rushed dinner one night and they were just as enjoyable as I remember. Also, they left me feeling satisfied with some protein to keep me going.
That said, I wouldn’t switch to a diet of corn dogs and other such foods because I know eating cleaner foods, while more effort, is the better choice. My family will feel better on it, and will have better health in the long run.
Then a thought occurred to me. Processed foods are like formal education.
Our bodies were not evolved to eat processed foods and the associated ingredients.
TV dinners, canned and prepared foods, fast food, etc. feed many people across the world. People eat processed foods because it’s what’s readily available, because they have positive associations with it, or because they don’t have the time or money for the alternative.
Some, can eat these foods regularly and not show any obvious side effects. While others will get a range of symptoms from acid reflux to obesity. Given the concerns with processed foods, I think it’s a fair guess to say that even the people who show no obvious symptoms, lose out health wise in the long run from eating these foods instead of a more natural diet.
In contrast, if we eat fresh, whole foods instead, we suddenly have an energy and health level that many of us didn’t even realize we were missing.
Now for school.
Many people put their kids through the formal education system because it’s what’s readily available, because they’ve never thought to question it, or because they have good memories of their own time in school. Some put their kids in school because they don’t have the time, money, or emotional energy to do otherwise.
Some kids do well in school, while others struggle. The ones who struggle show symptoms from ADHD, anxiety, and depression, to flunking out. If you do your reading on the concerns with school, it is a fair assumption that even the kids who do well are still given a limited and artificial view of the world in contrast to those who have been lucky enough to been given the real world as their sandbox from day one.
In contrast, if we expose our children each day to the world they are growing up to become a part of, then a beautiful cycle emerges. Natural exploration is fun, and is rewarded with the skills they desire. That reward feeds more exploration, feeding more growth, and more fun. Eventually you end up with adults who think of learning as the goal, rather than a gateway (a concept lost on many coming out of the school system).
So, do I think kids in general would be better off learning the way they were evolved to? Yes, of course I do.
But, some parents need TV dinners to make it through the day. Just as others need to bottle feed their babies because they weren’t able to breastfeed. And there are many in today’s society who can’t hack the whole homeschooling thing for one reason or another. That’s ok.
The point is, if there is a better system out there then is currently in place, then we should be fighting to provide that system for as many people as possible.
We’re not going to be able to stop fossil fuel emissions in one simple change of policy. Giving women the right to vote or black people freedom didn’t instantly create equally. Nor can we stop people from throwing things in landfills in one swoop. These are gradual things that require many shifts in old habits and assumptions.
As with all better found practices, I hope, just how organic food is catching on today, that someday this organic style of living will someday take hold. That someday, a children’s education will be by default, as unique and fascinating as they are.