Food Insecurity Affects Learning – Why Bureaucrats Need to Be Schooled on Schooling

Last week in the unveiling of Trump’s budget, Mick Mulvaney proved once again that an administration which includes Betsy DeVos as secretary of education and others who have never had to face a lack of something in their lives really do not understand what factors truly act on students in need who rely on public schools.

Mulvaney in a press conference on March 17th said the following concerning the 13 percent cut to the U.S. Department of Education calling for elimination of programs like CCLP which provides food for many low-income students during after-school activities:

“They’re supposed to help kids who don’t get fed at home [to] get fed, so they do better in school. Guess what? There’s no demonstrable evidence they’re actually doing that.”

Bullshit.

That same budget also eliminated Meals on Wheels. And Mulvaney’s explanation is, well, just look yourself.

 

Having worked in multiple high schools, I can assure you that all public schools have students in need. And no matter how affluent a school may appear, all schools have children in poverty.

The very economic downturn that occurred less than a decade ago from the bursting of the subprime mortgage bubble sent rates of free-and-reduced students sky-rocketing in public schools.

To listen to Mulvaney is listening not to truth, but to alternative fiction.

Then I saw this Facebook posting and realized that someone always says it better than I do because that someone has been some places I have never been and lived through events I have never lived through.

I have never really known hunger. Real hunger. I have never known abject poverty. But I know it exists in this “Christian” country.

So I am reposting the text of one Charles Clymer.

“Off all the episodes of Trump’s callousness, the ones about food have stuck to me quite vividly because for me, it’s personal.

Growing up in poverty, I observed food as a measured thing, that measurement often a source of great shame. That shame over food was so pervasive growing up, that it still sticks with me to this day, brought to bear without invite.

Last month, Sec. of Ed. Betsy DeVos joked at CPAC that she was the first to tell Bernie Sanders “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”. However unintentionally, DeVos mocking “free lunches” while the GOP explores cutting free/reduced lunches for kids is disgusting. That DeVos is the face of the American public school system only compounds the shame and offense to children on these programs.

These kids often DO read and watch the news. They see statements like this. And yes, they do feel the shame.

Trump’s proposal to cut Community Development Block Grants (CDBGs) would reduce gov’t funding for Meals on Wheels by up to 3%. 3% may not seem like a lot, but it works out to about 79,000 hungry seniors in a program that’s already overburdened and underfunded.

I guarantee you many of the 2.4 million seniors that rely on Meals on Wheels for survival have felt shame over this episode.

In our country, the impoverished are taught to feel shame over food, in ways big and small. Shame, it would seem, centers in food. This shame over food is something I’ve noticed isn’t present in folks who grew up never wanting for food. Let me explain…

As a child in poverty, I learned not to ask for too much food for the simple fact that my single mother couldn’t afford it. We got what we got, and most of the time, it was just enough, but there were many nights when dinner was threadbare, at best.

Breakfast? I learned not to expect breakfast. It was mostly absent. Breakfast, especially during summers, was a luxury. In fact, breakfast *and* lunch during the summers of my childhood were often luxuries.

When I was 9, for the entire summer, we subsisted off boxes of old-school military rations. (No, really.) And we made the best of it.

So, when school rolled around, access to free breakfast/lunch felt like a special kind of heaven, a gift from a God who had forgotten me. Free breakfast/lunch also meant my single mother felt less of a burden to feed us a proper dinner.

Folks in poverty often lack fundamental concepts when it comes to money. I’m a 30 year-old grad student, and I still have issues with this.

My mother would take my sister and I out to a cheap diner as a “treat”. We couldn’t really afford to be there. Yes, even a diner. So, why were we there? Because 1) it saved my mother some time/stress in cooking and 2) it gave us a sense of worth to eat out.

The most expensive thing in the various trailers in which we lived was the cheap box TV. We didn’t have many clothes. Few toys. But for 90 minutes, maybe two hours, we could sit inside a Denny’s and feel like we mattered. We could feel a little less worthless.

But not too much. My sister and I, without having to be told, would choose the cheapest items on the kids’ menu. I know for a fact that we both did this out of guilt for our mother. We didn’t want her to have to say “no” to a pricier item.

Imagine for a second being a small kid and intuitively getting that a difference of $2 or $3 for dinner is everything to your parent.

Of course, my mother also oscillated between severe mental health and shameless desperation in cutting corners. Every third visit to a Denny’s (or wherever), my mother would make up a reason to complain to management about the food.

It was late. It was overcooked. It was undercooked. It was the wrong order. Virtually all the time, of course, it was none of these. The manager on site would come to our table, listen to our mother’s passionate (and false) complaint, and comp the entire meal.

In retrospect, I’m 100% certain that these managers did this out of a combination of quiet frustration but mostly kindness. To them, the $20 or whatever wasn’t worth kicking out a mother and her two kids who were clearly in dire straits. Humanity.

When I reflect on my childhood, I can’t remember a single time telling my mother I was hungry. Not once. Think about that. “I’m hungry/thirsty” is a common thing kids will offer up, sometimes even when they’re not. It’s a thing kids do all the time. A kid telling their parent “I’m hungry” is something of a trope in film and television, esp. commercials. Kids cry, parents feed.

I wouldn’t have dreamt telling my mother I was hungry, lest I risk inviting a dark cloud of shame into the space, engulfing us whole.

I’m now a grown, college-educated adult with a decent income, and I still have shame issues over food.

I don’t like friends buying my food. In fact, to avoid hitting that nerve of childhood shame, I often pick up the whole check. At my birthday dinners, when decorum demands such grace, I try to smile warmly as my friends wordlessly snatch the check up.

On dates, it’s a relief when I can offer to pay for dinner and it’s mistaken for a sense of chivalry when it’s really about coping.

On rare occasions, when a date or friend insists on paying, and I let them, I try to put on a brave smile, but I feel guilty + indebted.

On the other side of the coin, I get a thrill when I order takeout, not for the sake of convenience but quite literally because I can. I buy expensive takeout because it gives me a sense of control and dignity I never had as a child. It’s not so much therapy as sickness.

And considering all this, my story is tame compared to others. Kids not eating for days at a time, malnourished. The homeless scrounging.

Senior citizens, 2.4 million of them, taking on a mantle of vulnerability to gracefully accept help from others, or they don’t eat.

Countless veterans—folks who served our country in uniform—being reduced to shame-bearing beggars because they’re hungry.

And I notice that there are tens of millions of folks in our country who don’t understand any of this. They don’t get it.

Trump and DeVos and company actually represent a large swath of the American public who can’t comprehend shame over hunger.

And so, you get shit like DeVos alluding to “free lunches not being free” with scarcely an inkling of it hurting kids + families. You get Trump not giving a single damn about Meals on Wheels. I’m not sure he even knows what the program does.

And you get millions of Americans who grew up in relative comfort telling the impoverished and hungry that their shame is deserved.

I don’t know, folks. Does this seem like what America should be? Is this the America you want? Hungry kids, seniors, and veterans?

I hope not. I would like to believe, for all our differences, we can agree that hunger is non-negotiable. Yet still I hope.”

 

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