Is bias in teaching going the same way as the rampant bias in journalism? Should we be questioning teachers who promote their own agenda in a classroom? This is not a new problem, but a social studies teacher showing a Chipotle film to our friends’ seventh grade class has left me questioning what is wrong with our educational system.
Last week, in a central Indiana suburban school district with some rural influence, my 12 year-old friends some serious questions about their food brought up by a food marketing video. This one hit close to home because it impacted the son and daughter of one of my closest friends (and also why I’m not disclosing the school name). While corn and soybeans were being harvested around the school, the teacher chose to feature one of the Chipotle videos as their social studies lesson.
These are kids that have followed my daughter in our pasture since they were toddlers, played on hay bales in our barn, and even helped bring one of our newborn calves home last March. They know our cattle by name, have visited the milking parlor of our neighbor, and their grandpa had beef cattle. Both kids are smart, raised by wonderful parents, and know the difference between right and wrong. They now question what farmers are doing to animals after hearing cows don’t see grass, chickens are injected with hormones and pigs are kept inside. Their words. Heartbreaking to hear this is part of their “education.”
Why would a teacher put these thoughts into kids heads from marketing propaganda from a food service company with a questionable track record? There was no debate, no other side presented, no lesson in marketing. The result? Kids feeling bad about their food and questioning farming. It broke my heart to hear these questions from children that I once held in my hand – literally, as they were very premature. I first asked them what video it was, and when I heard it was Chipotle, I managed to not bang my head on the table in frustration.
“Why do you think a food company would make a video?” I asked them as gently as I could. They said to show bad things farmers do. I pressed a little further and asked what a restaurant wanted to do. “Sell food!” they agreed upon. “So do you think they might be telling lies to sell more food?” was my response, quickly followed by “have you ever seen us abuse our animals or do anything mean to them?” They shook their head while joyfully telling stories of the animals they’ve watched us raise through the years. My daughter and I both asked if they thought our cattle were the same as their dogs; we all agreed that farm animals have a different purpose than companion animals. Our friends also understood we find it a privilege to care for farm animals so they provide food.
“It’s illegal to give chickens hormones” I next explained, along with the fact that there are no such products available. The boy quickly noted that it would be expensive to do so, the girl wanted to know why chickens were so big, wondering if I was sure chickens were not pumped full of something. So we got into a discussion on genetics and the fact that chickens have been bred to have bigger breasts because that’s what people like to eat. We talked about what their dad grilled as an example of consumer demand.
Their parents chimed in as we talked about why pigs stay inside. We discussed diseases, predators, and huge swings in temperature. I told them it was really sad that a marketing company was telling lies about farmers. The whole conversation gave me a sick feeling in my stomach. Seeds planted by teachers last a lifetime, whether good or bad. Marketing and bias doesn’t belong in the classroom; science and well-rounded debate does. Teacher bias deserves the same concern as journalistic bias, as a student will never be able to turn off their education the way so many of us have silenced the news.
As we finished our conversation, I suggested they share their farm stories in their class since they had more farm experience than most classmates, but also understand it was really hard for 12 year-olds to go against the grain. Education, defined as “the knowledge, skill, and understanding that you get from attending a school, college, or university” has a problem if it is filled with bias. Kids should not feel bad about bringing truth to the table. We need to be educating students to have reasonable thinking, critical thinking skills – not fill them with marketing. How do we hold teachers accountable for presenting accurate content?