This week, the education of America’s youth continues in a more direct fashion, at an elementary school in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Uintah Elementary, like many area schools, has an electronic payment system for school lunches, so parents can load up their kid’s account from home and the account is credited when the child receives the lunch. The kids thus learn the valuable lesson of credit cards being free money.
Sometimes, balances run low or even empty. In this case, the student is still given a lunch, but also told about the low balance so they can remind their parents. Notifications are also sent by the school to the parents weekly about the balance. For children who are completely unable to pay for lunch, they are given a handout of fruit and milk. That may not sound like much, but I’m pretty sure the Jews spent 40 years wandering the desert looking for exactly that.
But the Salt Lake City District child-nutrition program staff noticed Uintah had an unusually high number of students who owed money on their accounts. On Monday and Tuesday, the district tried contacting parents of these delinquent accounts to tell them of the problem, but on Tuesday they decided more immediate action was needed. Angry over being forced to take time away from important child-nutrition duties, like figuring out how to justify putting snack food vending machines in schools, they decided the children who owed money to the schools would not get lunch that day. A child-nutrition manager was dispatched to the school to make sure exactly that would happen.
A problem quickly arose: the school wasn’t able to tell which students owed money on their accounts until after they were given lunches and went to pay. Thinking quickly, the child-nutrition manager came up with a solution.
For the approximately 40 children who were given lunches but had negative balances on their accounts, the manager had cafeteria workers take the lunches away and throw them in the trash. Right in front of everyone.
Rules stipulate that once food is served to someone, it can’t be served to someone else, which is why the food was thrown away. The humiliated children were then given fruit and milk.
Salt Lake City District spokesman Jason Olsen said if students were upset by these actions, that was unfortunate, but he said the tactics were not a mistake.
Later, after either being told exactly what happened or being informed how human beings usually react, he amended his stance, apologizing and saying things should have been handled differently.
But this once again could be considered a blessing for these children. Their pain is temporary, but the lessons will hopefully last a lifetime. For one thing, they learn that credit cards are not, in fact, free money; the balance always comes due.
They also learn that they can be punished suddenly, through no fault of their own, by officials they’ve never met before. This develops a nice, healthy sense of paranoia that should serve them well as they go out in the world. Bank errors, mistaken identity, and just good old-fashioned sociopathic behavior can spring on someone at virtually any time with no warning.
With the right teaching, they may also learn the value in being a part of the system. Instead of hating the child-nutrition manager, they could envy him instead. No one takes his lunch and throws it away. They could desire that power, strive to achieve it, and become an active member of society as a result. With the right amount of effort, who knows whose lunch they could take away or whose life they could ruin?
We’re just breeding the next group of civil leaders by being “pointlessly” cruel to kids.
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