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May 30, 2006 - Image 30

Resource type:
Michigan Daily Summer Weekly, 2006-05-30

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14 - The Michigan Daily - Orientation Edition 2006

Making Michigan study

Simply delicious

B ack when I
started high
school, the
seniors didn't really
have to do anything.
My suburban Detroit
district required them
to take English, gov-
ernment and maybe
one other class. You
could be home before
lunch if you felt like it.
The school district ended that policy before
my class got anywhere near graduation, much
to our annoyance. As the strict new high school
curriculum standards Gov. Jennifer Granholm
signed into law last week take effect, the
senior year blow-off schedule will become as
much a part of Michigan's past as our global
dominance in auto manufacturing.
Respectable opinion throughout the state
has been strongly behind the new standards,
which include requirements that high school
students take at least three and a half years
of math, three years of science and even two
years of a foreign language if they hope to
graduate. A Detroit News editorial gushed,
"Everyone will have to step up and work
harder. And if they do, Michigan will be able
to boast of having the highly skilled work
force that 21st-century employers demand."
Granholm herself boasted, "This new curric-
ulum will help give Michigan the best-edu-
cated workforce in the nation and bring new
jobs and new investment to our state."
Maybe I'm just one of those, you know,
elitists at that stuck-up school in Ann Arbor,
but how is requiring high school students to
actually take classes going to give Michigan
the nation's best-educated workforce ?
Don't get me wrong. Michigan's economy
certainly stands to benefit from getting our
high-school students to work harder. We
keep hearing, after all, the vaguely racial-
ized threats that India and China are going
to eat America alive unless American kids
study more. Michigan's lagging manufactur-
ing sector makes the issue of U.S. competi-
tiveness particularly salient in this state.
The new curriculum standards will help
fight at least one nasty trend in education.
A study released last week by the nonparti-
san Center on Educational Policy found that
since the passage of the No Child Left Behind
act, 71 percent of the nation's school districts
have cut back on other subjects to teach more
reading and math - the only subjects cov-
ered by the tests that NCLB mandates. The
New York Times reported that to boost their
test scores, some schools are requiring stu-

dents who test poorly to take extra periods of
math and reading at the exclusion of all other
subjects. I can't think of a single better way
to kill any interests kids have and encourage
them to drop out than to send them the mes-
sage that all school really is about is drill-
ing for standardized tests. With Michigan's
new curriculum requiring courses in a wide
range of subjects, this atrocious trend should
be curtailed in the state.
The fact is, though, that just getting high
school students to work harder won't save
Michigan overnight. (Even if it could, the
requirements will first apply to students
who graduate in 2011, by which time Gen-
eral Motors or Ford might not even be
around anymore.) If Granholm is intent on
Michigan's having the "best-educated work-
force in the nation," she - or her successor
- will have to do a few more things.
For starters, there's getting more people to
graduate from college, not just high school.
Nolan Finley of The Detroit News pointed out
in a recent column that Michigan ranks eighth
among the states in high school graduation
rates, but 40th in college attendance. One key
obstacle to boosting that ranking is state law-
makers' unwillingness to pay for higher edu-
cation. Though public universities might see
a 2-percent funding increase this year, that
won't make up for four years of cuts. When
state appropriations drop, tuition jumps, and
more people find college beyond their means.
But as many an English or sociology major
graduating this term can attest, simply hav-
ing a college degree doesn't necessarily
equate to great job prospects. Though liberal
arts students (me included) might not like to
hear it, Michigan needs to find ways to steer
more students toward fields where the state
has prospects for economic growth. It also
needs to keep more educated young adults in
the state after graduation. One way to work
toward both goals would be offering targeted
student loans to students in tech fields - and
paying them off after graduation if students
take jobs with Michigan employers.
Without such actions, Michigan's new
graduation requirements won't accomplish
much. Their main effect, indeed, could be
increasing the dropout rate as students who
hoped to cruise to a high school diploma
give up instead. The curriculum standards
- and the bipartisan cooperation to pass
them - are an encouraging start to address-
ing Michigan's crisis, but nothing more.
Apr. 6, 2006
Zbrozek is a fall/winter co-editorial page editor.
He can be reached at zbro@umich.edu.

I __ . .

he Washington
apples in the
University's din-
ing halls - those Red
Delicious ones that are
a little too red and way
too shiny - always dis-
turbed me. One encoun-
ter with their mushy
texture and bland flavor
left me oddly thirsty and
dissatisfied, wondering if perhaps they were
the University's way of teaching students that
appearances can be deceiving.
As far as I'm concerned, Washington Red Deli-
cious apples are not food, much less apples.
Maybe they're okay in Washington. Maybe they
were once edible, even tasty - before they were
picked, washed and waxed some 2,500 miles ago. I
couldn't say; I've never been to Washington.
I do know that Michigan apples, when pur-
chased in Michigan, are quite tasty. Even typically
bland Red Delicious apples aren't that bad when
they have been spared the up to eight-month-long
wait in a temperature-controlled warehouse that
Washington's exports endure.
Beginning a few years ago, the University
started serving Michigan apples in the residence
halls during the fall. It's not part of a campus-
wide movement to satiate students' appetites - or
maybe just my appetite - for Michigan McIntosh
and Empire apples. Rather, it's just one aspect of
efforts to include more locally grown foods in
campus dining hall offerings.
Why care? Buying more local foods will increase
menu variety, cut down on the air and water pollu-
tion inherent in shipping foods across the country
and help out the local economy. Besides making the
hippies happy, using locally grown foods increases
the quality of cafeteria fare, perhaps leaving students
a little less tired of dorm food come spring.
University dining hallsserveroughly 10,000meals
a day. Following the lead of tiny, private liberal arts
colleges like Sterling College of Virginia - where
students produce most of their own food, or at least
purchase it locally - would be an outright bad idea.
I can't see University students raising enough cattle,
making enough maple syrup or pickling enough
beans and beets - as Sterling students do - to feed
any significant number of their classmates.
But what the University can realistically do is
significantly expand its offering of locally grown
foods. It's doing a better job than just a few years
ago - all the tofu and dairy served in University
dining halls now is from Michigan - but we could
be doing a lot more. Even working within the often
cumbersome framework of vendor contracts and
standardized menus, University Dining Services
can work with farmers in the county and the state
to expand its cafeteria offerings.

Asking the University to shell out food pric-
es comparable to the "Yuppie tax" that Whole
Foods shoppers pay is unnecessary. Buying more
local foods may often be slightly more expensive
- students at Northland College in Wisconsin
agreed to a six-cent per-meal price increase to
pay for local potatoes and onions - but that is
not always the case.
Switching from packaged California tofu to bulk
organic Michigan tofu has saved the University
thousands of dollars annually. Although these tofu
savings don't even make a dent in the University's
nearly $6-million annual food budget, the switch
demonstrates that using locally grown produce is
not necessarily a luxury.
There are certainly obstacles. According to nutri-
tion specialist Ruth Blackburn of University Dining
Services, the University requires that food vendors
possess expensive liability insurance which most
small produce farmers lack, and individual farms
often cannot produce large quantities on their own.
Working with individual farmers and local groups
to create distribution cooperatives can help resolve
these challenges and bridge the gap between local
farms and students' cafeteria trays.
But any major new effort - whether trying
to get the University to serve more Washtenaw
County-grown squash or converting an entire
dining hall to serve locally grown produce, as
Blackburn hopes could one day be accomplished
- will take pressure from students. It's not that
hard of a fight - if activism on campus is strong
enough to wear down the University's reluctance
to take action against the Coca-Cola Company,
it's certainly capable of giving the University the
shove necessary to make locally grown foods a
larger part of cafeteria menus.
What could seem like a marginal cause to some
is quickly spreading nationwide - even The New
York Times last week declared the terms "local" and
"sustainable" the latest "culinary buzzwords" That
settles it: Everybody's doing it.
As more students become aware of the benefits
of locally grown food and the realistic measures
the University can take, it will likely require little
more than a dedicated student organization and
a whole lot of dining room comment cards to get
things moving. The University has already made
limited progress, and students would benefit from
the efforts already underway to forge partnerships
between University chefs and local groups like the
Food System Economic Partnership. By the time
students finally take notice, they may be jump-
ing on the student activist bandwagon, but there's
no harm in reaping these delicious and socially
responsible rewards.
Jan. 6, 2006
Beam is a falllwinter co-editorial page editor.
She can be reached at ebeam@umich.edu.


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