There Really Is No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

Sandwich.jpgThe school system feeds hundreds of thousands of kids who would otherwise go hungry. These students receive free lunch at school cafeterias. As Frank has noted provision of basic services is vital to our country. Making sure that children receive solid educations (and yes can read and think not just take a bloody test) just might lead to little things like jobs, reduced likelihood of going to jail, not to mention possibly participating in the political process. But I digress.

Frank Pasquale, Greg Lastowka, I and others having been looking at reputation online. The New York Times brings home a simpler, pernicious aspect of reputation: just plain old coolness. Apparently many students who receive free lunches choose not to take them or try and hide the fact that they get them because it is just not cool. This fact reminds me of a line in a film called the Moderns when an American artist in 1930s Paris says “It’s ok to be broke in Paris in America it is down right immoral.”

One thing that must stop in the United States is the stigma of poverty. I just finished Bill Strickland‘s book, Make the Impossible Possible: One Man’s Crusade to Inspire Others to Dream Bigger and Achieve the Extraordinary. Strickland’s point that treating people like human beings, giving them clean, nice places that show them that the world can be a good place, AND then demanding of them the same high quality of dedication and work that is asked of people who are better off, yields tremendous results. We are talking impressive high school graduation rates, college matriculation rates, and job placement records (adults tend to become sous-chefs, lab technicians, graphic artists) that most cities would love to have.

The Times article notes that some schools are thinking of moving to a debit card or code system so that it is harder for kids to determine who is getting the free or subsidized lunch and who is not. So maybe things will change on that small front. I hope so.

Hat Tip: John Scalzi

Image WikiCommons

License: Public Domain

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3 Responses

  1. Katie says:

    Strickland’s point that treating people like human beings, giving them clean, nice places that show them that the world can be a good place

    I actually think the school lunch equivalent of a “clean, nice place” is really important here. At least from my experience in the public school system, it’s not just the fact that school lunches are free that gives them a stigma. It’s that they’re often truly disgusting (I’m remembering things like turkey tetrazzini that looked like regurgitated plastic goop), while the other kids are buying pizza hut pizza that the school orders in. I know it’s difficult in a cafeteria setting, but I suspect some way of coming up with food that’s actually palatable to kids, although presumably not junk food like the pizza, would make a big difference.

  2. Matt Lister says:

    When I was in grade-school my family usually qualified for free or (more often) reduced price lunches at school. We were, thankfully, given the same meals as everyone but the “lunch tickets” we were given were a different color and it was obvious when we bought them (from the teacher at the start of each week) that those getting free or reduced tickets were doing so. I, and I think the others, found it quite emberassing. I’d often try to bring my own lunch from home to avoid it if I could. Others, obviously, wouldn’t have that option. My understanding was that having the different colored tickets was for accounting reasons and to make it harder for people to give or sell them to people who didn’t qualify but I’d think the potential damage to kids might well have been worth worrying about that less.

  3. bill says:

    Like the time in school when we got free lunch,

    and the cool kids beat us up ( reduced lunch)

    and the rich kids had convertibles

    and we had to ride the bus ( 55)

    like the time we made the baseball team,

    but they still laughed at us ( you still suck)

    ah, the New York Times . . . catching up to what Good Charlotte knew year ago.