I have a younger sister almost twenty years my junior that is currently enrolled in the public education system. She called me recently, asking for help on a persuasive essay she'd been assigned for homework.
"We have to talk about why or why not vending machines should be in schools," she explained. She knows that I've spent the last year working on a documentary about the American obesity epidemic ( Killer At Large) and so I was the first person she thought to ask. "I know you don't think there should be vending machines in schools, but why?"
I gave her the three points I believed most, "Well, first off, obesity. Kids are more overweight and obese now than they've ever been. Secondly, type 2 diabetes is running rampant among kids your age. The last big thing is that sugar and junk food makes kids hyper and makes it harder for them to concentrate."
"Hmmm," she replied.
"Don't take my word for it. Use those points as a jumping off point for research and then let me take a look at your paper."
"Okay," she said and the next time I spoke to her about it was a couple of days later when she had her rough draft. She showed me a fairly well-written five paragraph essay (for a sixth-grader) about why she felt vending machines should be removed from schools.
"Vending machines," her essay concluded, "help promote an unhealthy lifestyle causing more children to be obese. Without vending machines, obesity would not be as common as it has become. Vending machines contribute to higher diagnoses among children for type 2 diabetes because children can not regulate their junk food intake. Vending machines restrict learning because of hyperactivity. If you're too bouncy on sugar, you're not going to sit in class and learn anything."
After they talked about it in class, my sister told me that three-quarters of her classmates agreed with her when their teacher asked if they should take vending machines out of schools. Quite encouraging.
Then they turned in their papers for grading.
A few weeks went by and my sister wanted to show me her graded essay. She'd gotten 50 points out of a possible 50. "Great ideas," her teacher wrote, "I love how much research you did, these are great points."
"Great job," I told her.
It would seem as though the tide is turning in the battle against obesity in schools.
You'd hope, but it shocked me to find that the teacher had stapled to the front of this anti-junk food essay a coupon worth a free order of Cinna Stix at Domino's Pizza. On the front of the coupon was written, "In recognition of a professional, persuasive essay."
An order of Cinna Stix is almost 1,200 calories (plus an extra 250 for the dipping sauce). My sister is 11 years old and is recommended to eat about 1,600 calories each day total. Hardly an appropriate reward.
I suppose her essay wasn't persuasive enough.