The New York Times reports that “millions of American schoolchildren are receiving free or low-cost meals for the first time as their parents, many once solidly middle class, have lost jobs or homes during the economic crisis, qualifying their families for the decades-old safety-net program.” I was a free lunch kid throughout my entire childhood.
For most of my elementary and middle school career, I was also a free breakfast kid.
While I appreciated the access to food even as a child (since there was never a lot of food at home), my one complaint was how the program was managed by the schools. Each morning, my teachers would take a lunch count using the following procedure:
Please raise your hand if you’re buying hot lunch.
Please raise your hand if you’re buying cold lunch.
Please raise your hand if you’re receiving free hot lunch.
Please raise your hand if you’re receiving free cold lunch.
Having to raise my hand every morning and remind my classmates that I was poor sucked.
Today, the process is designed so that even teachers aren’t aware of who receives a free lunch. In fact, most kids aren’t even aware that they are receiving a free lunch every day. A family’s financial situation is considered confidential information, but even if it was not, no teacher today would ever require a student to raise his or her hand in order to receive a free lunch.
Which leads me to wonder what the hell teachers and administrators were thinking when I was a kid.
This is not an instance of my mother drinking wine during her pregnancy because she didn’t know any better or my parents allowing us to ride our bicycles without helmets because the public had yet to be educated about the important of their use.
This seems rather obvious to me:
It’s cruel to require kids self-identify their economic status in front of their classmates.
Was empathy, common sense and basic human decency really at a premium when I was a kid?