Friday, October 17, 2014

School Bans Cake Because They Hate Fun

Hands up, all you kids who love getting cake at school on your birthday.

Not so fast, Burlington, Kentucky.

According to a story in the Cincinnati Enquirer (official motto: "What's the meaning of life?"), Burlington Elementary School revised its wellness policy to make birthdays absolutely no fun.

"We hate children, and we hate birthdays," cackled the principal, stroking her black cat. "We don't think kids should have fun at school, and banning food at birthday parties was a good start."

Okay, that's not true (as if I have to say that), but I do think educators often throw the baby out with the bath water.

The Burlington Elementary PTA really did change their wellness policy to ban birthday cake and ice cream. In fact, they banned food of any kind at birthday celebrations.

"We're finding it's difficult to be the first," Valerie Bailey told the Enquirer. Her son goes to Burlington, and she was on the committee that created the policy. "Parents say it's not fair. But we hope it sends a message to the parents and kids, especially with the obesity rate being so high, and puts a bug in their ear."

Except they can't have bugs either. Someone might be allergic.

Oh, but it's not all bad! You can still have non-food treats. Fun things like pencils, erasers, and bookmarks. Because the one thing every kid is dying for at a school birthday party is a pencil.

"Yay, this is much better than cake and ice cream and playing party games," said no kid ever.

It's like the Grinch stole Christmas again, and left you a pair of socks.

Parents and teachers were concerned that birthday parties took up too much class time, something they apparently couldn't control. Meanwhile, pencil birthday parties only take 30 seconds, because the last thing you want to do with a No. 2 Disappointment Stick is have a party.

Now the school is finding "fun" and "enjoyable" ways to "celebrate" birthdays. One student brought jump ropes for the class, and they celebrated with a jump rope party.

Next week, they'll celebrate Caitlyn's birthday with a math quiz, because jump ropes and pencils will be banned because of Zero Tolerance weapons policies.

Burlington Elementary joins a growing number of schools concerned with childhood obesity. Kathy Reutman, a Boone County school system spokesperson, said that 37 percent of their children are either at risk for obesity, or are already obese. She's also responsible for making sure the district's wellness policies meet the federal guidelines.

"It's not up to us to tell parents what to do," she told the Enquirer. "But when children are in our care we make sure that nothing gets in the way of them and their learning. Food allergies or too much sugar get in the way of that."

She sounds like one of those educators who say "disrupting the educational process" a lot. Like my teachers said to my parents. A lot.

Here's an idea: if you're worried about childhood obesity, quit eliminating gym class. Make it a part of the school day, not the once or twice a week playground stroll it's become. Physical fitness experts tell us we perform and learn better if we exercise, so let kids play and run around at recess, twice a day. Don't let them sit for six or seven hours a day. We do that as adults, and that's a primary reason we're getting fat.

One reason we didn't have problems with childhood obesity when I was a kid is because we played outside all the time. Now, kids sit inside at school, sit inside at home. They don't spend much time playing or engaging in physical activity at all. And when they do, it's so structured and parent-driven, the kids can't have any fun, and aren't allowed to organize their own play.

Yes, this is a food issue. Yes, schools should set an example and limit the amount of sweets kids get. But any nutritionist will tell you that diet without exercise doesn't do anything. It makes people skinny, but not healthy.

Let the kids have their birthday fun. They're in school on their birthday, which already sucks. But now you've taken away the only thing they have to look forward to and replaced it with pencils, erasers, and bookmarks. Things they already get at school.

Or, just remember the disappointed looks on their faces when they get yet another birthday pencil. It's the same look you'll have when your kid gives you a spatula for Christmas.

Photo credit: Angie Chapman (Flickr, Creative Commons)

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