Monthly Archives: October 2013

School Meals are an integral part of education

Kristofer Jäntti blogs about the importance of school meals
The provision of free school meals comes with some costs but many benefits. School meals as a part of the education experience plays a part in promoting a healthy lifestyle and good manners. Mirroring current trends in education, the provision of school meals is becoming increasingly pupil-centred.

During the Glasgow Party Conference, Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, promised to introduce free universal school meals for the first three years of primary education. The proposed policy has been lauded in some corners of the press while others have lamented the extra £600 million cost during times of austerity – the underlying assumption being that this policy proposal represents an extra ‘benefit’ for well-to-do families who wouldn’t really need it.
In Finland, school food is not conceived as a ‘benefit’, but a part of the education experience. School lunches are an integral part of the school for both the pupils and teachers. School meals are used as a pedagogical tool to teach healthy nutrition and eating habits. It is in the school canteen that many children learn about the proper dining etiquette and skills, for example how to peel potatoes and remove fish bones. It also serves as an introduction to national and international food cultures.
In addition to its health-related, nutritional education and the learning of manners, lunches have a social role in the schools. During school lunches, pupils have time to interact with each other and their teachers in a more relaxed way. It is a good chance for teachers, who eat with their classes, to monitor the pupils and interact with pupils from different classes.
The provision of free school food can be a way to help combat the obesity crisis. Finnish schools meals are required to adhere to strict nutritional guideline and hence introduce kids to healthy eating habits[i]. Similarly a recent UK Impact Report concluded after a two-year pilot study that the provision of free school meals immediately decreases the consumption of unhealthy food (sugary beverages, crisps) and increases the consumption of vegetables. It also showed that educational attainment improved in early primary school pupils as well [ii].
Despite its pedagogical and health benefits, the provision of free school food also presents challenges. For instance, it is estimated school meals for each Finnish pupil accounts for around 8% of total costs the municipalities pay for education[iii]. There is also the issue about providing meals for pupils with special dietary needs, whether they are due to allergies, ethics or religion. This necessitates the close cooperation between the children, parents and the school personnel throughout the pupil’s time in education. This challenge to provide ethical and healthy food that is inexpensive and tasty to all means that Finnish schools often experience days when food is wasted.
These shortcomings, interestingly enough, are also the reason why school meals are an area with many experiments and innovations. Recently, Helsinki schools introduced a weekly vegetarian day to help reduce food-based CO2 emissions. Moreover, in the city of Jyväskylä there has been an experiment of selling leftover food to the public at inexpensive prices to help reduce waste and generate income.
A popular development is to make education pupil-centred. A report for the Welsh government stresses the importance of moving away from a ‘high street business model’ (providing many options) to one that conceives school canteens as ‘citizen-centred social enterprises’ that are co-designed by pupils themselves in order to make school food fun and innovative[iv]. Similarly, the Finnish Ministry of Education aims to have school meals that reflect the interests of the schools, the pupils and their parents.  They also envisage that pupils can take an active role preparing school meals in order to foster an inclusive and communal spirit[v].
An interesting practical experiment in empowering students was conducted when a professional design studio was brought into a local school in Vantaa for three days in order ‘redesign’ the school dining experience with the pupils. As a result, they made comprehensive suggestions to improve the overall process and aesthetics of school dining[vi].
Free school meals should not be seen merely as a benefit to poorer students, but as an institution that can play an integral part in education, being a conduit to learn about food and healthy eating. School food is also an area that is undergoing major changes in the UK and Finland, moving to a more pupil-centred provision model. The ‘OPPI – Helsinki Learning Festival’ in April 2014 is the ideal place to discuss school meals, its future and importance.

[i] Finnish National Education Board (2008) ‘School meals in Finland: Investment in Learning’.

[ii] Kitchen et al. (2013) ’Evaluation of the Free School Meals pilot’.
[iii]Finnish National Education Board (2008) ‘School meals in Finland: Investment in Learning’.
[iv] Pivcevic and Porter (2010) ‘Appetite for Life Action Research Project 2008-2010 Research Report’. Cardiff: Welsh Assembly Government Social Research. pp. 1-115.
[v] Marjaana Manninen (2012) Kouluruokailu 2020 – Kaikki syö!
[vi] (2013) Kouluruoka rokkaa! Porkkanoita, parempaan, ruokailuun !

Politics as Morality – Lakoff explains how metaphors influence the way we vote

Kristofer Jäntti blogs about George Lakoff’s contribution to Politics

George Lakoff, the renowned cognitive linguist, stresses the importance of metaphorical thinking and frames for human cognition. In his lecture  in London (Monday 7th of October), arranged by Counterpoint, he  challenges contemporary conceptions of political communication and the Enlightenment view of rationality.

Europe is undergoing a ‘Populist Zeitgeist’ where populist parties have not only increased their share of the vote but are also in government, recently exemplified by the entry of the Progress Party as junior partner in a coalition with the Conservatives in Norway. In Britain UKIP saw a surge in votes in the last local elections and is expected to do well in the coming European elections.

Lakoff argues that reason for this hemorrhaging of votes from mainstream parties to the political fringes is the misconceived policy of trying to appeal to voters in the political centre – a notion that he argues does not exist. In his book Moral Politics he argues that what distinguishes conservatives from progressives are two different moral systems: the strict father and the nurturant mother. The former is a metaphor for a family that teaches self-reliance and self-discipline while the latter is one where each family member cares and is cared by one another.

Most people mostly fall into one of the two moral systems. ‘Moderates’ are still dominated by one moral system while retaining elements from the other. Lakoff sees the attempts of parties to ‘capture’ moderates by appealing to both moral systems as mistaken. Instead, he councils to parties to frame their political messages in one or the other moral systems, which will ensure that the ‘dominant’ moral system in moderates will overpower the other.

Moreover, he argues that political arguments framed with the view that voters make decisions consciously and dispassionately after reviewing the facts is ineffective and exhibits an erroneous Enlightenment view of rationality. In his lecture he proclaims a different vision of human rationality: ‘To be rational you must be emotional’. Therefore, Political Parties can improve the effectiveness of their messages by framing their campaigns using stories and metaphors that appeal to the emotions by tapping into the unconscious moral systems.

Professor Lakoff’s theories about human cognition and suggestions for political communication are thought-provoking, yet to some they are sinister. One of the main contentions, however,  is how his biconceptual model of moral systems works outside the context of the USA. For example, the campaign that saw the spectacular political rise of Pim Fortuyn in Netherlands in the early 2000’s combined a call for tighter immigration control (strict father model) with a staunch support for the rights of women and sexual minorities (nurturing family model).

In conclusion, George Lakoff’s application of Linguistic Cognitive Science to the realm of Political Science is analogous to the ‘Behavioural Revolution’ in Economics. Understanding how people  ‘tick’ improves the way political parties frame their message and, perhaps, can be used as way to halt the decreasing levels of political participation in developed countries. Smoking and healthy-eating are examples of notions that have been successfully ‘reframed’ with the corollary changes in behaviour which implies that Lakoff’s work has the potential to address the Knowledge Gap.

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