Posted Thursday, Dec. 23, 2010, at 11:42 AM
I’ve never ceased to marvel at the way similar issues take on a different ideological burnish depending on where they are being discussed and by whom. Unexpectedly, we now have a new example of this phenomenon, and in an area of public policy I didn’t even think was especially ideological at all: The banning of sweets in schools .
For historical and cultural reasons, bans on cookies and candy have lately come to be associated with the American Left. But in Europe, the Right wants to ban sweets in schools. Or anyway the Right, in the form of a super-Catholic group of school administrators, banned sweets in my sons’ Catholic school in Warsaw. Being Catholics, they did make some exceptions for Christmas and Easter, but they were still pretty thorough: Cookies would be physically removed from lunch boxes if they weren’t supposed to be there.
Why? I’m guessing they were working from the Burkean principle that things are the way they are for a reason: For decades, nobody brought sweets to school because there weren’t any, or not many. So why change now? In the US, the banning of sweets has a more Leninist-revolutionary connotation, partly because it is associated with Michelle Obama, but also because it upsets the established order.
But here is a deeper truth: It works. When nobody brings cookies in their lunch box, then your child doesn’t complain that he doesn’t have any. After awhile, he forgets to ask about sweets, and eventually he doesn’t even care if you have them at home either. "Dessert" becomes a special occasion, not an automatic part of the meal. Once upon a time, pragmatism was the dominant philosophy in American life-maybe it’s time we went back to it?