HANDFULL OF PEANUTS

Lee County Commissioner Kirk Smith responded to The Rant’s report on his “give the poor kids peanut butter and jelly” comment with a letter to the editor in today’s Sanford Herald.

Smith begins his letter with the line, “Who knew of the disdain that Lee County’s progressives would have toward our wheat, peanut, strawberry and grape farmers?” He then continues with a very Kirk Smith-esque ramble about the farming industry, parental responsibility to feed their children and the Lee County school district’s poor performance on recent tests (we’ll get to that later). 

Not surprisingly, Smith comes off as oblivious to the entire reason his comment warranted a closer look and why it offended so many people.

Let’s go back to the original story. The Herald reported earlier this month, “Smith wondered why schools didn’t just save money by providing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to low-income students on subsidized lunch programs — which in Lee County is two-thirds of the student body. Many in the audience reacted with gasps of outrage, and the topic was quickly changed.”

Those who have defended Smith on this site have done so by sticking up for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a staple in the diets in just about every red-blooded American child. Why is that such a bad thing, Smith and his defenders are wondering. Hell, peanut butter and jelly is better than most of the junk out there. It certainly beats processed chicken nuggets and Friday square pizzas, in terms of protein and overall nutritional value. This I’m not arguing with.

At issue here is segregating poor students during their lunch hour. At issue here is providing warm meals to the kids whose parents can afford it and little wrapped-up PB&Js to the kids whose parents can’t — which in Lee County amounts to more than half of the public school population. At issue here is giving poorer students another thing to worry about — being “different” at lunch time … arguably the most “social” time of their adolescence — and giving them another reason to be embarrassed, in addition to the possible fact they aren’t wearing nice clothes or they aren’t able to afford the luxuries other students take for granted. In Smith’s world, a warm meal is a luxury, because damn, those more fortunate kids worked for it. Forget the fact that poverty isn’t the child’s fault.

I’m sure Smith didn’t take this to heart when he made his comment, but that’s the problem with Smith and others in the Lee County Republican Party — they don’t seem to think when they make these comments.

It’s nice and political to make a statement that the sole purpose of a public school is to educate a child. But that education goes far beyond test scores — school is where children learn most of their social skills. It’s where many of them become leaders. It’s where many of them become introverts who are afraid to be who they really are.

As for the test scores issue Smith  brought up in his letter: “What the Sanford Herald reporter missed was the admission by Board of Education Vice Chair Mark Akinosho, who stated, in so many words, that Lee County graduates students who are not proficient in math, reading and English! That should have been the headline, but somehow a comment about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches raised such a tizzy among our progressive neighbors.”

Well, The Herald did report on that as well.

So did The Rant.  A full 10 days before the PB&J story

— Billy Liggett

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