Picture this: a classroom of fourth-graders eagerly competing in a math drill for a simple reward — a little piece of candy.
As a former school administrator, this is a scenario I have enjoyed watching many times. It is a common teaching technique. It is motivational. It is effective. It is fun. And in Texas, as of Aug 1, 2003, it is illegal.
According to the September 2003 edition of Straight Talk, a newsletter published by the Association of Texas Professional Educators, the Texas Department of Agriculture is prohibiting candy from “being sold or given away on school premises.” According to the TDA website, the prohibition comes as a result of the government having “classified obesity as a national epidemic,” and is intended to “reinforce the United States Department of Agriculture’s effort to improve school nutrition environments.”
Candy has been officially placed in a food group the U.S. Department of Agriculture calls “FMNVs” — Foods of Minimal Nutritional Value. If anyone is interested, a complete list of FMNVs, along with government definitions, is available in Appendix B of 7 CFR Part 210 of the Code of Federal Regulations. (For the millions of Americans who don’t know what a jellybean is, for example, the government helpfully defines it as “a mixture of carbohydrates which are combined to form a stable gelatinous system of jelly-like character.” Yes, there really are federal employees drawing down a salary to write this stuff.)
The TDA website explains that, “the Texas Department of Agriculture is concerned about the health of all Texans and school children in particular.” This is the latest trendy argument used to justify the state’s coercive power to interfere with matters best handled by parents and local schools. If “caring for children” is the new criterion for determining the boundaries of state power, it stands to reason that nothing is potentially off-limits. The state could use the same excuse to ban school bake sales, to deny an overweight child his or her school lunch, or to monitor students’ blood-glucose levels to see if they’d eaten a glazed donut for breakfast.
The TDA website says that “Such food may not be sold or given away on school premises by the school, school or non-school organizations, teachers, parents, or any other person or group during the school day.” And they’re not kidding: “The TDA will aggressively enforce and diligently monitor this policy to ensure its compliance.” Schools that violate the TDA’s policies will incur financial penalties and may be subject to “a documented corrective action plan ... that will be diligently monitored to ensure continued compliance.”
Texas is not alone. At present, 19 states — including Michigan — are considering similar laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. A quick search on the word “candy” on MichiganVotes.org revealed a bill that was introduced in March by Michigan state Rep. Frank Accavitti, Jr., D-Roseville. If passed, the legislation would prohibit the sale in all public schools of chewing gum or candy bars, food or drinks that consist of 35 percent or more sugar or other sweetener, juice that is less than 100 percent real fruit or vegetable juice, food or drinks containing more than eight grams of fat per serving, and in elementary schools, the sale of soft drinks.
Whether you agree or disagree on candy in school is not the point. The point is that when state governments can tell local school districts what to do with regard to a detail as tiny as whether or not students can buy candy on school grounds, it’s time to question whether local control has become a thing of the past.
And whether children can eat candy is only the latest in the cavalcade of personal matters being increasingly micromanaged by local, state and federal governments. If you follow current events, you know that regulating the size of our toilets and washing machines, and consumer use of cell phones, charcoal barbeques, gas lawnmowers and SUVs are just around the corner.
As the TDA’s actions indicate, the government’s ability to curtail our personal freedoms is becoming as easy as, well, as taking candy from a child.
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(Brian Carpenter is director of leadership development for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. More information is available at www.mackinac.org. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and his affiliations are cited.)