Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Evolution of a Passionate Group of Young Men

Youth must be given the opportunities to succeed and fail because those experiences build the confidence and vision to demand and enforce more of themselves and their environment.

Engaging the many young men with cooking club sessions, I find we sometimes reach a point of stagnation where their behavior reflects their poor understanding of the possibilities available. And so I've tied to emphasize their own capacity for producing healthy meals, whether through creating Nutritious cooking homework, providing flash cooking opportunities, or cafeteria tastings, with all this students have the opportunity to put their skills to the test and really enforce the kind of group culture they want to see. The issue that has come up in the last few sessions and will certainly continue to come up, is with the opportunities to succeed have also come opportunities to fail--too much side-talking and misbehavior. Failure being part of the learning process, I want to move beyond it but also recognize the evolution of the group mentality. These young guys are no longer testing me but instead are confused as to the long term goals of the program I am implementing. What the group needs is a strong message of clarity about the purpose of the group and what it can achieve. Therefore, I believe it most productive and enlightening for them to outline the numerous projects they could take away from this experiment into cooking.

These young men need to keep in mind that the opportunities available to them now ought be pushed and not just accepted at face value. With some urging on my part, they need to begin using the freedom of working with me as a chance for doing more of what they are passionate about. Collaborating their interests into the work of the group should be the goal for me and them.

They have come a long way. From the disturbed energy of misbehavior to implementing productive exchanges of food and fun. I can see their vision, but can they?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Shell of a Man

Democracy has become an idea that doesn't aid conversations anymore. Democracy doesn't imply probably the energized resistance to corporate control that it did hundreds of years ago. The word doesn't imply institutionalized bottom-up leadership (and that is exactly what I am talking about). It doesn't provoke imagery of a cyclical governing system designed to inform the top of the concerns of the bottom and truly apply the pressure to get work done. Recycled too many times over, it has lost creativity and originality. Implementation requires patience and dynamic interventions to liven debates and investigations of critical issues.

The solution can be found by flipping the organizational framework and reinstating a culture of civil service to communities instead of entitlements and elitism. Putting into place leaders who generate dynamic group work capable of engaging the disengaged. (This often requires proving to 'followers'' potentials for future work through hands-on skill building.)

I stress group work because democracy requires the incorporation of all the members' skills and ensures culturally-relevant conversations.The solution to our problems of community decay, gentrification, unemployment, lack of healthcare, poor schools, requires a great deal of coordination between many different families and stakeholders. We must gather people together and begin a democratic conversation around agreed upon subject matter. Call it 'a community conversation'. Through creative group work we can dig into the causes of our challenges and successes and build stronger, more unified communities. Only then will democracy come to mean what it once meant: power to the people.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Inevitability of Personal Motives

The Cooking Club at my North Philadelphia site is soon to be up and running. I am looking ahead to a new group of students to engage and push into leadership positions as wellness creators. The hope is for students to see this as an opportunity to acquire real-life skills and a passion for caring for their bodies as there are real consequences to not treating it as an investment. Through a cooking club designed to have them enacting and enforcing changes upon the group, and possible future ventures through the group, we can impart a philosophy of empowerment to energize students.

Farther north, I have an upcoming Parent workshop to conduct on healthy snacks where I'll be facilitating dialogue around affordable, convenient, healthy snacks for kids. I imagine providing Path Mark circulars to demonstrate the common affordable items comparing those to the typical snack food from the corner store and then detailing the national childhood health statistics. Generating a conversation about "usual" snacks with local and relevent evidence should push the adults to think about their capacity to provide healthy snacks and their motives to do so.

As the programming expands and I'm beginning conversations with more diverse groups I'll need to focus my energies on a pedagogy incorporating as many voices as possible and the greatest depth of honesty as possible. Inevitably all that I share (inside the classroom and out) will result in personal interpretation and motivation, thus the greatest level of honesty will bear the closest semblance of actual motivation from participants. Thus, how do I encourage an environment of honesty in a group of students not accustom to honest dialogue?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Uncompromising Teacher is No Teacher At All.

It is my conviction that education without self-knowledge in depth is a process which, like education itself, is never complete. It is a point on a continuous and never-ending journey. It is always relative, never absolute. It is a process which must go on throughout life, if at all; and like the fight for external freedom, it demands eternal vigilance and continuous struggle. This is because in every one of us, from the beginning of life until its end, active forces are at work which tend repeatedly to confuse and obscure our images of ourselves. Therefore, that well-known average man who lacks self-knowledge in depth looks out upon the world through glasses which are discolored by the quality of his own unconscious self-image. Without self-knowledge in depth we can have dreams, but no art. We can have the neurotic raw materials of literature but not mature literature. We can have no adults, but only aging children who are armed with words and paint and clay and atomic weapons, none of which they understand. And the greater the role in the educational process which is played by unconscious components of symbolic thinking, the wider must be this ancient and dishonorable gap between erudition and wisdom. It is this gap which makes a mockery of the more pretentious claims of art, of science, of education, and of religion.
-Lawrence S. Kubie, Neurotic Distortion of the Creative Process

Self-Knowledge can be incorporated into any lesson as long as the students are given space to express themselves genuinely and are given support from their peers and facilitators. With greater trust and communication amongst members of the group, activities will continue with greater focus and investment from students.

What must be understood amongst all else is that the culture of the classroom reflects the culture of the teachers. If you have teachers satisfied with managing the classroom through fear and silence, then your students will never feel comfortable enough to express themselves. But if you have teachers who feel adventurous and democratic, then you will have a classroom pushing for fairness and creativity. The importance of this culture cannot be exaggerated for as we all should know, the poor habits of destructive criticism or boredom your students may exhibit will last as long as they are tolerated. And the longer they are tolerated, the stronger they will become.

The process of altering your work to the approval of someone else has been difficult ever since it was first attempted but we must remember that if we are not working in coordination with administrators mandating curriculum or parents cynical of unconventional styles, then we are working to the detriment of the students. See these other stakeholders as allies and approach them for support rather than as obstacles in the way of your agenda. Compromise is a worthy lesson for students and teachers.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Complex Conversations. Simple Peace.

An older gentlemen related an account of his son's coping with a difficult employment position recently in these terms: "He won't be satisfied until he completes the cycle. Only then will he feel accomplished." This exchange said a great deal and stuck with me. It said that the process of dealing with change is genuinely organic meaning that it requires something only we can feel has been supplied.

I suppose the same goes for me as well. But recently I was thinking what is "my cycle"? How do I define success and satisfaction with my work? I have to believe that I am most satisfied when I feel like I am in the midst of serious productivity in the classroom. Demonstrated by creativity and conversation, when the energy in the room reaches a point where the students are thinking outside the nutrition box and pulling their own habits and preferences into the box, I feel satisfied. This is the sort of work that is sustainable and exciting for young people. The great trick is incorporating material from their regular curriculum into these kinds of activities to balance the age-appropriate mandated materials with the exciting/engaging materials so that the activities are relevant to all parties: students & teachers.

This is a serious time for our world. As we confront global catastrophe in the form of wars, terrorism, climate change, consumerism, economic manipulation, etc. you must consider education to be as much if not more of a concern than any of those. For it is the uneducated civilian who will tolerate those ills. It is the uneducated civilian who will not demand a more just and appropriate world. In other words, the uneducated with not foster fair and just relationships with those people they interact with. Such relationships are the foundation of sustained change and peace.

Agendas and Revelations

I have realized that every one of my activities need a worksheet to aid students in the processing of their own critical thinking. The productivity possible in a classroom employing critical activities and the materials students need for processing will surprise all observers and empower the students to new heights of thought.

"I follow leaders not followers. You must show yourself to be a leader to earn such a dynamic position in a team."

When the Shouts Die Down
When nutrition has fallen from the national agenda what will be left to challenge students? What work will remain? What will students be thinking about their food and bodies? The sustainability of my activities and it's messaging is extremely import to consider when thinking about the good my work is doing. I must understand that my words have a life within the students I work with. When the shouts of nutrition and health die down from the headlines and the money moves to another agenda item, what will live on in the minds of students? An empowered sense of care for their bodies or the convenience of fast food?

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Challenge for Leaders

Leadership to a great extent can be seen in the teamwork process. The exchange between any persons working together toward a common purpose. More realistically though, it is any persons whose relationship impacts the outcome of that work. Understanding and participating in this kind of leadership properly requires trust, focus, and determination.

In the last few days I have seen many different instances of positive and negative leadership, some performed by me and some by others I have observed. It occurs to me that regardless of the excuse for negative leadership, if those in an authority position are not challenging their followers to raise their level of participation and representation in the work, then we as leaders are failing. The most effective approach to leadership is the improvement and incorporation of followers into the decision making process. The sincere challenge can in effect push followers to see the relationship with a leaders as a far more fluid relationship; a relationship to be worked and used for the benefit for all.

Creating the space for creativity and originality and then challenging followers to use their resources to dynamically work in that environment will create a more sustainable working relationship. As a follower I can say with certainty that there is nothing more stifling as an unapproachable boss. The leader must be present and inspirational.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Map of the Soul

Right now I am working to create an activity where I can incorporate student's understanding of who exactly they are. Now, in order to do this I have to narrow the line of sight so as to give them easily accessible landmarks in their mind to figure out who exactly they are, but I don't actually think this manipulation will cause any serious damage to their own imaginings.

What I want them to be doing is considering what they do that makes them who they are. While they are thinking through what their actions explain about their "selfhood", I will prompt them to be thinking more visually with something I saw during a TED Talk. This circular diagram, which I saw during Tim Jackson's talk on Economies of Health, of personal ambition and/or commitments makes the participant commit to being a certain kind of person. With this commitment comes a dedication to a certain ethic, and if they are thinking about the ethic and their day-to-day behaviors, I think the issue of health is easily incorporated.

Imagine the students are sitting together thinking about who they are according to their actions. They are looking at the Map of their Soul and someone asks are we behaving like healthy people? What would a healthy person's Map look like?

The construction of a visual representation of a person's soul I think would call into question the potential for harmony in life. Looking at the soul on paper will inspire a serious consideration of values.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Unforgettable Empowerment

Its difficult to say what I am moving toward in terms of objectives within this organization. I am looking for a goal which is more "creative and ambitious"; A personalized strategy for the empowerment of future generations. I have felt the potential for this vision in the classroom with all different age groups but have yet to really grasp it. "Grasping it" in my mind is about inspiring others to push for their dreams and fight for the entitlements of their communities. An individual's dreams/goals and the empowerment of a community are intertwined either simultaneously or imminently. With resources at our disposal the question is whether we are using them to our greatest benefits to reach our potential to work and care for our communities like we do ourselves.

As a teacher and mentor to many of the students I see I must remember to engage them from a socratic perspective. Asking a lot of questions especially about their dreams, what they know needs to happen in order to get to their goal, and how they are going to put those steps into practice.

The classroom is especially useful for these conversations because I can bring to the forefront the resources available to the students and the reasons for pursuing goals of community and self empowerment. In a world of innumerable choices and tools, very few of them see the way to attaining more and better entitlements/rights. They may be able to program their phone to play a new song that came out on the radio just yesterday as a ringtone, but they don't know how to use their phone as a tool for empowerment.

Communication has undergone great revolutions and evolutions technologically but not interpersonally. We still look to people for honest and compassionate words and if we do not get them we will suffer because the consequences. No machine will ever substitute the need for genuine human contact, therefore, it is our responsibility to fulfill those needs by connecting community (which has many implications on its own) and technology. Then and only then will we have the unforgettable empowerment we all seek.

The question we as educators must address is how to spur long-term retention amongst students to recall and care about the health of their bodies. Now, the easy part is dispensing the information to the young people who see us as the only break from the school-day monotony, but it is another effort entirely to create a situation where they feel empowered to care about their health and the health of their family. A lesson that empowers is a long-term and sustainable lesson that will benefit far into the future. An empowering lessons changes the culture to one of wisdom and community. Our challenge as educators is to teach young people not to forget how to be wise for themselves and the future of their communities.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Real-World Hope

In the effort to perfect my delivery of my "student content creative" activities I will be implementing one tomorrow to three classes of teenagers with the hope that they will find them engaging and relevant to their lives. Now the idea of perfecting implementation should conjure thoughts of students discussing, thinking, and planning with only slight input from me. If I can reach a point where classes of students are spending the time I have with them presenting on all of the interesting ideas they worked together to form I will consider that time as perfectly implemented. Now, not all young people are in the right frame of mind to accomplish this challenging task (Hell, most adults can't do this) but with an activity that pushes them to create content in the classroom based off of real life experiences, there will be much to discuss.

I understand my job as implementing engaging activities and then framing dialogue rules or structures (like brainstorms, debates, or presentations) to create opportunities for genuine discussion amongst the people who just thought deeply about the real life implications of the subject matter.

It has worked in the past and I anticipate it will work in the future. What I need especially are allies in the classroom and out willing to help me empower the students to see their real-life contexts as able to be changed and not hopelessly stagnant and oppressive.

A Tribute to the Joy of Freedom

Freedom is so sweet
It flees when I come too close.
It flees when I'm too loud.
It flees when I'm too intense.
But freedom has another side
It arrives just in time to relieve
the pressures of a formal life.
It shows my love a creativity needed to survive amongst the many.
It inspires my body to dance when music begins.
And it raises my head to the horizon on the grayest of days.
Thank you to the free-willing poetry that gives me the courage to be myself
and no one else.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


"Deep thought matters when you are considering things that matter"
-Liz Coleman, Ted Talk 2009

Monday, September 6, 2010

Hot Button

An advanced tactic to improve the chances of my strategy with the young men I work with has just occurred to me. I was thinking about the few things I have tried with the teenagers I teach nutrition "literacy" (this might be the best way to put it) to create dialogue and interest in the issue of their health. On a number of occasions I have had little to no success because the conversations I tried to start or the activities I tried to implement were not controversial enough. Now, I don't mean controversial in the sense of judging a celebrities outfit while trying to eat healthy, what I mean is piquing the interest of the students by posing questions about issues that really matter to a male audience. (This shouldn't suggest that the following issues don't also matter to women, but men in particular react strongly to these themes.) Loyalty, Manhood, Justice, Crime, Love, Hate, these are the themes I have come up with thus far. I believe that spurring conversation about these themes will lead to serious discussion of relevance to them. Once they come to something close to a conclusion I can redirect the ideas they have regarding those "male-oriented" themes to nutrition and health. Creating such a dialogue is important to improving their critical thinking skills and group relations skills, all of course, while improving their nutrition literacy skills.

The exact format is still a work in progress. I will probably use a traditional brainstorming routine; just with a twist. Hopefully the young men will react to these words with the kind of passion I can imagine them exhibiting in a typical social situation where any of these themes were at question in real time. Indeed, only time will tell.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Office Politic

With a promotion coming soon to the ranks of nutrition educators here in my office many strange things are brewing. I have never experience a play for power so covertly except in high school. The only option for those caught in the middle is to demand transparency. With transparency comes the impossibility for fraudulent activities.

Fraud in the office must be countered with honest demands for inclusion and transparency. As a check to forces of corruption, the demands can be difficult to make, but their necessity is not to be taken lightly. If the move is not towards transparency it will move just as far in the direction of fraud until it is a culture rather than a rare custom.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Building on a Friend's Momentuum

"So please, go out and do something good for your friends and neighbors!"
-Excerpt from Jeff Chen's blog post on the PUA website.

Working within the nutrition education industry it is sometimes difficult to imagine proactive ways to fight for the health of others on a daily basis, but I'd like to think that the same kind of rational idealism is as possible as Jeff Chen of PUA makes it out to be. So, here are some practical ideas for doing some good for your friends and neighbors relating to their health whenever you have a minute to do something charitable:

1. Plan a potluck where all meals are homemade (theoretically homemade food is healthier because the cook would never add the preservatives and stabilizers added to most processed foods.
2. Get a younger person to help you plant some flowers. (
3. Ask a friend if they want to go on a trash walk (pick up garbage as you walk around the neighborhood--count how many food wrappers you find littered).
4. Get friends together to play an outdoor game.
5. Cook and deliver healthy dessert for an unsuspecting neighbor (this kind of kindness is less unusual the closer to a holiday you do it).
6. Create a neighborhood cooking group.
7. Create a neighborhood gardening group.
8. Create a compost pile in your backyard where you can discard your food waste.
9. Volunteer at a local school and bring healthy snacks to a class of young people.
10. Do something selfish and eat some delicious fruit (peaches are my favorite).

For all the talk about "getting our country" healthy there are very few convenient ways to work within our communities to get active and learn healthy cooking together. This is a huge problem. The lack of community engagement on the issue leaves the individual without a support system. Do yourself a favor and get together with some friends and build the momentuum.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Classroom Power Defined

"When a people are mired in oppression, they realize deliverance only when they have accumulated the power to enforce change. The powerful never lose opportunities-they remain available to them. They powerless, on the other hand, never experience opportunity-it is always arriving at a later time."
-Excerpt from The Black Power Defined, MLK, 1967

It would be misleading to tell young people that we can change the world from inside the classroom. It would also be misleading for me to believe nutrition is a top priority for most of these young people. But, putting their "enforcement of positive change" as an agenda item and giving them the skills and the reason to opt-out of the oppressive system and demand more for themselves, changes the tone of the classroom. Obviously tone isn't enough. It's not until these students actually experience a moment of enforcement that they will feel the beginnings of their power. Encouragement for them at this point is necessary because power, as was made clear by MLK, does not come knocking at the door of the oppressed, must be prepared for and seized when seen approaching.

Opting out is an interesting and engaging idea. But how can a young man living in a facility or any large urban area opt-out of the fast-food/cooking-disabled culture of the American city? Through thoughtfulness. First comes the motivation to be thoughtful and helpful to yourself and others, and then the time to plan what that thoughtfulness and helpfulness ought to look like, and then the skills to implement the plan. Unfortunately, there is difficulty at every turn in this equation. Motivation is difficult to foster, focusing in on a plan requires sketching a practical guide to get from where you are now to where you want to be in the future, and skill-building requires a teacher with the desired skills and the ability to teach them well.

This is not to say that the process is impossible. On the contrary, whenever young people are faced with a situation like this and they have the motivation to begin and the community of people to plan with, they will always find the a way to learn the skills and their energy will propel them close if not directly to the finish line.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Stand Up for Yourself in Interview

If the goal is to help found and support empowered young thinkers with the nutrition work I am doing. Perhaps I could incorporate a suggestion made by an administrator at one of the facilities I work with to create an empowering session for the young guys.

The director of programs, during my last trip to the facility, suggested that I promote the possibility of a student entering their opinion into the newspaper. Like testimonials reinforcing nutrition messages, the opinions of the young guys are exactly what we are after so perhaps giving them their own soap box to speak from would be the best way to really promote their ideas about nutrition. Now, undeniably some young guys won't have the kind of positive outlook on nutrition administrators or I would like to see in print, but I think the activity of pairing students up together would put both the interviewee and the interviewer into a powerful position of empowerment where with the right prompting students couldn't help but speak of the positive effects of good health.

Beyond promoting their opinions of health, an activity based as an interview would also serve to make clear their opinions of health and wellness giving me the raw data I need to create relevant questions and activities to push their thinking about the subject.

All in all, I think utilizing the interview format and empowering these young guys to put their words into the newsletter would be a step in the direction of confidence and creativity necessary for changing minds and making commitments to living better.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What Change Do You Want to Make?

I want all interested in the Wellness of this facility to be able to accumulate the power to enforce change good for their bodies and the community here. Thus, rather than employing such a philosophy through the general nutrition lessons I will instead move such a community interest to the wellness council. (The Wellness Council will be a group of students interested in meeting once a month to conduct cafeteria tastings and meetings about nutrition and personal self-care). You might ask yourself, how can a "wellness" council do this for me and our community? Well, these wellness meetings will be focused on practical lessons of food preparation and nutrition, and a secondary focus with be on creating a conversation about change. Questions of what change would you like to see will be the secondary concern after practical skills and nutrition knowledge. This format is essential precisely because as young people or their communities of support look for new directions out of this or that facility you need a plan to change what has not yet worked for you. If change for students and the community is something you would like to see, think about joining wellness meetings. The question you need to ask yourself is what change do you want to make?

Just as critical to a conversation about change is a need for patience. Planning for change means fun through food prep, empowerment through implementation of cafeteria tastings, and change through planning.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Questions from the Frontlines

I'll be traveling out to one of the two facilities I teach at to talk to young men about exercise and wellness. My goal is to open a safe conversation about healthy exercising and address the usual teenage concerns of body image and physical appearance. I want these young men to understand exercise as something done for the fun of it instead of "sculpting" a more "manly" body. I want them to confront the media influences and peer pressures. Looking those influences in the eyes and choosing a healthier alternative of self-care.

Body image is a subject with which educators need to be very sensitive. Because young people are working through all sorts of ideas about what is and what isn't attractive, this sort of conversation can turn ugly quickly. Make the foundation of the conversation composed of concern for the care of someone's body.

The prevailing question whenever I attempt to talk with these teenage boys about health is: how do I facilitate the conversation so that they continue to invest in it and remain interested? The key is putting them into a position to pull their background into the classroom so that we can safely look and talk about it.

I suppose this is an excellent depiction of the chance I take walking in there talking about health:

The resistance I envision on the road is nothing compared to my determination to open the eyes of the youth to their own potentials and then back away as they rise like the ash from the can you discarded. What else can I say. I know they will make a truthsayer out of me. I have pointed to them in a popular fashion with hands caked with honesty and integrity and they have seen the cracks of skin. Skin cracked by honest work is strange to them. They could barely recognize me. Now they can. It's the fire. Inside of you we can feel the heat.

Climb the stairs against all of the means to hold you back. Press on in the face of the feeling of failure and know that failure is death and rebirth. No action will ever lead you to nowhere but a new direction toward the peak.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Wellness: Student Leaders

The focus of my attention concerning the Wellness Council will be the meetings rather than the cafeteria tastings precisely because I need the students to understand that council meetings can produce a product that relieves their problems and issues with the facility and their health.

My encompassing objectives for my next visit to the residential facility are to involve as many students in the wellness council process, meet with Pete to set up the date for the first cafeteria tasting and meeting of the Wellness Council, and to create a system for empowering students involved to be leaders in the council.

Because I want this effort to sustain itself beyond my initial leadership, I need a tactic for giving voice to the next generation of leaders within the ranks of students. The ultimate vision is to see students who care about their bodies and who see the need for leadership on the multitude of issues holding them back from their true potential.

Particulars: Leaders chairing meetings, advertising cafeteria tastings, research Nutritional Value of food being tasted, and research future cafeteria tasting foods.

The next step for me is to sit down with the administrators in charge of the students and make sure I have permission and logistical support for the first day of the cafeteria tasting.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Facilitators: God's Answer to Apathy

My vision is to work as a group facilitator. Something like a creative organizationalist but for large groups of people. Specializing in working to bring forth the unrealized and untapped potential of a group, I would direct experiential activities to uncover obstacles and unused strengths. With everything on the table, the group could have a conversation about their own hopes for group work.

For all intents and purposes I already do this but with a fixed focus of nutrition. Now, I broaden my context and address issues from body image to food access. But, being able to draw from any and all subject matter relevant to the work group, I can prompt a much more personal conversation and begin to uncover all the baggage and all the promise.

I was first introduced to the idea and/or profession of creative organizationalist from my girlfriend who was telling me how her boss would consult with a profession facilitator. Essentially, the facilitator would draw out the client's passion and direction and challenge them to follow them out to their logical conclusion. Met with a fantastic logic, people find themselves more hopeful and confident they can achieve.

The question we are not seriously asking ourselves is why we can't achieve our goals. What is standing in our way? With renewed confidence, a network of professions already in the field, and a long-term plan for implementation, we have a far higher chance of seeing our dreams achieved.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Teaching Leadership in the Real Food Movement

Yesterday while working with the young men in one of the facilities I travel to I posed a question to begin a conversation about leadership. What is leadership? I asked. Why be a leader? I got a lot of replies and the majority of the answers came back like: a leader is someone who doesn't follow; doesn't copy; does things their own way. Their was an obvious heavy emphasis on self-reliance. No one wanted to feel like they were dependent on others. Now, while I asked about followership, I didn't ask the obvious question: what is a leader with no followers? I believe if I had posed this question and then challenged the young men to name some leaders in their local food environment and then asked if we should be following them, then they would have had to make the decision to trust and follow someone who might not have their best interests at heart. The point I would hope to be getting across is that there exist influences (leaders) in our environments we might consider to be "emotional leaders" but they have ultimate control over resources and inevitably our health. There are leaders that reign only because of a lack of an alternative. How does this relate to the young men I see and talk with? Because as they return home they must think deeply about who or what they want to follow. And where and how far do they want to follow them. The first step though, for a group so sure of their leadership potential, to having high expectations for the leaders not so much in the foreground is to admit that we all follow sometimes. Admitting the limitations of our control in the real food environment of our lives is essential for our claiming responsibility and changing that which exists now and is unsatisfactory.

This conversation is so essential precisely because of our interest in being in control of our lives. The reality of the food environment is that we are constantly choosing from the options granted by the real leaders. In order to supply ourselves with better options we must demand better from the leaders we often do not see. So, the students just have to ask themselves if they consider themselves leaders of their food environment. If they do not, then they must be prepared to admit their lack of control. Something no teenager wants to do.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Empowerment: abridged version

The original idea of a wellness council has taken a different yet important detour through a practical vetting system. So, instead of having a general wellness council where students would be able to do more of the guiding of the agenda from food prep and strategies for reform, I would be implementing small groups sessions only within the framework of cafeteria tastings. As much as I would like to be able to facilitate a conversation about empowerment/leadership with students hoping to take on more of a leadership role, combining the lunch period and experimental tastings with the abridged version of empowerment and leadership that would be given to volunteers might be the best of all worlds.

Condensing the lessons of food processing and making time for a cafeteria tasting would work to make only the most important lessons of organizing for reform and food processing the focus and ruling out nonessential material.

So, if this works out I will be implementing a cafeteria tasting program that will be lead and processed by and for students (of course I would be doing all the logistical work). Putting a few students in those positions of leadership should get them thinking about health, nutrition, food, and leadership in a new way.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Community Works Projects Fall to Bickering

Communities fall. Devastation spreads and corrupts minds. We no longer have each others best interests in mind.

On the surface everyone seems healthy and happy.
but behind the eyes machines are
gearing up to stab and claw like humans for clean leadership.
Pushing up like angry and insane tears communities fall.

The only protection against this is not innovation or
investment diversification.
The only protection is a genuine relationship between community members where they see and feel their mutual responsibility for
shutting the corrupting machines off
before they occupy any potential room for community.

Look for the voluntary cooperatives--living communities
Holding the key to freedom and peace
No back stabbing or happy eyes hiding shame
Take a moment for composure. There is no telling when we can sit down together and tell each other the truth.
And to be honest you might not change even after that.

Communication promises progress only with a leader demanding a commitment to shared interests.

Student Wellness Council

Implementing a student health council is an idea designed to incorporate students into the curriculum-creation process and empower them to change what they believe to not work. It is my understanding after having seen these students in action that they have many complaints regarding the system of the facility or school they learn in (including cafeteria and food options), but no recourse besides complaining. Therefore, I believe it is critical to teach them to turn annoying teenage complaining into a concerted effort to organize and reform a system characterized by patterns of industrialism and/or neglect for a curriculum that interests and engages them. I will proceed with plans to discuss a Wellness council with some staff and present the idea to students to see what if they believe a council as such would accomplish for them.

Learning more food preparation skills is critical to young people, who to this point have no food knowledge. During a typical nutrition session if the class is having a conversation about alternatives to the foods they eat, and we have real ideas for what can be an alternative but they have no skills to actually make those dishes then the lesson quickly turns from solution-oriented to problem-oriented. Therefore, it is valuable and engaging for them to have opportunities to learn to prepare those alternative healthy dishes we discuss.

As mentioned before, these students need strategy sessions to learn how to recognize gaffs in the system and work to apply the right kind of pressure to change and reform those gaps. Allowing time for comments on wellness-related problems and solutions, we could work to transform those times of despair to times of empowerment and engagement. One student complains about the food in the cafeteria, okay, well how do you think we should fix that problem? Perhaps sitting down with the people in charge of food policy at the school and discussing the ill affects of the problem and the potential benefits to fixing the problem. Focusing on potential benefits that would also alleviate problems they are looking to solve would be wise strategy. This is what I imagine would help students to become engaged in solution-oriented work (recognizing problems but transcending the initial despair and working to find and implement a solution). Such a mentality is instrumental in raising the standards of residential facilities throughout Pennsylvania.

This wellness council would then be a combination of accruing food preparation skills, reviewing nutrition activities, and wellness strategy sessions. With the goal of empowering students to the point where the council will sustain itself with minimal activity from me, this heightened participation on the part of students will hopefully encourage a new culture of idealism and activism from the students.

Summer School Students cry for more better School

Don't believe students are interested in hands-on work? Don't believe critical thinking skills would aid students in their journey to an actualized education (education pursued due to it's relevance and applicability to life inside and outside of school)? A few students over the past few days have proven those doubts wrong. All students learning in an "oppressive" environment require the skills to demand properly and in an organized manner, and they require hands-on experience learning subject material. If these requirements are not met, students will resort to explicit spoken resistance and blatant physical resistance. Therefore, by creating opportunities for either direct hands-on experience or teaching skills of properly planning and demanding change, teachers can demonstrate principles of liberatory education and hope.

Practically speaking, students need to be taught these skills in a context of long-term action. In order to teach the action theme I could take issues they are having and show them how to resolve them in a cogent manner, which will increase the probability of resolution and change. For instance, if they were trying to convince me to do lessons differently how would they do it? They could resist physically by expressing their boredom through body language (head down, no eye contact, etc.) or they could think strategically and convince of the need to change and demand more student input (perhaps in the form of a student health council). Without understanding the techniques for attaining change they will resort to whatever they have to to relieve themselves of the burden of their oppressive education.

Hands-On experience, on the other hand, turns the whole banking system of education on it's head (especially if there are consistent reflection sessions where students can voice their opinions on the work of the group). Today I told students at a public school in North Philadelphia that we would not be using volunteers in the garden during the month of August to help maintain the vegetables or flower beds. Every class I told was disappointed. At least thirty percent of students had wanted to help and upon hearing they couldn't demanded to know why. The immediate uproar of a student body in summer school, that complains before and during most class work, indicated how upset it was that they couldn't come to the school grounds during the only month they have for vacation to do hands-on work. We need to remember something like that as an amazing compliment and testament to the success of the garden and all hands-on learning. Incorporating hands-on experience into the curriculum must be thoroughly investigated.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Teams Work

As of now I have had a great deal of experience working with teams of peers. Whether in school, work, or recreation, I can say with too much evidence to back my assertion that work cannot be done well if the team is not capable of working together. Now the question is: what is working together? How must we relate to one another to be considered working together? I would say the answer to these and many other questions of team cohesion can only be answered by the team members themselves. If any of them feel unable to address group issues of respect, integrity, critique, etc. with the group you have a problem of cohesion.

The consequences of a group without cohesion may seem slight at first but as it progresses into more and more tension through the process of passive aggression, the group will have larger and more emotional obstacles. A team is not a team if it cannot relate to one another in a personable and respectful manner. Support and inspiration are the advantages of team work, tension and destructive competition are the disadvantages. Which of these outcomes the group invests in is up to the management, but rest assured, if management does nothing, the group will decide for it's self.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Classroom Communities

Many might doubt my reasons for using a pedagogy grounded in group work and student content creation as I am only teaching Nutrition. Why would any student need nutrition to be taught through a group process? They might say. For sure, anyone making a food choice has little to no reason to consult with someone else about their choice once they have made it. But as with most disciplines, the history of the decision is about as important as the decision itself. Before someone makes a decision whether about their food, politics, or money, they are in fact consulting an inner dialogue about their own values and beliefs about the impending choice. Now, if there choice is regarding a food and they don't think anything of nutrition, that reflects an absence of nutritional motives from their past. On the other hand though, you can find students who have had plenty of nutrition lessons, eating the worst kinds of foods. The point is that students are incorporating more than just your lessons of the value of nutrition into their decisions. There is a constant tempting of young people's attention in the marketplace. Through the immersion of values and beliefs of popularity, power, and sexiness into the marketplace, young people are convinced to buy all sorts of food products that will contribute little to their health.

It is the innovation and advertisement apparatus of the food industry that must be counteracted by student critical thought and action. Without a mind for their own demands they are totally vulnerable to a class of confusing food claims and vendors without a mind for a young persons best interests. Amidst a community of people not thinking of you, we need an outlet where we can care about ourselves and that which we put into ourselves. In a significant way I am building a community around the premise of critical thought, action, and reflection.

In the classroom, an educator can create a safe space for that same reflection again and again. Through such an engrossing and interactive process anxious ideas of nutrition are channeled into energy for the appropriate expression of culture, personal intellect, and creativity.

When all is said and done, I am working to create a critical community of young people. Through activities raising democratic dialogue and creativity, the students and I are progressing to a point where we care enough to talk at length about our hopes for the health of ourselves and our communities. If someone values their bodies enough and they value their community enough, they will fight to preserve and optimize it.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Reporting on the Classroom

I have realized that I am a great resource for... well, me. I am always looking for hints to understanding the mindset of students and their motivations, but where I have looked only slightly is my own reservoir of memories from the classroom. Proven to be great raw data I have seen teacher reactions, student morale, and communication between innumerable students and teachers, all of which can be used to make an accurate judgment of the state of a classroom. In other words, I can use first-hand accounts to piece together answers to big questions about contemporary students.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Even the Students in the Back

When the time comes to sit down with the decision-makers in my office I need to be ready to serve a strong case for changing the model of nutrition curriculum. I will need to be able to prove to those power players that the model we ought to pursue operates with a focus on student responsibility rather than teacher knowledge. By this I mean the foundation for classroom work must be the active participation of students with the curriculum work and the real world. At this intersection of theory and pragmatics we will find the way towards attracting students to the subject matter and student retention of knowledge, plus we will have the added bonus of greater critical thinking and an easier discipline model (divide and conquer with small group work). The following is a hopeful look forward to what I will say when that time comes:

Thank you for giving me some time to talk about the Students in the Back. And when I say that I am literally talking about the students being left behind (in the back) by curriculum and pedagogy. We have a tendency to forget about the students in the back. We have all heard about them, but very few of us have ever actually heard from them. This is the problem. The classroom is being treated as something like an experiment on the silencing of a generation. As you can imagine, most students do not enjoy this set up. They rebel without much of a cause. We educators must use our lessons to put students in a position they have most likely never been before: the front of the class.

It would seem that we have ample evidence of the failure of the Philadelphia School District's curriculum and classroom management (pedagogy included). I myself could provide testimony to the poor quality of the pedagogy and curriculum, the resulting misbehavior of the students, and the final mismanagement by teachers. My diagnosis, therefore, regards the education system as a system in failure that will remain in failure until the lack of logic is replaced with a foundation of critical thinking, empowerment, and group work all dedicated to teaching subjects grounded in the local culture. I have seen it work. I have seen students originally disengaged become excited and so interested in the work that they made sure they had a chance to get to the front of the class for a chance to report their work to the rest of the class. They wanted their voice heard. Changing the power structure in the classroom changes students. I can guarantee that if a teacher can put a student in a position to 'stand up' in the front of the class after having completed work they are proud of, you will have a student with a totally different perspective on education and whose responsibility it is to lead in the classroom. This new level of engagement is only heightened when you give local culture as context for the work. With radical change, comes radical results: student leaders.

Leadership and empowerment cannot be underestimated as motivating forces for young people of all ages. Instead of reinforcing the traditional classroom relationship of teacher (authority) vs. student (subject) we must invite students to the front of the class to present their work, thereby taking on a position of authority and sharing in the responsibility of the work. So, no longer am I the sole teacher in the room. In fact, every student has the potential to act as one in the front of the class even if it is only for a little while. Such shared classroom management communicates a level of trust students are reluctant to misuse and a seriousness about leadership that must be embraced and used to improve their lives.

Along with strong lessons, democratic dialogue (students presenting in the front of the class paired with group conversations about the work) and small group work, the class changes from a digression from the real word, to an inclusion of and progression upon work already done.

Group work is terribly important to the inclusion of students into managing the classroom. Traditionally, classroom work and classroom order is dictated by the teacher and what is correct or incorrect is based on the analysis of the teacher. If you can implement small student group work regarding somewhat open-ended questions, then the classroom work is dictated by students and the scale of achievement becomes who finishes the work rather than who is "correct". Rewarding students who finished their work with an appropriate prize, then student direction should move toward getting more and more work done so that more students can receive notice and prizes. Thus, any issues of order and discipline should decrease dramatically as students will want to focus in order to get the work done. This is incredibly important to communicating to the class that they do have agency and the classroom work can put them into a position of authority if they chose to use it as such. Combining orderly work with student presentations totally changes the dynamics of the classroom. It will no longer be the teachers "base of operations" for directing students, it will become a valuable safe space for critical thought and problem-solving.

Some veteran teachers I have spoken with have cited the massive amount of work this kind of teaching style requires, and at first I had agreed, but not now. Now I know that a classroom project (big enough and interesting to all students) must involve interdependent student forces and it is that interdependence which will lessen the burden of the teacher. A class-wide project can provide enough work for every student, satisfy student passions (thereby motivating), and allow time for teachers to guide lessons and correct student mistakes. There projects should be subject to periodic presentations to reinforce the urgency of work.

We have the chance to give Philadelphia school students a look at what project-based learning focused on critical thinking and problem solving looks like. We will impress them, even the students in the back, as we think seriously about what they would like to see in their neighborhoods. We will remind students of their ownership over the classroom and their communities. Make demands. For their own sake, they must demand an educational system that interests them and puts them in a position to make a difference in their areas. I know that if we structure classes more creatively and critically we will find young people thinking about school in a different way. And as students might have used to put their heads down to sleep before, in this classroom they will be too busy working on community based projects to sleep--even the students in the back.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Classroom-Team

Its difficult to judge my own work especially when the workshops with students go well. Its easy when workshops go poorly. I can pinpoint the source of the difficulty and solve the problem. But when the class does well, and all the students are engaged, I'm lost for problems to solve. As far as I'm concerned I had no problems. So, my math has to change. In order to progress and refine my lessons when classes go well I need to think about the group work besides the nutrition themes I am talking about. I need to think about the group dynamics: the foundations for teaching nutrition or any other themed lesson. If these foundational issues of group unity, group motivation, and group knowledge are not worked on and addressed in a healthy way, the group will not care to stand up for the moral lessons of your themed lessons. Thus, the group and I need to stop and think as the confusion subsides and we realize the foundation of society is cooperation and/or competition.

Because my company gives no feedback and provides no models for education to use as some guide for lessons, I need to do is develop a system of educational models. As I map out the many ways educators can aim to build a captivating, engaging, interactive, and educational lesson, with such a map any organization can begin to narrow in on a desired model as they rule out the models not meeting expectations. Thus, the evolution of an educator's style of teaching. Without a definitive model to work for, educators working to advance and improve their organization will be left with vague understandings of the desired lessons made more clear only by the random materials we are supposed to use for the classes. Worksheets and posters. All I have to work with to build a captivating, engaging, interactive, and educational lesson are worksheets and posters. I need to sit down. I'm confused.

But I have faith in myself. I have faith in the groups of young people I see. I've stopped in and failed and I've stopped in and succeeded. But, from now on I know how important working on the foundation of the group is. And now I know there is no more time to sit down and think. Now is the time to stand up for the others coming after, admit your vulnerability, and ask your students to join you to build a new group. How the new group understands there work is the concern. And the work isn't just nutrition. NO. From now on the work includes standing up, debating, and acting together. In other words: Democracy.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The True Cost of the Classroom

I think everyone would agree that people across this country and most all countries of the world, enjoyed above all else being able to exercise their creativity and passion through projects of ranging size and ambition. Whether someone decides to train for a marothon, start a garden, or start a business, this drive for individuality and empowerment to push for some new connection with our deepest philosophies is incredibly healthy and powerful. Our philosophies must be allowed to be put into practice or we will feel the resulting oppression in a sincere and depressing way. Now, if you agree with this fundamental premise about human potential and spirit, then you must explain to yourself and those loved ones around you why the educational practices used day in and day out do not facilitate students' development of those same projects that invigorate and challenge our intellects. We must revise our schools to put into practice project based learning in some way in order to challenge our students to think critically about their world and what they hope to see. Such a project could with the right supervision turn into an intensive curriculum capable of teaching basic reading and math skills without the boring memorization strategies so commonplace today.

Inspiration, creativity, and empowerment must hit these young people before they will approach the classroom as though it were a tool rather than an obstacle. Through my teaching style I must be outlining and demonstrating the critical thinking skills students can build for themselves if they participate. Through a solution-creation process played out using short-session projects I can and already have fostered classrooms with respect, critical thinking, and creativity. My objective is and must continue to be to interest students in participating in critical thinking as creatively as they possibly can. Now piquing the interest of students is done through the interactive activities often infused with role playing and cooperative working groups, the participation comes from inviting students to present their work to peers, and the critical thinking arises through the evaluation and reflection on the data collected through activities they help to create.

Opposite this solution-creation process is an alternative tactic used by teachers to force information to students through memorization and work not requiring independent thought based on their own understandings of the subject matter. This tactic (known by many as the banking method of education) is an oppressive philosophy of standardization. Easy to prepare and distribute to students, this philosophy of education comes in the form of non-stop memorization, reading from alien texts created miles and miles from their homes and realities, and other lower level learning skills. The result of such a program is boredom, disengagement, and fewer positive skills acquired.

Student integration into classroom work through group dynamics conversations held with the class (to ensure optimal group work--translates to compassion, listening skills, etc.) and the prompting of student work plans would challenge them to see the classroom as a laboratory of critical thought. Showcasing problems in their communities and allowing them to design programs to solve said problem pushes students to work with real data and learn by creating.

Once suggested at a Slow Food conference in San Francisco a couple years ago, health activists should pressure school administrators to better the school lunches by forcing those same administrators to eat the food the students eat for a full year and see if they still believe school food to be permissible. Something very similar should be done with adults like what is done to students in many public school classrooms across the country. That kind of order and discipline should be enforced on adults just like the young students... oh wait we have something like that already. Prisons.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Revisions on Cooperative Learning

My educational style has evolved over the last three months of teaching nutrition in the Philadelphia school district. I have seen teachers who command the respect and attention of their students and I have seen teachers who's sole strategy for reigning in misbehaving students is to yell at the top of their lungs. As wide as the spectrum of teacher response is, its width is matched only by the limits of the singular failed curriculum. I truly believe the majority of the behavior problems teachers see in the classroom are a direct consequence of student boredom. Additional project based learning with real life application would work to reinforce the importance and relevance of class work, and give the students an aim to work toward. For instance, if a group of children wanted to work on refining their neighborhoods healthy food options, then a whole curriculum of interesting application comes into play. Such curriculum serves to engage students and once students are engaged they want to remain engaged. Now, it would be too simplified and ineffective to implement a discipline strategy that relies totally on an engaging curriculum. Instead, educators looking to solve behavior problems must also be aware of other needs not being met for misbehaving students. But, if nothing else, an engaging curriculum works to unmask the true motivator of student misbehavior. With a clear look at a child's motives, an educator can move to address the issue with resolve.

A great classroom management technique is using cooperative learning groups. By using student-led groups you enhance student control, initiative, and responsibility, thus, abdicating the burden of controlling the entire classroom for which an educator typically receives a great deal of resistance from students. What I have developed thusfar amounts to: grouping students together along with quick questions about compromise and team work at the onset of the activity, using time limits, and promises of prizes for groups that finish and present their work to the rest of the class, that's the extent of my cooperative learning group strategies.

What follows are suggestions for improved cooperative learning work:

Enforcing Equal Participation: So, often times a group will achieve a task without the participation of all the members of the group. While this might achieve the goal of learning more about a nutrition topic, without equal participation they might relate nutrition to the process of domination rather than democracy and equality. Working on the activity through equal participation ensures the kind of engagement that raises the probability of retention and interest in material. Domination within small groups by some group member raises the probability of resistance to the subject by the mere fact that they aren't enjoying the work.

Suggesting specific jobs for group members: This tactic eases the enforcement of equal participation. By suggesting jobs for specific group members you can raise the probability that each member will have some task to complete. More you increase the level of individual accountability because no one can resist work if they have a job to do and might face public attention. On the other hand, this kind of step can decrease the level of communication and team work as they split up the work and cease to work together.
Obviously this tactic requires special attention to implement effectively and sensitively. Perhaps suggesting jobs for individuals within the group and then a group job of putting everything together might accomplish the desired task of encouraging team work around nutrition.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Classroom Management Manifesto: The Potential of the Classroom

My intention for classroom management is to create a place where students have an interest in maintaining a positive classroom environment because it is theirs to use for their own benefit. In order to create that place an educator must convince the students of the potential of the classroom. Incorporate movement, interaction, acting, creativity, art, music, small group conversations, critical thinking and honesty and get the students to see and buy into this motivating classroom place, and you will find the students managing the classroom with you.

"A meeting, workshop, or classroom where everyone has the opportunity to move, laugh, speak, and share their ideas is going to be much more interesting and productive than a traditional lecture/question-and-answer format where very few people speak and even fewer people really listen. The skillful use of interactive methods creates a context in which group members get to know each other and have opportunities to participate actively in the group's work." (Moving Beyond Icebreakers, 11)

Reading this passage and similar ones from Moving Beyond Icebreakers I am reminded of work I did with one seventh grade teacher and his class. The connections between that class and this statement lie in the pursuit of fun and productivity and how to achieve both. How can I encourage students to share their ideas in a productive manner and keep the activities fun and interactive? The answers lie in relinquishing some of my control over the classroom and giving it back to the overwhelming majority in the room: the students. Guiding their conversations to a place where they can safely discuss with one another eases the burden of entertaining the group for the entirety and refocuses me on the task of facilitating a conversation about nutrition and food that is relevant to the people who matter: the students.

The activity I arranged was an indirect approach to understanding what students' motivations were. I was continually made the point that health is a means to achieve whatever ends you seek. I believed that if we could get young people talking about their ambitions and then somehow relate health/nutrition to their dreams, I would have an inspired group of students discussing and reinforcing the idea that health really does matter.

Not too long into the activity I found that at least 4 students weren't taking the activity terribly serious. Some of the resistance arose from the newness of the activity and some from students who had never really thought about their ambitions. Thus, with a good bit of noise unrelated to the class work, the teacher and I decided to articulate the problem in the room as we saw it. From the teacher the students heard: "when you reach the time when you think you need to be thinking about your ambitions and goals, it is already too late. Take this opportunity to really plan a future." And from me they heard something like: "This is your opportunity to really think deeply about your passion and your dreams. What do you love to do when you aren't at school? That's your passion... That's your ambition."

Now these comments were not at all destructive and they did do something to reign in the noise, but unfortunately the students were being told they weren't doing enough to accomplish the task of my exercise. Ideally, it would be me or the teacher articulating the group dynamic in the room, but instead, the group dictating itself. "A more effective approach is to come at the problem indirectly, giving the group the tools to help them recognize problems for themselves and articulate what they see," (Moving Beyond Icebreakers, 14). Realistically, I don't have time to give skill trainings on group dynamics diagnoses, but what I can do is create a quick and easy mini-activity to urge the students to think in the moment: what is happening in the room? And then reflect quickly and move on and continue the activity. The easiest technique to process what is happening in the room and encourage students to reign their own behavior in is to lay out the expectations in the very beginning of the activity, and then if/when the room is getting out of hand stop all conversation and ask the students if they are cooperating as they had talked about in the very beginning. In this way I would have relinquished some of my power, but the class will most likely be restored to the hum of student conversation around the desired topic. It isn't that students don't want to talk about these subjects, it's that they do but they don't get the chance to talk about it the way they want to. Open the lines of communication across a table or desk, give them a task, give them a chance to present to the rest of the class, give them something to strive for, and get out of the way.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A New Path for Educators

Recognizing those moments of importance usually provides space for creative growth instead of stagnation and inculcation. Fearing the opposite does nothing to ensure the beautiful emergence of those times of lovingly destructiveness.

Today's events at the food/nutrition conference offered almost no opportunities for creative expansion and critical analysis of our own work. I assumed upon arriving there would have been at least some time for us to brainstorm practical techniques to better our work--trust me most of the attendees could have used it. More than a brainstorm, we could have dealt with 'raw data' from the 'raw educators'. What works with which populations? And why? Then we can deal with dealing with young diverse learners.

Dispassionately speaking, our objective as educators (PA NEN affiliated) is to 'boost the nutrition of low-income families', and as vague as this mission is it is clear about who the actors of this work are and who are the objects are when the educators are supposed to be boosting the nutrition. 'Are we going to be shoveling healthy foods into these animals mouths or what?' I should have asked. Instead we should be empowering low-income families to boost their own nutrition.

Imagine such a drastically different student-teacher relationship. With such a base we could be talking at conferences about philosophies of empowerment rather than this regular, non-creative, bullshit!

Thank you.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Evolution of the Perfect Food World

So, the Perfect Food World was not the perfect food activity I had imagined it to be when I originally planned it. However, as is the tendency with first time activities in the classroom, the students provided the catalyst for it's evolution. The Perfect Food World with it's google map has become (through direct editing from teachers) the Perfect Food World with students creating their very own healthy food businesses. My intention when conducting this lesson is to give the students an opportunity to work critically and creatively with the work of their food community. I want them to be asking questions like: How could we get healthier foods to eat? Why don't they serve healthier food at the cornerstores in my neighborhood?
And if that kind of sentiment piques their defense of the neighborhood cornerstore (which has happened in classes already) have them think about how the cornerstores could present the healthy food in a more appealing manner. All the while I can encourage/instruct them to consider where they want to build and sell their food from and perhaps even where would they get their healthy produce. (This kind of project requires my being able to urge them to think critically about taking action in their neighborhood, only do it here in the classroom. Such a challenge is not easy to manage.) If they refuse to create such a business, that just gives me an opportunity to ask why.

Ideally, after a few presentations of neighborhood food businesses a class conversation would emerge and from which I cease to be the special guest speaker and become the facilitator. If the class can evolve to the point where I no longer hold the role of lecturer or special guest speaker, then I think we will have experienced a real moment of empowerment. Frankly, I am excited to see what would happen after that point in the evolution of the Perfect Food World.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Perfect Food World

Perfect Food World
Goal Challenge students to imagine a more healthy food system and how to make nutrition a central part of that system.
Time 20-25 minutes (not including processing)
Physical Contact None
Physical Challenges None
Number of Participants 5-25
Space Requirements None
Materials Needed Google Earth Printouts of Neighborhood, Create a bubble diagram of their neighborhood, Chalkboard
Preparation Need list of questions to facilitate imagining food system

The kids have not ever thought about an alternative to the food system in which they find themselves. Therefore, they cannot be ‘health conscious’ because they aren’t even conscious of the food options they have.
Qs: Where do you get food outside of school? Where do you get healthy foods outside of schools? Where do you get unhealthy foods outside of schools? Are you satisfied with the way food is given to you outside of school?

1. Explain the activity of imagining a new way to get food (reinvent your food system). This perfect food world is a place where healthy foods are in every corner store and unhealthy foods are passed by without a second look. Where apples, bananas, and chard dominate, and sodas are left to sit alone forever. We need to create this Perfect Food World.
2. Pass out the printouts attached to the bubble diagrams.
3. Start pointing out where their food comes from on the google earth picture. Not anywhere close, how can we grow food closer to us?
4. Talk about where the food is sold.
5. Talk about what kinds of foods are sold in the cornerstores. Use personal testimonies to recreate the arrangements of the cornerstores. Where do they sell the healthy foods and where do they sell the unhealthy foods? Why is there more unhealthy food than healthy food? Or vice versa?
6. After creating the scenario of where food comes from, where food is sold, and where in the stores food is, ask if it could be any better.
7. Regardless of whether they say it could or couldn’t be any better, ask them why?
8. Reinvent the way food comes to the community. Ask questions relating to where else could food come from. How else could food be sold in the cornerstores? Why are processed foods so good to sell (long shelf life)? Explain what long shelf life means.
9. Have the kids act the conversation with store owners to move food from one place in the store to another.
10. Applaud the kids for acting and for imagining a new and better food world.

Processing Suggestions
1. Is the way we get our food perfect? What can we do to change the system to make it better? Who can we talk to? What are we gonna do to change the system?

Reflection: Where have all the farmers gone? We need more farmers markets in the area so that we can get fresh fruits and vegetables. Right? Or not do we need the processed foods?

Ask the kids and teachers for suggestions for the next time I come in.

A New Direction-More Community Organizing

Yesterday I went into a classroom full of despair and doubt. Kids without options looked at me and sighed as another educator came with boring rhetoric and nothing to inspire passion within them. This will change starting today. Yesterday they looked dejected and depressed talking about food. Tomorrow I will challenge them to act out their creative energies around food, health, body image, and any other facets of health they can think of. (In such a brainstorming style they will uncover other personal health ideas they have.) Food is an inroad to encouraging these kids to intervene in the world as critical transformers as opposed to violent resistors. A great example of the redirection of angry motives are the innumerable city murals throughout the Philadelphia area. Point out the obviousness of their dissatisfaction with the system and make plain to them their assets.

As I debrief today with my supervisor, consult 'Pedagogy of the Oppressed' and 'Moving Beyond Icebreakers', and write this piece, I am reevaluating and strategizing a new approach to the kids. Infused with hands-on work, fun, physical movement, and critical theory, I will create a classroom culture (valuable customs) of dialogue, critical thinking, and action. Without these themes instilled into my lessons these kids are lost and I am lost with them. If I do not see them making strides to a more impassioned group, I will soon begin to reflect the same dejected mannerisms as they did.

The next step is identifying the ideal and taking action to find an implementation of that ideal... I think I have found a solution in my 'Reinvent your Food' activity.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Rise with Me for the Food we Share

Going in to tomorrows first lesson at The Bridge I am anticipating a little resistance from the students there. If for no other reason than they have more things to worry about than worrying about what kinds of foods and drinks they are putting into their bodies. With that in mind, I need to work to make nutrition a place where students can speak freely about why food matters to them. More, typically problems of boredom arise when I am doing too much talking, and problems of behavior happen when I am not doing enough talking. The complication comes from having to understand the balance between boring the students and giving them enough slack to choke me (not literally, of course). I think the stress I impose also builds when I am trying to convince people of some scientific food rule that only adds to the inconvenience of being a kid with few resources and even fewer food options. Complexity ought to be added only after an initial period of group relations building and passionate discussion about the basics of nutrition and food.

A second great challenge will be motivating these young people to care and prioritize nutrition/food higher than before. Such presentations of nutrition as more than a lifeless science might conflict with preconceived ideas of food as a convenience activity or a nonessential, but in reality what this means is having more pride in their bodies, their money, their culture, and their communities. Pointing out these areas of interest and convergences of importance for them should make the motivation much easier, and such conversations will facilitate transitions from banking educational theory to critical educational theory.

Key to my success at these schools is not seeing lessons in terms of the challenges but in terms of the assets these challenges provide. So, when thinking about the resistance I will potentially face upon getting into the schools at first, I must identify and address the gorilla in the room. This only applies if there is a gorilla in the room. (My anxiety about resistance might not materialize into anything.) Regardless, I must stay focused on fostering a positive atmosphere for discussion of nutrition, food, culture, pride in community, while leaving room for input from the students. My objective will be to activate the passion of the students and then direct that passion in the right direction.

Critical to these lessons is my ability to present my message of pride in food with pride in myself and pride in the group. I must remember that food alone goes to waste but with people sharing and enjoying we can make feasts of not just delicious meats and fruits but with laughter and stories. I must push these kids to volunteer stories of fun they had with food.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Holding their Attention

Holding Attention through Challenges

"Education either functions as an instrument that is used to facilitate the integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes 'the practice of freedom,' the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world".

Before all else, the teacher must engage the students by instilling in them the confidence to be in front of their classmates challenging the current system. I believe if I had done this the last two times I had multiple classes of 6th graders together I would not have seen so much resistance. With the kids up in front of the class, I can push them to imagine a 'better' food system and the ways in which it would change the way their community looks and eats. Of course, in order to do this we have to develop an idea of what the current food system looks like (would be especially powerful if I had information about the food providers in their community). Juxtaposing the ideal with the reality and having the students leading the imagining and reconstruction reinforces the ideal educational format of students creatively and critically dealing with their food reality. As a matter of fact, using Google earth I might be able to show the kids the makeup of their community and challenge them to redesign their community so that it looks more "ideal" or exactly the same. I would love to hear a student defend the style and design of their community. A possible game could be to make teams and give them the role of either redesigning or defending the current makeup of their community. I feel a great class session coming on...

Attention everyone!!!
When teachers are faced with an audience not totally attentive to the lesson, they are faced with a difficult question: how to pull the students back to the lesson. This process is very difficult because redirecting the attention of a group of students can be difficult considering the potential resistance they might show. In order to circumvent their resistance, the teacher must invite a few students, preferably one of which would be the 'ring leader' of the resistance, to the front of the class to participate in the next activity. With these students at the front of the class, the classmates will feel much less interested in resisting and the ring leader will have an opportunity to help lead a different, less resistant, activity. If this activity is facilitated well, you will see a drastic difference in the investment of the class and the engagement of those students previously resisting.

With Students Like These Who Needs Enemies
The last thing a teacher wants to do is write their students off as completely antagonistic. Instead, constantly strategizing as though the students were assets, looking for ways in which you can work their talents into the activities, the teachers will find a much more interested and responsive group.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

From Lessons from the Field

I have been to close to 10 schools in the last month and a half. I have seen many different kinds of teachers and many different kinds of students. What I noticed most of all is the classroom management and how rare it is to see a critical classroom. A critical classroom is a place for role playing, democratic dialogue, interaction, fun, physical movement, and creativity. Today was the pinnacle of that deficiency; I saw teachers with classes as small as three who had no control over the students. They had no control over the students because there was no passion; there was no connection between the work being done and the community they came from.
Oppression is a vague idea in this country due to the seeming wealth and comfort. This school demonstrates so thoroughly the dynamic and complicated world of oppressed youth. These kids were kicked out of other schools for their behavior and have found themselves in a well-financed and equipped facility, yet have no drive to use the facility to their greatest benefit: their empowerment to change the system that brought them there. I think some would say these kids don't realize the trouble they are in, but I'm sure that isn't true. They know the kind of relationship they want to have with the society which expelled them from it's ranks, but cannot conceive of the disconnection between the dissatisfaction they experience everyday in that facility and their dreams of being home.
After this early experience it is obvious to me what is necessary to train citizens to accept and embrace their oppression: an education devoid of empowerment. Empowerment is the ability to motivate yourself to pursue an ideal (a target) and recognize the difference between the ideal and the present circumstances. Such an ability requires that citizens are able to assess their assets and determine actions to take to achieve those ideals.
This philosophy can be worked into an educational curriculum and fitted with all fields of study. The schools I have seen do not use such a system to teach subject matter. Unfortunately, they are hamstrung either by incompetent teachers or a lesson plan designed to teach to a standardized test. And because the test is the foundation for the curriculum, the teacher has to be incredibly courageous and creative to design an interesting and interactive lesson plan that will also teach what is required for the test.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Activity for Monday @ Crossan


Communication, Focus, Creativity, Surfacing Cultural Difference


10-15 minutes

Physical Contact


Physical Challenges


Number of Participants


Space requirements

Open Floor Space

Materials Needed

Name Tags to write out the Foods to Identify with


Post a list of choice words to be used to describe the different foods (for instance: Grain, Dairy, Poultry, Processed, High Fructose Corn syrup, Soul Food, Tacos, Fried Rice, Cheesesteak, Beets, etc.)

You Are What You Eat


How many students in here think like food? Do you think like carrots or tomatoes or Cheetos? If you did, what would you say?


  1. Hand everyone a name tag with a food product.
  2. Instruct them to put it on their foreheads before looking to see what it is.
  3. Tell them the goal of the game is to figure out what food you are without anyone telling you directly the food. So, you can’t ask what food am I? You have to ask questions like: is this food sweet? Or Would I have it for breakfast?
  4. Write up on the board the first three questions all students must ask first. Once they have asked these three questions, they can ask any others after. (For instance, Can you eat this food for breakfast? Is this food nutritious? What is this food made of? Etc.)
  5. Group Mingles for 10 minutes talking to one another in attempt to communicate (through hints) to the other what kind of food they are, without using the word itself.
  6. After 5 minutes take the list of hints back and have them ask their own questions.
  7. After 10 minutes have everyone return to their seats and find out who knew their food and how they came to the conclusion.
  8. Explain to the children that we are going to play a game with rewards. Students who answer three questions right get a prize.
  9. Ask nutritious questions (yes or no answers) relevant to the foods in the group and instruct the kids who think yes to put their hands up and the students who think no to put their hands down.
  10. Finish the stand up/sit down exercise with the question: “Who is ready to go home and eat a healthy breakfast tomorrow?”

Processing Suggestions

  1. This activity can show us how well we know our foods, who figured out what food they were?
  2. This exercise helps to illustrate the associations we make with food. How difficult was it to talk about the food without using the food itself? How did you describe them? Was it easier with the hints I provided? Or was it easier to ask your own questions?
  3. There is a popular logic when describing food like using the food pyramid, what kind of language did you use? Do you talk about food the same way grown ups do? Why? Was there any food you were familiar enough with to describe? Was there any food you didn’t know and for that reason couldn’t describe?


Was it easy to think like food? What foods are healthy? Which one of us was the most unhealthy food?


Ask students what they would like to do the next time I come to class. Take notes.

With this activity I am hoping to incorporate fun, critical thinking, and physical movement in order to best teach the students skills for making good health decisions. Admittedly, they know better than I do the food environment they live in and how supportive it is of healthy lifestyles. Therefore, it is my responsibility to empower them to know what kind of decisions are the best for their health and how to implement an action to get healthy results (see letter writing campaign to Michelle Obama).