Friday, February 26, 2010

A Vision and a Task

A vision without a task is but a dream,
a task without a vision is only drudgery,
but a task with a vision can change the world.

-Streets of Hope: The Fall and Rise of an Urban Neighborhood

My vision is that each day I work with young kids in Philly, they will feel the motivation and skills to dream big and act toward achieving their goals. In other words, they will be critical thinkers and will be able to diagnose a problem in their community and work to rectify it. Fighting for a purpose, building communities of strength, and speaking with honesty, all of these qualities require strong men and women to implement them, my dream is that it becomes their dream.

Specific to food, I dream of a day when the students I work with will see the problems existing in the current food system and they will fight to change them on a local level. After all, working in the classroom to educate students to the possible health alternatives available to them must include an action element. Omitting a challenge to these young people would do them the greatest disservice of not granting them the authority and wherewithal to change the dominant logic of their lives. There are problems with the food system in which they live. Ironically, they know so better than I do, and yet it is I doing the educating.

It is with this perspective that I immerse myself in the culture of these schools and allow the students to speak for themselves. I will facilitate the conversation and I will challenge them to think of an ideal, a dream, and strive for it. I will do no less.

They must be responsible for their own dreams and tasks so as to empower and enforce their personal maintenance of those visions for change. They know the problems, with my help they can imagine a solution, and with their communities they can change the food system to support and preserve a culture of care for the land and their bodies.

Practically speaking, this work will be done through many conversations dealing with critical thinking and role playing. From there, all I can do is prove to them they know the issues at hand in their communities, and if they want better for themselves they need to fight for it.

Such is a vision for change.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Difference between a Game and an Interactive Exercise

"The exercise, together with the discussion ("processing") that followed, have brought the group in less than ten minutes to a point where they are focused on their common goal..."
-Moving Beyond Icebreakers, Stanley Pollack

When someone opposes using games in the classroom the implication seems to be that a game invariably is time spent frivolously with little attention paid to the intended purpose of the work at hand. With such a bias coming from fellow educators I must make a distinction between games and another classroom management and leadership technique: interactive exercises. Inherent to these interactive exercises is the appliance of students' multiple intelligences and a structured conversation used to either reinforce or challenge popular themes. In other words, through the employment of rehearsal (action) and meaningful association, educators can encourage a more appealing and educational environment. Such an approach to teaching is also important to our objectives of teaching these young people for the long term. Simply using the lecture format or worksheets where students have nothing to do with the creation of classroom information hinders memory formation. If the students have ownership, interest, and are challenged intellectually, they have a greater chance of storing the information for the long-term. It is a disservice to the student to not employ a strong interactive exercise as a keystone of your lesson plan.

While the game might have little to do with the objectives of a group, an interactive exercise's primary goal is to incorporate the intended objective and key ideas into a more cooperative and democratic system of education. The student that leads democratically in the classroom spreads the power of the intellect and will serve as an ally in the future. Too often games are seen as threats. Well interactive exercises are like alliance-builders: building alliances between the teacher and their students.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Multiple Intelligences: Critical Pedagogies in the Classroom and Beyond

The importance of including the many different styles of learning became clear to me both in my personal journey to consciousness and my perceived deficit in traditional pedagogies which include only the lecture format with no inclusion of the manipulation of space, kinesthetics, language, or tools for the stimulation of other intelligences. What these traditional pedagogies lack creates an alien and unappealing learning environment for all those students looking to collaborate with peers, or move their bodies, or be creative. I found my immersion into the PHMC educational style to be lackluster as the children were not challenged to think for themselves, but instead stomach the information we as experts have to pass on.

If our goal is to improve children's lifelong eating and physical activity habits then we cannot only rely upon the logic of the USDA to inform the lesson plans. The children must be asked of their ideals regarding food and urge them to find the contradiction in the social makeup that constructs their food habits. Where does the food come from? Why do you like fatty and sugary foods? Is nutrition important to you? Why not? These questions need to be asked and the kids need to be able to have a conversation about it because until they see nutrition as being a qualification in their ideal eating habits, our work will only scratch the surface of their customs.

Essentially, these children need to be capable of critical thinking without the prompting of an authority. They need to be able to work out a problem of nutrition within the context of social, political, and economic forces as a collective so that they can feel empowered to change their food habits. It seems futile to provide "empowerment packets" to the teachers without an empowerment model to inform the work of the students. For the most part these empowerment packets are comprised of writing prompts, reading comprehension, writing and goal setting, and math constructed responses, and as a practitioner of critical pedagogy I have the knowledge and experience to say these packets do not empower.

My standards of empowerment lie in collective dialogue, interactive work (incorporating the multiple intelligences), and the process of "praxis". Without these critical ingredients, the classroom becomes underwhelming and based on the logic of the dominant authority. Such a dominant authority will then dominate the lesson and push critical nutrition from the forefront.

What these children need are allies in the process to construct a personal health plan and understand the interpersonal, social, economic, and political relationships to food, without this web of interests, food loses important context. Such a style is in effect lying through omission. Moreover, the USDA's embrace of contextualizing nutrition can be seen in their materials combining food and math or food and reading proving the relationship food can have with all sorts of disciplines.

Moving away from the classroom, I approach the administrative side. I need an ally to help implement these critical nutrition ideals, because after all, the educators/authorities are in need of these critical philosophies and models in order to better conceptualize the goals of an organization. (In other words, those involved in the working of an organization should consistently be reevaluating the goals and ideals based on the demands of the workforce and clientele. If the goals and/or ideals change such change should be reflected in the actions of the workforce.) There is more to this work than making children laugh and sit still for 45 minutes. Our goals should be to engage them and challenge them to make up their own minds. Only they should be laughing in the process.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Food's Culture Part 1

Food holds the narrative of environment, health, and culture. How do we work with the earth, with our bodies, and with our community. Our food answers these questions with severe clarity.

Whereas, youth were indoctrinated to eat and behave with regard for that inescapable narrative, now they must be faced with the realities of their food and the potential for change in their lifetimes and in their communities.

Whereas, food sales lead the movement to disempower youth with dead-end jobs, promote unhealthy eating habits, and a mis-education regarding nutrition and health, youth must be engaged regarding their eating habits and what they intend for their bodies.