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.