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?