Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Not a Soapbox, a Healthbox

Recently while watching a recorded talk about practical wisdom and it's potential to aid us in our repair of often broken institutions, the speaker mentioned the capacity available to jazz musicians of improvisation, novelty, and foresight to see upcoming issues. These "jazz musicians" are so well connected to the attitudes of their peers and contemporaries that they can effectively address community issues without seeming disingenuous. Educators have the same capacity born to them as do jazz musicians, we just need the opportunity (freedom) to implement dynamic lesson plans and challenge students to use their moral will and moral skills in the classroom. We cannot do this when burdened by overzealous rule-makers who do not know the benefits of dynamic activities in a challenging classroom.

The life of the classroom is at stake. An institution on to itself, the classroom is either a place where students are engaged and interested in the work, or students are disinterested and instead are negatively affecting the productivity of the classroom and teaching all others (including the teacher) how not to benefit in that laboratory of creativity and original thought.

The circumstance in the classroom is clear, the students and I can either pull content from their experience and match it with appropriate content forming a relevant and informative exercise of our practical wisdom and foresight, or I can deliver prearranged content that takes nothing from their experience, but instead intends to deposit it "into them". This philosophy requires students to see the value of the information and implement it without any outside leadership. I think the flaw in this mentality is obvious as it neglects student motivation--why are they doing the right thing when they think the right thing makes them an outcast and even they might not have the skills to perform what is being asked. Connecting nutrition to their lives and building the case for it's worth to them requires their input as well not just the input of the USDA. That kind of leadership transforms the students into philosophical thinkers/actors; Just what we need for the future.

Opposite a powerful student-center pedagogy is a teaching style with USDA content at the center and no independent thought. This top-down pedagogy forces the students to sit, listen, and regurgitate. When what they want to be doing is moving, talking, and creating. Asking students to stand up and speak for themselves, from their own experiences, challenging them to think critically about how their approach to nutrition could be better, and even the social impact of their nutrition beliefs makes the classroom far more dramatic and intense.

We cannot expect students to change their behaviors to a more healthy mode simply by providing nutrition content, for the simple reason that they already know most of what we tell them. They easily riddle off for me the usual nutrition catch phrases: "eat more fruits and veggies", "calcium for strong bones and teeth", "oil is not a food group", what we need is for them to care about their own health/nutrition. So, we need to respect their perspectives and simply provide an engaging platform from which they can advocate for themselves. Beyond such classroom advocacy they need leadership opportunities to practice their nutrition interests.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Looking Ahead by Looking Back

Tonight I'll be conducting the first of my Parent Workshops out in Northeast Philadelphia. The goal is to give parents a more formal opportunity to have a conversation about healthy snacking and the real consequences for our future. That's the key to unlocking the group identity: recognizing our common future in the children. A common future meaning the present opportunity for collaborative work for the sake of our children.

Coupling this conversation about the future skills and habits of their children with a cooking demonstration will give them the skills needed to begin incorporating healthier foods and enjoyable recipes into their child's life.

I see the session proceeding like this:
A. Introduce myself with a little personal history and detailing the Eat.Right.Now program.
B. Before engaging in a conversation about healthy snacking demonstrate easy/affordable/healthy snacks with a "cooking" demo.
C. Begin a conversation about our snacking goals and daily obstacles to providing youngsters with healthy snacks. How can we affect the desired goal? ==> Snacking cooperative?

In order for students to be working and playing within healthy environments parents have to take on a leadership role (and hopefully pass that same leadership attitude to their kids) to provide home support and opportunities for young people to make and eat healthy inside and out of their homes.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Power to the Young People!

Last night I conducted a cooking club session with around 12 eighth graders during which we made healthy crepes. I saw students engaged and interested in learning more and more about cooking. I, along with the teachers I've got helping, will be challenging the students to try their hands at intricate recipes. The ultimate goal for me is to put students into positions of leadership both advocating health and also working with their hands to create a delicious product. Uniting those two factors will create a pressurized educational environment teaching lessons of both nutrition and pride in leadership.

The greatest addition to such a program would be improvisation. Leading the students through recipe after recipe with the intention of creating a genuine circumstance of improvisation and food would allow for a lot of growth. So, how do you implement such an event? Assuming that teaching basic kitchen skills like recipe reading and measuring, along with safety skills, puts anyone in a position to experiment in the kitchen. It follows that with 4 or 5 lessons done with the same young people, they will feel comfortable using the tools and making basic foods. With such comfort instilled, the instructor provides a "mysterious" bag of ingredients and the students will have to develop a recipe on the spot without prior notice or extensive supervision. More than just improvisation and leadership skill building, an event like this could teach the use of seemingly disconnected foods into an incorporated recipe. such an experience would hopefully teach students how to take random ingredients in their home kitchens and work them into a healthy, delicious meal.

Leadership skill building is integral to a person's development as a critical thinker and actor. The lack of such skills is one reason students can sit through a nutrition class and not relate the curricular work to their lives or their communities life at all. Period. What I hope for are students who think about nutrition through the lens of a community activist working to empower others. I want students to be asking their friends and family: do people understand how this work connects to our community? or What are we doing to build community here? With sincere reflection on those kinds of questions comes critical mental and emotional health. I hope this addition to my regular classes in the schools will reinforce the belief in young people power.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Additions to the Program

The only hope nutrition education has to compete with the rich and powerful food industry interests is to arm students with a cultural lens of original thought. If they cannot think for themselves, they will be led to the corporatists' unhealthy foods.

Incorporating democratic principles into the classroom requires students to have the capacity to focus, participate, and lead. Leadership is integral to the utilization of resources, whether physical or intellectual. Creating activities to prompt such interaction is challenging but worthwhile. Fortunately I have the ability to position students in situations where they have as much control as I can afford them. So, this philosophy has manifested in the cafeteria tastings at one site and the cooking clubs at the other schools.

Specifically trying to maximize my leadership intentions for the students I plan on beginning to elect student leaders to supervise the team of students in the preparation of the healthy food and the distribution. Such an action will serve to both make my leadership intentions for these young men more operationally based (they will be acting as leaders, instead of talking about being leaders), and create a criteria for judging/measuring their leadership capacity.

Specifically trying to maximize the diversity of the education and the hands-on nature of it, I will be trying to incorporate as much gardening indoors and outdoors as possible. The possibilities for such expansion can teach through outdoors exploration and tasting even. I have high hopes.