My mom’s family is from the foothills of the Ozarks; their homestead farm of more than 200 acres was nestled along the banks of the Neosho River. As such was the era, they were self-sustaining: raising livestock, harvesting crops, keeping bees, cultivating fruit and nut trees. My grandmother’s — MawMaw’s — kitchen garden was over an acre in size and a canning cellar was a necessary (and slightly terrifying) element of life. Life on the farm meant early mornings, long days and amazing, yet simple, farm-to-table meals.
Like many women of her generation, my MawMaw was nothing shy of spectacular in the kitchen. Her pantry was simple: flour, sugar, salt, spices, rice and pasta. She never clipped a recipe nor bought a cookbook — I’m almost positive she didn’t even own a can opener, as she canned all her vegetables, fruits, jellies and sauces. She had confidence in her ability to create something delicious with whatever she had on hand.
I vividly remember offering to make brownies as a child. I wandered into the kitchen and rustled through the cabinets, coming up empty-handed. Sulking, I returned to the porch to tell MawMaw that we didn’t have the stuff to make brownies. She balked.
“What do you mean?”
“There’s no brownie mix.”
“Child! We don’t use mixes. Let me show you how to REALLY make brownies.”
You see, that’s the difference in the “modern” and the Depression-era pantry. Open a pantry today and you’re likely to see a box of hamburger helper. You’d be hard-pressed to do anything outside of assemble per the printed instructions on the box. This has stifled creativity in the kitchen, limiting what we believe is possible based on what packages we have on hand. You might be wondering what this has to do with education. For decades now we have experienced an over-processing of products. There is literally a boxed unit, curriculum model or prepackaged sequence for every content, concept and grade. This has fostered a dependence on quick-fix silver bullets which, ultimately, provide little more than powdered ingredients and fillers. Yes, they may taste good at first, but they lack the long-term sustenance to fill and fuel true learning.
Just as an accomplished chef samples decadent meals from all over the world and then incorporates elements, as appropriate, to tried-and-true recipes, as educators we experience learning and pay it forward. We must reintroduce confidence in our craft to combine, sift, incorporate, mull and melt the staples of best practices with today’s tools of engagement and demonstration to allow for effective learning experiences.
Take a look inside your classroom pantry — is it time to unbox the learning?