Pantry-Style Instruction

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?



4 thoughts on “Pantry-Style Instruction

  1. Gregory Gilmore says:

    Great object lesson! Prepackaged instruction rarely meets the need of every learner and discourages teachers from differentiating or personalizing the content, process or final product of the learning. I grew up the Ozarks (Shannon County, MO) and your MawMaw reminds me of several ladies I knew while I was there. Thanks for sharing your memories and present day application of those memories.

    • eduTECHtastic says:

      Thanks so much, Greg! So glad this resonated with you. Just like in the kitchen, it can be all too-tempting to take convenience over craftsmanship. Thanks for pushing forward for kiddos and unboxing the learning!

  2. Adam Hill says:

    Hi Brianna,

    This is a perfect analogy for pre-packaged, one-size-fits-all educational content. I agree with your points here and Gregory’s comment as well. I am a big fan of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares (massive guilty pleasure). The problems with the chefs/restaurants are often that they used bought-in, pre-made food. These stifle their creativity, underuse their talents and cause them to disengage with their passion.

    Pre-made educational content should be seen only as a starting point to be adapted and improved by teachers for the unique needs of their students. I don’t want to open the ‘is teaching an art or a science?’ debate (can’t it be both?) but, for me, this is how teachers are artists. We are creators of lessons designed to engage and benefit the students that are in front of us. One size does not fit all.

    Thanks again for the thought-provoking post.



    • eduTECHtastic says:

      Thanks so much, Adam! YES!!! You’d never hear a 5-star chef tell you that amazing dinner came from a box and you certainly won’t hear a master-teacher say it either. Here’s to the artistry and the many masterpieces to come!

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