School gets Schooled by Food

Sometimes, ok too often,  I am unable to fall asleep at night or wake up too early on my days off thinking about some version of this question, "Why do we culturally embrace innovation in food while we shun innovation in school? A student from the 19th century, when high schools became publicly funded in America, could walk into a classroom and feel right at home with the rows of desks and chairs, textbooks, teacher and a board of some sort.  Even if this hypothetical 175 year-old student walked into my classroom at Catlin Gabel, where classes are capped at 18, we don't use textbooks, and all students use a laptop in class, I'm pretty sure this 175 year old could figure out how to "do school"  -- listen to the teacher, work hard on assignments, sit in your seat, be on time, try to get good grades, etc.  Though I like to think of myself as an innovative teacher- I write curriculums, develop unique means of assessment, create authentic learning experiences and focus on skills rather than content, I realize that this innovation only goes so far in the confines of school and grading as we have known it for centuries.  There are lots of reasons for this stalemate in school - our federal system of government, bureaucracy, the "sacred cow" status of children and schools, childhood memories of what school means for teachers, parents and administrators alike, school funding and the concrete....what would we do with all of the schools and all of the walls and all of the parking lots and.....

I digress.  This isn't a post about why there's been such limited educational innovation, but a reflection on the possibilities for our educational system based on comparisons with a few innovations in food.  School has a lot to learn from food, as evidenced below.

Fast Food: Maybe the educational equivalent would be Khan Academy or MOOCs, but just like we haven't figured out how to feed ourselves via the internet, I'm not sure that quick, online tutorials are actually sustaining.  What if we transformed schools, libraries of community spaces staffed by an intergenerational cadre of "teachers" willing and able to help solve problems on a drop-in one-on-one basis and offer 20 minute fast classes on a variety of subjects.

Food on a stick: Let's make school portable, enticing and part of our public spaces.  Let's bring back the Chautauqua Movement and enable a forum where people can engage with ideas rather than risk life and limb on questionable carnival rides.  I'm also saying that listening to NPR's Marketplace on my ipod is the new corn dog.

Food carts: Let's make mobile maker-spaces, roving innovational labs and coding vans.  Let's use the mobility of carts/vans/buses to bring students to authentic projects and places, organizations and business and let's load up these vehicles with the tools kids need to learn skills to solve problems and innovate.

Pop-up restaurants: Pop-up classrooms.  Let's pop-up classrooms in vacant store fronts, in giant corporations, in small businesses, at the park, on a road trip.

Local, organic food: Let's tap into our local ecosystems to prepare students with the skills sought by local employers - Portland kids would all know how to grow kale, catalogue books at Powells, design their own outfits with Pendleton wool, market the next Air Jordan and program for a startup in the Pearl. 

Gluten-free: Not everyone student can/should handle the same diet of classes.  Though I am a firm believer in the liberal arts, students should not have to wait until they are in their senior year of high school before they take classes they actually enjoy.  Some students are allergic to history or science and that's ok  - let students thrive in the subject areas they love and design curriculum around interdisciplinary, authentic problems that make it possible to see the value/connections between not-tolerated subjects (riffing off the gluten theme) and tolerated subjects.  Let's let students and teachers work together to build educational menus that don't make kids sick of school.