Tag Archives: boston

Life Labs and the Community Charter School of Cambridge.

Students at Community Charter School of Cambridge show their surprise when learning that Christopher lost 14 pounds during the One Dollar Diet Project. Photo by Katie Rieser.

During our recent trip to Boston, we had the pleasure of visiting the Community Charter School of Cambridge as guest speakers. At the invitation of a friend and colleague, this visit was both a chance for us to speak to students about our projects related to food and economics, and for us to observe a school that is far different from the ones we teach in.

We spoke to three different classes of ninth grade humanities students, and when we were finished, their questions, and overall inquisitive natures, forced us to reflect on how things have been going, and how our experiments continue to shape our daily lives. These students also knew about the power of this type of experimentation and reflection first hand, as they had recently finished projects of their own.

Over the summer, I had the privilege of being a fellow at the Ahimsa Center for Nonviolence at Cal Poly Pomona, and during my time there I spent two weeks learning about the lives of Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. As a requirement for the fellowship, participants needed to create two lessons for classroom use that would help our students better understand these men, and about some of the concepts related to their lives.

For those who have studied Gandhi, it is clear that he saw much of his life as an experiment. In fact, his autobiography is titled, “My Experiments with Truth” and so I decided that one of my lessons would ask students to do the same thing. They would have to change one thing about their lives for the period of one month in order to learn more about the subject, the world they live in, and ultimately about themselves. I named the project “Life Lab”. While I played around with the idea, a new friend of mine from the institute liked it so much that he decided that he would do something similar with his students in the fall.

Which is what brought us to CCSC. My colleague, Henry, had his students do a “sacrifice” project in connection with their humanities content. In fact, his students completed their projects before my students even began theirs. Like us, students had to do without something, and blog about their experiences. After we were done speaking, the students reported to us that throughout their projects they found that their grades went up, the number of detentions went down, and for some of them it was their favorite assignment to date.

The fact that the concept of our One Dollar Diet Project could be elevated to a class assignment where students choose their own topic and find meaning through experimenting with their lives, is both a powerful testament to trying on new ways of living, and humbling for us as teachers. If only  more schools like CCSC had teachers like Henry who found engaging and unpredictable ways for students to learn, we might just unleash the genius that resides in each student who would otherwise be counting down the minutes on the clock.

– Christopher

ps. In the future, the LifeLab assignment handouts and description will be posted on our site…so, stay tuned!

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Nearly Half of U.S. Children Will Eat on Food Stamps.

While walking the Freedom Trail in downtown Boston this week, Kerri and I stumbled across a memorial to Irish immigrants who struggled during the potato famine. Photo by Christopher.

The other day, I asked Kerri if she thought it was too late to have our publisher change something in our upcoming book. I was prompted to ask because of a recent report released by the USDA which stated that 49 million Americans (1 in 7 households) are currently in need of some type of food assistance; a number that in August hovered around 36 million. In the second part of our book we talk in depth about SNAP (supplemental nutrition assistance program), formerly known as food stamps, and as it stands now, when our book is released we will have drastically understated the scope of the problems people are facing.

Then yesterday, a shocking projection was revealed across the newswires: nearly half of all children in the United States will eat on food stamps during some part of their childhood.

The study was published earlier this month in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, and was conducted by sociologists from Cornell University and Washington University in St. Louis. They based their projection on 30 years of national data, and said their results, “show U.S. kids face a substantial risk for experiencing poverty, which poses a serious threat to their health and well-being.”

The article by Lindsey Tanner of the Associated Press goes on to do a fairly good job of embracing the nuances of food security issues, but what was most surprising (and predictable?) was the comment from Robert Rector at the conservative Heritage Foundation. Apparently, Rector sees no need to sound the alarm about this issue as he explains that many in this situation, “have comforts like televisions and air conditioning receive food stamps for short periods of time when a parent is laid off.”

I cannot eat my television when I’m hungry, or get enough nutrition from cold air, and I’m assuming that the people he’s talking about can’t do so either. (The callousness of this response prompted today’s accompanying photo)

Rector’s comments seem to stem from the same place that many libertarian economic philosophers do, one of “every man for himself” and “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” rhetoric that does little to account for the contexts or the individual situations that people face. When your research is aimed from a certain philosophical gun, it’s pretty easy to hit the target you’re aiming for. The Heritage Foundation has such an arsenal, and uses it frequently on issues of social spending.

Meanwhile, local food pantries and charities keep plugging away while the need for services climbs, and resources diminish. While the work of these groups is essential, it is not enough, and on its own will never come close to getting at the roots of these problems. That being said, we would like to ask you once again to do what you can to help others, either through donating to those in extreme poverty abroad, or to those facing food insecurity in your community (or both).

While we were in Boston this past week, Kerri and I were humbled by the depth of our nation’s history, and by the efforts of those working to help others. While on the red line train we saw an ad for a Catholic charity, that asks people to throw a party where the entrance to the event is a bag of boxed and canned foods for donation. We thought it quite clever, and will most likely use this idea for our own efforts in San Diego. Thankful for your continued help of others…

– Christopher

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