I just posted the following on my personal blogspace, Teaching Out Loud, but thought I might get some different feedback here. This is all leading me to some bigger questions in my own practice around the values that I bring into my teaching everyday.
I’m in a bit of a quandry. As part of the Health Education curriculum for Grade 1-3 students, we spend a good deal of time talking about making healthy food choices, planning meals according to the Canada Food Guide and assess the nutritional value of meals. In my entire teaching career, I’ve never been responsible for the health curriculum, so I want to make sure that I’m getting it right.
One of the approaches that is included in our local health department’s teaching resource for this grade level involves students tracking the foods that they eat over a period time. There is a tracking sheet for breakfasts, lunches and dinners. The classroom work with this involves examining the food choices, breaking them down into their component parts, and assessing them using the recommendations found in Canada’s Food Guide.
Sounds simple, right? Sounds like a good way of making connections between school and home life, right? Teaching in a ethnically diverse neighbourhood, it also sounds like a way of developing some appreciation for and sensitivity towards the food choices of other cultures.
So, I gathered my resources, did my photocopying of student tracking sheets and went home on Friday satisfied that things were ready for Monday morning.
And then I followed a twitter link to an article in the National Post about the blowback from a rather unfortunate (but probably not uncommon) incident that occurred in a kindergarten class in Quebec. It seems that a young boy was excluded from a draw for a teddy bear because he brought his sandwich to school in a plastic bag as opposed to a reusable container. Well, the story which could have ended at the school level went viral and has begun a national discussion around the implicit and explicit values that are promoted by schools, and the right of schools to be promoting any type of value-infused agenda. In this case, the culprit is environmentalism.
After going through reader’s comments posted after the article, I began to question my planned approach to the work I was about to undertake around healthy eating. Could a seemingly benign topic of study become a political nightmare?
After all, it could be argued, what right do I have to force students to report on their eating habits when they are not in school? Could this approach lead to emabarrassment on the part of some students whose eating habits may be a little different or even lacking, for that matter? Might this lead to a sense, on the part of parents, that the school is somehow assessing the job that they are doing as parents?
Now don’t get me wrong; I believe that there is tremendous value in having students apply classroom learning to their non-school lives. Isn’t that what education is all about? And I also believe that the work we do with children in the area of healthy living is going to have a tremendous impact on the well-being of adults down the road.
At the same time, I not unsympathetic to the feelings of those who would rather see schools stay out of the values education game. I’m not saying I agree with them. I do, however, understand that in theory the family is the traditional gatekeeper when it comes to teaching what is right and what is wrong.
This is a complex area of discussion, and cuts to the heart of questions around the purpose of public schooling in a democracy. I need to do some more thinking, reading and writing about this but for now I’ve made a decision.
I’m going to send a letter home with parents indicating that we will be starting a conversation about healthy eating. I will use teacher-created illustrations of breakfasts, lunches and dinners as my study exemplars, and I will take the class on a tour of our school “snack shack” to assess the nutritional value of what is available for purchase on site.
But, I’m not finished with this topic yet! The public outcry over the Quebec plastic bag story has raised some important issues for educators in a diverse society. And while I’m going to spend the next few days clarifying those issues in my own mind, I would appreciate any feedback that you might have on either my healthy eating quandry, or the larger set of complexities around values in the classroom.