Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Breaking bread

In July, 1928, sliced bread debuted at the Chillicothe Baking Company in Missouri. The town now promotes itself as "The Home of Sliced Bread."

Chris Lehmann is the principal of the Science Leadership Academy, "a partnership high school between the School District of Philadelphia and The Franklin Institute. He recently spent 4 days at the Constructing Knowledge Conference (CMK), where he had the "chance to listen to, talk to, break bread with people like Deborah Meier, Alfie Kohn, Marvin Minsky and James Loewen,...."

"Break bread...."
Breaking bread has, for many, religious overtones. It's not a phrase you hear much anymore, and when you do, it's rarely literal.

At most conferences we share meals on our own sanitized plates using steam cleaned steel utensils to eat food made by strangers who often speak a different tongue.

Before Otto Rohwedder's bread-slicing machine became ubiquitous, we had whole loaves in our homes. We literally broke bread at mealtimes.

I think we were closer together when we did, because we did.

I occasionally make bread. I grind the wheat (a workout), then mix the flour, yeast, butter, water, and honey. I knead (another workout), let the dough rise, punch it down, let it rise again.

It's good, it's healthy, it's whole. I share the first piece with Leslie just about every time. We break bread together.

When we have close friends over, we may leave a whole bread loaf on the table, to be broken by our hands. Sometimes, sadly, the loaf stays unbroken.

One year we grew wheat in class--we had dozens of stalks on the windowsills. 2 or 3 times a week I would remind the students where the wheat stalk "stuff" came from: water and the carbon dioxide from our exhaled breaths.

The emerging wheat berries amazed the children, as it still amazes me. Kids in these parts rarely see mature grass. They saw the wheat as just a giant grass plant until the berries appeared, just like the same berries they planted.

At the end of the year, we got a handful of wheat berries and I ground them up with others, made the bread at home, and after a brief chat reminding the class where the bread came from, we broke bread.

Some of the class could not stomach the idea of trying a piece--I'm not eating anyone's stinky breath! Those who tried it mostly enjoyed it, especially a few who grew up on real bread before they came to the States.


What does any of this have to do with Chris Lehmann?

He writes about the frustration of building a robot at the CMK conference last week. His team (barely) succeeded, and he writes about the value of the process, about the value of gumption when things we try do not work well.

I've always wanted to make bread from scratch in class. Truly scratch. Grind the wheat berries. Churn the butter. All kinds of science would be involved.

I could never figure out how to do it, and am still not clear, but I'm going to try it anyway. I'm going to present the problem to the class, and we're going to solve it, or not, but learn in the process.

If we come up short, I will still end the year with a home-made loaf of bread, to break together in class to honor of our time together.

The poster is from the town of Chillicothe--you can order the poster here.

The woman baking bread and the wheat photos are from the National Archives.


Jerrid Kruse said...

And next year, your students will learn more of the "21st century skills" ed reformers shout about than any 1:1 school system.

The Science Goddess said...

One of my favourite non-ed blogs is written by a woman who bought a farm in West VA. She didn't know anything about farming when she bought the land. Her blog is full wonderful moments as she experiments and figures things out. In the past couple of years, she's had a house built, gotten stock, and learned how to do all sorts of things (make soap, milk a cow, move sheep among pastures). I'm sure that some would look at this move as stupid---why would anyone who doesn't know about goats and gardens, etc. buy a freaking farm? But I really admire her. She knows so much more about life than a lot of people---a lot more than she herself would ever have known---just by being part of the process and not the consumer of product.

doyle said...

Dear Jerrid,

One of the frustrating things for me, for us (because you share the frustration) is that the skills we need are human skills. I'm still confused what a 21st century skill is, beyond using high tech tools.

Using high tech tools matters, I guess, but I can teach most of that in two weeks. I can discuss digital footprints, too, and do--but that's not so much a "skill" as a CYA for the permanent record that now follows you beyond your grave.

Dear The Science Goddess,

My kids used to kid me about the hypothetical compost toilets I kept threatening to buy.

I had the same kind of dream--and while it may never come to pass, I've learned to brew, grind, bake, knead, sow, clam, etc.

There are joys in the process, lots of joy. The process is the joy--I pity those who spend their lives looking forward to retirement.

(Before I get flamed, I think voluntary retirement's fine as we get less useful at what we do--but there are always useful things to do along the way, even if we're not paid to do them.)

John Spencer said...

Just to piggy-back on Jerrid's thought - I have a one-to-one ratio in my classroom. My students discuss digital footprint, the role of the computer in redefining relationships, etc. We also have them unplugged at different times.

What bothers me is what happens when visitors show up. I'll have this amazing dialog with the students and their doing some great problem-based learning project and I'm excited about the learning. Then the visitors end up remarking, "Look how well they use those computers."

I am a techno-Luddite. I fear technology (though not because I am scared to use it, but because I am afraid of how it dehumanizes people and takes away our connection to the land) and I embrace it (because it is also deeply human to use tools creatively).

I go back and forth about whether this is a paradox or hypocrisy.

Tracy Rosen said...

At my parents there was (still is) a baguette on the countertop that by suppertime has disappeared as we tear it up piece by piece. The same thing happens at my house when Keith is in town for dinner. Our time to be together is before dinner, when the breaking of the bread takes place. That's when we learn about each other.

doyle said...

Dear John,

My recent visitors were mesmerized by the machines--good thing since they paid for them--and that's OK so long as we remember what our task is in the classroom.

The more I focus on the kids (and the less I worry about how I look), the better it gets.

And hey, you love paradoxes!

Dear Tracy,

More of us need to do that--and I hope I can encourage my kids to do this.

Many of my families need more communion--and a good baguette works wonders. Our hearts lie just above our gut feelings.

Charlie Roy said...

@ Doyle
It's posts like these that inspired me to begin gardening last year. I thought about you tonight when I ate my salad w/ cherry tomatoes from the garden, boiled sweet corn, and stuffed some poblano peppers and fried them up. Although it was a simple meal it was very satisfying. And as another school principal Chris Lehman is becoming the superman of school administrators.

doyle said...

Dear Charlie,

I am (temporarily) limited to soft foods--I still pick the beans and tomatoes, but have avoided clamming. It warms me up whenever anyone eats what they have grown, excepting their children, of course.

In return, you and Chris have given me a perspective on administrators we all need. I could not do what you and Chris do even if I wanted to. We need to keep hearing from you (*hint*) instead of the occasional venom that passes for chit-chat in the teachers' rooms.

(FWIW, I was the medical director of a small operation--the harder I worked, the smoother it ran, and the less people thought I did because it ran smoothly.)