Pardon the corny title, but since we have no classes this week, my horrible quirky-teacher-esque plays on words are bubbling up inside and have nowhere to go but here. If you are still reading, then you are either a loving parent (Hi Mom!) or experiencing serious holiday cabin fever/food comas and are looking for any distraction. This is my recent, unforgettable experience with rainbow carrots, in a place quite foreign for many who live in this city. My story takes us to Hart Middle School, nestled in Anacostia, the southeastern most portion of DC. Even though it is only a few train stops from downtown, its location over the river (though through no woods) creates a noticeable divide between it and the rest of the city. For anyone who has never been there, the stereotypes that come to mind are low-income, violent, and predominantly black. Now, I in no way mean to open a discussion about the myth or truth behind these stereotypes here today (that could turn into a book), but I get these comments all the time and they reflect the pre-conceived notions that many people have about where I serve. But that is neither here nor there.
Coming back to the story, one day I came to class with three companions, all pictured above: an orange carrot, a purple carrot and a yellow carrot. My mission that day, as I prepared for my special ed science classes with grades 6th-8th, was to have my young scientific investigators decide what it was they were going to learn about these carrots using an inquiry-based approach that relies on them asking the questions that they, then, find the answers to on their own.
This model of learning allows for immediate attention and interest because it is the students’ own questions that get raised and then resolved throughout the class. Instead of me guiding the discussion and being the “Giver of Answers,” they learn to be inquisitive and self-sufficient in their acquisition of knowledge. My intention was that questions of vegetable color would arise, leading to further speculation about why foods are different colors and, following an internet research session, we would eventually arrive at the importance of phytonutrients in our diets. While they were rooting around the internet looking for answers to their questions about what these strange specimens were and unearthing reasons for why they could be such fascinating colors, some dug even deeper. I know, I know, I’ll stop.
No number of awful puns in this blogpost could detract from what one student asked me, though. First let me paint you a picture of your not-so-typical 8th grader. One who rarely makes it to school let alone class and spends more time in trouble for behavioral outbursts and confrontations with teachers than anything. Although it is very unlikely, I flatter myself to think that that day he stuck around to have class with me. He inspected the carrots for a while and then, as his classmates were busy jotting down questions such as “If you ate that, would you die?” and “Does it taste like dirt? Cause it looks like dirt.”, he turned to me and asked “Why can’t you find carrots like that at grocery stores around here?” Anyone who has been to the neighborhood surrounding my school knows that food options are limited, and fresh ones even more so. Corner stores and fast food dominate the food environment, and the grocery stores are not only far from many residential areas, but also do not offer the same variety, quality or freshness as their counterparts in the northern portions of the city. These are stark differences that even some adults do not know or have never bothered to notice, yet here is this ‘trouble-making’ teenager more astute and aware than those twice or thrice his age. His question was simple, honest, but the fact that it has to be asked is why I joined FoodCorps in the first place. The only answer I could utter was “That’s a very good question.”