Hungry College Students
I teach developmental reading and writing at a community college. This semester I am teaching a new course--integrating the two courses into one 5 credit course. In the years that I've been teaching these folks, I've learned some thing:
- They are smart! They have critical thinking skills like nobody's business.
- They think.
- They want to know "stuff."
- Their underpreparedness often has little to do with ability, public schools, laziness, lack of support, poverty, a sense of entitlement, or other characteristics that have been tagged to their shirts.
While all these things do play a part in why they ended up in no-credit, below-college level classes--the biggest thing I've seen is that they have a hard time connecting. Connecting their lives to the outside world, other people, what they've read to what they know. They don't get that examining relationships between seemingly different things leads to better self knowledge and an understanding of things outside of themselves.
Students often don't know what to write about. They don't want to read anything that isn't "interesting." How would they know what they are interested in when they've lived in cocoon? Each semester, I have picked topics and prompts, readings and videos for them to use as a springboard into writing. Each semester they try to do only the obvious--rarely reading between the lines.
So, when planning this new class, I thought--what would be a topic that all of us have some connection to, in some way? The answer: FOOD. This semester, we're exploring Food & Memory; Food & Identity; Food & Culture; and Food & Controversy. No one is cutting class. Ninety percent of them are talking a couple of times a week. A few are even willing to argue. That's winning.
Monday night, I cooked for them. I roasted 15 pounds of pork to make a Lexington Barbecue pork sandwich with red slaw for them. I stayed up until 1am roasting, chopping, mixing, and cleaning.
Today, our class met in the college's teaching kitchen to eat with one another. We discussed the reading assigment (sort of). We talked about food we love and food we hate. I am not tired today because I fed my hungry students. I shared with them something of my Southern roots, something that I must have first thing when I get back to NC--even before seeing my grandma!
I told them my food stories: my grandfather's last meal of a peach milkshake and being with him when he passed; the steaks my father grills that are made with a quarter pound of butter per steak and are never to be tarnished with sauce, and my story of how a simple plate of cornbread with a pot of pinto beans is more than food.
I saw some of them connect. They saw that I cook for them because they matter. Now I will ask them to write.