Archives for the month of: October, 2014


What I Learned About Love As A School Lunch Chef

I cook for about 40 kids every day.

Since 2009, I’ve made lunch from scratch for the kids of the Burlington Children’s Space, or BCS. Open for the last 30 years, BCS is located in the heart of Burlington, Vermont’s historically poorest neighborhood, the Old North End.
I had a lofty goal in mind when I started this job. I wanted healthy food to become a central part of the school culture by taking advantage of Burlington’s unique urban farming landscape and teaching the kids about fresh, local food and sustainable community food systems.

But I quickly realized this wasn’t enough. As one of our faculty succinctly put it, where your food comes from or even how it tastes doesn’t matter, until you have enough of it. And more than half of the kids we were serving desperately needed only one thing from their lunchtime: enough food to eat.

A preschool boy, I’ll call him James, came to BCS from a wildly chaotic environment. At only four years old, he’d already experienced homelessness, hunger, violence, and a distinct lack of positive interactions with kids his own age. Understandably, he couldn’t quite settle in to the rhythm of the school day. He couldn’t connect with his classmates because he was worried about his basic needs being met.

During his first few weeks at school, mealtime was stressful. James would refuse to eat, or empty everything out of a serving bowl onto his plate. He would throw tantrums, and try to take food from others at the table. His teachers tried to encourage him, by sitting at his side and talking calmly about what was on the table.

lunchtime 1

Gradually, James learned that I was ready to feed him as much as necessary. He began to trust that he would get enough to eat, and would come to the table every day without a fight, waiting for his turn to serve himself.

One day, I made mac and cheese, a preschool favorite. I noticed that James seemed distracted; he was calm, but wasn’t eating much, and kept trying to keep the bowl close to him. I knelt down next to his chair. “Hey, don’t worry,” I said. “ I made extra mac and cheese today. There’s plenty for everyone.”

“I know.” He replied. “But Kate’s not here! This is her favorite. I have to save her some for when she comes back!”

That was the moment I realized that making simple school lunch is much more than a way to support kids physical development. It’s a profound way to support their emotional growth as well.

lunchtime 2
Image courtesy of Sam Simon

“Food insecure” is a term that describes anyone who cannot depend on daily adequate nutrition, and it leaves a gaping hole in the development of growing children. As James showed me, when children don’t have to worry about getting enough to eat they can relax and play and their social interactions improve. They start to connect with their teachers and their peers. They open up to the love around them, and they start to give love in return. School lunch programs replace that insecurity with a sense of abundance, care, and community.

Sometimes we get so caught up in the mechanics of getting food in front of kids, at school and at home, that we forget what we’re actually doing – nourishing people we love. Food is a language we all share, and preparing and sharing food are powerful ways to show how much we care for kids, especially at school.

At my school, when we teach kids to work, play, rest, create, and eat together, what we’re really doing is teaching them to care for each other. To make healthy choices for themselves and those around them. To love one another, and themselves.

What I learned about love by making school lunch is simple. For our kids, a good lunch IS love.



Jonathan Kozol

We now have an apartheid curriculum . Teachers and principals in the inner city are so test driven that inner city children, mostly students of color, are not allowed to have their voices heard through stories and questions.  Yet White students are given that flexibility, opportunity and creativity.

Test preparation is driving out child centered learning. Testing mania has become a national psychosis, driven by corporatized business.

Racial isolation/segregation which does terrible damage to young people, is also on the rise.
It is important for children of color to become comfortable in the majority culture, so imagine how devastating this new segregation is in the long term.
It is worse than foolhardy to think Black children can be taught in class and racial isolation and then have the skills and confidence as adults to succeed in a white world where they have no experience.
This new segregation is a theological abomination.






A nightmare of a program is headed to Los Angeles where there is already a sleazy Deasy mess in the making.  It is founded and supported by individuals unburdened by years of excellent Math classroom experience.  Reasoning Mind is a brand that is constantly being “refreshed” and for 2015, it is advertised as an Early Algebra Preparation System.
Are you getting goosebumps over the PR rigor of it all?

But what does this slice of the educational-industrial complex look like in action?
Just about what you would expect.  Teachers are TOLD that it is being inflicted upon them.  
There is never even the hint of a PROFESSIONAL consultation with faculty to ask if they want, need, or approve of RM. Teachers are laboring long hours in behalf of their 2nd and 3rd grade students from a very impoverished neighborhood, with test scores in the basement, but now they will add one more requirement to the mix.  Instantly, they must acquire hardbound composition books for their 300 + charges and label each with student name, username and password.  

These passwords are in addition to those already in use for Accelerated Reader/Math, State Testing, MySatori,AutoSkills, Reading Counts, iStation and whatever else constitutes the newest tech flavor of the moment.

The RM sessions must take place in a big computer lab, multiple times a week, monitored only by the teacher, and for a specified total # of minutes “in program”.  Big Brother keeps a relentlessly close eye on the stats. Much like the current Food Network, every aspect of RM is instantly transformed into a competition in which educators vie against one another for data indicators of progress, which are then posted throughout the school and celebrated over the PA.

Adults are directed Not To Assist students at any time. The administration-driven competitions help to establish the marketable efficacy of Reasoning Mind, all at the expense of under-paid/overworked teachers. Time on Task and Mastery Levels are what get used when it is time to fundraise from the donor base and make the winning sales pitch to nationwide school districts.

NTA means that even though you may know for certain that Caleb cannot manipulate the online number line embedded into the positive and negative integers sequence, you must sit and watch him struggle from a distance, absent all prompts or intervention.  The software program will cycle him back through until he “gets it”, not to worry!  

Predictably, an emotional disturbance resembling a storm front sets in.
These RM sessions create an atmosphere percolating with frustrated children, unable to “show your work/reasoning” on the pages of the composition books which are crammed into a severely limited tabletop space, now strewn with broken pencil parts.  Student frustration eventually turns to detachment, misbehavior, anger, alienation, a contempt for mathematics and an indefatigable genius for discretely clicking onto fun screens like Lego, PBS Kids and BrainPop.  Remember that these time and energy consuming computer sessions Do NOT take the place of mandated classroom math instruction, assessment, RTI, and after-school tutorials by teachers.

The Texas Observer

Reasoning Mind: How Big Oil and Texas Politicians Came to Love Math

By Patrick Michels

At one point during this year’s SXSWedu—a slick Austin conference heavy on marketing for education technology—an audience member stood and asked a panel of Texas lawmakers the question most in the room were probably wondering: how do you get the state of Texas to buy your software?

State Rep. Dan Branch suggested an egalitarian process at work behind the scenes: build a good product and put in your time convincing lawmakers. “If you walk the halls and talk to key members of committees, I think you can get your message out pretty well,” Branch said. For example, he said, one particular outfit called Reasoning Mind has built a reputation at the Capitol as “a very strong math software program.”

The creators of the Reasoning Mind software have certainly found success in Texas, but Dan Branch might be surprised to learn how they attained it.

The state contracts with all sorts of companies for educational software; most decisions are made by the Texas Education Agency. Reasoning Mind, a math program, is the only software program lawmakers wrote into the budget by name last session.

In its most recent funding request, TEA suggested cutting Reasoning Mind—they’d already contracted with another online math program—but lawmakers weren’t keen on ditching it. They gave the program its own budget rider and kept its funding steady, at $2.25 million in public funds a year.

It’s even more impressive that Reasoning Mind did so well at the Capitol without the services of a registered lobbyist. But Reasoning Mind has something even better going for it: close friends in the highest ranks of big oil.

Reasoning Mind’s board is chaired by Ernest H. Cockrell, the longtime head of the Cockrell Oil Corp. Its vice chair is Forrest Hoglund, a former Enron CEO and a force in the Dallas philanthropy world. As of 2011, the program’s biggest backer was the ExxonMobil Foundation, which, according to EducationWeek, had donated $5 million to Reasoning Mind. In April, the world’s largest corporation leaned on its support for Reasoning Mind to rebut an ad by an anti-oil group suggesting that “Exxon hates your children.”

Russian couple Alex and Julia Khachatryan founded Reasoning Mind in 2000 as a computer-based math education program for their son, whose school lessons they deemed too basic. Geared toward students in grades 2 through 6, Reasoning Mind promises to build math skills and to encourage critical thinking and independent learning, all with a game-like interface for kids.

Those friends in the oil industry are no accident. Before starting Reasoning Mind, the Khachatryans ran a firm called RPC overseas—short for Russian Petroleum Consultants—based in Moscow and Houston, with clients including Halliburton, Koch Industries and Cockrell Oil. According to its tax filings, Reasoning Mind spent $1.6 million on “computer programming and testing of end product” in Moscow, and paid another $20,000 direct to RPC Overseas for office space. As president and CEO, Alex Khachatryan made $62,292 in 2011, down from $115,000 the year before.

The program is growing. Schools in a few states use Reasoning Mind today, but its strongest foothold is in Texas, where Houston ISD and Dallas ISD both use the program. In all, the company says, 60,000 Texans use the program either as a supplemental curriculum or a full-time course. Nearly 11,000 copies were paid for by TEA.

The company has proved resilient when its funding is threatened. In summer of 2011, during the special legislative session on the state budget, the House overwhelmingly approved an amendment to zero out funding for Reasoning Mind. But when the budget bill returned from conference committee with the Senate, the math program’s rider was back in. House members couldn’t change the bill at that point, so Reasoning Mind’s funding continued. Because the conference committee discussions are closed to the public, it’s hard to say who in the Senate championed the program. Reasoning Mind’s two biggest boosters, Cockrell and Hoglund, have each given $66,000 to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s campaigns since 2004.

In November 2012, the Dallas Morning News reported an internal study from Dallas ISD saying the program cost too much and did too little—but the district with more Reasoning Mind students than any other in the state stood by the program and pulled the study from its site.

Reasoning Mind countered with studies of its own. To help out, Reasoning Mind’s blue-blooded backers got involved. The News recounted an interview with Hoglund, who “said prominent charitable givers might pull their support for DISD if it isn’t continued.”

Too many important people, in other words, had too much invested in the program to let the district pull the plug—performance be damned.

Like so much else in Texas, in the education tech business, it helps to know a few oil execs.

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