School Rules

This idea of "school rules" comes, of course, from Michael Pollan's new book, Food Rules: An Eater's Manual. Here is a sample from his book:

Don't eat anything your great-great-great grandmother wouldn't
recognize as food.

Imagine how baffled your ancestors would be in a
modern supermarket: the epoxy-like tubes of Go-Gurt, the
preternaturally fresh Twinkies, the vaguely pharmaceutical Vitamin
Water. Those aren't foods, quite; they're food products. History
suggests you might want to wait a few decades or so before adding such
novelties to your diet, the substitution of margarine for butter being
the classic case in point. My mother used to predict "they" would
eventually discover that butter was better for you. She was right: the
trans-fatty margarine is killing us. Eat food, not food products.

I like the plain-spoken way Pollan is thinking about–and gets us to think about–food; why can't we do the same about teaching, which, though complex, must have some organic truths to it? So, at the risk of sounding too derivative (Pollan's first rule is "Eat Food"), I thought I would begin with the simple but strangely elusive rule (these days) of:

Teach your subject.

As simple and obvious as this seems, it has become increasingly difficult to do this very thing as a result of efforts to reduce our subject down to its skills and abilities (without concern for the subjects concepts and ideas). This atomization of a discipline is akin to reducing what was a full meal down to its vitamins, all of which can be ingested in a capsule that replaces the pleasure of good food and conversation. So next time you are preparing to teach that lesson, imagine it as a plate and ask yourself what kind of a meal it makes. Is there time to talk and if so, about real ideas, substantial concepts that relate to living our lives? If not, consider how you can add substance to that meal, keeping in mind all the while that it should, of course, also be healthy and have all those vitamins and minerals (skills and abilities) that are a natural part of any lesson.

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