Cake Mix for the Easy Bake Oven

http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2012/07/02/120702crbo_books_kolbert?currentPage=all

As a child, my grandmother had me in the kitchen cooking right along side her. My grandmother Rose was a Russian/Polish/Moving Border immigrant just around the outset of the revolution(s) over ‘there’. She grew up into her teens in the middle of no where. She taught me to cook without a cook book – it was by taste and what was at hand. Trust me, NO ONE ever starved at Rose’s table – ever! I ‘inherited’ the recipes as I was the oldest grandchild and had the time to observe, process, replicate everything from tzimmes to matzoh balls to soup, etc.  The time I spent with my grandmother is some of the most memorable moments in my life.

Since growing up I often ‘barter’ for cooking lessons. Not the high-end stuff with every other person who wants ‘cuisine’, rather with the parents and grandparents of students I tutor. Amazingly the best cooking EVER comes from people who do not have some recipe book, know the ‘tricks’ and are recent immigrants who often can not translate into English so I have to pay special attention to what they are doing in the kitchen. Parents laugh when I offer to do one or two hours of tutoring for kitchen time – in their country women would be expected to know how to cook, feed a family, etc.  In America, land of Easy Bake Ovens, this is not the case.

I bring this up as American’s have some notion/misconception of everything being fun, easy, free time enjoyable. Nothing is supposed to take effort, be a challenge, have expectations, well maybe school testing. As a tutor I  work with students who experience great frustration at having to limit TV and computer game time in order to grind the numbers for Algebra.  Often the parents are as bad….not the immigrant parents as they still understand what it means to strive for something.  American culture robs us of the ability to do activities for the right reasons.

When I served in Peace Corps Namibia 1998-1999, I still remember the two, almost three-year old who walked me to the water pump in the dark as cattle were coming home, showed me how to pump water AND was the one stirring porridge the next morning over a fire he banked. I would be horrified to let an American child near matches….We reap returns on the expectations we set for both students and teachers, not the ones we dream about and never enforce. If we ask teachers to teach to a test, we get test scores.

If simple life experiences require an Easy Bake Oven, we are doomed. Not only do we lack the skill set to take on a larger challenge – helping a child navigate through a real kitchen, we lack the ability to develop creativity. How do you help a child develop and learn real world kitchen skills? Certainly not with Easy Bake…..No offense to Hasbro.

In Kingsolver’s ‘The Poisonwood Bible’, there is a section regarding the cake mix the family packed on their trip to the middle of who knows where on the continent of Africa.  It is a metaphor  for all the things the family did not know and would learn, often through horrific and life changing circumstances. If we can not get past the metaphor of the Easy Bake Oven, we are doomed as common core rolls out. Students will actually need to apply themselves, think, reflect, correct, alter course and re-apply.  The world is NOT a mix it up and one pass through the oven door.

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