I don’t know if this is true across all elementary schools, but it certainly is in ours: the day before a long vacation, we wear pjs, watch a movie, and eat a ton of food. The food, for my classes at least, is usually always the same: snacks and desserts. Popcorn, chips, fruit, cookies, brownies. I ask for volunteers, generous parents send them in.
This year, I wanted to do something different. Like most good ideas, it came to me at 3 am apropos of nothing: ‘What if we had a taco bar?’ Or something similar. If instead of the usual, we picked a theme and got creative, had a whole lunch instead of just a post recess gorge.
So I broached the subject with the kids. They loved it! We had just finished up a great discussion about allegory in literature and how it connects to metaphor. I was so impressed with their thinking and eager to reward them by talking about something fun.
I laid out a few parameters: It couldn’t be anything that really needed to be served hot or cold, either for taste or health purposes, and it shouldn’t just be a suggestion of the usual things, like desserts. We’d do desserts, of course, but let’s come up with a theme! We had ten minutes before math class started, so I asked for suggestions. Tons of hands went up.
I called on the first kid. “Soup.” He stated. I paused. “Remember, it can’t be anything that needs to be hot, or cold. Soup at room temp wouldn’t be very good!”
Next kid. “Sushi!” A longer pause. “Well, room temp sushi could possibly make us sick, so that won’t work.”
Third times the charm, right? No. Of course it isn’t. “Cookies.” A long, sigh filled pause. Based on facial expression and body language (and I am really, really good at reading those), they were not trying to be funny. Other kids were nodding enthusiastically.
“Ok guys, listen again- something that maybe we could pick a theme of, like all foods of a certain type. Not just things we’ve already done. So I see a lot of hands, I want all of you to be sure you’re not just naming different types of desserts, right? You’re all sure? Ok.”
Fourth kid. “Cupcakes.” Forget the pause, I straight out yelped. “Gah! No! Are you listening?? That’s a dessert. Ok, Sasha, I’m going to call on you next. Before you talk, I want you to be absolutely sure that you are not just going to say the name of a dessert. Are you sure? Ok…”
“SASHA! SERIOUSLY! WHAT IS HAPPENING!”
“Wait!” She called out, “Listen… different types of cake.” I put my face in my hands.
“Call on me!” Chris yelled. “Mine isn’t dessert!” I stared at him. “Please let this be a real suggestion.” I begged.
“A hot pot!” He crowed. Several kids oohed in agreement, nodding excitedly.
“A hot pot.” I said. “As in, a pot of near boiling oil for us to cook meat in?”
“And vegetables!” Ruth added.
“A hot pot.” I repeated. “In the classroom.”
“Oh, that might be hard, huh?” Chris mused. “Maybe brownies?”
I laid my head on my desk. “I give up. It’s time for math.”
And that, in a nutshell, is sixth grade: The ability to reason about allegory in literature, but being unable to think about the fact that cookies are dessert and hot pots are, ya know… hot.
Eventually, we came back to the discussion and did get some real suggestions. Someone said Mexican food and I nearly wept with relief.
“Yes! Exactly! And we could all bring in Mexican dishes, including desserts. Perfect! Next suggestion!”
“Italian food!” “Great!”
“Indian food!” “Sure, yeah.
“German food.” “Ok, that one might be tricky. I think most of us have had Mexican food and Italian food in the past month, but how many of you regularly eat German food? That might be too specific.”
“Algerian food.” (It’s worth noting here that none of them are Algerian.) “Ok, maybe no more ‘country or group’ followed the word food suggestion, ok?”
Head on desk.