Cynthia Hewitt: Using Food as the Foundation for Healthy Communities in Social Inequality: Class, Race, and Gender Class at Morehouse College
About this CourseAdvanced elective.
Inequality: Class, Race, Gender (Acrobat (PDF) 110kB Oct11 17)
A Success Story in Building Student Engagement
I used the Food as the Foundation for Healthy Communities Module to offer a more modernized understanding of the challenges of inequality today when simply having more is not really an option. We focus on classical Marxist theory of capitalist cycles and contradictions, racial oppression, and the changing world of work. This module allows me to get students to then focus on what really constitutes the "goods" in life, precisely including food, energy and water systems, which otherwise remain backgrounded. We thus bring our gaze to our personal selves and in so doing, connect with all people globally.
My Experience Teaching with InTeGrateMaterialsWhile I am familiar with many geoscience concepts and issues, I lack a background in it, so I relied heavily on group discussion in class and allowed students to choose whether to submit work as a group of two or three, or individually. Both methods were employed. We did not complete all of the readings for the last unit, however, the students did seem to accumulate a good deal of information. They also had a running assignment to select three articles that applied to what we were learning in class from nontraditional sources, such as DemocracyNow! or Truthout, which they used to complement what we were doing in class.
Relationship of InTeGrate Materials to my Course
The course was 16 weeks. The module was actually introduced in week 12, which was about 2 weeks late, giving only 3-1/2 weeks, no time to revisit or extend unit time. Prior to the module, an article on justice in local food systems, global footprint analysis and overshoot, and permaculture was part of the introduction to social stratification. Wealth inequality, global inequality due to debt regimes and corporate behavior in Africa, and then some suggestions for new directions — Ithacoins, for instance, preceded the module. The intent was to end with consideration of steady-state economics in the last two weeks, but time did not permit.
The minute papers were a particularly pleasant method of assessment because they allowed for group work in public, which I think allowed students to evolve a more personal connection to producing for the course. When I gave the assignment and suggested they clump together to talk over the questions, at first they hesitated, so I did insist that everyone discuss it with a few others as part of the assignment. Because of the nature of social choices that this module involves, having the opinions of others is very important. I did also give a grade for participation, which included not missing class. For this Food as the Foundation for Healthy Communities Module, it was very important that students attend every class. Most did.
What was not so successful in Unit 2 was the request that they use the EPA or health geographic statistical mapping tool. I asked them to explore those tools at home, and we looked at them on the screen in class, followed by an assignment to pick a research question and use the data to answer it. Only one student actually attempted to test a research question or illustrate a theoretical understanding with the data. I think we will need a more specific set of assigned questions to seek answers to with the data, with the instructor having knowledge of what the correct answers are, so that through practicing searching the data, the students would become familiar with its use.
I wanted students to become aware of the challenges of global carrying capacity, and the linkages of food, energy, and water. I think the learning outcome was very good in terms of the students evolving capacity to recognize interrelated geo/social systems and to articulate the nature of many of the challenges to sustainability. I would say that my goals were met. I would have liked to know whether any of the students at the end intended to study further in this or other geoscience areas.