03 November 2011
Teaching Through Chocolate Chip Cookies
As I see it a basic problem of the public education system in Brazil is simply that the kids are in school for only half a day! They either get the morning session (8 am to noon) or the afternoon session (2 pm to 6 pm). A mere four hours, some of which is spent eating a school snack. With the school day so truncated, parents and educators are challenged to find a way to keep the kids off the streets and in some kind of engaging educational program for the rest of their day. One of the answers to this challenge is found in these COEDUCs. They're financed mostly by donations, staffed in large part by volunteers and — like Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire — rely an awful lot on the kindness of strangers.
When we were asked to "do" the U.S.A. we didn't know what to expect. We weren't sure that 25 preteen and teenage kids would even be all that interested. Wrong! The kids were not only interested, but they already knew a lot about the U.S.A., and they were bursting to share it! I told them I was born in Miami Beach and they knew that it was in the State of Florida. But that was a gimme, Brazilians know all about Florida and Miami and Disney World. But when I told them I was raised in New Jersey, how could they know that New Jersey was right next door to New York? What American schoolchild can name any state that borders Brazil's Pernambuco? These kids learned that Mark was born in the capital of Massachusetts, and they shouted out Boston? (Clearly, the steady stream of American exports like CSI, Friends, and Two and a Half Men does more than just entertain.)
After the talk it was time for the food. We had brought PBJs and BLTs, and real Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies that had come fresh out of our oven that morning. These tasty American childhood treats are not known here. Thanks to Wikipedia, I also had stories about the history of the sandwiches and of the cookies. They liked the stories, they liked the sandwiches, and they loved the cookies! They jumped up and down. Too much sugar perhaps? They clamored for the recipe or, if not the recipe, could we come back the following Wednesday on "Culinary Day," and show them how to make them, could we, pleeeeeeze?
We did return the following week and the kids continued to impress. I was particularly struck by how the older ones helped the younger ones, how they all made sure everyone had a turn at measuring and mixing, not to mention tasting the buttery, sugary, scrumptious raw batter. Look at these pictures! Student chefs at the New York Culinary School aren't that focused, serious or dedicated.