Thursday, November 29, 2007

Talking to middle school staff

Yesterday I made the first of what I hope will be many presentations to middle school staff--at my younger daughter's middle school, because that seemed like a good place to start. I'd put together a PowerPoint on 6 things I wanted them to know about eating disorders and 8 ways they could help.

The group was smaller than I'd hoped for, but they were really engaged. These are people who do truly care about the lives of kids. I was very heartened by that. Like doctors, they don't get any special training in eating disorders, and they're often frustrated and frightened by what they see.

I was also heartened by a conversation we got into on the "wellness" curricula--the same cockamamie stuff that bans syrup from elementary school lunchrooms and forbids a second slice of pizza to 4th-graders. One of the messages I tried to convey was how the increasing and heavy-handed emphasis on "eating healthy" and the war on obesity as played out in the schools was likely to trigger more eating disorders. It certainly sends a screwed-up message to kids and disrupts their lifelong relationship with food and eating. I'd braced myself for pushback along the lines of "Well kids are unhealthy and it's our job to help them learn to control themselves!" Instead, I got lots of nodding heads and comments about how worried they, teachers and staff, are about the shrill curriculum.

That made me feel good. There is room to broach these subjects, in public, and to begin a dialogue on them. Nothing changes if we just sit at home bitterly blogging about this stuff. We've got to get out in the real world, say our piece, and talk about it.

12 comments:

Rachel said...

Good for you Harriet! In covering schools for the newspaper, I've often found that it's the well-intentioned but classroom-removed school board who often makes inane policies. The teachers and aides and others who work with the kids generally have far different views on the effectiveness of some of these policies.

Oh, and FYI, The Body Positive has a school curriculum available for order on their website.

Anonymous said...

Wow!Good for you.That takes guts to go in and lay it on the line like that.I am glad that the teachers were so receptive to your presentation.When the teachers are worried about how the new eating regime is going to affect the children,you know there is a problem.

Di

Anonymous said...

Harriet, this is wonderful news! It is so encouraging to learn that more teachers recognize the risks and unsoundness of these initiatives and care. Thank you for doing this. You've made a real difference in the lives of these children.

Would you consider posting your PPT on your blog? It sounds fabulous!

Harriet said...

Thanks for the heads up, Rachel. I'll check it out.

"When the teachers are worried about how the new eating regime is going to affect the children,you know there is a problem."

You said it, anon. When the teachers are worried, I'm about freaking out. They're in the trenches and they know.

Anon 2, I don't think my PPT is all that great but I'll look into posting it if it would be helpful.

littlem said...

"That made me feel good. There is room to broach these subjects, in public, and to begin a dialogue on them. Nothing changes if we just sit at home bitterly blogging about this stuff. We've got to get out in the real world, say our piece, and talk about it."

Yaaaaaay!!

This is a quantum leap from the lady who "expected that they weren't going to like what I have to say"!

And I'm really really glad. I have two educators for parents and have done the odd spot of guest instruction myself, and one of the things that I see a lot is that teachers don't necessarily feel like they have the authority, the organization, or the moxie, or the data, to challenge whatever is handed down from administration on high, or higher above, even when from their view in the trenches they know better.

And some of that is good old fashioned job insecurity, however unjustifiable it may be.

So you're providing more than one public service in that you are approaching them as an outside authority that they can point to when challenged and say, "See! There really IS a problem!"

And there is more than one problem (no school budget for organic food for the kids without raising municipal taxes, anyone?). But this is an awesome start IMHO.

Again, yaaaaaay!!

Also, check out Sandy's blog today. Just like there is No Spoon, it turns out (imagine!) there is also actually No Obesity Epidemic. (The CDC won't say that out loud, though; they're just whispering right now.)

Thorn said...

Oh Harriet, that is so awesome! I'm so impressed and filled with admiration at your proactive resolve on this issue. And so glad to hear your presentation was well-received, even if attendance was sparser than you had hoped.

After you post regarding the syrup ban, I was honestly starting to wonder if I was going to have to consider sending my kids to private school in order to try to protect them from some of this crazy stuff. This gives me hope, so thank you!

I hereby owe you the overpriced coffee/tea-based beverage of your choice, should you ever be in the mood to collect. :D

marcella said...

"Like doctors, they don't get any special training in eating disorders, and they're often frustrated and frightened by what they see."

I'd second that - and say doctors are often expected to put in place half backed schemes that may well be counterproductive too.

Well done for doing your bit - it inspires me to keep doing mine. In my bit of the real world I have a little bit more access to doctors than most - do they listen to me? Maybe not, but that doesn't absolve me from saying my bit whenever the opportunity arises.

Maggie said...

OH HARRIET, I'M SO GRATEFUL TO YOU! Please come to my daughter's school, too. Please!

Harriet said...

Hi Thorn,
I'd love to meet you and drink some overpriced beverage together! :-) Email me privately at hnbrown at tds dot net and we can try to make a date.

Marcella, keep me posted about your doings on the other side of the pond. It's good to think of you over there doing your part. Sometimes I get so frustrated with the bs over here, but we in America have no monopoly on idiocy (though we do have a large share of the market).

Maggie, I'd love to come to your kids' school. :-) I'm actually going to start talking to some school districts and see if I can organize this a bit more. Let's keep talking.

Thanks to all for your support. The more we talk about these things the better . . . to ourselves, to our friends and family, to doctors and schools and other parents.

withoutscene said...

Harriet, this is fabulous!!! I have activist fantasies about reaching out to gym teachers and making the case that they eliminate shame from gym and focus on getting kids fascinated with what their bodies CAN do and the enjoyment that comes from that.
Thanks for doing this and for being so utterly inspiring :)

sandi said...

Oh I wish you could come talk to my school.
I am a middle school teacher and almost EVERY DAY I hear beautiful girls say something about being fat.
I chaperoned a middle school dance last night. So many of the girls didn't eat the any of the food we had, and I am afraid it's because they didn't want to eat in front of the boys.
And the new rules governing what we can and cannot have in schools are just ridiculous. I can't give my kids a piece of Jolly Rancher candy because it might make them fat, but they can serve Otis Spunkmeyer Chocolate Chip muffins for breakfast? (breakfast is free to all students at my k-12 school who want it.) Those things have about 400 calories each, plus all the sugar and fat. (I point out the calories to say there are healthier food options to serve)
My students have complained before about the mixed messages being sent.

Harriet said...

Hi Sandi,
I'd love to come and speak at your school. I don't know where you are, but I'm putting together a proposal to take to school districts. If a district can bring me in to talk to staff at a number of schools, I think they get a better response and it's financially feasible for all concerned. If you're truly interested send me an email offline at hnbrown at tds dot net and let's talk.