I was fortunate to go to an excellent college that encouraged thoughtful, creative thinking and initiative and leadership and instilled a “you can do it” attitude a la Rosie the Riveter but without the factory! William Ayers writes in To Teach, the Journey of a Teacher about instilling these skills in elementary (and preschool) students and not waiting until college, (that few will probably be able to afford unfortunately). Ayers writes, “the quest [of creating engaging curriculum] itself is really the thing worth doing . . . not the end-point.” (p.100) I want to teach children how to go on the quest, to learn the skills they will need on the quest, figure out what they need to bring, and grow during the journey – with my support but not by my giving them a map to memorize with each step on it. First of all, I want to teach them enough to even be able to choose what quest, or quests, they want to go on and that there are an endless amount of quests out there to explore or create themselves. If the student is learning from the quest, it does not matter if the end point is reached or not. Either way, they need to have the imagination to come up with the next quest.
Ayers writes of how the students can be part of the process of creating and focusing the curriculum which teaches them that their thoughts and ideas are valued and also serves to connect them to the learning themes. “We can acknowledge the value of [the old basic] skills without erasing what we know about the worth of persons or the importance of connectedness in teaching.” (p. 111) Perhaps the quests can be group themes the class is exploring using tools taught in the curriculum, or perhaps quests are individual goals a student is working on academically or socially. When more challenging or more boring rote skills are needed to be learned, students and teacher can explore ways that these skills are needed for our quests or to more deeply learn about themes we have chosen to frame our curriculum with. At least then we will have some motivation for learning the skills and something interesting to apply them to. I know this will be a lot of extra work, but it also sounds like much more satisfying, creative work and like a much, much more invested, exciting, relevant way for children to spend their long school days.