When I am on campus, when I go to classes and watch the workshops and even (maybe especially) the short bursts of unstructured time, I can’t help but think of my neighbor Tony.
When I was a kid, Tony lived two houses down from me. I was 10 and Tony was three years older. He was unusually intelligent, charismatic, and above all, curious. He was always saying, “I wonder what would happen if…”
Sometimes that “if” was “what if we put these two chemicals together?” Sometimes it was “what if we ran our go-carts down Monroe Street and try to turn into the Burns’ driveway?”
Tony was always thinking about how things worked, and always wanting to test them himself and bring others along for the ride. There were occasional bruises, but every day was filled with the tingling question: “what are we going to explore today?”
He was inspiring to me. The first time I ever saw a photographic image emerge from what looked like a tray of water, Tony was there, making it feel like magic. I now have an MFA in photography, and have had numerous exhibitions of my photographic work. But that was Moment Number One, and Tony was my Knowledge Guide.
I played drums in Tony’s garage band (in a real garage, not the Apple program), and that ignited a lifelong love of music that is more intense than I can express here. We formed neighborhood teams that played tackle football without equipment, and Tony kept all of the stats about how many tackles we made, how many touchdowns we scored. We would buy model cars, and Tony would encourage us to not follow the directions, but instead to improvise and design our own car from the box of parts the manufacturer provided.
At some point, the three year difference became too much, and we fell into groups of kids closer to our own age. But I never forgot how Tony charged the atmosphere with his curiosity, and how much I gained by being around him and his questions.
As I walk the campus, and watch our faculty interact with our students, I feel an echo of that charged atmosphere. Faculty asking students “what would happen if…?” and then letting them actually do something to find out. They are their Knowledge Guides, asking good questions, encouraging bravery, making space for improvisation.
I see our students baking empanadas, designing and building medieval structures, singing songs of their own composition, and ruling and serving their newly created island nation. And in each situation, they are guided by a teacher who is passionate about doing complex and wondrous things.
Likewise, in a school that is charged with the electricity of learning, teachers see themselves as Knowledge Guides for a student’s Moment Number One — the first time a passion is kindled and the genesis of a life-long journey. In my opinion, that may be a school’s biggest potential gift to each of their students: a teacher, curious and generous, sharing what they care about to younger people hungry to find out.