It has been interesting to learn how very positively people remember their elementary school library experience. Without exception, each person to whom I’ve mentioned my new employment proves to be equal parts enthusiasm and nostalgia, primarily recalling school libraries as bastions of encouragement in a place that felt safe.
These reactions certainly reflect the reasons I am excited to begin. Foremost, there is an incredible sense of relief and freedom knowing that my main task is to stoke students’ excitement over ideas they already find interesting, and to cultivate that natural curiosity in an empowering way. I say relief, because after teaching undergrads for the past 10 years, I was absolutely burnt out by variations on the question “but what exactly do you want from me?” in response to the myriad ways I tried to have them work from a foundation of their own values, interests, experience, hopes, curiosity, epiphanies, etcetera.
I cannot definitively say why so many young adults could not or would not trust in their own processes of critical thought and idea exploration, but I can say that younger children overwhelmingly possess a crucial factor of individualism that drives them to learn and understand more about whatever it is that piques their curiosity. They retain the mix of confidence and experimentalism to attempt something on their own, innately aware that the process can be just as satisfying and important as the result.
I am frankly ecstatic that I can play a role in education that is devoid of grades, points, scores, rubrics, and such matters as have in my experience only served to create an interpersonal barrier I myself could not figure out a way over. What I saw as permission and encouragement to explore invested interests, they saw as me saying “just write whatever.” When I said what I really care about is how you develop your own thinking in a way that works to refine its ultimate expression so don’t worry so much about a point-bound rubric though plenty of good examples are in the internet if that language helps guide you, they heard me saying “just google it.” I wanted to figure out how to get my students to relax enough to enjoy the experimental and creative aspects of all writing, but I couldn’t overcome their expectation that my role was to organize each thing they wrote into a clearly delineated system of points and percentages. Of course there were students who were free-thinkers enough to excel in my relatively unstructured classroom, or at least open enough to new approaches to just go with it and observe the results, but alas at least half would remain obdurately focused on how I was or was not doing the job of providing unmistakable boxes to check and blanks to fill in. And that just wasn’t in me.
So, hooray for the library! And hooray for that time of life when children are proud of their developing understanding. It will feel good to help that sense of personal awareness and ability take root, so the capacity to further research and explore can blossom, and someday bear fruit in the maturation of their respective philosophical and activist selfhoods. And hopefully somewhere, an unknown adjunct/professor can look forward to a few more individuals willing to think hard and work diligently for the satisfaction of doing so.