‘We haven’t a moment to lose, Axel. We must start making preparations,’ said my Uncle.
‘Preparations for what, Uncle?’ I asked, but I already knew the answer.
‘Preparations for our expedition, Axel,’ he said, putting on his hat and coat. ‘We must be in Iceland before the end of June, otherwise we’ll be too late to start our journey to the centre of the Earth‘.
What drives us to adventure? What irresistible force pulls us out of ourselves, making it necessary for us to travel, explore, even walk towards something unknown?
Is it enough to answer with just the word ‘curiosity‘? What is curiosity made of? What needs, what necessities?
When Mr. Horner, the Head of the School, confirmed that yes, he was going to give me a position because I stimulated his curiosity as a teacher, I found myself wondering what that statement could mean.
So, as I always love to do, I thought I would bring my own question to my English class and try to find the answer inside one of the many beautiful books in our library.
“I think having you on our teaching staff would be quite an adventure, Mrs. Blondett,” he had reiterated in signing my contract. It seemed to me a stimulating compliment, but also a comment that I wanted to understand better, to explore deeper. So I went to the shelf of adventure books and chose my favourite author: Jules Verne.
ACTIVITY – Describe what the word “adventure” means to you.
So it happened that, during a reading of the third chapter in class, I found a good answer to my question.
Through the speakers of our interactive whiteboard, the narrator was reading the incredible stories of three crazy guys determined to reach the centre of the earth:
‘The following day we set off again. My legs soon began to feel very tired. I sat down to rest them and to check the instruments. We were going up, not down! I looked around me. The walls were no longer covered in lava. I saw layers of rock with moss fossils’.
I pressed the Pause button on the remote control to stop listening to the audiobook and turned to the class:
‘Well… can anyone tell me what a fossil is, or give me an example?’
‘Me, Mrs. Blondett!’ the little girl in the last row shouted, raising her hand.
‘All right, Emily, let’s hear it,’ I encouraged her.
‘My big brother Tim is a fossil!’
That’s the kind of girl Emily is, someone who doesn’t worry too much about thinking about the answer the teacher expects, but prefers to get her own personal truth out. I’m sure she’ll be a leader one day.
‘I wouldn’t say that, Emily,’ I tried to counter, ‘your brother Tim is alive and well, and certainly still very young. Surely fossil isn’t the best word to describe him?’
‘Yes it is,’ she insisted, ‘he’s always locked in his room on his computer, and every time I suggest we go out looking for adventures he says you just have to find the right video on YouTube to find all the adventures you want.’
‘It’s probably just that Tim’s a little older than you, and he’s interested in different things,’ I suggest, trying to calm things down.
“No, He never does anything – that’s why he’s like a fossil!” she insists, not willing to be convinced.
I press the play button again and the audiobook starts up again, and while in the story the protagonists are standing in front of two tunnels and have to decide which way to go, I keep imagining Tim, sitting in front of his PC, and what he would do if he were now there, together with Professor Lidenbrock, Axel and Hans, having to choose which direction to go in an underground tunnel where mobile phones have no reception. Why do I get the feeling he would let little Emily decide?
It occurred to me that perhaps Emily’s definition was right after all; you become a fossil when you have all the answers without having any more questions, it occurs to me.
ACTIVITY – Write an email to your (somewhat lazy) friend trying to convince him to accompany you to a place you care about. Try to use persuasive arguments to arouse his curiosity, including offering him a moment dedicated exclusively to something you know he likes very much.
I thought I would take the opportunity to discuss with the class what had just happened.
‘Emily… if you really believe what you’re saying about your brother and fossils… well… do you remember the chapter in Journey to the Centre of the Earth that we read in class last week? Remember how the book begins? What is it that convinces Professor Lidenbrock and Axel to leave their lab full of stones and go on their adventure?’
She looks at me warily, surely wondering if this was a trick question.
‘Yes… the parchment with the cipher,’ she replies hesitantly.
‘Exactly!’, I exclaim, and project the page of the book with the coded sentence onto the digital board:
‘And what happens when they find the parchment?’, I press her.
‘That they are desperate to find out what’s written on it,’ she says, still looking at me shyly.
‘Very good! And why do they want to find out at all costs?’ I ask again.
‘Because they don’t understand anything, and the harder it is, the more fun it is,’ she concludes, now a little annoyed.
‘Right!’, I say triumphantly, standing up. ‘…and when they manage to decipher the message they discover that it says:
“In the Yökull crater of the Snæffels, which the shadow of Scartaris touches before the kalends of July, descend, brave traveller, and you will reach the centre of the earth. I did it. Arne Saknussemm”.
They do not know where Snæffels is, what Scartaris is, nor who this Saknussemm was who says he travelled to the centre of the earth. They don’t know anything, they are completely in the dark. And it is precisely this that drives them to go. And that is perhaps the trick you will have to use with Tim to convince him to go on an adventure with you’.
‘Write him a message that he won’t understand?’ she asks unconvinced.
‘Ask him a question the answer to which cannot be found on the Internet,’ I say, smiling.
As if to underline the importance of what I have just said, the end-of-class bell begins to ring. The kids all jump up, gather their folders quickly, and leave the classroom.
Emily also packs her things and heads for the door, looking at me with a mix of amazement and scepticism, as if trying to decide whether what I’ve just suggested is good advice or the ravings of a crazy teacher.
I watch her walk out of the classroom and wonder if this little lesson, born of an intuition that she herself has aroused in me, will do her any good, and if it will do Tim any good at all. Probably not, considering her temperament, but it certainly helped me, and that’s a lot. So I understood why Mr. Horner had told me that as a teacher I stimulated his curiosity: because he had probably googled my name immediately after receiving my curriculum vitae and found nothing about me.
A gust of wind slams the window, throws the papers I had left on the desk into the air. My copy of “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” falls to the floor, opening in half. Picking it up, I read a sentence at random on the page before my eyes:
‘As long as the heart beats, as long as body and soul keep together, I cannot admit that any creature endowed with a will has need to despair of life.’
TO GO FURTHER
Group (or pair) work. Take a sheet of paper and write down, without letting your classmates see, one thing you would like to do, perhaps even together with the others. Fold over the paper with the sentence you have written and pass it to your partner. Now write on the paper that another partner has passed on to you when you would like to accomplish your task. Again, fold the paper over and pass it on to your partner. Now write on the sheet of paper passed to you why you chose this particular “adventure”. Now everyone stop. Take the paper in front of you, unfold it and, within your group, take turns to read out the sentences written on it. It will probably be a lot of fun to read sentences that seem random, but think about it and you will discover that they are not. Now out of all the sentences, as a group, choose one thing and when it will happen, and then try to agree on one sentence about why you have chosen that particular adventure.