It was Saturday. School was out for the weekend—or so I thought. I had just carried my cup of coffee over to the front door to look out over the crisp autumn morning when I spied something lying on my threshold. It was a scroll; a map, I discovered, as I unrolled it, earnestly scrawled by eager hands. I looked up and down the leaf-strewn street. No one was in sight, though I felt the press of unseen eyes. The game was afoot. My coffee went cold on the porch.
I soon found myself transported to familiar worlds with an unfamiliar intensity.
I was strolling the paths of Sherwood Forest reading reward posters nailed to trees for the capture of a bold outlaw. Before long, I met a smiling giant in green who wondered if my purse was overheavy for a light traveler. Suddenly I was surrounded by an armed band, blindfolded, and brought bodily under the greenwood tree to enjoy woodland sport, handfuls of pastry, music, and jugglery under the twinkling gaze of an archer men call Robin Hood.
Next, I was whisked to a wrecked realm and crept beneath immense and ancient arches of brick. There I puzzled within a stone circle of stony-faced figures whose secret launched me upon a monstrous mission amid the rubble in the valley below. I followed their words, only to bandy with fiery, holy prophets in the domed ruins of a forgotten city as a raging beast roared for my blood by a roaring river.
On and on I went. I flattered the Crow for his cheese. With my crossbow, I shot the Albatross. I challenged and charged the Sable Knight. I meditated beneath the Tumtum Tree and galumphed from the spot past a chortling king with the Jabberwock’s hideous head in my arms and a pounding heart in my chest.
Finding myself then in a strange neighborhood of sober houses, a manhole slid open suddenly before my feet, its heavy lid moved by unseen hands. I descended into that pit of impenetrable darkness, the grinding, grating disc closing above me as mysteriously as it had opened. Bearing nothing but a guttering torch and strange tokens against the death-dense darkness, I plunged into the underworld. I slipped past grim guards and groped breathlessly through drifting, listless spirits muttering Macbeth’s lament about tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. I trembled before the ominous throne of Pluto and exchanged riddles for my life like Bilbo. I stumbled and climbed as Orpheus did back to the sunlit lands with the howl of the damned ringing in my ears.
Finally, before a crowd of curious and clapping onlookers, I juggled rather ineptly in the town square encouraged by a motley troupe of rowdy clowns and musicians singing old songs at the top of their lungs who would not and could not be refused. I saw their smiles. I shared their joy. I enjoyed their jokes. I played their game.
But who will believe it?
Who will believe that I found my own students dressed and armed as Robin Hood and his merry men on a forest trail near my house? Who will believe that I solved an intricate puzzle set up by my grease-painted pupils in togas on a busy street corner in a depressed coal-town as honking cars whizzed by and passersby, faceless in the distance, looked down from the towering old ironworks in mute wonder? Who will believe that I faced so many masked and riddling boys on roads that diverged in a yellow wood? Who will believe that I clambered down a storm drain to face Odyssean darkness and the fears of Dante amid a mingling pack of groaning teenagers wrapped in shrouds? Who will believe that I juggled and sang with my young friends before city hall in gratitude for the gift they had given me in return for the one I had given them, clowns all?
Who will believe my tale?
More importantly, who will believe that the greatest thing that occurred on that strange Saturday was that, through these adventures given to me by my students in the wide world after I gave them in a narrow classroom, I ran, mused, and fought in playful expression and extension of an education I had played a part in? I found myself a boy again, swept along in a vivid virtuosity made real once again by the innocent imagination of boyish hearts that had drunk deeply from the cup of ages and, finding its taste good, rejoiced in its wonders in the best way they knew how: a game.
As a teacher at an all-boys school, I have never found education a dull thing. Which is to say, I have never found education in droning over dusty volumes. I have ever found that learning begins and ends with liveliness and loveliness. Adolescents are spirited creatures hungry for adventure and only a spirited education of adventure will set their lives on a lively and lovely course. My classroom, therefore, is a ship; the students, my crew; our text, a newer world. And never is this clearer to me than when such an education manifests itself beyond the classroom as a way of looking at the world and approaching the world with joy.
True education draws the imagination towards activity and creativity, towards engagement and enjoyment. Though difficult to believe, students can indeed pursue their lessons with life and love once school is out. They can indeed become heroes and tacticians and philosophers and evangelists—and even Catholic citizens, professionals, parents, and priests. It is true. I am a teacher. I can tell the tale.