Apprenticeship and No Fake Work

By Inquiry By Design January 14, 2021 No Comments

One of the highlights of Inquiry By Design’s curriculum is that students are apprenticed into the important work of creating meaning from texts — not distracted by fluffy, artificial side projects. Hence our motto: No fake work.

But what does it actually mean to apprentice someone into “real” literary work?

Consider the apprenticeship of a blacksmith. A young person entering this path will be made familiar, through direct hands-on experience, with the tools and materials, the techniques and trouble spots, the terms and the temperatures, and the trade. The apprentice will hammer hot iron and shape it around an anvil, again and again and again, under the guidance of the master smith, and when a piece comes out misshapen or brittle we imagine the master smith giving timely suggestions, or asking insightful questions like, “What did you do differently with the piece this time that might have caused that?”

Here’s what the master smith is not doing with the apprentice: At no point is the apprentice constructing a collage about blacksmithing. The apprentice is not completing a crossword puzzle, wherein lie two-dozen vocabulary words about blacksmithing. At the end of the apprenticeship, the youth does not work together with partners to present a PowerPoint history of blacksmithing. The master smith has no time for this, because the need of an independent, productive, intelligent assistant is too urgent. The apprentice’s tasks may move from simple to complex over time, but from the beginning of the journey to the end, they are never doing any work that an actual blacksmith wouldn’t do. No fake work

Our students’ time is exactly that valuable. To apprentice them into the real work of finding and creating meaning with the written word is to give them one opportunity after another to read, write, and discuss, to test their ideas against each other and against the texts, to hammer the hot iron before them again and again and again until it starts to take a recognizable shape. It is work, but it is productive work, and the students will appreciate the respect shown to their time and intelligence as they grow their skills.