Rilla Roessel is one of those people you meet and work with in publishing who constantly surprises you and -- occasionally -- makes you realise there are people out there who see things you never even guessed at.
Rilla was kind enough to look over a very early draft of World Adventure Kids for me (I'd worked with Rilla extensively at Pearson through the whole process of making and then marketing the Boost! Integrated Skills Series) to give me some feedback and provide a few angles I might have missed.
She really liked what she saw/read, acknowledged that it ticked a lot of those boxes like CLIL, extensive reading, etc. and then made a comment along the lines of "another thing it really has going for it is that it has such a strong values curriculum embedded in it."
There was a new term to add to my thinking box...
Rilla is right, of course. There are a lot of different values and ethical or moral perspectives presented in World Adventure Kids. In fact, several of the decision pathway options in the reader-directed story deliberately target choices that could be said to embody ethical issues and 'values.'
I featured 'values' in this way in World Adventure Kids because it seemed to come naturally to a story for children -- young people still exploring ideas and choices in the world and trying to figure out what is inherently right or wrong about what they choose to do and why.
However, having identified (thanks to Rilla's astute observation) that my work definitely did have a 'values' orientation, I must admit that I started to feel a little uneasy...
Was I preaching at and attempting to moralize children in this story? In embedding a strong 'values curriculum' was I in actual fact falling prey to something more along the lines of the 'hidden curriculum'?
I looked back through the stories and choices again, eventually realising I was comfortable with the ethical choices presented. From the very start, World Adventure Kids are presented as having a very specific mission: to protect the world's environment, animals, people and cultural treasures. If you want to be a World Adventure Kid, lead a mission and use all the cool resources this mysterious movement has at its disposal, your actions and decisions need to reflect the values identified as being synonymous with WAK.
Hence I feel quite comfortable with choices presented to young readers along these lines (warning: may contain some plot spoilers!):
Free the anaconda?
You've found an anaconda trapped in a cage in the depths of the Amazon Rainforest. Do you let it loose (which could obviously present some danger to yourself) or leave it right where it is (a course of action very enthusiastically supported by that member of your team who is absolutely petrified of snakes)? Should the fact that anacondas are illegally caught and sold as pets in other countries really matter?
Be the first to meet the Hi-Merima?
You accidentally stumble upon the village of the Hi-Merima tribe, an uncontacted people secreted away in the Amazon (this one is based on actual fact). Be the first modern humans to meet them and get your name in all the newspapers and research journals, or leave them alone? Does the fact the tribe is hostile to outsiders and at serious health risk based on lack of immunities (from things like the common cold) warrant consideration? What about their right to continue living their lives the way they always have, not bothering the outside world?
Touch the treasure?
After a perilous underground journey, you've finally discovered Pharaoh Sety's hidden treasure and it is truly SPECTACULAR! Haven't you earned the right to be the first to touch and examine it all, even if there is a bit of a risk that your inexpert hands might break something? And does the notion of the treasure rightfully belonging to the people of Egypt (first and foremost) really carry any water? Why is Tootenhootin in the British Museum, anyway?
Worth the risk?
This one is presented in World Adventure Kids in various guises in the face of different dangerous situations where a specific item of equipment hasn't been chosen by the adventurers and is necessary for safe navigation through the danger. Swim across a river full of Black Caimans? Sprint along a corridor despite a specific warning it needs to be walked in complete silence? What about your responsibility as team captain to ensure the safety of your team members and not take any unnecessary risks?
I'm not sure about other people's feelings on these issues, but I don't personally think these dilemmas represent ethical consideration that is inappropriate for children to tackle.
Yes, they do make an attempt at a set of values to be thought about and exhibited, and to that extent they perhaps do comprise a 'values curriculum.' But given World Adventure Kids are up front about what they expect from their team members, I would hardly say they form any kind of 'hidden curriculum.'
And in any case, the 'values' stuff isn't the only criteria for challenges and choices. Most of the other pathways depend more on critical thinking skills, which is something I will blog about in the near future.
Then again, isn't a values curriculum yet another way to encourage and facilitate critical thinking?