303. Field Trips

A field trip is supposed to be a way to enhance curriculum. It can also be a way to give children and teachers a break from routine. And it can do both, and often does. Children benefit by learning from direct experiences, and schools have to rely heavily on vicarious experiences; they can’t really bring the world into the classroom.
Unfortunately, many field trips only add to children’s store of vicarious experiences. Children, teachers, and volunteer parents get on buses and are taken to a place designed for field trips. There are lectures, photo displays, charts, and maybe some hands-on experiences. There are lots of other children from other schools. Some are running around, making lots of noise. Some are waiting on line, hoping to get a chance to put their hands on the hands-on activities.
Some of the children have been to this place many times, with their parents and with other teachers. They’ve been there, done that. There may be some advantages to taking children to places that were designed for field trips: maybe they’re safer, more age-appropriate, more convenient. But they don’t necessarily offer something children haven’t already gotten. And adults who accompany children to these places often hear complaints about this fact.
Occasionally, I’ve planned or witnessed another kind of field trip. Children studying a nearby city actually go to the city and see what it’s like there. They don’t go to the Children’s Museum or the Museum of Natural History. Instead, they go to neighborhoods that are different from their own, and they see that there really are such neighborhoods. Or they go to some place where nature has been allowed to do its thing, and they see trees that are not labelled. I understand the fears many adults have about such field trips. There are reasons they choose to take children on the tried-and-true field trips. Some of adults’ fears may be irrational, perhaps based on bigotry or other forms of ignorance. They worry that their children will be exposed to urban unrest, and be psychologically or physically harmed, or drown in the ocean, or be eaten by bears. I certainly didn’t want any of that to happen to my children, or the children I taught.
I don’t have an easy answer to this problem. The kind of field trip I have in mind would be an attempt to start to solve major societal problems that spring from ignorance of the natural world and the urban world. On the one hand, suburban parents want to make sure their children are safe. On the other hand, childhood is a good time to learn what life on earth is about, and there isn’t some Museum of Life on Earth that will teach them that.

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