On this bright sunny day, in the middle of August, summer time in the northern hemisphere, my mind turns to the outdoors. While I could go into a twenty-page diatribe about why I believe schooling should be year round and how beneficial the summer is to learning, let me instead…draw attention to something else that often connects weather and schooling: field trips.
My earliest and most vivid memories, even today, of my schooling are most closely associated with field trips. Indoor and outdoor adventures that took my mind and body outside of the traditional classroom and instead to a place of discovery, experiential surroundings, and a free roaming environment. Whether it was to the local pumpkin patch, zoo, theatrical play or even an adventure into the woods behind my elementary school, field trips, as I look back on them, were more than simply an escape or anomaly from the day to day routine of public schooling, but rather an exploration of self.
At least in elementary school, these field trips were a part of the curriculum, not an integral part, mind you, but at least a glimpse into what was possible in experiential and self-learning. As middle and high school began to divvy up and compartmentalize my daily schedule, field trips simply became abolished as essential parts of learning. Sure, the occasional choir performance or play was still thrown into the mix, but it was a far cry from being implemented to interconnect each subject.
How can math be expected to be understood, without visiting where it is used in sectors of the capitalist society? How can I be expected to be a responsible, social member of society, when my last trip to a historical site was the previous summer on a family vacation? How can art or music be appreciated without seeing where they are performed or how they impact a community? How can I absorb a foreign language, without meeting anyone who has ever spoken the language or the culture in which it is used? How am I supposed to learn science, without interacting with the earth?
Here is the point: It is not enough, only to bring back the occasional field trips into the middle and high schools, but rather, make experiential learning, so important that the notion of field trips are not recognized as a specialized or segmented part of the curriculum. The notion of the field trip matters, because it gets the students outside of the box that we have forced them into. Suddenly, the scientific notion of climate change becomes an understood component, when I can see where the ice has melted off the river, in the middle of February. Or a trip to the local National Park, helps me recognize the amazing achievement of setting aside places for all people to join, enacting, one of the most important elements of democracy. Or a trip to the NYSE, teaches me the economic components of stock holders, dividends and selling the stock high and buying it low.
My argument is not to fill in all the specifics, the cost, the responsibility of the teachers, the time frame, but instead, to remind individuals of the importance of this element of learning. If I can remember more of my history from my summer family vacations, then I can for an entire year in the classroom, then shouldn’t we re-asses what we value as important notions of learning? When do we get so consumed with tests, the newest textbooks, and the latest documentary on a subject, that we forgot to wander in the woods? That we forgot to challenge who we are, by visiting and experiencing what we were told in the books, or copied onto a sheet of paper?
The idea of community education speaks to this very notion. It is through the community that we learn best and that the intellectual investigation happens as a component to the overall experience of life. It is an arguable notion, that the center of education should be based on “field trips,” while the rest of our cognitive learning is slowly implemented through this lens.
Lets shift the conversation, away from the negative, because of the challenge of implementation and instead, embrace the positivity, the imagination and the limitless possibilities of a world of education based on… field trips.