“I haven’t been on a field trip since fifth-grade!” I overheard a high school student make this statement and my heart sank. Could that really be true? My mind went back to my own childhood days. I vividly recalled school trips to planetariums, zoos, museums, wildlife reserves, plays, and sporting events. More recently, I remember vying to be one of the few selected parents to be a chaperon on one of my children’s school field trip experiences. You were the coolest kid ever if your mom or dad got that honor! Are today’s’ students being deprived of these educational and social experiences?
According to an article in Education Next,
Today, culturally enriching field trips are in decline. Museums across the country report a steep drop in school tours. For example, the Field Museum in Chicago at one time welcomed more than 300,000 students every year. Recently the number is below 200,000. Between 2002 and 2007, Cincinnati arts organizations saw a 30 percent decrease in student attendance. A survey by the American Association of School Administrators found that more than half of schools eliminated planned field trips in 2010–11.
Where are the days when you went on field trips and wrote about what you did, saw, and felt on that trip? Such authentic writing taught me so much about narrative and journal writing. I’d even go so far as to say that those experiences, as well as my teachers’ assignments to write about them, helped to ever-so-tenderly nurture the professional writing that I currently compose in my life.
We need to bring back the authenticity to our classrooms and to education.
Take kids on a field trip to a meadow so that when you test them on Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” they know what diverged roads look like. (Most of the urban kids to whom I’ve taught this poem had no idea what Frost was referring to.) Take students to a bird conservatory to see a raven prior to reading Poe’s famous poem. Take students from the Bronx to see “A Bronx Tale” — on Broadway! Bring students to Native American reservations out east on Long Island to give context to their in-class study of the Iroquois and Algonquins in Social Studies class.
Our country is in desperate need of a creative force to lead us through the upcoming decades and this is the generation we are preparing now. Fostering creativity should be our educational priority. I profess that one of the best ways to do this is to get out of the textbooks and the technology for a bit and engage students in authentic, hands-on, real world experiences where they get to explore arenas they would not normally get to outside of school. That means that the field trips to the basketball games and movies that I do see our students attending all too frequently can be traded in for trips to see the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre or to explore the Milky Way at the Hayden Planetarium. The benefits gained will exceed beyond that day, beyond that student. Field trips bring not only authenticity but equity to education.