June 12, 2011

Field trips not like they used to be

The final month of the school year is upon us, and that means one thing: field trip season is here.

I realize that no one wants to sit inside a stuffy classroom learning quadratic equations while outside the window the sun is shining, flowers are blooming, flood waters are receding.

It seems, though, that every day at my children's elementary school one class or another is off to some exotic locale.

Field trips have really changed since I was a kid — and I don't think I like it.

Already this year, various classes or entire grades have scheduled field trips to zoos, museums, concerts, animal shelters, poetry recitals, natural rock formations, farms, foreign countries, science centers, Broadway shows, amusement parks, shopping malls and a 13-day Disney Cruise to Caracas.

There's a lot of fun going on, and as I understand it, school is not supposed to be fun. These schools were built — at great expense — to be used, not to sit empty while the students put their heads in the mouths of circus lions.

In my day, when we had a field trip it was usually just that: The teachers marched us off to a nearby field.

Sometimes the field had grass growing, and we might find some insects. Maybe collect an igneous rock or two. We would see interesting wildlife along the walk: squirrels, pigeons, rats, mosquitoes.

There were no buses, no permission slips, no matching shirts, no name tags. Sometimes we were allowed to bring a bag lunch; other times we had to forage for food.

On occasion, the fields would have crops that needed to be harvested or seeds that needed to be sowed. Grass that needed to be mowed. The teachers called it "hands on" experience for a future career as migrant farm workers.

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