Many educators stress the importance of field trips: opportunities to get students out of their desks and away from their books, and to give them direct, vivid, sensory experience with the world around them. Reflecting on my own education, these excursions off campus are indeed some of my most memorable moments—but not because of their educational merits, not because they brought alive the important knowledge I had gained in the classroom. I remember them either as days off- reprieves from my painfully dull schooling-or as painfully dull experiences in themselves.
Whether the trip was playtime or punishment depended on which of the two main purposes that field trip was to serve. In practice, one of the goals of the typical field trip is to offer a treat, a diversion, a rewarding break from the "daily grind" of learning. Mrs. O'Brien, a VanDamme Academy teacher, witnessed this when working as a student teacher at a Minnesota public school. She relayed to me a discussion among some teachers planning a trip to the park, desperately seeking some "educational" excuse for the outing. "We could stop by the cranberry field along the way, and give them a quick lesson about cranberry farming?" suggested one.
This attitude toward field trips can be seen reflected in the popular destinations, from water parks to movie theaters to bowling alleys, and in the reasons offered for given destinations. An on-line educators' resource recommends visits to a taxidermy shop—for the "ick factor"—and to a bakery or grocery store—for the "free samples of their wares."
Clearly, the need for these in-school vacations, these diversions entirely unrelated to the curriculum content, is the consequence of a much deeper problem: the work is not motivation in itself. Teachers and students alike view education as a painful chore to be dutifully endured-and occasionally rewarded with a "Pajama Day" a pizza party or a park trip. (See the other issues of this newsletter for a different attitude toward education: www.pedagogicallycorrect.com.) . . .