In my recent newsletter "The Failure of Field Trips," I explained what is wrong with traditional school outings. The typical field trip is irrelevant to the students' education, either because they have been unprepared to appreciate it by their schooling (e.g., City Hall or the opera) or because it is intended as a reprieve from their schooling (e.g., the water park or bowling alley).
At VanDamme Academy, we use field trips as opportunities for students to have experiences that enhance their education-experiences that directly relate to their schooling but are not available to them within the walls of the classroom. Past field trips include: an astronomy night, to observe a lunar eclipse and to find the constellations they had mapped on a star chart in science class; a performance of The Importance of Being Earnest, to watch on stage a play they had read and thoroughly analyzed in literature class; the King Tut exhibit at LACMA, to see relics of a time they had studied in depth in history class. In each case, because they were so well prepared, they relished the experience.
Probably the most thrilling of the VanDamme Academy outings, and the one that best exemplifies the very meaning and purpose of field trips, was our visit to the San Diego Museum of Art. This field trip was attended-and enjoyed- by every student in the school, from kindergarten to eighth grade.
The students had been thoroughly prepared for the experience by many aspects of their education. They were well read in literature: five- year-olds delighted to find a painting of the myth of Apollo and Daphne; elementary students discovered portraits that reminded them of Arthur and Lancelot; junior high students argued over which artist best depicted a figure with the strength and independence of An Enemy of the People's Dr. Stockmann. They were knowledgeable about history: all the students had some familiarity with the cultural context in which a Medieval, Renaissance, or American painting was produced; many students identified portraits that reminded them of historical figures, like Charlemagne or St. Augustine; the junior high students could relate the philosophy of asceticism to three different renderings of Mary Magdalene. . . .