Field (and City) Trips

Yesterday, Professor Jay Greene posted a review of the NEA-AAMD’s new study, Impact of Art Museum Programs on K-12 Students.

Prof. Greene’s research is wide-ranging, and includes an interest in the impact of field trips on student outcomes.  Art lovers, policy makers, carers-about-culture, and other fans of the humanities should immediately read his, Daniel Bowen’s, and Brian Kisida’s rigorous paper, published in Education Next, The Educational Value of Field Trips.  The benefits, such as tolerance, historical empathy, and interest in art museums, can indeed be quantified, if you design a study well enough.  And this was with a very modest intervention – a single one hour visit to a museum.

As Greene, Bowen, and Kisida document in the aforementioned study, field trips are one of those things that has felt the pinch as schools struggle to allocate enough time/resources for test preparation.

But it’s a short-term win for a long-term loss.  Learning about the world contributes in very important ways to literacy, not to mention gives students new visions of what their futures could be.

I was reflecting on how important field trips were in the world of homeschooling co-ops that we participated in growing up.  We took plenty of the obviously culturally-enriching variety – museums, historical sites, orchestras, planetariums.  But we also traveled to more blue-collar destinations – phosphate mines(!), bakeries, and fire stations.

My favorite will always be the trip we took to Ybor City, which is a Cuban neighborhood in Tampa.  I still vividly remember the aroma of fresh tabacco as I got to watch the process close up:

Tampa Rico Cigars 10-21-85
Tampa Rico Cigars, Ybor City, October 21, 1985.  Photo by Keri Davis

What did I learn from that trip?  I think it did precisely what we say we hope field trips will do – expand the horizons of the students who participate.  I had never seen anything like the vast wooden warehouses where the tabacco was stored, the long benches where the craftsmen skillfully rolled the leaves, and the delight my mom obviously took in the whole excursion.

It made me feel like the world was bigger, even though I doubt we had to drive more than an hour from the rural, swampy inland.  That sense of the wonder of the world and the people in it stuck with me, and I’m sure laid the groundwork for my desire to study abroad later on.

A field trip doesn’t have to be to a museum to have a life-long impact on a student, although I certainly think trips of that sort are vital.  A field trip just needs to be different enough from your own experience to show you how limited that experience is.  That alone can be enough to liberate the imagination and awaken you to the possibilities in life.

I highly recommend field trips to museums.  But, if you can, follow Ferris Bueller’s lead, and mix in some fun on your “day off,” too.



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