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.
There were certainly no gift shops where we could spend our parent's hard-earned money on overpriced junk that McDonald's would be ashamed to put in a Happy Meal.
Another thing we didn't have were chaperones. On the rare occasion that we left the town limits for a distant locale, our chaperone was one near-sighted teacher with a clipboard and maybe a whistle.
There was no buddy system. No roll call. If 23 of 25 students returned from a trip, the outing was deemed a shining success. It was evolution at its finest; survival of the fittest.
In modern times, the chaperone seems to be terribly misused. Parents are usually enlisted to help out, and I've seen field trips where there's a one-to-one kid-to-chaperone ratio — which we generally refer to as "parenting."
The parent chaperones aren't allowed to ride the buses with the children, even though the buses are where most of the bad stuff — bullying, spontaneous combustion, choruses of "999 bottles of beer on the wall" — occur.
Once the destination is reached, many of the parents end up smoking cigars, drinking whiskey and playing high-stakes poker in the ladies room. Still, there are so many grown-ups around that a kid can barely get lost or get into any trouble. They have no chance to build their own individuality.
What makes a kid stronger, more self-sufficient, than being left behind in Canada with nothing more than three American quarters in his pocket and an "Hola. Me llamo Steve" sticker on his shirt?
Frankly, I'm not seeing the real academic benefit of these field trips.
Take the kids on a field trip to the school's kitchen, to learn important life skills (how to make papier-mache look like meat). Take them to the public library, to learn to read.
Take them to the hospital emergency room to, well, watch people bleed. Kids love blood. Take the kids to a waste treatment facility to … punish them, for all the terrible things they've done during the year. All these trips would be educational without costing the parent or the taxpayer anything.
Tomorrow is Monday, and your child is going to school. But is he going to sit there quietly and learn something, like he's supposed to? More likely he ends up spear-fishing along the banks of the Amazon River. Just doesn't seem right.
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