Tuesday, 8 May 2007

The failure of field trips

School field trips are a waste of time, says educator Lisa van Damme; most are no more than "in-school vacations."
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.
The fault, says van Damme, is not in the field trips themselves, but in the educational experience itself.
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.
Of course, factory school education is a chore. That much is true, but it doesn't have to be. The real problem is that field trips are simply one example of how the factory school curriculum is disintegrated and misintegrated -- above all it fails to present knowledge in the correct order, or to integrate the knowledge presented. The real failure, says Van Damme, is in the recognition that knowledge is hierarchical ("The hierarchy of knowledge is the most neglected issue in education," says Van Damme).
The problem inherent in field trips of this kind is that they try to cash in on a bankrupt account. Students are exposed to a cultural experience, whether a trip to Washington, a classic play, or an art museum, that they do not have the educational background to value. This error is one example of a problem prevalent in education: the violation of hierarchy, or the proper order of knowledge...

At VanDamme Academy, we believe that it is our sacred duty to identify that knowledge which is essential to the development of a child into an informed, thoughtful, mature adult (which means, no diversions), and to present that knowledge in a careful, hierarchical sequence that allows for the student's thorough, independent understanding (which means, no propaganda).

On our view, field trips should give students the opportunity to make observations or have experiences not available to them in the classroom, but directly related to the crucial knowledge being gained in the classroom.
Anything else is not education, it's a holiday from it.

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