1/14/2013 21:49

Museum Field Trips Meet State Academic Standards

All the museums are advertising that they offer field trip opportunities which meet state academic standards. It makes me kind of sad. That's sort of the museum equivalent to "teaching to the test". We will only offer you, they are saying, what you have to teach anyway.

I know a student who has something of the same attitude. He has said, "I only want to learn what I absolutely will need to know in my life." Nothing extraneous. Nothing mind-broadening. Only the most practical. Except -- and this is important -- the kid is taking Chinese. He may never need to know Chinese. He takes it because it is interesting. I'm glad he takes Chinese because I expect learning a wildly different language is going to influence how his brain processes information for the rest of his life.

When I was in elementary school I started visiting the local museum. What was fun about the museum was that I had a chance to see objects that I would not be likely to see in my normal, everyday life. Those objects were displayed to suggest connections among them, connections which would never arise in my normal, everyday life. The fun of the museum was in discovering something that was never in the set curriculum.

Answers without known questions, as often as not.

Field trip experiences that merely meet the academic standards will provide answers for predefined questions. It may be diverting to go to the museum, to find those answers in a different setting and perhaps with the leadership of different adults.

That isn't what museums do best. Or why we have them around.

I understand why the museums are advertising standardized field trips. The problem is that they won't pay for students to be given a chance to be excited or intrigued or interested -- unless they can prove with a test that some goal has been met, which means a question already asked and correct answers already assigned. The schools are under a lot of pressure from people who think that they think the way the student I mentioned thinks he thinks.

They are all of them deceiving themselves. They don't think that way.

This isn't a new problem. When I was a child my class took a trip to the same museum where I would wander on my own, happily soaking up the world. The field trip was boring and dull. It offered few answers, and all of them were answers to questions already known. I felt then, as I feel now, that we could as well have stayed in the classroom.

The magic was still there in the museum when I went back, without the class, without the teacher. There were still answers for which I had no questions, a world to be observed and thought about. Without the overlay of the official field trip, the museum kept whispering, "Here is something you don't see every day. Here is something, and here is what we know about it." The museum whispered, "This, too, is actual reality."