I’m 70 years old and there are times when I can’t remember why I just walked into the den or what I was looking for. Early dementia? No, just, as my favorite doctor used to say, “Your briefcase is full.” It’s full, of course, because I have lived so long and have had opportunities to put so much in my briefcase.
The interesting thing is I can remember my third grade field trip to a local bank as though it were yesterday. I can remember my first camping experience, our family trips to the beach, being selected for a Little League team, our eighth grade trip to DC especially the Smithsonian, our wedding day in 1964, the birth of both daughters (vividly), and the list goes on. I share this because I just returned from a weekend trip to DC where I was stunned by my feelings of pride in our overwhelming beautiful capital, my awe of the bigger than life monuments and the reminders of the many important people and events that have made us so special, and an incredible understanding of how complex our country is and why we need a dynamic and reliable government.
So, I share this not because I want to make a case for more research on dementia or argue for bigger government. I share this because my weekend trip to DC somehow brought to light a perspective on current events in our world that I now believe might be better addressed with effective 21st century leadership. I’m deeply concerned about the current leadership in two major arenas:
- I am concerned about the crisis of leadership in our Congress, the narrowing of our national perspective, the pandering to special interests, the failure to put the greater good at the center of our discourse.
- I am equally as concerned about the crisis of leadership in our educational system that has allowed data-driven-everything to dominate every decision, resulting in the loss of important teaching-learning opportunities for our teachers and students.
So, what’s the connection? What would a 21st century leader emphasize?
Field trips! Yes, field trips!!!
School districts nation-wide have all but eliminated meaningful field trips, whether it’s the economy squeezing the budget, fears of increased liability, alternative strategies such as virtual visits, or, as in too many cases, a misunderstanding of the worth of a field trip. The common response to “Why not a field trip?” is “We need more time on task for the areas of the test.” Sadly, what these comments don’t realize is the results in almost every area of any standardized test would be enhanced by an effective field trip. Not a believer? Take a moment and reflect on your schooling: what were the most memorable school activities you can recall? I’ve done this hundreds of times with future teachers and in every case a field trip or a project related to a field trip makes the list – every time! It could be a senior trip to DC, a project presented at the State Fair, a rewarding day at an amusement park, a band competition, a whale watch – so many engaging activities.
Real and life-long learning occurs when there is a personally meaningful event, a connection, an ah-ha or an OIC (oh, I see) experience. Field trips provide meaningful learning and should be among the last things to go when there are decisions to be made at school.
I’m equally as sure that our elected officials in Congress need to take some field trips. When I hear how “bad” big government is, I have to wonder, do they get out and around in DC to visit and to know what our big government agencies really do? I’m sure there is room for some belt-tightening, but the country I have known, grown up in, prospered in, needs now more than ever to reach out and make a difference in the life of our people. Whether it’s the complex work of the State Department or the comprehensive issues worked on at the EPA, the Department of Agriculture, Veterans Affairs – the list is extensive. The work is important. It makes us who we are as a nation.
Government makes a difference when it serves its people; that is happening in this country better than any other place in the world, and politicians looking for an issue would serve us all better by taking a field trip, checking things out, and making recommendations for improvement rather than thoughtless statements that “less government is better government.”
Yes, field trips. Still not convinced? I know not everyone can hop in a car, train, bus, or plane and visit DC, but it would really be a treat and a vivid reminder of what an awesome country we live in.
The key, in any event, is to support and encourage field trips, from kindergarten to Congress!