Over the past couple of weeks, the teachers and students at my school have been savoring their trips to the zoo. Not necessarily because of the lovely spring day they got to spend communing with the animal kingdom, since it rained all day on the fourth and fifth graders. Instead, they are revelling in the opportunity to go on field trips. Mandatory curriculum pacing coupled with shrinking budgets mean that all those excursions to factories and fire stations have slowed to a trickle, and next year they may not happen at all.
As a teacher, it is some small blessing that we won't have to wince in anticipation of what our class might do "out in public." Counting heads on a city bus or rounding up scattered fourth graders on a beach can be a pretty thankless task, but in the final analysis it's a small price to pay for the experiences offered to our kids outside the classroom. I offer the following anecdote as evidence: A few years back, I took my fourth grade class downtown to the Oakland Museum for a peek into California history. On the ten minute bus ride from our neighborhood, I remember seeing a pair of my students with their faces pressed to the window for most of the trip. As we passed by Lake Merritt, one boy asked the other, "Is that the ocean?"
And that's when it struck me that this kid probably hadn't been outside of his four block comfort zone for most of his life. The lake he was looking at was the ocean to him. If he didn't take away any memories of the Chumash or panning for gold or the missions, he had seen the ocean.
School districts across the country, including my home state of Colorado, have begun using the sides of school buses for advertising space in attempts to stem the receding budget tides. John Green, of the California Department of Education, argues that the ads never generate as much money as they are supposed to, and they may distract drivers and lead to accidents. Cost of straightening a few fenders for distracted drivers on otherwise "distraction-free" highways of California? Thousands of dollars each year. Cost of mistaking a salt water lake for the Pacific Ocean? Priceless.