In his introduction to this year’s commencement speaker at Holy Ghost Prep, Rev. James McCloskey reflected on how John Buettler, class of 1964, took him and his English class on a field trip — a play in Center City Philadelphia. For Jim the experience opened up his eyes to the theatre.
There is a pyramid of learning experiences. At the bottom is textbook learning and lecture, at the top is actually teaching. In the middle are experiences like field trips, not virtual trips on the computer but actually visiting a place. If you want to learn about France, travel there. Interested in the American Revolution, visit the sites. Unfortunately in today’s educational environment field trips (usually the most memorable and meaningful experiences for students) don’t happen due to finances, an emphasis on classroom time, or the tyranny of standardized testing.
Some years back I was involved in The Greater Philadelphia Partnership, a program that linked a city and a suburban school. One year modeling our experience, our team linked a Charter school from southwest Philadelphia with an elementary school in the Pennsbury district. The students exchanged letters, photographs and video footage throughout the year. They got to know students different from their friends. In May we brought the city kids to Yardley for a field day. It was a great program. The next year, the Pennsbury teacher was on maternity leave, so I called the district to find another interested teacher. In fact I think I knew a former student from Holy Family who wanted to participate. “No,” the Principal said, “we don’t have time for that, our schedule is very tight due to State testing.” I got a similar answer from the Bensalem school district. Standardized testing trumped letter writing. Standardized testing trumped getting to know kids different from yourself. Sad
I recently counted up the number of field trips I led or participated in as a teacher at HGP. Over a hundred. That’s more than two per year (40 year career). And these are the class time field trips. There were also camping trips with our Explorers club, a few forensic tournaments, overnight trips to Harrisburg in the 1970s with the basketball team, and an assortment of other after school or weekend activities. When I meet Alumni and they talk about important educational experiences, field trips are frequently mentioned. Another big one is extra-curricular. Unfortunately even at HGP, field trips are frequently put on the back burner. In recent years there have been a few but nobody teaching today is going to notch up over 100 as I did unless the pendulum swings back as frequently happens in education.
Since I am not working every day, I will be taking more field trips. I took two this week. On Wednesday I went on one of my urban adventures. Train from Yardley to Philadelphia. Picked up my senior citizen card at A SEPTA office (buses free, trains $1.00 aride).
My my next stop was Cuba Libre in Old City. A mango mojito and Mama Amelia’s empanadas, Latin music, a table open to the street. I could have been in another country. My destination, however was a history and beer cemetery tour sponsored by Christ’s Church. Many buried in the cemetery ran taverns, made beer, and all probably drank it. Robert Hair made porter that President Washington liked. Hopkinson, flag designer, wrote a poem, Battle of the kegs. Benjamin Rush thought there was too much drinking and published a temperance chart. There is even a Heineken buried there. A fun perspective on local history.
The surprise of the tour were the samples of Yard’s founders beers — Franklin’s Spruce, Washington’s Porter and Jeffeson’s Ale. I wish HGP’s St. Arnold’s Society was with me. Miss them.
My second tour was closer to home. Yesterday I walked down to the Continental Tavern in Yardley. It is the 150 anniversary of this Yardley institution. The owner, Frank Lyons gave me a fantastic tour of the building which he recently renovated — including the addition of a historic porch missing since the 1930s. In addition to being a tavern keeper, Frank is a historian and renenactor. As part of the restoration, he began an archaeological dig in the basement. To date, because the project continues, he has discovered a basement room that may have been part of the Underground Railroad. Over the years the space was filled with a variety of bottles — many whiskey bottles from Prohibition years. The dig has also uncovered a whole range of artifacts. But let me save more details for another post. I plan on returning. Until then, I encourage you to visit the Continental. Throughout the restaurant, Frank is displaying artifacts, pictures and historic documents related to the tavern and the town’s history.
I raise a glass to toast the value of field trips to learning. Some in our backyards. I hope to take many more.