Have you ever watched “The Magic School Bus?” It’s a show about a teacher, Ms. Frizzle, who teaches her students science by taking them on field trips via the “magic school bus.” These aren’t your normal going to the museum or taking a tour of the power plant type trips. Nope, the bus usually turns them into a water molecule or something similar to experience the science first hand. Naturally, it’s these experiences that bring home the lesson to the students.
Basically, Ms. Frizzle takes “hands on” learning to the max. And while the max may seem a bit much, it is indicative of what people generally consider excellent educational opportunities. How often do we hear about the virtues of science labs and school gardens and trips to theatrical productions? It’s all about experiencing the lesson to give it meaning.
Unfortunately, institutions only recognize the value of the experience if it can measured, categorized, or otherwise documented. (Please don’t get me started on accountability.) Anyway, the emphasis on documentation rather than education is aptly demonstrated in the episode, “The Magic School Bus Lost in Space.”
One of the student’s cousin, Janet, visits the class and naturally, they go on a field trip to outer space. Janet, is an exceptional student, and she can “prove” it. She’s always quick to pull out the appropriate documentation that she won the jumping contest or received straight A’s on her report card. Subsequently, as the class visits each planet, she’s determined to collect a souvenir from each planet as proof of her visits. It’s not enough for her to know that she has visited the planets, everyone else has to know as well.
By Pluto, Janet has amassed a substantial collection of “proof.” However, there isn’t enough room on the bus to take everything back. Of course, she decides to leave her proof and just take back the experience of the trip itself. And naturally, the class is able to complete their solar system project because of their field trip.
So would I give up homeschooling if the schools offered more field trips? No. See, in “The Magic School Bus,” the kids are forced to experience the lesson–there’s not much a kid can do if she turns into a plant but learn how to photosynthesize. Ever seen a class of kids on a field trip at a museum? How many are actually paying attention? How much time does the teacher spend monitoring student behavior rather than teaching?
While first hand experience may benefit those who are experiential learners or reinforce information for those who are interested in the lesson–the best schools can hope for is that if the light bulb ever goes off in the student’s head, she may remember, “hey, I did something like that once on a field trip.” In the mean time, the kids and teachers are busy checking off boxes to “prove” it. I’d rather be able take a field trip to reinforce the light bulb rather than the documentation.