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A Side Effect of Austerity in K-12 Education: Stillborn Democracy

June 24, 2017

I love this story. These kinds of student interstate, urban-rural field trips and exchanges should be more common. This story should not feel novel.

I can’t help but think that oppressive austerity in our schools, not to mention the unrelenting focus on “basics” and testing, has fostered an environment that prevents understanding of the “other” via activities such as field trips.

A personal aside: I cannot overstate the importance a certain eighth grade field trip to Chicago had on this thirteen year old Midwestern boy. After that experience, Chicago was an actual place with real people and valuable institutions—not a fictitious hellscape of crime, pollution, and depravity. There was no need to fear the metropolis. It was, rather, a site to be explored and appreciated. The only thing that would’ve made that 1985 trip better was some interaction with teen peers from city.

Any school experience that does not allow for field trips turns education into partial prison-learning experience. You can only read about the outside world rather than feel or see it. One must witness, and confirm, the things learned about the larger cosmos and our world’s peoples. Without those confirmatory experiences, the “other” remains a malleable figment of our imagination, shaped as much by our parochial outlook and local experiences, than by the living person or landscape.

No standardized test can adequately confirm our ability to empathize or live with those others in strange places. We must experience those people and places firsthand. Otherwise our educational institutions cannot serve their purpose. A stillborn rather than flourishing democracy will be their product. – TL

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