Do Educational 'Frills' Pay Off?
The accountability movement demands hard data about student learning. Anything that does not directly contribute to measurable outcomes is considered expendable. That's why it came as a pleasant surprise to read about the value of field trips, which in the minds of many are seen as frills ("The Educational Value of Field Trips," Education Next, Winter 2014).
The results of a well-designed University of Arkansas study showed that taking students to an art museum produced quantifiable benefits in the form of stronger critical thinking, increased historical empathy, higher levels of tolerance, and greater taste for consuming art and culture. If the results can be duplicated by other studies, then field trips can hardly be accused of being frills. They help students develop both cognitively and non-cognitively.
The benefits are greatest for disadvantaged students from rural areas and high poverty schools. That's because these students don't have exposure to the same enriching experiences as their classmates from upper socioeconomic families. When I was in elementary school, my father took my sister and me to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and to the Bronx Zoo. I still vividly remember the lifelike exhibits at the former and the exotic smell of the latter. I wonder how many students from impoverished backgrounds have a father who can afford to forsake a second job to do the same for his children.
I hope that more studies are done to reinforce the importance of field trips and the like. Long after classroom lessons are forgotten, they remain. When I run into former students, they invariably remind me of the field trips we took in an experimental course I taught in American literature in conjunction with another teacher in Contemporary American Problems. These included Camp Pendleton (the military), Chino State Prison (crime) and the grape fields (labor). I still have photos as a reminder.