Remember the feeling of a field trip day at school? A diversion from the routine in the classroom. A palpable excitement exuding from the students wiggling in line to board the broad steps of the school bus.
The permission slip was the linchpin to any field trip. I remember carefully placing the detached bottom portion with my mom’s signature in my backpack. I did not want to be one of the poor misfortunates that the teachers warned us about – kids who did not have permission would be left behind to do school work in a class the grade below us.
In a sense, the adventure I am on right now – The Great American Field Trip began with the same first step.
This year, the time had come. The kids were old enough. I signed on the proverbial dotted line and gave myself permission to toss aside the map society provides and instead follow my heart.
I began planning our departure for what I named The Great American Field Trip. Driving across America roadschooling our four kids.
This semester, I am the principal, the teacher, the librarian, the learner, the travel agent, the parent and the bus, err…minivan driver.
Think one room school house meets Around the World in 80 Days. OK, not literally the world, but 26 states. We have an eighth grader, fifth grader, fourth grader and first grader. Two girls, two boys. The Class Clown, the Organized Germaphobe, the Smashed Penny Collector, and the Teenager.
School on the Road is a bit different. There is no front office. No school cafeteria, desks, textbooks, P.E. uniforms, tardy slips, grades, or bells. Also absent – a safety net of predetermined standards and curriculum.
Every day is field trip day.
We left on August 26, 2011. As we pulled out of our driveway, in Costa Mesa, CA, and joined the drivers on the road I could not help think that many no doubt were headed to do some back to school shopping.
I felt like I was beginning a back to life spree.
More than halfway through our trip now, our GPA’s are soaring. But just like many things on the road we have created our own definition of the now obsolete Grade Point Average. In its stead, a Growth Perspective Achievement.
Growth happens when we expand our horizons, are forced to think in new ways. Growing also includes increased patience and empathy.
Perspective is tied to the realization that how we view our world is shaped by our experiences and environment. Attempting to see the world through other’s lenses has been a corner stone of this trip. As we seek to answer the question, “What is an American?” We realize there are many correct answers.
Achievement encompasses setting goals and achieving them. Taking risks, both small and big.
Unlike the conventional system of grading, there is no quantitative way to measure our GPA. There is no ceiling. At the end of the semester, I will not be able to reduce what we have learned to an average of numbers or scores.
We are learning what learning really is.
One cannot learn alone just as one cannot teach alone. I am a student just as much as my kids are. We have learned so much from the voices of the past. Those, who despite massive challenges, pursued the promise of a better life, a better country. Their innovation, creativity and perseverance have inspired us. We stand on their shoulders. We are visiting the places where they lived, stood, worked or bled. We are reading the words they wrote or spoke.
Some are famous like Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Marin Luther King. But most are ordinary people. A soldier on a battlefield who cannot be identified before he is buried. A Lakota woman, who in the face of losing her family, land, and way of life, continues to teach her daughters how to weave baskets.
We have many living teachers who have enriched our GPAs. Wayd, our river rafting guide in Oregon. Matt, the Park Ranger who brought Gettysburg to life. Dwight, the farmer in Iowa who taught us about corn and took us fishing. The herd of bison in Yellowstone National Park, the majestic old growth redwood trees on the Northernmost tip of California. The World War II Veterans we met at the WWII Memorial in Washington D.C. Susan, who led us on a bike tour through the Tidewater lands in Maryland where Harriet Tubman was a Slave before escaping.
Books have been as important as fuel on this trip. Hannibal, Missouri was a highlight, boyhood home of Samuel Clemens. My kids’ memories of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn will not be of cramming for a test. Instead, I hope they will remember listening to the audio book while driving through beautiful scenery of the Great Plains and Midwest. They will remember pretending to paint Tom Sawyer’s fence in Hannibal and licking an ice cream on the banks of the mighty Mississippi. Like the river, Twain runs deep within them now.
Mark Twain once said:
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness”
He also said:
“Don’t let school interfere with your education”
I think these quotations speak directly to the heart of our adventure. I hope long after The Great American Field Trip is over, my kids have learned among many lessons, one of the most important: have the guts to give yourself permission to throw out conventional maps and trust your inner compass.
The Fales Children on
Thanks Jill for this great adventure which will inspire so many of us to take the plunge. Your children are adorable and I truly believe you are giving a huge “gift” to your children: something they will treasure for life.
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