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Educational value of cultural field trips
February 16, 2015, 4:03 pm
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The school field trip has a long history in public education. For decades, students have piled into buses to visit a variety of cultural institutions, including art, natural history, and science museums, as well as theaters, zoos, and historical sites. Schools have gladly endured the disruption of field trips because they saw these experiences as central to their educational mission.

Schools exist not only to provide economically useful skills in numeracy and literacy, but also to produce civilized young men and women who would appreciate the arts and culture. Field trips are viewed among other things as being central to providing access to the cultural heritage of the country.

Unfortunately, today, culturally enriching field trips are in decline. Museums across the country report a steep drop in school tours. The decision to reduce culturally enriching field trips reflects a variety of factors. Time and resource pressures force schools to make difficult decisions and field trips are increasingly seen as an unnecessary frill.

Greater focus on raising student performance on math and reading standardized tests may also lead schools to cut field trips. Some schools believe that student time would be better spent in the classroom preparing for the exams. When schools do organize field trips, they are increasingly choosing to take students on trips to reward them for working hard to improve their test scores rather than to provide cultural enrichment.

In a 2012‒13 survey conducted of nearly 500 teachers, those who had been teaching for at least 15 years were significantly more likely to believe that the primary purpose of a field trip is to provide a learning opportunity, while junior teachers were more likely to see the primary purpose as enjoyment.

The research was the first large-scale randomized-control trial designed to measure what students learn from school tours of cultural sites. The study found that enriching cultural field trips contribute to the development of students into civilized young men and women who possess more knowledge about art, have stronger critical-thinking skills, exhibit increased historical empathy, display higher levels of tolerance, and have a greater taste for consuming art and culture.
 

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