Today is a beautiful bright spring afternoon in Nashville, and alone I sit on the concrete steps outside the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum waiting for my students. They are college juniors carpooling, and for many of them, it’s a smidge annoying to disrupt the routine of the semester and drive two miles over here, find a parking place, and indulge their wacky English professor in a field trip. Aren’t they too old for this? I say no—never! Because I believe in field trips.
In our class, we are studying advanced research writing, and the students are from diverse disciplines and backgrounds (for example, one of the students in the class is a gentleman who has been working as a funeral director for decades). Today, a few will meet with curators to talk about research projects, but most of us will simply wander through the museum, strut a little bit when we listen to the music accompanying the special exhibit on Ray Charles, and shield our eyes when we stand before Porter Wagoner’s glittery two-piece suits. We do not have a special tour guide or little headsets; we are simply here to do what the signs in this marvelous museum invite us to do: Stop. Look. Listen.
As a young-ish professor finding her way as a teacher and scholar, I have realized that I believe strongly in field trips. When I hear “field trip,” the image that immediately pops into my mind is from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: adorable elementary school children on a trip to the Art Institute of Chicago holding hands in a line as they pass by masterpieces. Even though my students are older and I don’t ask them to hold hands, I still believe that the field trip is as important a requirement in my class as the attendance policy. Field trips jar us out of space and routine—even when we only go a couple miles down the road. I believe that order in the classroom is both overrated and illusory. I believe the walls of the classrooms should be permeable; into our classrooms should leak the wildness and strangeness of this world.
This nation still reels from the terrible violence that happened Monday at Virginia Tech, a day when the sacredness of the classroom space was viciously desecrated. And yet, I don’t believe we should make our classrooms more airtight and “secure” simply because we are afraid of violence and would like to feel safer. I still believe that educational spaces should be places that embody the ethic of hospitality; they should welcome the strange and the unfamiliar. In three weeks, I leave with twenty students and two faculty colleagues on a field trip a bit farther down the road—summer study abroad in Southern Africa. Though we have lectures and tours planned; though we have an idea of what we are doing each day, on this ultimate field trip, we will make the road by walking.
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