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Life is a Field Trip

As students return from cultural trips, I’m reminded of the words of the great American author and teacher, John Gardner:

“The business of education is to give the student both useful information and life enhancing experience; one largely measurable, the other not.”

The importance of the above quotations has stuck with me since I first read it. Too often we concentrate on the former, as opposed to the latter. We publish our IB scores, host the SAT, and (until recently) administered mass standardized testing across the school. And, like all parents, I’ve always sought to give my son that extra academic boost. During the pandemic, I tutored my son in reading and phonics, and even now, he’s enrolled in a multitude of after school activities. But I highly doubt after school study sessions rank highly in his mind.

As educators, we sometimes focus on academics at the expense of the intangible. I vividly recall an instance in which a former headmaster sought to cancel the school’s annual ski trips. “What’s the educational value?” he questioned. It was an expensive trip, he argued, and our high school students lost valuable time they could have been studying. I argued fiercely for keeping the ski trips, as I believe education is more than just test scores and exams. It’s a gestalt, a sum of experience and memories, more rich and unfathomable than mere grades. School is the most formative period of our lives, and what we miss during this time can never be recovered.

What constitutes our adolescent memories? Your 7th grade pre-algebra quiz score, or the first time you stood atop a ski slope, giddy with excitement, watching your friends (and teachers) rocket downhill, and the generous encouragement from your friends, to join them and take the plunge? Whenever I meet former students, years after graduating, they fondly remember the time in between classes the most. The laughs in the hallways, the conversations at lunch. In the multitude of youthful reveries, school is inevitably the venue.

This is not to say tests and quizzes aren’t important. I’m a teacher, after all, and it’s my job to measure student learning. It’s what we do. But I hope AAS will continue to shape students in that ineffable way, adding memories as building blocks, forming the foundations of a happy, validated life. I take great joy from the phrase “life enhancing experience,” and I hope your children will, too. 

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