Evaluating the Value of Field Trips in Early Childhood Education

Apples and sunlight

1.) The Orchard: Lessons learned: a.) The air in autumn smells better than any air anywhere at any other time. (b.) Apples with both green and red in them are the prettiest, followed narrowly by the ones which are yellow and the ones which are yellow-green. This is not subjective. (c.) When visiting an orchard on a field trip in October, each pupil will receive a free pumpkin. This is awesome. (d.) Size and appearance matters; the free pumpkin will result in early introductions to comparative studies on the bus ride home. This will involve tears and disappointment for pupils who choose poorly. Their misshapen, flat-sided, and/or otherwise inferior pumpkins will elicit conversation/derision on the bus ride back to the school. (e.) Decision-making.

2.) Kroger: Lessons learned: a.) Each pupil visiting a Kroger grocery store will receive a free donut. The donut shall be glazed; it shall be yeast. (b.) The students will be taken upstairs to look out at the store behind the one-way glass mirror. (c.) Kroger has an upstairs. (d.) There is no privacy in a Kroger.

3.) McDonald’s: Lessons learned: a.) McDonald’s does not give free food to pupils. (b.) Birthday parties at McDonald’s include party favors, unlimited orange drink, and one box of McDonaldland cookies per child. (c.) Parents who truly love their children give them birthday parties at McDonald’s. (d.) Even young children are not fooled by McDonald’s, even though the French fries are good.

4.) The Fire Station: Lessons learned: a.) Dalmatians are optional at fire stations. Do not ask to see one; you will be embarrassed. (b.) There really is a pole in the firehouse. Yes, firemen will occasionally use it but they prefer the stairs. (c.) Firemen don’t fight fires every day. (d.) The grass in front of a fire station is greener than grass anywhere else. The grass in Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day in the fulsome mists of spring wishes to be fire station grass when it grows up.

Are field trips in early elementary education worthwhile? Yes.


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This October Morning

Johnson County, Indiana

“October was mellowing fast, and with it the year itself; full of tender hints… of a course well-nigh completed.” Kenneth Grahame


September Window

“Departing summer hath assumed / An aspect tenderly illumed, / The gentlest look of Spring, / That calls from yonder leafy shade / Unfaded, yet prepared to fade, / A timely carolling.” William Wordsworth, September


Summer Reading Program

You know how, if you’re a kid, you can sign up for a Summer Reading Program at your local public library and read books in order to earn points which are then redeemable for treats like ice cream, stickers, and erasers which smell and/or look like fruit? Well, I think libraries still do this. I hope they do. Mostly I hope kids still do this because they’re the future and all and Reading = Awesome. (I would have my doubts about a future led by people who didn’t read things, many things, with comprehension and critical thinking and everything.)

Anyway, in the spirit of Summer Reading Programs, here are some of my summer reads so far (a very eclectic list and not one Girls of Canby Hall on it, which may affect the number of points I receive) with a few words about each.


Downie Jr, Leonard and Robert G. Kaiser. The News About the News: American Journalism in Peril. I had actually been hoping to read Thomas Patterson’s Informing the News: The Need for Knowledge-Based Journalism but that wasn’t on the shelves at the library, so I pulled this title, which was written in 2002. The year it was written is important here: this book is a snapshot of life in the U.S. and journalism in the U.S. right after 9/11. 9/11 itself is in every chapter; the media response to it is a frequent example of signs of hope for journalism: journalists doing some actual journalism, which the authors hoped would be a resurgence of the quality of newspapers — spoiler: it wasn’t. The book was especially helpful on explaining the machinations of syndication and conglomeration which have decimated the local news business.The book is dated but well-written and probably a good reference for the beginnings of themes still current now: the disappearance of genuine newspapers, the decline of journalism and journalistic standards, the need for information in a sea of infotainment, the rise of cable news and internet opinion. The themes are solid and still valuable and this was worth a read, but the last chapters on the internet were nearly comical (remember when AOL was cutting-edge? Dial-up? Ah, simpler times). No fault of the authors, certainly, the times were the times at the time they were the times. Still, it’s a relevant read by smart writers who were chained to a precise moment and were writing passionately and with great depth of knowledge about something they believed in: a something that seemed big then but is leviathan and constantly moving now. I’m still jonesing for the Patterson book.

Fossier, Robert, editor: The Cambridge Illustrated History of the Middle Ages, vol.2 950-1250. Not everyone’s thing is medieval history; certainly not everyone’s thing is the Middle Ages in something that is not quite the trade paperback popular history format. But the thing about me is this: if someone calls something “dry,” it’s usually an accurate indicator that I would call it “nuanced” and “pleasurable.” That being said, this volume actually was, in large sections, dry. Not in the good way. Maybe because volume one was so great, this one let me down a bit in sections. Never so much that I didn’t keep going. But weirdly for something that is an in depth study, full of details, there wasn’t enough stuff in it. It would say something really great for a paragraph and then it would move on to focus on something else for many pages. Now, 600 pages is clearly insufficient to distill three centuries into but it’s plenty of pages (of small type, too) that I shouldn’t have been thinking “where’s the rest?” But despite all that, I will be grabbing the third volume when I can because Cambridge University Press is still preferable to the Middle Ages for Dummies or whatever. In this case, until someone sends me the actual complete Cambridge University Press catalog of all the books written for the scholars on the Middle Ages and/or gives me complete access to Gesta and Speculum and Lexus/Nexus or JStor, the generalized volumes from Cambridge are probably going to be the best I can get, even this disappointing but still solid, second volume.

Keyssar, Alexander: The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States. An important and remarkable book. Period. If you care about American history, if you care about voter rights, if you like to occasionally dig deeper in the Constitution, this book is for you. I think (the author thought so too) that most of us believe that the right to suffrage was mainly a straight-ish path from less inclusive voting to more. Not so much. It was intermittent and contradictory, steps forward, steps back; local and national. Because democracy is still something we’re working on and voting rights still continue to be intermittent and contradictory, this book needs to be read. It’s interesting, deeply informative, relevant, and worthwhile.

Lepore, Jill: Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin. Having read Lepore’s The Mansion of Happiness in the spring (because Book of Ages had been borrowed by someone else and I couldn’t read it yet), I had already fallen in love with Lepore’s writing. I want to write like her, or be her best friend or something. So smart. So witty. Such word choice. And such wonderful, big topics. This book (unlike ol’ Cambridge volume 2) did not disappoint. Smaller topics on the surface: the life of Benjamin Franklin, his sister, their families. These bloom into important and big subjects: the Revolution; what it means to be lost to history based on gender or exclusion or historical insignificance or chance; what circumstances and factors create a Benjamin versus a Jane; how the lives and opinions of Janes have always been as important as any Great Man Theory of History; what language, the press, and the written word mean to those who read and disseminate them. Lepore gleans so much from the close and careful study of a woman and her letters, most of which did not survive. I can’t recommend this book highly enough (or Mansion, either).

Peck, Don: Pinched. This one is based on some of my pet topics: the American economy and the opportunities and vagaries facing a U.S. where productivity and compensation are decreasingly correlated, how working hard doesn’t always equal success, the separation between the rich and the struggling. I’d use the phrase “income inequality” but I know, for me, that is way less important than the fact that just decent security appears to be out of reach for too many of us. The book was written around the time of Occupy and still has things of merit to say. It’s pretty balanced ideologically and asks some honest questions. To a greater degree than the News book, though, this book felt like a substitute for what I really want to read. It read like an extended magazine article (which isn’t the problem) and one written by an author who hasn’t nailed the words in a way other writers on the same topics have (that is a problem). At the time the book came out (2010/2011), I probably would have been more enthused about this book but too many other writers, speakers, media outlets, and politicians have traveled the same ground and done a better job of it then and since (and in this, I’m including charts by Vox media, for example). In other words: if it were still 2010, I’d recommend the book. In 2014, there are too many other ways to access really profound and complex thinking on these topics. Pinched just seems superfluous.

Schiff, Stacy: Cleopatra: A Life. Like Jill Lepore, Stacy Schiff makes me wish I wrote like she did or could be her new best friend or assistant. Schiff and Lepore write the stuff I would choose to write in exactly the ways I would want to write it if life/I had turned out differently. Witty, nuanced, surprisingly humorous, and just so smart. If you love ancient history (and who doesn’t), read this book. If you like fiction, this reads as smoothly as the best of it. The subject is a famous name though few probably know that much more about her (and, as Schiff makes plain, what you think you know is often not true: legends so frequently obscure more than they reveal and, as Schiff says, “history belongs to the eloquent”).


Austen, Jane: Mansfield Park. This was the last of the major works by Austen that I hadn’t read yet and, due to a freak “I don’t have books to read right now” moment and the fact that this one is in the public domain (free download for the Kindle? Hooray!), I read it. Of course I enjoyed it: it’s Jane Austen. If you like Austen, you pretty much like all of Austen, even the utterly dependent on the age of the Gothic novel and, my opinion, subpar Northanger Abbey. While this one is worlds better than Northanger, it doesn’t reach the heights of Pride, Sense, or Emma. I think the writing is less even here than in Austen’s other major works and the ending (of course you know the ending; you always know the ending) here feels super-rushed, although not like the book listed below, where Emily literally just could not handle it any longer. And, modern sensibilities being what they are, it feels really weird to be rooting for two cousins to make a match already. But you do, and they do, and it’s a nice way to spend a chunk of your afternoon.

Brontë, Emily: Wuthering Heights. Having read this one in high school, I re-visited it due to a search for moody quotes for a possible October blog post and also due to the same “out of books/Hey, it’s free” phenomenon which prompted reading Austen. Weirdly, the frame story stuck out to me this time far more than it did when I originally read it and I was frustrated and more interested in “what happens to this poor chap, Emily, huh?” than I was in Heathcliff or the Cathys or the rest. As mentioned in the Austen section above, the thing that stood out most in this book was how quickly the story was resolved: drama –> drama –> moody tumult –> and everything’s inexplicably and immediately okay now in, like, two pages. I think Emily had a fainting spell or hit the laudanum or just didn’t care any more. And maybe it occurred to her that the whole thing was built on atmosphere and moodiness and little else (all style, no substance? all sturm and no drang? all wuther and no heights?). At any rate, it wraps up laughably quickly (I actually did laugh out loud. How did I not notice the abrupt and inexplicable plot/dénouement the first time I read this?) But, for the sake of the language and complete power over the evocative, it’s worth a read (gorse, fen, moor, and wild build up a tension that is palpable and makes you long for rain and chill), especially if you never have: classics being classics and how better to get a sense of gorse and anti-heroes? I just wouldn’t necessarily read it twice, although, me being me, you never know. I may have to eventually go back to figure out the poor narrator chap. (Really, Emily???)

Juvenile Fiction:

Juster, Norton: The Phantom Tollbooth. Call it summer re-runs, I guess, but this was a second reading, too. And I’m so glad I read this again. It’s clever and philosophical and whimsical. It’s a children’s classic and rightfully so. It speaks to what it is to be a human in a crazy age in ways that are surprisingly profound. For example, the Dodecahedron: “…it’s completely accurate, and as long as the answer is right, who cares if the question is wrong? If you want sense, you’ll have to make it yourself.” Or the Mathemagician: “You’ll find…that the only thing you can do easily is be wrong, and that’s hardly worth the effort. Or the Terrible Trivium: “If you only do the lazy and useless jobs, you’ll never have to worry about the important ones which are so difficult. You just won’t have the time. For there’s always something to do to keep you from what you really should be doing.” Brilliant.

Currently In Progress: Double Down (Mark Halperin and John Heilemann’s book about the inner workings of the various campaigns fighting it out for the 2012 presidential election), The Smartest Kids in the World (Amanda Ripley’s book on education), The Second Machine Age (Brynjolfsson and McAfee on tech, jobs, and the future). Plus, in juvenile fiction world, Adam Rex’s Cold Cereal Saga (three books total) because I’ve already read the first one, Cold Cereal, and it was amazing. I should have reviewed it, too, but channeling Emily, it’s time to just End. All. These. Words.



Where to Put One’s Self? Not the Monkey House. Not ever.

My wonderful aunt, grandpa, sister. And me, with my crystal ball. The world on a string.

When I was around three years old, my most favorite thing in the world was a glass crystal ball: about one inch in diameter, the kind generally swinging from rearview mirrors and hanging in windows or dangling from chandeliers. I wore it on my wrist. Constantly. While sitting in the car or on the floor of any room with windows, I would hold it up to the light and watch the rainbows scatter. Sometimes there wouldn't be rainbows, only pale yellowish-colored shaking reflections. And other times, I would just look into it, the crystal ball. Looking (for? at? couldn't tell you)— just into. It didn't matter to me: I loved that crystal ball. I loved whatever it did or failed to do; with its light and without. I have no idea where it came from; from where it possibly could have come. How did a three-year-old come across an obvious choking hazard? And keep it? And attach it to her wrist? (I should ask my parents, who remember I loved it, but I almost think they don't know where it came from either: a little thing she found one day…).

I lost it at the zoo. We left the monkey house and maybe three steps out of it, it was gone. Just like that. I thought the world was ending. I had, actually, lost my world. We went back to the monkey house (I think). We never found it. I would like to say that I forgot all about my crystal ball. I didn't. Missing my crystal ball is as deep and complete a memory as actually having it. In fact, I lived longer without it than with it. When I was 7 or 8, Santa Claus brought me a new crystal ball. That one I still have. If I'm fortunate, I will be in a nursing home someday. Of the handful of possessions I have in my room at the end, that crystal ball will be among them. It's the replacement, which I love, but I can never forget it is not the one. It's mine and it was given to me out of immeasurable love, but it is not my one, the one. It is not the one I lost somewhere between the monkey house and the end of the world, which can be measured in very few steps and even less minutes.

I was thinking, on the way to this moment, this moment now, where I'm opening some fraction of my soul out in an embarrassing way, about self and loss; about the things we let slip through our fingers (or off our wrists) without meaning to, not by choice or even negligence, necessarily. It just happens. We think about something else. Time happens. The next thing we know, we're out of the monkey house on our way to some ice cream and we've lost it. Our grip slipped, our attention slipped. Time slipped. And it was gone.

I used to dance. Once upon a time, not that well but on its way to enough. I can't dance anymore. I don't. I've let it slip. I'm older. My body is chained to a chair by the need to pay my way in the world. There is not much in the world that is better than a perfect glissade or being en pointe. There is not much better than the perfect moment of suspension you find during a multiple pirouette, when your body balances on one point and unspools, miraculously, nearly weightlessly in little whips of rotation. But the Daily Chair and Real Life and the Stirrings of Middle Age, these things will make a body forget (almost) it could do such things. Consign it to the monkey house. It slipped. The world is lost.

I used to sing. Once upon a time. Seriously sing. What came out of my head at the best moments was not me; I don't know where the sound came from. When it was coming, I mean, really coming out of me, I had nothing to do with it. It felt more like something was coming through me and I was the conduit. That was rare, but when it happened, it was (it will always be) the purest moments of my soul's existence. (If soul I have.) I will never know if I was any good. Some people at some times told me I was. But, like dance, no one remembers now. (I wish I didn't, either.) But it slipped, too. Actually, I dropped it: disuse and cigarettes. The voice I had came effortlessly, by surprise, nearly overnight. I worked very hard at it once it happened to me. Then I got distracted. Then I got disheartened, dis– well, just dis. The years passed. I lost the nerve to try. I just lost.

The same is true for most of the activities that fed my soul or were (are?) my soul: they slipped away. Santa can bring replacements, which I will love for his sake. But they will never touch the perfection of the tiny glass prism world I dropped or that got away somehow (chimp, was that you?). What gets to me now is how fragile and short life is. I think it's slipping away, too. Like life is completely opposite of what it should be: we only just start to figure out who we are and what we're for and middle age starts to hit and we're deteriorating just as we're coming into our own. We learn what our energy is for just as the energy is busy unloading the dishwasher and expending itself on mindless but necessary utility to pay the bills.

Not the most cheerful of thoughts. I'd like to blame monkeys here, but somehow I don't believe they're to blame.

But it's not the things we lose that feed our soul: I hate losing them. I mourn them. I wonder if they ever happened. I think it doesn't matter: I wasn't good to begin with. But there was joy there. And even so, let them go.

What bothers me is the twin terrors of opportunities and friendships: Opportunities I didn't know I had until I lost them slipped off my wrist like so many crystal balls in monkey houses. And friendships I didn't know I was losing were lost, not from lack of care or devotion or feeling, but because my grip slipped. Time slipped. And the friendships: the people I've loved and love still, who, most of the time, are remembered and thought of like it's currently the past when today is genuinely today and not yesterday— those are the ones that hurt. Because, sure we're still friends on Facebook, but the fact is, the conversations are behind us. The meaning is potent, the memories beautiful– and they're memories that weren't replaced with new ones, with growing ones. Time slipped. Look! Monkeys!

It's the friendships that get to me. Let the rest go. There was community then. There are friends now. I'm blessed now with love from family and Red and cats and friends now – and that love overwhelms me: I am truly not worthy. And still (I am an ungrateful wretch), I miss my old friends, the ones I let go without meaning to, the ones I forgot to hold on to more carefully because I didn't know you had to hold on; that the plastic clip which suspended the world on your wrist would break or loosen. I didn't know. The loss is mine. Forever. No matter what Santa brings this year, any year. No matter which new zoo, which new monkey house, which new ice cream cone, or which new crystal ball.

I drive past (I drove past it on the way to this moment) this self-storage place. It glares “Self Storage” in letters five-feet tall. Because the “self” rests above the “storage,” it always pulls my eye: it looks like it's advertising a Home for the Self, not a random warehouse of the crap we accumulate. And I always think “When you just don't know what to do with your self…”

Self storage

When you just don't know what to do with your self.


Because, in losing my grip on so many relationships and gifts and tasks which fed, no, were, my soul, I just don't know what to do with my Self. Life seems to have precious little room for it; plenty of space for my cash and my work and my semi-adroit household management. But my self? It has, despite parents and sister and love of my life, so few places to go.

I imagine sometimes starting groups or having parties: every Sunday, drunken dance parties in the garage (we'll drink mimosas or Bloody Marys and do battements) or monthly “Share Your Passion” lecture Toastmaster things where everyone takes the floor for 5 to 10 minutes and shares something they care about (Green Lantern, marching band, the proper way to pull pork, Botticelli, doesn't matter). Mo' info, mo' better. I've thought: well, I'll host a drama party (bring costumes if you want): we'll draw out of a hat for parts every act, we'll all read Shakespeare or Ibsen or Williams together. All friends doing theatre in the living room because, you know, we have souls and life's too short and why in all that is holy should only kids be allowed to have drama club? Or I've thought of starting a once-monthly current events discussion group because, seriously, talking about the world may not save the world, but then again, it might. Then there's the “Creative Type Support Group:” you talk about your project, I talk about mine, and then we, you know, support. But I don't do those things. Any of them. Not ever. It feels like chasing trains already gone from the station. Other people have found places for their “self;” I think many have done a better job of caring for and feeding theirs. But forcing a gathering of selves is just sad. If you host a party and no one comes… (monkey house).

The mega-church where I vote has a coffee house and while I'm standing in queue to make my vote count and get my sticker, I glance at the signs and the LED TVs which surround me: they advertise discussion groups every night of the week. And it almost makes me want to join the damn church.

People talking about things. People talking to one another. Community. A place in which to put one's self.

But time slips. And how many plastic bracelets can support how many crystal balls? And how many discussion groups equal crystal balls which mimic but are in no way the same as the original crystal ball, home of the world?

I don't know. But I whole-heartedly wish I had not let my grip slip in the first place. The things we love are so fragile. It never pays to carry them with us to zoos.


News and Stuff: 23 July 2014


“Understanding the spirit of our institutions to aim at the elevation of men, I am opposed to whatever tends to degrade them.” Abraham Lincoln

“Low voter turnout is a sign of a content democracy.” Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky)

“…in the end, look, this is the most consequential administration since Ronald Reagan…America emerges from the Obama years a different country. It emerges with something close to universal health care. It emerges with a reasonably useful financial reform. It emerges with some important changes in energy and environmental policy. Not many presidents leave that behind.” Paul Krugman

“Israel confronts an undeniable reality: it cannot maintain military control of another people indefinitely. Doing so is not only wrong but a recipe for resentment and recurring instability. It will embolden extremists on both sides, tear at Israel’s democratic fabric, and feed mutual dehumanization. How can Israel remain democratic and Jewish if it attempts to govern the millions of Palestinian Arabs who live in the West Bank? How will it have peace if it’s unable to delineate a border, end the occupation, and allow for Palestinian sovereignty, security, and dignity?” Phil Gordon, White House coordinator for the Middle East, speaking on July 8.

“The loss of life itself is devastating. The loss of life to research to helping end HIV and AIDS is profound.” Anthony Hayes, speaking about the loss of 298 passengers on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. Many of the passengers were prominent researchers and scientists heading to Melbourne, Australia for the 20th International AIDS Conference.



86 The percentage of American local TV news stations which do not assign a journalist to statehouse reporting. (Pew Research Center)

97 The percentage of Representative Jackie Walorski’s (R-Indiana-02) party line votes in 2013. The average for Republican members of the House is 92%. Walorski is currently being challenged for her House seat by Democrat Joe Bock. (Gannett; Indianapolis Star)

375,000 The number of cases currently pending in U.S. immigration courts. There are only 228 immigration judges in the country. (PBS NewsHour; National Association of Immigration Judges)

7.54 Million The number of American involuntary part-time workers in June of this year. These workers would prefer to work full-time jobs but are only being given part-time hours. The average U.S. workweek in June of 2014 was 34.5 hours. (Gannett/USA Today)

91.6 Million The number of acres of corn planted in the U.S. this year. This is the smallest number of corn acres planted since 2010 but still the 5th-largest corn crop planted since 1944. 84.8 million acres of soybeans have been planted this year, a record high. (Gannett/USA Today)

40 Billion The approximate dollar amount of yearly earnings by tipped employees in the U.S. The IRS estimates that $11 billion of these earnings go unreported every year. (Vox Media; KCRW To the Point)



Shorter Renee Ellmers, (R-North Carolina-02): Women are Flummoxed by Charts and Graphs. 

The full Renee Ellmers? While advising Republicans on How to Talk to Women during a Conservative Women’s Panel Discussion, here is what Representative Ellmers said: ” Men do tend to talk about things on a much higher level. You know, one of the things that has always been one of my frustrations, and I speak about this all the time — many of my male colleagues, when they go to the House floor, you know, they’ve got some pie chart or graph behind them and they’re talking about trillions of dollars and how, you know, the debt is awful, and you know, we all agree with that. But by starting the discussion that way, we’ve already turned people away. Because it’s like ‘that doesn’t affect my life; I don’t understand how that affects my life.’ So one of the things that we have worked with, with our male colleagues – and I have seen a difference, I will tell you I’ve seen a difference- is to, again, engaging individuals on their level. Talking about them on a personal level first…We need our male  colleagues to understand that if you can bring it down to a woman’s level and what everything that she is balancing in her life – that’s the way to go.”

I should note: Even in my deplorable female condition, I need a pie chart, graph, or table to understand Ms. Ellmer’s exceedingly loose grip on syntax. And, needless to say, the bald statement that “men do tend to talk about things on a much higher level.” Additionally: This is an election year. North Carolina, please vote.


Gratuitous Garden Photo: a.k.a. When Cucumbers Ruled the World

July Garden

Seriously, you can’t tell it in this picture but the cucumbers are taking over the planet, with a happy mix of tomatoes, nasturtiums, geraniums, and sweet potato vine just waiting to be strangled. Any day now.

Much of the current events in our world leave me feeling bleak. The garden doesn’t solve any of it but it does provide some minor relief to me when the world seems to have gone awry. I wish everyone had the luxury of something green to sustain them and, better yet, being far enough removed from the tragedy that relief is a possibility.


Sources and Disclaimer: Quotes do not necessarily imply endorsement of ideas or persons cited. Sources  for this post include but are not limited to: CNN/Fareed Zakaria Global Public Square; Gannett; Indianapolis Star; KCRW To the Point; NPR; PBS NewsHour; USA Today; WBUR On Point with Tom Ashbrook; and Alexander Keyssar “The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States.” 



In July, When the Lilies…

The Stargazer Lily

Stargazer Lily

If you love a flower that lives on a star, then it’s good, at night, to look up at the sky.

- Antoine de Saint-Éxupéry, The Little Prince 


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