They were the most exciting days in all of elementary school: field trips. You’d bring the sack lunch and permission slip, hop aboard the bus, and journey to some exotic destination such as the local history museum. It was great times. But for many years, I had lost the joy of the field trip. Until college, that is.
This j-term, my British literature class focused on Jane Austen and issues of property and landscape. So, we went out and saw some properties and landscapes. Our first destination was The Salisbury House, located just a couple minutes from campus. It’s an incredible historical property built in the 1920s but made to look like a castle from the 1320s. The owners of the home even imported authentic medieval materials from all over Europe for use in their house. We toured the place as a class, focusing on issues of style, taste, and estate and landscape design. And you better believe we talked about some Edmund Burke.
Now for something completely different. The next place we travelled was The Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge. It was a longer trip this time, about 40 minutes outside Des Moines, but equally as cool. The whole idea of the refuge is to restore and protect the prairie that once dominated Iowa’s land. We got to learn about the restoration efforts, drive round the prairie, and even see some herds of bison and elk. It was a surreal experience of being so close to the city, and yet surrounded by thousands of acres of wildlife and prairie wilderness. But being at the refuge was also a pretty unique opportunity to discuss some of our class material with a real life setting. We talked about ownership, aesthetics, and the value of land, all within view of the land itself.
Looking back on my j-term experience, I was lucky to have an incredible professor who realized that learning takes place both in and out of the classroom. Because she recognized that what we were studying was not merely esoteric knowledge, we went out into the community to put our class in a greater societal and historical context. And although I had a lot of really great days learning over j-term, I think the ones learning outside the classroom were some of my favorites.