Chris Johnson: When is cow poop more important than math?

Special to the Ledger-EnquirerApril 21, 2013 

Education is a wonderful thing, but it's not as wonderful as getting out of school.

My son was on spring break this week, but that's not the kind of getting out of school I'm talking about -- nor am I talking about summertime, holidays, weekends or that 3 p.m. bell signaling the end of the school day.

I'm talking about being out of school when you're technically in school. I'm talking about the glorious yet all too infrequent field trip.

My son also just got back from one of these, in which he missed three days of school to go to Washington, D.C., with a group of about 75 middle-schoolers and several parents who I believe are now undergoing emergency treatment for extreme anxiety.

I called this a field trip, but my son simply refers to it as a trip. Perhaps he's being technical since they didn't actually go out into a field. Or it could be because he is unfamiliar with the concept of the field trip as our society moves more and more toward putting children in cages and blasting them 24/7 with the science and math knowledge they'll need to survive.

But there was a time long before No Child Left Untested came about when there were these things known as field trips -- where you got out of school while technically being counted as in school. As someone who used the maximum amount of absences allowable when I was a kid, I loved field trips. I'd much rather see a cow on the farm than a quadratic equation in the classroom. And field trips obviously worked better because I still know how a cow works but wouldn't know where to start on a quadratic equation.

I don't remember every field trip I went on, but I remember a few -- including an agricultural one that involved cows and chickens. Where I grew up, there were enough chicken houses for Colonel Sanders' entire Army, and the Mennonite community was ankle deep in dairy cows -- and ankle deep in poop. I'm not sure who thought bringing middle-schoolers around a bunch of poop would be educational. It pretty much elicited the howls of laughter from the boys and "eww!" shrieks from the girls. The only thing I learned was that there are, in fact, more disgusting places in the world than middle school boys restrooms. OK, slightly more disgusting.

In elementary school, we took a field trip to the local bank, and I got to hold $10,000 in cash. That was quite a stack! Do you realize how much $10,000 was back then, more than 30 years ago? Back then, that was enough cash to buy a decent car, 13,000 gallons of gas or two congressmen.

My last day of fifth grade involved a field trip to Andersonville National Historic Site -- and a confession. I confessed my undying love for this frail little blonde girl, Robin. (In other words, I told her friend to tell Robin that I didn't just like her -- I LIKED her liked her.) She probably already knew that because I carried her books after school one day. I can still remember her blue eyes, the way she smelled and even the books I carried for her that day -- "Math," "Science" and "How to Handle a Stalker." During the summer, Robin moved to Texas. And I think she changed her name.

Too bad folks don't appreciate field trips like they used to. We're too busy gearing up for the next round of tests or trying to turn today's students into math and science geniuses to experience real life. We've cut out art and music and added molecular physics. But if there's anything today's society should teach us, it's that when everyone is pushed to extremes, their ability to reason fades, and society stalls.

So, let's put the music and art back and pile that school bus full of kids at 9 a.m. for a field trip to the real world of cows and chickens and plays and symphonies. Math and science are important, but so is a little balance in life. Besides, to deny a seventh-grade boy the opportunity to see 14 tons of poop is a real crime.

-- Chris Johnson is an independent correspondent. Connect with him at or

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