The principal pulls me aside and says, "So, your request to go to the university has been approved. It looks like you'll be able to go on a field trip after all, Techno-Tommy."
"Well, the district decided that the solution is not so much an issue of all sites being bad, but rather some of them needing to be restricted. So, they outsourced it to a company called SiteSense. It searches out keywords and prevents teachers from allowing kids to wander to dangerous sites."
After investigating the SiteSense program, I'm a little skeptical. I mailed out five searches and each were denied. Apparently we can't visit with a lawyer, because of the use of the word "bar" in American Bar Association. We can't listen to any music. We cannot be present where anyone might access a Pen Pal network.
A student of mine decided to write a letter to the district:
To Whom It May Concern:
I am a sixth grader who is concerned about your current field trip policy. You are scared that I might use a Pen Pal network incorrectly. However, instead of teaching me boundaries, you cut me off from any letters entirely. You are worried about me listening to ragtime so you cut off music (and thus a major aspect of education) completely.
Can I go to a hospital and interview a doctor about breast cancer? Nope, SiteSense says that any field trip that includes the word "breast" is banned. Can I go to the botanical garden for botany research? Apparently, merely hearing the word pussy willow will turn me into a binge-drinking, amoral hedonist.
What if we tried this instead? Teachers could use their own judgment and monitor field trips. If a student wastes time passing a note on a Pen Pal network, perhaps the field trip wasn't as valuable of a learning experience as one had assumed. If a child wanders over to a baseball game instead of going to the museum, perhaps the child individually needs to be reprimanded.
We are a nation built on the notion of civil liberties. Your district vision includes "model citizens" and "lifelong learning." Why not treat field trips as a chance to model critical thinking and citizenship? Instead of punishing everyone, what if you trust us to navigate field trips with the guidance of our teacher instead of a SiteSense that rarely makes any sense at all.