When I was growing up, my family, like most others I knew, would fill the weekends with trips and activities. Baseball games at Fenway Park and McCoy Stadium, the Boston Science Museum, movies, hikes in the Blue Hills, visits with families throughout New York and New England. I clearly remember the museums. I would speed through, looking at the pictures and displays, while my mother and father would take their time, seemingly reading every word at every display and pausing in between to fully absorb the information or maybe just to further infuriate my sister and me. Other adults followed similar patterns, but my parents were particularly ponderous and slow.
Of course, now I am like them and am probably even worse: I carry a notebook, and I take the time to write down new information. Now, it is my teenage students who can infuriate with their rapid pace through museums and seeming lack of reverence for historical sites.
Northpoint students at Vietnam’s Reunification Palce.
This played out in Cambodia and Vietnam, where I took students to the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Genocide Memorial, Cambodia’s National Museum, the Angkor Temples, and Vietnam’s Reunification Palace. My co-instructor Alison Zych and I would wander the sites and at the end happen upon a group of our students huddled together in what appeared to be typical teenage apathy. Later, we would bemoan their poor attitude and discuss ways to address each individual’s behaviors.
We wouldn’t always complain. Mrs. Zych is one of the most compassionate educators I know, and we both acknowledged that many teenagers don’t display the same attention span or interest or ability to handle difficult subjects that adults possess. Even adults can balk at issues such as genocide, and for teenagers a place like the Killing Fields can inspire behavior meant to deflect the subject’s gravity.
I am transitioning from learning everything for my own benefit to planning for student learning. And, those activities are different. At one time, I thought that simply taking students to vastly different and impactful places was enough, that they would eagerly absorb the culture and want to learn everything a place offered. But, it is important to remember my teenage self, a good student and eager learner but one who moved at a faster pace and was entertained by more frivolous endeavors.
For a student expedition to India, I think this means adding variety to an itinerary. A purely historical tour of India, visiting mostly Mughal forts and monuments, or a cultural one focused solely on music and dance would bore any teenager. A Bollywood movie, a few shopping stops, and a wildlife sanctuary or day hike will be a must. Home-stays and interactions with Indian teenagers are just as important. And, for the museums and historical sites, creating assignments that will focus the teenage mind while not appearing to be typical school worksheets will be, I think, the main challenge. All these things happened during my expeditions to Cambodia, but they can be improved for the India Expedition. Most of all, I need to remember that what appeals to me now was not always paramount to my teenage self.