If you ask most college students what they remember from middle school, they will often tell you about their 8th grade trip to Washington, D.C.. Many of these young adults will tell you how they remember walking through the monuments lit up at night. Some students will tell you how this experience further solidified their interest in government, politics, or history. A few may even tell you about how they found a family member’s gravesite at Arlington or how they searched the Vietnam Memorial for a great uncle’s name. Many others will remember the personal issues they overcame on the trip, how anxious they were being away from home, how challenging it was to have roommates for several days and to navigate new social norms.
Middle schoolers spend a significant amount of time studying topics that are addressed through a well structured D.C. trip. The Civil Rights Movement and the Holocaust are two major topics that are well supported through a trip to D.C. Additionally, most 8th graders study Civics for the majority of their 8th grade year. The opportunity to not only study these topics, but to experience them is invaluable. Content that once seemed far removed from a student’s life now becomes something very real. A student who has studied the Holocaust has definitively improved his or her understanding of genocide after visiting the Holocaust museum. A student who may show some interest in government may become newly inspired after a tour of the Capitol. A few of these students may choose careers in government and/or politics that are inspired by this experience. For these students, the tour certainly has a long lasting impact.
Most students who attend the trip, however, are not going to be inspired to pursue a career in politics or become professors of history. The majority of students leave the trip having grown in a more personal and often less obvious manner. Student tours matter because they bring young people outside of their comfortable environment and away from the people who provide them with the greatest sense of security, their immediate families. The traditional 8th grade D.C. trip provides young people with a taste of independence during a critical developmental time. Students leave the trip with an enhanced sense of confidence. Being able to successfully navigate a network of complex social interactions in a new setting without a great deal of adult intervention is a noteworthy accomplishment for any young person.
This generation of students has aptly been referred to as “iGen”. They are the most digitally connected group of young people we have ever seen. While their booming use of technology is associated with many positive outcomes, the drawbacks are numerous and notable. It is our responsibility as a society to ensure that the education of this generation is not mostly delivered through a computer screen. Experiential learning will always have a place in education, and with “iGen” it has become even more critical. Student tours provide “iGen” with relevant hands on learning experiences, while allowing them to develop critical social skills that are often underdeveloped due to diminishing personal interaction. Cheers to supporting this new generation of young people by helping them live out new experiences in the real world and creating lifelong memories off a computer screen.
1 Twenge, Jean M. iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–and What That Means for the Rest of Us. 2nd ed., Atria Books, 2017.