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Joan Knows: Learning comes in many forms

When I read that a local elementary school had cancelled a field trip to Springfield I began to frame this column in my mind.

The explanation, as I understood it, went along the lines that the experience was no longer a good fit with current learning outcomes. No, I am not familiar enough with the issues to have a rebuttal. 

What I have are reflections on my long ago field trips and a report on lessons learned. The time frame is the decade of the 1950s to the early ’60s. Keep in mind, the world then went from a time of prosperity and satisfaction to an explosive time of questioning and change. Reaching out to a wider world was essential.

We, the class of ’56, entered the ’50s decade while still enrolled at the late, great Evan Shelby School. The most memorable event took place in the classroom but was hardly in a lesson plan.

Ernie Pike ran into the fifth-grade classroom and wailed: “Mrs. DeWitz! I swallowed my pencil.”

This calm and intolerant- of-humor teacher was not impressed. Ernie stressed the significant element,“But it was an indelible pencil!”

Lesson learned: In life, squeak your wheel to gain attention. 

I missed most of the ’49-’50 academic year (the time it took to recover from polio – October to spring). John Albright, a wonderful teacher, made lots of home visits and encouraged me to get back to school by the time of “the trip.”

So, there I was on the train to Springfield along with my school buddies, feeling adventurous and – in my case – feeling fortunate to be able to try out my walking shoes.

The stop at New Salem offered a chance to ponder Abraham Lincoln’s journey from a log cabin to the White House.  A stop at his tomb brought to mind what might have been. Later that sentiment was to be repeated all too often.

Lesson learned: Not all politicians wind up in jail, and it’s OK to be proud of Illinois.

The high school trip to New York and Washington brought out predictable encounters –  with historic sites, well-known celebrities (doing the Twist at Chubbie Checker’s and the wonder of the Rockettes on stage at Radio City Music Hall).

 Some of us were disappointed that our New Yorker hotel room was facing an inner courtyard and had no view. Soon, however, the room was a premium viewing point for the sad and gruesome remains of a suicide victim.

Lesson learned: There is more to a big city than the bright lights.

 While at the University of Wisconsin there were a number of off-campus experiences. 

One authorized field trip came as an element of Criminology 300.

We made a day trip to Waupun State Prison. The highlight came when browsing through the laundry area. Our guide pointed to an ordinary-looking inmate stationed at a huge washing machine. He waved to us as we were being informed that we had been acknowledged by Ed Gein, well-known killer and the inspiration for Hannibal Lector.

Lesson learned: Not all prisoners are politicians. At least one was into making lamp shades, not money.
 Another university sanctioned road trip went from Madison to Pasadena for the 1960 Rose Bowl. The train was nicknamed “The Schlitz train” to acknowledge the donor of the complimentary liquid refreshment. “High glee” does not fully describe the mood and the anticipation.

 The Badgers lost to Washington. On board and pulling out of the station, a rumor quickly spread that there was no beer. The deep depression was lifted when the train pulled into a siding at Barstow, and the beer was loaded to the cheers of the previously tearful Badger fans.

 Lesson learned: In life, you win some and you lose some.

 There’s another character-building game at Columbus, Ohio, on Saturday.

Wish I could do that road trip!

• Joan Arteberry is a longtime resident of St. Charles. Her columns are featured in the Kane County Chronicle’s Neighbors section every other Friday. Write to her at

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