On Saturday I will join with fourteen juniors and seniors from Francis Parker School and fly to Dumaguete City, on the island of Negros, 500 miles south of Manila in the Philippines. By Monday we will be gazing down on the lowlands from high on the side of a volcano, hearing the stories of medieval ocean-going pirates, the death of Magellan on the adjacent island of Cebu, and the last stand of the Japanese in the central Philippines as cruisers offshore, bombers overhead, and Filipino guerillas rained death down on the very spot of our picnic. The following days will be an eye-popping stream of experience for these students, many who have travelled in the developed world but little in places like rural Asia. My goal is to give these students the chance to share the experience of 3 billion people in the world: living off of $2 a day.
We will explore markets and learn about the post-colonial economy of developing countries. We will trek to the rain forest and learn under the last canopy of the most diverse terrestrial habitat on earth. We will explore unspoiled reefs of mind-crippling beauty and learn how the local fishermen have come to accommodate conservation, even as they watch the price of fuel rise and the value of their catch decrease. But the real core of the trip will be the five nights that our students go off to stay in rural villages where their bed might be a hard mattress or a mat on the floor, where the shower is a bucket of water, but where the people are so hospitable that they can walk into any home in the village and be welcomed for dinner as family. Our one guarantee on this, our 6th annual trip: the students will utterly rebel when it is time to leave those villages and tears will flow like the fall monsoon.
I hope you will follow along on my blog; I will share some highlights, but here is the first for all of us who care about the power of Dewey-like experiential learning. Overseas student trips used to be about seeing the sights and museums of Europe. Now many are focused on service, the idea that we have much and we want to share and help. I encourage educators to go beyond both of those as we have with our partnerships in the Philippines. Of course we have more money, and we have built our own NGO to support schools, day care centers, and a home for sexually and physically abused girls in Dumaguete. But the real learning jumped up at us two years ago when the students tearfully found out that their hosts have, in ways that became clear in those five days, some things that we don’t, despite our wealth and cell phones and dry houses. Our goal is not to give, but to share, and to learn by just being there, by being friends not tourists, and by returning every year to visit and share again.
If you are interested, I made this movie about the trip. It is a little long because I included some of the reflections of those students about what it means to find out that having stuff is not the same as having a lot. Two other chaperones, with a combined 40 years of teaching between them, said that it was the most authentic learning they have ever seen. John Dewey would have agreed.
If you get a little jealous reading my posts in the next couple of weeks, you are right to be. It is what learning and living was meant to be!