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Our rites of passage

By Nancy Salvato
web posted August 1, 2005

Both of my sons are experiencing a rite of passage right now, attending JAMBO as members of the Boy Scouts. It is one of a few trips that I imagine will leave them fondly reminiscing long after they have reached adulthood. They had been anticipating this adventure for many months. I believe that this trip will have the effect of framing the way they see their world from now on in a very different light because they are being immersed in the traditions and values and the extended family that make up their scouting community.

Not every teenager will have the opportunity to participate in this particular event but most will have their own away from home encounters that serve to shape their personalities and will be remembered for years to come. My husband remembers band camp and one of my best friends remembers her semester in Rome but there is another excursion that teenagers eagerly join if their families can find the financing – an 8th grade field trip to Washington DC.

As you can imagine, I was quite dismayed to find this particular foray reduced to a "perfunctory sightseeing tour." Although parents are given assurances that their children will benefit from the academic nature of this visit to our nation's capital, most of the teachers who are involved in the planning of these trips are dealing with companies who have figured out less than above board ways to attract recurring clients – and these ways have nothing to do with scholarship or teaching objectives.

Because of the status quo nature of arranging these tour groups, a company that wants to do right by these kids finds it difficult to attract educators who stand to benefit from the other companies' underhanded ways of soliciting their business. Educational Discovery Tours is willing to offer 30 per cent more educational programs and activities as well as upgraded hotels and meals to attract school groups but this is not enough. Their experience is that teachers have come to expect "personal requirements" which can bring the price up per student anywhere from $150.00 - $500.00 each.

The larger educational tour operators habitually offer stipends to teachers who enter into multiple year contracts, finders fees for bring more business, personal 'travel benefits', gifts, and other perks. Smaller companies are starting to offer these same types of arrangements in order to be able to compete. Many companies advertise these types of benefits to teachers; many of whom are led to believe these transactions are perfectly legal.

Educational Discovery Tours refuses to play that game. They are taking a stand because they sympathize with the parents who must take out loans or take on second jobs in order to afford the cost of their children participating in this particular rite of passage. Although many teachers and administrators have come to expect these perks, this company is unwilling to back down even though it is losing potential business.

A viable solution would be that the booking of these trips should be taken on by members of the school board; parent representatives who can ensure that the DC trip is educationally sound and won't bring undo economic hardship to participating families. Any field trip that is an extension of the school day should provide children with experiences and opportunities that will help them to grow and become civically responsible adults, and in light of Natalie Holloway, trip planners should demand of any provider assurances of maximum security for these kids.

Teachers and administrators who choose to line their pockets for their own personal gain instead of making their priority the education of those they serve can be equated with a criminal element in society who don't hold their own behaviors to the same standards expected under the law. They justify their crimes because they haven't held a gun to anyone's head and mostly follow the rules. But this is the worst kind of model for the students who learn from them that there is no standard for behavior and that everyone is out for number 1.

Nancy Salvato is the President of The Basics Project, a non-profit, non-partisan research and educational project whose mission is to promote the education of the American public on the basic elements of relevant political, legal and social issues important to our country. She is an experienced educator and an independent contractor with Prism Educational Consulting. She serves as Educational Liaison for Illinois Senator Carole Pankau. She works nationally and locally furthering the cause of Education Reform. Her writing is widely published on the internet and occasionally in print venues such as the Washington Times. Her opinions have been heard on select radio programs across the nation. Additionally, her writing has been recognized by the US Secretary of Education. Copyright © Nancy Salvato 2005


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