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Venturing Beyond the School

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Originally appears in the Summer 2016 issue

FOR LUCY SPRAGUE MITCHELL, the founder of Bank Street College in New York City, education was larger than the school building and greater than the book. Mitchell, who taught student teachers at Bank Street from 1930 to the early 1950s, believed that education should move the student outwards—physically and socially as well as intellectually and that education should be based on person-to-person relationships.

The person-to-person relationships Lucy Sprague Mitchell believed were critical to a child’s education included the people in their immediate world. Some of whom they might see everyday, yet remain in the background—the workers whose work sustains children and their families. It was not the stereotypic, “The Postman is our friend” variety, with which, unfortunately, many of us are too familiar. It was
rather a study that enables children to relate the work of actual people and the ever-larger chains of interdependence.

To create, in my own teaching of elementary school children, the person-to-person exchange Mitchell spoke of, I needed to aim for an emotional connection, not simply the amassing of information. Children need to know their world and the people in it and not simply know about them. To offer these types of opportunities to children, I needed to venture into the children’s world and explore the natural and physical environment and have person-to-person experiences myself.

Consequently each year of teaching became a new adventure—taking the children and me deeper into our own world—into the here and now New York with the first and second graders, the Native American New York with second and third graders, and the immigrant city with fourth and fifth graders. Whenever possible we went to the experts.

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Salvatore Vascellaro teaches graduate courses in curriculum at Bank Street College of Education in New York City. A former elementary school teacher and principal, he consults with local schools and oversees the fieldwork of apprentice teachers. His focus on the essential role of trips as a vital force in the education of children and teachers is developed in his book, Out of the Classroom and into the World (2011, New Press).