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Travel Across the Curriculum

Authored By: 
Jason Watkins, English teacher

There are many traditions that surround the start of a new school year: new shoes, new clothes, first-day-of-school pictures. For teachers, there are fresh bulletin boards, class lists, and, for some, an inbox full of email promotions from travel companies. And often that means planning not for the current school year, but for the year after.

Travel can be an important part of a school’s programming. It can be applied across the curriculum to explore history at historical landmarks, the visual arts at art museums, or environmental studies at national parks. I, personally, have fond memories of Broadway shows and amusement parks from my high school days in Pennsylvania. These were extracurricular activities that made high school a richer experience.

Travel is good for more than fun times or intellectual stimulation. Mark Twain is quoted as saying, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness... Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”

Whether you are building such “charitable views” for children or adults, traveling across the curriculum is highly recommended. In addition to history and culture, literature is an excellent way to explore the world.

In Victor Hugo’s ​Les Miserables,​ a desperate rescue of the wounded Marius takes place in the Paris sewers. It might not be as romantic as climbing the Eiffel Tower, but a sewer tour after reading a lengthy classic is certainly memorable. And if you don’t fancy reading all 1,200 pages, perhaps you can watch the musical.

If urban fantasy is your genre, you could check out Ben Aaronson’s ​Rivers of London​. Refresh your history on Roman Britain, then learn the city by walking its streets to map where the rivers of London used to flow.

Take advantage of school age classics by reading Franz Kafka before visiting Prague. Read The Diary of Anne Frank before traveling to Amsterdam; A River Runs Through It for Montana; The Crucible for Salem, Massachusetts. The Grapes of Wrath for Oklahoma.

Opportunities to pair literature with destinations abound. I have a favorite memory of reading Eat, Pray, Love in a villa in a rice field in Bali. Find your own memories. I don’t, however, recommend Into the Wild before visiting Alaska. Try White Fang instead. As John Muir wrote, “The mountains are going, and I must go.” (But I’m taking a book with me.)