I CONSIDER MIDDLE school to be a holding pen for adolescents and respite care for their beleaguered parents, and my only complaint with this system is that they don't keep the kids overnight and on weekends.
Eleven to 14 is a difficult age, and I wonder if educator Maria Montessori was not correct when she visualized sending these kids to work on farms until they had completed all the physical and emotional changes that make them so unpleasant in close quarters, such as your kitchen while you are making dinner.
So I am left to wonder why a middle-school teacher would consider packing this age group into a bus and taking a field trip. It would seem to me that the risks would be as numerous as there are ways for a middle-school kid to embarrass grown-ups in public.
Because I am a woman and my ability to empathize is so keen, I volunteered to chaperon a recent middle-school field trip to the Maryland Science Center. I could not leave those dear, dear teachers alone to manage my son and his friends in an environment where their behavior might be even less predictable.
In elementary school, your children won't go on a field trip without you and they want you to be in charge of their little group of friends, and they all fight over who gets to hold your hand.
In middle school, your children would rather attend your execution than have you attend their field trip. They assume you will embarrass them and you assume they will embarrass you, and that is about all you have in common during this developmental stage.
Before you can be a field-trip chaperon, the school administration requires you to view a video on child abuse, and after 10 minutes on the bus you know why. You not only want to strangle your child, you want to strangle the rest of the kids, all of whom certainly must come from bad families.
First, all the children rush to sit in the back of the bus where they are beyond the supervision of the teacher, who has to sit behind the bus driver so the two of them can get everyone lost together.
In the back of the bus, the boys pass gas and the girls squeal, and everybody talks too loud and gets up and moves around too much and steals everybody else's baseball cap and throws it around. All veteran field-trip chaperons know to make some excuse that will allow them to drive their own cars and meet the buses.
More than 150,000 school- children tour the the Maryland Science Center every year, and there are many hands-on exhibits that allow the kids to learn by doing. But middle-school kids are so distracted by their new surroundings that all they can manage to do is roam the gift shop and touch everything. Their brains are spinning like one of those mirrored disco balls, and absolutely no instruction gets in. They just keep asking, "When is lunch?"
As a chaperon, all you can do is count heads and count your blessings that you are not at the National Aquarium down the street, where one of these clumsy children could fall in a tank and you would be obliged to go in after him.
The best thing to do at the Science Center is to view the IMAX movie -- no matter what the topic -- because only something half a block long and five stories high and coming at them with the power of 200 boom boxes can get the attention of a middle-schooler.
During this field trip, we viewed "Africa -- The Serengeti," starring herd of wildebeests. Described by narrator James Earl Jones as ungainly animals that appear to be assembled by a committee, the wildebeests move stubbornly, stupidly from one meal to the next, oblivious to the danger around them.
That pretty much summed up the herd of middle-schoolers I helped chaperon.
I can only hope the kids learned something from their field trip to the Science Center. I know I did: Don't volunteer to chaperon middle-school field trips.
Your child will thank you for it.
Pub Date: 5/18/97