Thoughts About a Second Grade Official School Field Trip to In-N-Out Burger

[Introductory note: next week my son Jacob's class is taking a school-sanctioned field trip to In-N-Out Burger during normal school hours. We have decided not to participate in that field trip. I sent the following email to the school principal explaining this:]

I know you get a lot of gripe emails. This isn’t one of them. We love the school and have been super-pleased with the education and other support that Jacob is getting. However, we decided to opt-out of an upcoming field trip and we wanted to explain why. It seems to us that there may be an issue that warrants further scrutiny in future years.

This coming week, Jacob’s class is going on a field trip to In-N-Out Burger. [Jacob's teacher] has indicated that the trip has the following pedagogical objectives:

“Students understand basic economic concepts and their individual roles in the economy and demonstrate basic economic reasoning skills.

1. Describe food production and consumption long ago and today, including the roles of farmers, processors, distributors, weather, and land and water resources.

2. Understand the role and interdependence of buyers (consumers) and sellers (producers) of goods and services.

3. Understand how limits on resources affect production and consumption (what to produce and what to consume).”

These are great pedagogical goals, but we’re a little confused how a trip to a fast food restaurant advances those goals. It seems like any single vendor is going to extol the virtues of its offerings. Without any critical analysis of those explanations, the vendor’s explanation will be impliedly endorsed by the school and treated as credible by students.

This could be especially problematic in the context of fast food restaurants, whose resource allocation practices and efforts to advertise to kids have come under significant criticism; yet unrebutted favorable descriptions of their practices will not yield any insights into those concerns. Jacob is very much still learning how to critically scrutinize marketing claims, and I don’t think he is ready to defend himself against such a subtle form of marketing. I suspect most other 2nd graders are about the same place.

Ordinarily, I’d recommend counter-speech as the fix, such as bringing in a critic of fast food restaurant marketing and practices and letting the students decide who they find more convincing. However, that back-and-forth sounds pretty sophisticated for a 2nd grader audience, and certainly it is well outside the lesson plan.

Thus, my wife and I are left wondering (a) if a school-sanctioned field trip to any fast food restaurant actually advances the stated pedagogical goals, (b) if it does, if there are more effective alternatives (my wife Lisa has been researching options and can provide suggestions if that’s useful), and (c) even if not, if the risks that the field trip acts as a form of surreptitious marketing to kids outweighs those pedagogical benefits.

Despite all of this, we are not complaining because we’ve decided to opt Jacob out of the field trip this year. It’s a small nuisance to do so, but we understand its our decision, and we are comfortable with that decision. Given that many classes sought to participate in the In-N-Out Burger excursion, I also want to reinforce that we don’t intend to criticize [Jacob's teacher] or single her choices out. Instead, we hope that the faculty and administration will review the pros and cons of any fast food restaurant field trip for future years; or if that conversation has already taken place, we’d welcome any further explanation about the deliberations.

Many thanks for listening and for your and your teachers’ and staff’s hard work and dedication to educating our children. We remain very appreciative.

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