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Takoma Park School Axes Apartheid Trip

This was inevitable: Takoma Park Middle School has finally scrapped its annual eighth-grade trip to Florida, a $600 per child adventure that unnecessarily divided an already split community by making young adolescents painfully aware of who is a have and who is a have not.

Last year, when I wrote about the school trip that engendered so much cynicism that many parents and children came to call it the Apartheid Trip, quite a few students rose up in defense of a trip they considered a fun bonding experience.

But the trip, in the end, was indefensible. In a school that already suffered from social divisions between the kids in the magnet gifted program and the kids for whom Takoma Park is simply their neighborhood school, the Florida trip--a journey that despite some attempt to offer financial aid was really only available to people who could shell out the big bucks--only served to exacerbate the sense that the magnet kids ought to and did get more enriching offerings.

Now Silver Chips, the superb student newspaper at Montgomery Blair High School--really, the most consistently excellent student paper in the Washington region--is reporting that the Florida trip at Takoma is toast. I've been hearing reports from parents about this for a couple of months now, but Silver Chips got the story.

One student's reaction on the Chips website makes the ultimate point about this trip quite eloquently:

Blair wonders where all our division and self-segregation comes from. If you start in middle school by separating the students and giving the higher level children more enriching experiences, students will only continue to seperate themselves.

And a parent at the school writes in an email to me that Takoma Middle has come up with a "plan to use local field trips for the magnet program that will not be disruptive of school for other students and an opportunity to magnify the have-havenot divide." Sounds like a good plan, albeit one that will meet with much grumbling from those students and parents who somehow came to believe that the tradition of the Florida trip was one that they were guaranteed by virtue of attendance at the school.

It's impossible to achieve equity at schools where family backgrounds are spread out over the vast spectrum of economic and social status that exist in this area. But schools, public or private, have an obligation to create as fair an atmosphere as they can, not to buck up the self-esteem of the kids--a comically overemphasized social goal in too many schools--but to communicate to students and the wider community that schools are meant to be an engine of social mobility, that in this place, no matter where you live or what your parents do for a living, you will have equal access to the tools you need to strive for something better.

By Marc Fisher |  April 12, 2006; 8:30 AM ET
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"schools are meant to be an engine of social mobility, that in this place, no matter where you live or what your parents do for a living, you will have equal access to the tools you need to strive for something better."

In general, yes. But the "haves" in any school will have better resources made available by their parents. Better, faster computers, high-speed internet access, family-sponsored trips to places of "education" (Philadelphia, Boston, Europe), etc.

Is the school paying for the "haves" to go on this trip? Are they subsidizing it? If so, it's wrong. But if they are organizing it and the funding comes completely from those going, big deal.

Posted by: Rob | April 12, 2006 9:16 AM

I think calling Takoma Park Middle School annual trip to Florida the "Apartheid Trip" is totally ridiculous. As a former student there from 1991-1993, I was part of that trip and it was a great experience. It’s a shame to end a great tradition in a great school. I feel proud to tell people that I went on a middle school trip to Florida, which most people in their middle schools never went to. There were more children of color on that trip, than whites and this is coming from a person of color.

Posted by: Edwin Jewell | April 12, 2006 9:17 AM

I see your point about the Takoma Park Florida trip (it IS no doubt depressing to students who financially can't go), but why penalize the students who could go, when the ones who can't will still see the clothes from the Gap and summers in Europe and cell phones with unlimited minutes and sports cars, all owned by their school mates? Welcome to the real world. If you are hungry and I have food, my throwing the food away will only create a worse situation (now the "haves" will be resentful too). Canceling the trip will solve nothing. And, no, I don't live in Takoma Park.

Posted by: Stephen | April 12, 2006 9:30 AM

The idea that the primary role of schools is to make students socially mobile is ridiculous. What happened to education as a primary goal? Mr. Fisher cites social divisions already extant due to the difference between the students of the magnet program and the neighborhood students, seeming to condemn the magnet students for having the audacity to want a better education than they would otherwise get from their local high schools. While I agree that $600 for a trip is outrageous, the way in which Mr. Fisher's argument is framed needs some serious attention.

Posted by: Jake | April 12, 2006 9:31 AM

Why the hell does a school in the Md suburbs need to go to Florida for spring break? What possible educational value justifies a $600/head trip that couldn't be more widely available by going on a less expensive local trip?

Posted by: OD | April 12, 2006 9:31 AM

I understand that Mr. Fisher's children attend Georgetown Day School. Isn't Mr. Fisher's decision to send his children to a very very very expensive private school a far greater act of class and racial division than parents at an economically and racially diverse public school letting their kids go on a trip? I understand that his childrens' school has some scholarships and "reaches out" to students of color; but it is still a wealthy white school exercising a little noblesse oblige towards those other kids who it thinks are "acceptable". The school that he selected for his children is free to do what it wants, but it seems a little unfair to sling a phrase like "apartheid" at Takoma under the circumstances.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 12, 2006 9:31 AM

I agree that the school should offer activities that bring people together, rather than those that exacerbate their differences. Parents are always free to make their own Florida trip with whomever.

I grew up in a developing country and there were always groups that enjoyed a better range of activities. With the schools constrained by limited resources, only kids that excelled in certain sports were able to participate. Whe should only the magnate kids get extra exposure? It's the kid that's not in the magnate program that will experience a greater impact of the cultural experience. We had a similar class trip and I remember it was only a small portion of the class that got to travel. We had a different trip on buses to visit museums and that was much more enjoyable as everyone was able to participate.

**why even mention Mr. Fisher's choice of school for his kids? That has no bearing on this issue. This tactic is so overused in today's social and political discussions.

Posted by: RedStripe, Jamaica | April 12, 2006 9:44 AM

To OD, "Why the hell does a school in the Md suburbs need to go to Florida for spring break? What possible educational value justifies a $600/head trip that couldn't be more widely available by going on a less expensive local trip?"

First, it wasn't during spring break. It was an educational trip during the school year.

Second, when I was in high school, I went on a school-run trip to the former Soviet Union. I don't know how much this cost my parents but the educational experience was priceless. We saw things I will never see again. True, Florida is a bit different than St. Petersburg, Kalinin, and Moscow, but there are things only viewable not in the local area.

Posted by: Rob | April 12, 2006 9:51 AM

I went to public high school in an affluent part of Baltimore County. We did not have class trips anywhere because the county made the same argument about fairness. My college roomie went to Oxon Hill in P.G. County, where she was provided the opportunity to go on a class trip to Europe. I eventually made it to Europe as an adult, but it would have been a valuable educational experience to have had as a teenager. My parents didn't take our family to Europe because of the expense, but sending one kid at a time on a class trip at group rates would have been workable. Sure, I would have felt bad if there had been such a trip and my parents couldn't afford it, but no worse than I already did about not having other things that my classmates had: cars, swimming pools, ski trips, etc. With all that said, having experienced a three-day class trip to Williamsburg in sixth grade, I can see one reason to cancel a middle school trip -- the chaperones' sanity.

Posted by: Julie | April 12, 2006 9:55 AM

Maybe they should rename the Magnet program to be the Magnate Program! Seems some of our readers got scared by the word 'apartheid' and believe that Mr. Fisher is referring to a racial separation. He is clearly referring to a separation based on social class.

Posted by: RedStripe, Jamaica | April 12, 2006 9:58 AM

Given the history of the word 'apartheid', I don't think it was an appropriate word to use for this issue. It's obvious that Mr. Fisher like to stir thing up and many people falls for it. I'm sure he enjoys this self-satisfying entertainment.
I do feel that there are more educational trips than spring break in Florida. Partying with fellow youths can be accomplished closer to home and at a cheaper cost and the school board certainly has more pressing issues to deal with than Florida vacations. Obviously, the type of socializing that the schools are trying to teach isn't doesn't help the drop out rates of students and the overall lack of knowledge of many recent graduates. True educational trips could be cheaper if they were closer to home, which may allowed more student to attend.

Posted by: WB | April 12, 2006 10:08 AM

Mark, I'm torn. I can remember my family not being able to afford the $25 bucks to send me to Kings Dominion. I guess that was the same apartheid, though my group may have been smaller. Now that I might be able to spend $600 buck for my kid to go on a trip am I really contributing to a further separation. I would supposed so. Just a few miles from Takoma Park, where the most of the faces in the classroom look the same and there is no magnet program (because of this?)my guess is there wouldn't be much of a flap over this though there are certainly people who can't fork over the $600 bucks. How do you suppose high school students ever go to Europe? I'm sure someone gets left behind. In a school, that's apartheid. In life, it's...apartheid?

Posted by: Tony | April 12, 2006 10:23 AM

"The idea that the primary role of schools is to make students socially mobile is ridiculous. What happened to education as a primary goal?"

Ummm, I think the idea was that education is supposed to provide children with the knowledge and skills needed to be socially mobile--that is, to make a better life for themselves and, by exercising their talents, to contribute to the common good. Providing students with the opportunities and resources needed to achieve social mobility has, historically, been an important function of our public schools, a function that we ignore at our peril.

Posted by: Steve | April 12, 2006 10:38 AM

"Apartheid" was a wretched system under which non-white South Africans struggled tremendously for many years. Their struggle is cheapened by use of the word in connection with a middle school trip. Marc Fisher's freewheeling usage of "apartheid" is no better than government officials labeling our enemy du jour as "another Hitler."

Shame on you for your intellectual laziness, Mr. Fisher.

Posted by: Dan | April 12, 2006 10:53 AM

Oh boy, here we go again, the haves defend their rights and the have nots feel left out.

We (as Americans) will NEVER agree together, our mis-led thinking will only allow us to defend our selfish behaviors.

Seriously, we need to stop and relax a minute, realistically there is a class,white,black guilt psychology that has been and will continue to control our responses to guilt ridden comments or statements.

But, just for a moment just imagine both sides sitting and maybe dining over somones house and people are working together so all the kids could go to Florida, (now there is a tradition to fight for), and this is done without the kids even knowing, (bashing each other is not allowed), positive harmony. Finding a way to make the trip more affordable, or maybe having fund raisers or even maybe finding companies to sponsor some of the kids. Lastly, what about even offering a payment plan $600 divided by 12 is only $50 a month and I'm sure this could be accomplished.

My heart aches for our children and their future, and knowing that we as mature and intelligent adults can't see this and find it in our hearts to work through life together simply as human beings.

Some may say I'm dreaming...but my eyes are as wide.

Stop the guilt of hatred and you win.


Posted by: Frankey | April 12, 2006 10:56 AM

There are always going to be haves and have-nots. That's life. School isn't the place to throw reality out the window to "protect the children".

Instead of throwing the trip out - why not set up a program with the community and businesses where kids can help out their neighbors or a local busines once or twice a week for a year prior to the trip? If the kids earn $15 - $20 a week they would save up $600 bucks and some pocket cash over the course of the year and
1)be able to go on the trip
2)learn about why saving money is good
3)learn the value of working for something you want (delayed gratification)and
4)learn something about responsibility, the business they assisted and community service.

Why is it that the parents should be expected to fork out the cash automatically? The kids are old enough - if they want to go they can work for it.

Posted by: Danielle fr. Gmail | April 12, 2006 11:08 AM

As a person who knows the man and woman who ran this trip for a many years and is related to people who staffed this trip, I know this trip's purpose is not being portrayed correcly here.

The trip to Florida was a work-heavy experience, where students had to complete assignments based on their trips to venues. I don't know the exact nature of the assignments, but knowing the director, it was tough and probably time-consuming, before, during, and after the trip. There is much to be gleaned from a trip to Kennedy Space Center, as well as St. Augustine and Disney. There's physics, geography, history, math, and social studies to be had, and that's off the top of my head. Add in some writing to show mastery, and you have a whole day's worth of learning (and more) if it's done correctly. This trip may be fun, as all are when you are a kid with your friends, but there certainly was work to do.

All of that said, I'm not sure there's enough information for me to decide if the trip was good or bad. Magnet schools certainly are segragated, despite adults's best efforts. You can't have two differently composed populations and expect them to flow freely and happily when there are glaring differences in expectations, rules, and rewards.

The answer to this question lies in a long, deep discussion in the true purpose of education (this ideal varies from person to person, and even varies in the time and place that people live; rarely do we come to a concensus on this). Are we there to educate kids to take a place in society that we determine (tracking), are we there to show children the world and let them choose, or are we there keep these kids out of trouble until they can (we assume) take on a job and keep themselves out of trouble? Three ideas of many, but this issue revolves around your personal view of what education is for.

Just a few clarifications and thoughts.

Posted by: kate | April 12, 2006 11:11 AM

Mark, I feel like you should mention that the Washington Post partially sponsors the Silver Chips newspaper (as it states on their website) when you drop heaps of praise on them.

Posted by: Mike | April 12, 2006 11:15 AM

It sounds like Marc didn't name it "the Apartheid Trip" but the people affected by it did:

"Last year, when I wrote about the school trip that engendered so much cynicism that many parents and children came to call it the Apartheid Trip, quite a few students rose up in defense of a trip they considered a fun bonding experience."

And I still maintain that going to Fla in Middle School is a complete waste of time, money and educational opportunities.

Posted by: OD | April 12, 2006 11:16 AM

To Danielle:

"If the kids earn $15 - $20 a week they would save up $600 bucks and some pocket cash over the course of the year and
1)be able to go on the trip
2)learn about why saving money is good
3)learn the value of working for something you want (delayed gratification)and
4)learn something about responsibility, the business they assisted and community service.

Why is it that the parents should be expected to fork out the cash automatically? The kids are old enough - if they want to go they can work for it.

So, have the government take over the job of parenting??? What if a kid is the child of multi-millionaires and they don't want to teach him/her about saving and working hard (I know, not likely but work with me here). The job of a school is to educate with facts. It's the job of the parents to 'parent' and teach the values they want to teach.

And what if these parents were ready, willing, and able to pay the full amount without the kid lifting a finger, should the kid NOT be able to go since he/she didn't work for it?

Posted by: Rob | April 12, 2006 11:17 AM

Yeah, I remember on how I wanted to go on a school trip to the former Soviet Union when I was in high school, and there was no way my parents could afford it. This is not exactly a new thing. And I am not even from Maryland, let alone Takoma Park.

Posted by: patty | April 12, 2006 11:19 AM

"And I still maintain that going to Fla in Middle School is a complete waste of time, money and educational opportunities."

Right, OD. Because anything worth seeing is right in our backyard. True, we've got alot here but not everything.

Can I see the birthplace of our Constitution here? Can I see the start of our revolution here? Can I see the operations at Cape Canaveral here? Can I see the birthplace of the Renaissance here? Can I see where the Magna Carta was signed here?

Seeing a replica is nice but much more is gained by seeing the real thing.

Posted by: Rob | April 12, 2006 11:21 AM

"There are always going to be haves and have-nots. That's life." (Thats so weak)

No it's is way more than haves and have-nots.

Can grown up adult human beings get along?

That's reality.

Posted by: Frankey | April 12, 2006 11:21 AM

I think that the school/kids should have fundraiser all year to help those students that can not come up with all the funds. Also, maybe there could be a sliding scale. Starting at the beginning of the school year send out financial forms and see what people can pay. Collect the money monthly. It should be all inclusive.

Posted by: Angela | April 12, 2006 11:23 AM

It was certainly not nixed for any apartheid reasons - non-magnet students were present on the trip as well. It was far more likely because a student this year almost drowned and the safety concern of sending 150 13-year-olds on a weeklong excursion has been question. Article link:

Also as a former student (of color) at TPMS who went on the trip, I cannot do justice to the value of the trip. It was focused around homework assignments and learning applicability of theoretical classroom lessons. Shame on you for resenting those who partook. There was no monetary separation - $600 for a week in Florida is already immensely subsidized and the only reason students were excluded from the trip was for poor academic performance. The trip was NOT (and is still not) limited to Magnet students.

"Boy Scout Adds 'Lifesaver' to Merits
Md. Middle-Schooler Saves Classmate From Drowning in Fla. Pool

By Aruna Jain
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 12, 2006; Page C06

As he struggled at the bottom of the pool, 14-year-old Michael Sobalvarro began to accept that he was going to die.

Michael shook and choked. He remembers praying to Saint Michael, his mother's favorite saint, saying goodbye to his family and friends and, just before fading, asking their forgiveness for leaving the world too soon.

"I was thinking how they struggle to give me the best life they could give me, and I couldn't live up to their expectations or their dreams," Michael said.

Then, he said, he felt an angel grab him by the shoulders and draw him upward. He was going to heaven, he thought.

In fact, Michael was drowning, and his classmate, Mark Berry, 13, was the only one who noticed.

It was Valentine's Day, and the two Takoma Park Middle School eighth-graders were among 150 students touring Florida on an annual field trip organized by the school's magnet program...."

Posted by: Ana | April 12, 2006 11:26 AM

Yo Angela, "I think that the school/kids should have fundraiser all year to help those students that can not come up with all the funds. "

So, teach the poor children that if you can't afford it, wait for handouts?

Or are you assuming that all the kids (especially those that can't afford) have to work the fundraisers?

Posted by: Anonymous | April 12, 2006 11:27 AM

It's irrelevant who coined the phrase, "Apartheid Trip." By using the term in his article--in its title, no less--and not distancing himself from it, Mr. Fisher tacitly agrees that the phrase is appropriate.

If, on the other hand, Mr. Fisher had called his article, "Takoma Park School Axes So-Called Apartheid Trip" or even, "Takoma Park School Axes 'Apartheid Trip'", readers could conclude that he takes issue with the phrase.

Posted by: Dan | April 12, 2006 11:36 AM

I went on this trip back in 1985, the second or third year that it was run. I don't remember how much it cost, but I do remember that I did a lot of babysitting, typing at my dad's office and was given part of the money for the trip as a Christmas present. It was tremendous. I just loved the trip, it was very educational and remains the only time I've ever gone to Florida.

I'm very sorry they've cancelled it, and think that there are ways to make it more fair. That being said, there were tons of things that I didn't do growing up because my parents couldn't/wouldn't pay for them, and now as an adult, I'm doing without things other people planning weddings might consider necessities (i.e. Caribbean honeymoon, expensive dress) because I can't justify spending my money that way or don't have the money to spend.

It kind of sucks to be the kid who stays at school when your classmates are going somewhere fun, but you know what? You deal with it.

Posted by: bgrn | April 12, 2006 11:36 AM


I understand that there is lots to see out in the world, I'm just questioning the use of already scarce resources on a trip that most 13-year olds aren't going to appreciate. I think the lasting educational value to middle schoolers doesn't justify the cost. That's all.

We are blessed that there is enough locally that can be used as educational tools for our middle schoolers. Let them go on expensive adventures when they're in high school or college, when they'll be old enough to appreciate and remember it. (Of course, they'll also be old enough to be tempted to botch the whole thing up with drinking, drugs and sex, but that's a problem for the chaperones.)

Posted by: OD | April 12, 2006 11:40 AM

Rob -

I'm not saying that the gov't should do the job of parents. I'm responding to what seems to be the focus of the article: that the kids can't go because their parents can't afford the $600 to go. My immediate thought is - if a kid really wants to go - why not work for it? And, if the school (or PTA or whatever) partners up with local businesses to provide earning opportunities for the kids to add to their savings acct - why not?

And if a parent would rather just pay for it - that's fine. I don't think that the kids or community should just throw their hands up and say, "well, my parents can't pay for it so I can't go. Poor me."

I don't think its encroaching on anyone's parenting rights to set something like that up. Your kid doesn't have to sign up; parents could pay out of pocket if they want to or do half and half. Whatever they saw fit.

I also think Angela's idea is a good one - do car washes, bake sales, whatever to raise money to put in a communal pot to bring the cost down for everyone.

OD, I went on a class trip to DC when I was 13 and I remember so much of it and really enjoyed it. (& I'm many years removed from 13!) :)

Posted by: Danielle fr. Gmail | April 12, 2006 11:55 AM


I probably over-reacted - I'm in a fighting mood today. :)

I like the idea of fundraisers. Almost like a sliding scale for price associated with a sliding scale for work.

If you can pay $600, you don't HAVE to work the fundraiser.
If you can only pay $500, you have to work at least 10 hours.

However, as Ana posted, it is likely due to the almost drowning this year. I read that story. Seems the kid didn't know how to swim and was in the pool anyway.

Posted by: Rob | April 12, 2006 12:03 PM

I don't understand why Fisher gets so involved in telling people what's fair and not fair in public schools while he sents his kids to private school. I really lambasted him when he was against vouchers also--told him it was rediculous of him to be against some poor kid getting the chance at a better education like his kids get. But it's just another example of ivory-tower liberalism coming out of the Post--don't do what makes sense--only do what is fair under some illusionary idea--and then act hypocritically, i.e., by sending your own kids to private school.

Posted by: Annandale Mark | April 12, 2006 12:15 PM

Ana's comments are right on target. The program has worked for the past several years to include non-magnet students who have earned good grades. When my student went (several years ago), we were told by the then-coordinator that noone had ever been turned away due to lack of money. There are scholarships available, and they make sure families are aware of it. There are also families who contributed extra to the cost of the trip to help support the scholarship fund.

Whether or not parents want their children to contribute to the cost of the trip is a matter to be determined at home within the family. My kids helped pay for their trips, as they contribute for other activities they'd like to do but I'm not willing to pay full freight for.

My student would tell you it was not just a fun-and-games week in Florida. They had a lot of homework, mostly related to the exhibits and classes they attended, and it counted as a significant part of that quarter's grades.

All that said, I still wince at the have/have not economics of the trip, and $600 is not chump change in this household. But apartheid? That's too loaded a moniker to attach to this.

Posted by: Former TPMS Magnet Parent | April 12, 2006 12:26 PM

Annandale Mark wrote:

"I really lambasted him when he was against vouchers also--told him it was rediculous of him to be against some poor kid getting the chance at a better education like his kids get."

A response--

Vouchers are used EXCLUSIVELY to subsidize private schools for middle class parents who can't afford to pay the full freight of such schools. Vouchers by themselves invariably are not enough to pay the tuition so (Surprise! Surprise!) the poor are effectively excluded from attending private schools. To imply that vouchers will allow the poor to send their children to a private school is QUITE disingenuous.

Posted by: Nat | April 12, 2006 12:28 PM

How awful. I went on a school trip to Florida with my 8th grade class and it was a wonderful bonding experiencce that created a lot of positive experiences. I remember my parents made me pay the $240 from my lawnmowing money (and at $15 per lawn, that was like 2 months salary!) to go, but then handed me $100 to spend down there (which I didn't- I was a complete penny pincher and spent like $40). Any kid who can't mow lawns or sell on ebay to raise the $600 isn't entrepreneurial. I am SO SORRY they missed this educational opportunity and am VERY confused my Marc Fisher's conservative misinterpretation of this. ALL kids have the opportunity to make $600 in the USA- This isn't a conservative wonderland of class and statue. It's a liberal world where the poor can make it and MEAN SOMETHING TO OUR SOCIETY! Take it from a kid who bought a used lawnmower at a garage sale for $50 and turned it into my sole source of income from age 12-15.


Posted by: Don | April 12, 2006 12:35 PM

Hey Nat,

People use vouchers to get a better education for their kids when they can't afford that better education. There is nothing disingenuous about it. Get real.

Posted by: Annandale, Mark | April 12, 2006 12:41 PM

Annandale, Mark:

My understanding of vouchers is that it does NOT give you a free entry into a private school. If used, what it does is take some money (say $5,000 per year - and I'm making that up) out of the public school and gives it to a parent to spend towards a private school. If the private school costs $15,000 per year, they have to come up with $10,000.

So, if you're poor, that $5,000 won't do a bit of good getting the kid into a better education. It will help the well-off and the marginal families. However, the poor families will be stuck in the public school which now has less money with which to teach.

Posted by: Rob | April 12, 2006 12:56 PM

Don, when I was in 8th grade, I was 13. I earned money through odd errands, shovelling sidewalks and such. I also routinely helped raise money for softball by selling candy.

I saved my money religiously, but I never saw myself having 200 dollars all together until my first job at age 16. I saved most of that money, it was 1500 dollars for a summer, 40 hours a week. I used it to pay for college.

Of course, at that time my allowance was 1.25 dollars a week. It was upped to 5 dollars a week when I was in high school-- mostly for lunch money.

The idea of "enterprise" may be suitable for older kids, but middle school is too young to be working legally even with special work permits, and not everybody has the opportunity to work hard even if they had permits.

Have you ever considered not every kid is blessed with wealth AND health? Of course, nowadays kids should find easy employment in fixing computers, but this is still not true everywhere.

As it happens, I DID go to Disney world... when I was 11, 12 years old. It was a special grant for kids from families who could never afford to send their kids on thier own. I went with my best friend and her brother, also from a poor family. It was one day, a Saturday, and chaperoned by faculty-- a charter flight I believe, in October.

NOW that was worth it, I enjoyed the dolphin shows. That's the kind of opportunity schools should be arranging.

I never had "school trips" to amusement parks otherwise that I had to pay for.
A school trip to Florida is excessive at that particular age.

It'd be as easy to enrich students with the local offerings here-- museums, zoo, aquariums, national arboretum, Old town Alexandria, Fredrick douglass' house, the medical museum, etc. for the same cost.

The local kids should be getting all this in school.

Posted by: Jeanne | April 12, 2006 1:39 PM

SCHOLARSHIPS for Cheerleaders, Bandmembers, Football, Basketball, Lacross, Baseball and yes even academics.

STUDENT LOANS for the thousands of Students that receive them (despite paying them least you get an offer)

AIRLINES constantly receive monies from the government to help bail them out.

Big Corporate America...constantly recived money from our government.

Farmers recieve monies from our government.

No matter how you try and twist the language all of these plus more are nothing but handouts.

The list goes on folks but before you want to call a less fortunate child a hand out from the government a bad thing, please look in the mirror.

Posted by: Frankey on Handouts | April 12, 2006 1:56 PM

There is something wrong with a mindset that says, deny some because all can't afford. All will NEVER be able to afford. (And if you can't afford $600 for a trip -- what the hell are you doing living in Takoma Park? Maybe if you lived in a neighborhood you could afford, you'd have the $600.)

As for the person who said, go to Florida on your own (a) group discounts (as for school trips) make these trips affordable to some who might never be able to go on their own (b) bonding with your classmates is an essential part of the trip, that is lost if you just go with your family or friends.

If Mr. Fisher is so egalitarian, let him share his earnings from this blog with those WP staffers who go uncompensated for their blogs.

Posted by: RML | April 12, 2006 2:43 PM

Too bad a "superb student newspaper" can't spell "separate."

Posted by: Arlington | April 12, 2006 2:49 PM

Mike--You're right: The Post does help out the student newspaper at Montgomery Blair High, just as our reporters and editors provide advice and printing assistance at many, if not most, of the big public high schools in the Washington area. Some of those papers are very good and some are mediocre and some are, um, works in progress, but Silver Chips stands out as one of the very best.

Annandale Mark: You're right, too, I do send my kids to private school and I do write frequently on schools of all kinds. I've been an education reporter on and off for 26 years, covering the beat long before I had kids of my own, and my coverage is informed both by that work and by my own experience as a parent. I have written quite critically of vouchers because they are a dishonest program meant mainly to provide public support for religious schools; I do, however, wholeheartedly support charter schools, which give parents real choices while maintaining public control over the money, monitoring curricula and assuring that students are admitted and treated with fairness and equal access.

Posted by: Fisher | April 12, 2006 2:54 PM

It is off the wall to call this apartheid. A lot like people comparing things to the Holocaust that don't come anywhere near that. Also, that the county schools or the school itself stopped the trip is political correctness run amok. My 2 sons went on the trip 2 and 4 years ago. It was a time to be a little more independent, to sleep all night on buses to save money and travel like young people do. In my case -- A WAY FOR KIDS TO TRAVEL WHEN I COULDN'T AFFORD A FAMILY TRIP!!!
I think a key reason it was stopped is that a kid almost drowned in the motel pool this year. They must have decided it's impossible to supervise properly.

Posted by: Vic Simon | April 12, 2006 2:57 PM

People use those vouchers to go to cheaper schools thean the 15,000 a year elitist schools. They go to charter schools and parochial schools. Typically urban kids that are getting away from the expensive squalor/daycare that we call urban public education. Face it--teacher/administrator/workman unions grind the urban schools to a halt. Most teach kids on the level of third world nations. No matter that we spend millions more on fewer kids in the urban areas--they still get the worst education and have to room with undisciplined and unruly and frankly dangerous inner-city kids. If it doesn't work--stop doing it! Go with vouchers or private enterprise or heck, some kind of creative busing to other schools in other jurisdictions. The typical flaccid response to vouchers by teacher's unions and liberals that vouchers "take money from public schools" is so mindnumbingly backward because those schools are moribund in their own decrepit capital plants, unions, and run by people who got their jobs through political connections.

Fisher writes about some innocuous Florida trip as if it's some large political action. Meanwhile urban kids get crappy educations. No wonder I vote Republican. Nobody in the Democratic party makes any kind of sense. They are all still stuck in the 60s.

Posted by: Annandale Mark | April 12, 2006 3:14 PM

Unless there is a specific learning goal I'm in agreement with OD. If a student really wanted to participate they certainly could earn the money. However, working and saving to pay for something that your parents can't afford seems to be a thing of the past. Case in point: young people with buckets at intersections "begging for donations" to sponsor a trip to a basketball tournament.

Posted by: John | April 12, 2006 4:16 PM

I really find this article and some of the comments quite out of line. I was in the Magnet, but was was my family driving around sports cars and wearing expensive clothes all the time? No; I came from a middle class family not too dissimilar from many of families the kids from the Takoma Park district. The same goes for most of the kids in the Magnet I knew.

As Abhi states in his blog post Marc links to, the trip really was a bonding experience. I roomed with an African American student and an Asian American student, and just like Abhi's experiences there wasn't a hint of economic/racial tension -- it was just adolescents having a good and educational time (yes, most of our free time was spent doing homework). I may be a potential history major in college, but I'm shady in the history knowledge sometimes; that basically works out to be apartheid... right, Marc?

There's so much more I could rant about because this is all so ridiculous, but I'll just conclude by saying I am sad that this trip had to be cancelled. Parents (and columnists) really need to find things more worth getting worked up about than a middle school trip that is one of the few things the students who go on it love about middle school.

Posted by: TPMS Alum | April 12, 2006 5:24 PM

Welcome to Maryland and the new socialism.

Posted by: Charlie | April 12, 2006 6:18 PM

If this trip provided no educational benefits, then it was a waste of time, as any school-organized trip ought to be, in some way, educational.

If this trip provided great educational benefits (as some posters have asserted), then it gave an unjust educational advantage to those who had the economic means to go.

It's a public school. If you think they don't have to provide the same educational opportunities to all its students, regardless of the students' varied economic means, you're kind of missing the point of public education. And if this trip wasn't an educational experience, why was it being held during the school year?

And to all those saying that there are educational experiences beyond the DC area - you all are absolutely correct. However, there are dozens of brilliant educational experiences within the DC area that don't often see school groups. There is really no reason one cannot visit civil war battlefields in VA or MD. What is wrong with Colonial Williamsburg, or Physics Day at a nearby theme park?

Posted by: Anonymous | April 12, 2006 6:55 PM


"(And if you can't afford $600 for a trip -- what the hell are you doing living in Takoma Park? Maybe if you lived in a neighborhood you could afford, you'd have the $600.)"

Um, right. See: Maple Avenue between Philadelphia Ave (East-West Highway) and Sligo Creek Parkway. For instance. All those apartments must do wonders for the city's tax base, by the way.

Posted by: Phil in Silver Spring | April 12, 2006 7:32 PM

As an educator who DOES take my middle school students on a trip every year (albeit a closer, much less expensive one), I see the merit of taking these type of trips, and I see the finanical divides that they can cause. A few points:

1) Fundraising the equivalent of $600/student is an enormous task. Who keeps track of it? I was excited that we made $1300 at ONE car wash--how many (really good) car washes would it take to support this? And who keeps track of who gets what?
2) At my school, EVERYONE who plans on attending the trip MUST participate in our fundraisers, regardless of whether they will be directly benefiting from the money or not. Tell the students "what if there was a great opportunity that your parents said you couldn't afford--wouldn't YOU want your friends and peers to band together to help raise money so that you could go too?"
Most students understand and are very enthusiastic about participating. Telling the students "If Mommy & Daddy can just write the check for the trip, you don't have to lift a finger" sends the wrong message.
3) The financing option. "$50 over 12 months shouldn't be too difficult to come up with." $50/month is LOT of money, considering a lot of these parents are down to their last dime keeping food on the table and the lights on. Really. And, by the way, the school year is NOT 12 months long--considering when payments need to be made to the trip company, that would break it down to 6 or 8 payments--$75-100/month. That would certainly make a big dent in my monthly budget! And again, who is going to keep track of these payments. It's a LOT to ask of the teacher, trust me, I've been there! And we only have TWO payments to keep track of.
4) Maybe the school should just compromise down and take a CLOSER trip. We take a one day (not overnight) trip and go about 4 hours away for the day--it costs the students $80. And they still have a great experience. And you can still provide substantial assistance to families who can't cover that. You could probably get a good (one night) overnight trip around $200--just go CLOSER. What about Philadelphia? Williamsburg? Bus costs to Florida alone could cost over $30k. Where we're going, it's under $5k.

These trips have a lot of merit--it gives the students something to look forward to at the end of the year, and they do have a bonding experience. But a $600 trip for middle schoolers is just ridiculous, and will absolutely encourage the creation of a divide based on economics--and that's not an acceptable message for a school to send.

Posted by: A teacher | April 12, 2006 8:42 PM


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Posted by: che | April 14, 2006 4:41 AM

Heaven forbid children learn about the realities of the world they live in. In life there are haves and have nots. Most people, middle class Americans, live somewhere in between. At some point these kids will learn that the real world outside Takoma Park is nothing like the world they learned about by attending Takoma Park Elementary. Life isn't fair no matter what the socialists in Takoma Park teach their kids. But according to these socialists it's better to hold the haves back then allow anyone to grow and develop as a human being. Morons.

Posted by: Keith | April 14, 2006 2:27 PM

Perhaps Marc should read his own newspaper.

If a school in a city with a per capita income of $7,000, compared to the over $26,000 in TP, can afford a school trip of $1,090 per student it seems to me that this is about belly aching more than anything else. More parents wanting the school to raise their kids for them.

Come on Marc, if the TP trip is apartheid, then where is you condemnation the Roma TX trip. Certainly this must be the most elitist trip imaginable.

Posted by: JJ TP MD | April 17, 2006 3:15 PM

A lot of the comments seem to be about money. The trip had a budget that would pay partial and full scholarships for any family that could not afford the $600.

Posted by: Jane | April 18, 2006 4:44 PM

I've gone on the tpms florida trip, and as a magnet, i feel neither races mind the slight seperation. The reason of the seperation is because of our different interests. I doubt the athletic african americans enjoy our rubik's cube contests, math team competitions, etc. and some of us do enjoy sports with the nonmagnets.

The florida trip is beneficial to the people who stay behind as well. The empty lunchtimes and the smaller classrooms are better for them.

All who have never experienced Takoma Park Middle School should have the least say in it, yet why do they have the most? Ask the future middle schoolers what they want; it affects them. Even the nonmagnets will want the trip-- having a chance to go to florida is better than having none at all. A poor student will possibly never go to florida, and here's a chance for them to go there free of charge.

Posted by: Jess | April 18, 2006 9:40 PM

I attended Takoma Park Middle School and participated in the Florida trip. I have heard firsthand from other past participants in the trip, and know for a fact that few if any would ever say it was a pointless trip.
Why penalize those who can afford the trip just because there are those who can't? The trip was created for the magnet program to begin with. They didn't have to extend it to the children who weren't in the program, but they did because they wished to accomplish the opposite of segregation.
So the segregation that is supposedly created by the trip? Like Fisher says, there were already social divisons. Believe it or not, children are more aware and capable of discrimination than you think, and a lot of that segregation can be attributed to the intentional actions of the students themselves--and I don't mean the students who were in the Magnet program. I remember seeing and hearing said students in numerous occassions outrightly voicing their aversion for the Magnet students with no justification, often accompanying such words with harassment and bullying. Who's segregating who?

Posted by: past student of tpms | April 18, 2006 10:33 PM

i feel that the real reason they cancelled the trip (an incident this past year) has been overlooked. none of this discrimination/unfairness was the reason. shameful, inaccurate reporting, mr. fisher.

Posted by: former student | April 30, 2006 4:50 PM

alright, a person previously statted the reason why the trip was cancelled was because of a 14 year old drowning and being saved. Well, i am that 14 year old, and it happened this year "06" on valentines day. Well, it wasnt. it was because of the segregation of students. Most magnets(i like them, nothing against them)were asian, and white. I am was a honor student at takoma and a hispanic as well. I can say this, for its the truth, that i was the only latino, there were about 5 other latinas, and about 2 african americans. the rest were asian and white. I am glad the trip will not seperate students now for in the trip it was asians and whites, and hispanics and blacks huddled together. alright this is what i got to say, and that even though i almost died, other than that it will be one of my memorable memories i will have once i look back in like 20 years from now

Posted by: michael Sobalvarro | August 20, 2006 6:11 PM

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