Recently, my teenage son and I spent spring break on a road trip to the southern United States. Prior to attending an event in New Orleans, he said he wanted to “mosey” through parts of the country he has never visited. With his interest in the Civil War, my desire for the beach, and his unquenchable desire for barbecue, we decided to explore Georgia and the emerald coast of the Florida Panhandle before heading west to New Orleans.
While planning the trip, we realized that we would have a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet the 39th president of the United States, Jimmy Carter, if we could arrive in Sumter County, GA, by Sunday morning. President Carter teaches a Bible study class at his church in Plains, GA. We worked out an itinerary which included a driving day, a day in Plains, a day at Andersonville and visiting Habitat for Humanity International headquarters in Americus, and a few days on the beach in Florida before heading off to New Orleans. We figured that on the way back we could go back through Alabama and Tennessee, maybe visit Chickamauga, or Memphis, or Nashville, and have an overnight stay in the mountains.
Road trips with teenagers can be wonderful opportunities for expanding their perspective. Joe came back with a wonderful memory of his time in President Carter’s class, observations about the difference between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic, a deep passion for New Orleans, and an appreciation of a more rural America than he is used to. Farmland near us is diminishing – growing houses is more profitable than growing crops. But in Plains and many of the rural areas we rolled through, agriculture is a continuing way of life. He noted wryly that people in the south drive trucks because they need them for all kinds of hauling every day– not because they want an off road vehicle for recreation only, as often happens here in northern NJ. He also observed that the people who grow our food, who live in truly small towns of only a few hundred families, are not “hicks” but very intelligent, interesting people who do a very important job. The only thing many of them lack is wealth and opportunity; but many of them create their own opportunities. For the first time, it became clear to him that in the United States, diversity is not just about race, language and religion, it also includes regional cultures.
Due to some last minute baseball team practices being scheduled, we cut the trip short after New Orleans and just stayed overnight in the Lookout Mountain area of Tennessee. But on the drive back, Joe was identifying all the places he wanted to come back to – battlefields, birthplaces of generals, natural wonders such as caverns and mountain trails. “They don’t do much about the Civil War at my school, or about stuff that happened after World War II”, he said. “So I gotta learn about those things myself because they’re interesting.”
In the following articles, I will share with you the educational opportunities we discovered on our spring break road trip, and the fun we had doing it. There’s more to education than school – and how we spend our family time can often enhance what our children are learning in school subjects.