Wednesday, April 6, 2011

When the Journey was as Important as the Destination

I faced up to it long ago. I'm just not the GPS-type. I'm too argumentative and one more voice in the car telling me to “turn left” or “continue on ramp for one-quarter mile” is too much for me to handle. I'm sure other drivers have found it amusing to see the appearance of me arguing with some invisible person as we motor down the highway, but needless to say I don't take orders well, especially from some anonymous computer voice.

It's not that I don't appreciate the help, its just that I'd rather not take the shortest, fastest route from here to there. I've avoided becoming a conditioned consumer of fast food and I feel the same way about travel. I'm a throwback to the days when the journey itself was just as important as the destination. The GPS voice has no clue what I'm talking about.

Tucked away in the glove box of my car is a worn, somewhat tattered Michigan map printed sometime in the 1930's. I know that because the list of populations for towns and cities is based on the 1930 U.S. Census. It's one of those old full-service gas station maps from an era where men in uniforms and caps came out to meet you, fill your tank, check your oil, air up your tires, and even clean your windshield. And if you needed a map, they gave you one. Free. The one I have is from Cities Service. Their motto: “For people going places!” Wow, that says it all! We know this company today by the more familiar name of CITGO.


Other editions of Michigan highway maps I own include a 1940's from Sovereign Service, a 1936 from Conoco, a Sinclair 1940's map, and an early 1930's Sunoco version that includes a really cool map of Michigan historical sites. Navigating with these old maps is an adventure in itself. Road designations have changed and often the road itself has been relocated or plowed under by so-called progress from Eisenhower's Interstate highway system. Believe me, it takes a bit of imagination and determination to follow routes once traversed by the Dodge Roadster Coupe, a DeSoto Airflow Ride, or a Hudson Terraplane Sedan, but you won't find those routes on today's modern GPS. Today, most travelers want to simply “git 'er done!” and will go to great lengths (and sometimes expense) to find the fastest, shortest route to their final destination. They are all about the outcome, not the journey and the world they pass by is nothing but a blur.


Travel by yesteryear requires an investment in time as you venture from one city or small town to another and invariably make a few more stops along the way than you might have anticipated. After all, who can pass up real home-style cooking in a small town mom-and-pop restaurant? Or the two or three antique stores that occupy what once was a vibrant downtown until the bypass went in? Or perhaps checking out an old school house or stopping to read one of many Michigan historical markers telling the story of a ghost town. Sometimes I like to simply stop, look and listen; to imagine what it might have been like when the map that brought me here was new; when the only way you could get from starting point to destination was through this town. There was no high-speed bypass around it.


We've lost sight of the journey in many of our endeavors, becoming more interested in speed and results. Education is no different. We've moved our schools off the old country roads to an expressway system of pushing kids from grade to grade and measuring their success merely by high-stakes test results. Never mind taking time to enjoy the childhood journey and learn along the way. Our new focus is getting to college and career readiness as quickly, efficiently, and cheaply as we can. In fact, we're in such a hurry that we continue to move learning standards down to earlier grades, even turning kindergarten and pre-school into years of intense academic pressure. There's no time for curious, innovative exploration either on the Interstate highways or in our schools. Our days are packed with high speed activity, pepping for the next round of testing. Even recess, like the occasional travel break in a small town, has gone by the wayside, and lunch periods resemble more a hectic fast food joint at an expressway interchange than a restful stop at Joe & Emma's Family Diner. It's all become a process of speeding up the pace, packing more miles into the same time, and focusing only on the end. Like McTravel we're creating McEducation.


We have simply forgotten the joy and pleasure of the journey. Is it time to put the GPS away and dust off your old road maps?


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