For as long as my children have been attending Mt. Washington School, eight years in total, the Autry Museum has graciously provided free buses and free tours of their museum to our school. Such has been the relationship between the school and the Autry, according to one of the teachers, for at least the last ten years. I can’t speak to their motives for creating this educational opportunity. Having chaperoned on a few of these field trips I admit I’ve learned much about the history of the West, albeit from a certain perspective. The docents at the Autry have taught me and my children a lot about Westward Expansion, Manifest Destiny, and why a chuckwagon is called a chuckwagon.
This year I was surprised to learn about a change in this long-standing relationship. The Autry is now charging $2.00 per child, chaperone, as well as teacher for field trips. The buses are still free. But it will cost you to walk through the door. This change did not escape my attention. Apparently, I was not alone.
Our interviewee, who prefers to maintain his anonymity (and privacy), has asked to be called “5th Grade Boy.” 5th Grade Boy has decided not to go on the field trip because, as he explains, “they’re making you pay and they closed down the Southwest Museum, and that was the first museum in Los Angeles.” Quite a statement “from of the mouths of babes,” as they say.
While on the subject of the Southwest Museum I asked him if
he’s been there lately. He told me he toured the Southwest Museum while it has been open on Saturdays. The Autry’s
website states that it is free to visit their Southwest Museum campus. When I asked 5th Grade Boy if he
remembers ever visiting the Southwest Museum on a field trip at Mt. Washington,
he could not recall. The Southwest
Museum is approximately one mile from the school. It would take less than twenty minutes to
walk to the museum from the school, going downhill, although you may want to give yourself a little more
time going uphill.
When asked why the Southwest Museum was so special to him, he explained how much he enjoyed the old-fashioned feel of the Southwest Museum and he especially liked visiting their outdoor gardens. He could not recall seeing any outdoor gardens at the Autry. He also could not remember any exhibits on the Native American culture at the Autry. So how do you learn about Native American culture and history in school, I asked. “I look at books,” he replied.
While his fellow students will be off on their field trip Wednesday, 5th Grade Boy will remain in Mt. Washington. I asked him if his teacher told him what he’d been learning if he went on the field trip. His reply, “No, I don’t think so. But I’ve been there so many times I think I’ll know.” Just as my child has been on more than a few field trips to the Autry, he has been on these field trips ever year up until this one. Apparently, he drew the line when they started to charge for admission.
Jon Pareles in a New York Times article from today wrote, “where he [Seeger] saw a community, he saw the possibility of political action.” I can only hope that Mr. Seeger is smiling down on 5th Grade Boy from Mt. Washington. And that together, the spirit of Seeger and the conviction of one 5th Grade Boy will help motivate us all to create the social change so needed in this world.
About the author: Nina Zippay is a local Mt. Washington resident and founder of Radical Cooks, offering cooking classes for kids and adults, private consults, and more. She blogs regularly at www.radicalcooks/blog/