A judge for “What’s Your Story,” the Wittman Regional Airport writing contest for those in grades 3-12 in Oshkosh-area schools, I feel compelled to share some observations gleaned from the entries I’ve just read. As our future, I found their participation in and perspective on aviation enlightening.
In two categories, grades 3-8 and 9-12, students attending any school in the Oshkosh area were eligible to, “in your own words,” write no more than 500 words of prose or poetry that describe “what makes flying special to you.” A rough sum of the area school districts tallies roughly 15,000 students, with two thirds enrolled in Oshkosh schools.
By the deadline the contest received 44 entries, all but two from Oshkosh schools. The majority, were from middle schoolers in grades 6-8. Only two high schoolers, one male and one female, took time to write. Girls dominated the grade school category 30 to 12. Regardless of grade, their perspective on flight and aviation shunned nostalgia and romance.
For roughly three-quarters of the students, what impressed them most was the pre- and post-flight airport experience. Terminal’s shopping and eating opportunities was a common theme, followed by the security gauntlet and inconveniences of a missed flight. The dearth of words dedicated to the flight itself suggests that to these students it was no more memorable than riding the school bus.
Most of the narratives jumped from boarding to destination. If they mentioned the flight at all, it usually involved the “waitress” serving them something. The exception was the impromptu birthday celebration held by the cabin crew, which included a crown made of taped-together bags of peanuts. (She didn’t name the airline, but I’m guessing Southwest.)
A handful or so of entries focused on unfortunate outcomes—crashes led airsickness. One worried about another 9/11 arrival at some distant downtown. The students who typed (thankfully, all entries were digital, which greatly reduced the illegible consequences of the modern student’s cacography) concerns were equally male and female.
In Oshkosh, the long-time home of EAA AirVenture, it took me by surprise that only a half-dozen students mentioned the annual aviation extravaganza. One did write about “The Best Ride Ever!” that was courtesy of EAA’s “Little Eagles,” which has flown more than 1.6 million kids like her. Her story was among the dozen matriculating to the rest of the judges.
Unrelated aspects that stand out include Amelia Earhart, who was mentioned three times, all by female authors, and the Wright brothers, mentioned twice, both by third graders, in the girl’s essay and the boy’s cut-and-paste photo history of aviation. Only one boy mentioned a computer flight game or simulator.
What this all means to the future of aviation I have no earthly idea. Yet I believe this information is somehow important because, as any parent or teacher will tell you, getting from students any kind of honest impression about anything is a challenge. –Scott Spangler