Sometimes learning happens quietly. You see or read something and then months or maybe even years later, you have another experience that calls up that bit of information. This is why learning in museums is so hard to measure- you may not know you learned something until much later when you figure out that, in fact, you did.
However, one of the things I love most about Follow the North Star
is that you can often see its impact on students from the second they finish the program. Their faces and conversations clearly show that they have just experienced something important. They’ve gotten a tiny taste of the struggles faced by real people who were held as slaves and had the strength and courage to try to escape.
I like to sit in on the students’ debriefing sessions where they have the opportunity to discuss the program with a Conner Prairie staff member. Usually the first question we ask the students is, if they could sum up their experience in FNS in one word, what would it be? Words like “scary,” “exciting,” and “humbling,” are common responses. They often say that the way they were treated as they played the part of escaping slaves made them feel mad, upset, or even worthless. They are shaken out of their comfort zones and cast in a role where they have to step into perhaps the most shameful aspect of our country’s history. The reality of it is often quite a surprise for them.
Follow the North Star is undoubtedly one of my favorite programs that we do here at Conner Prairie, and I am so proud to manage it for school groups. It has the power to create empathy and understanding better than any program I have ever seen, and its impact is immediately apparent.