Through the Eyes of an Educator: Minneapolis, Minnesota
I met my friend from Minneapolis over a decade ago and we’ve been friends ever since. She was one of the first to show me the joys of Midwest life, explain the intricacies of a lock and dam, share the roadside attraction of the Jolly Green Giant, and take me to the mecca that is the Mall of America. She was with me when I set foot in Lake Superior, crossed the border into Wisconsin, ogled at the Spoon and Cherry in the country’s largest urban sculpture garden, and even took the picture as I posed with Mary Tyler Moore throwing her hat in the air. With Cara as my friend, Minneapolis became more than a spot in the middle of the country.
As a former high school teacher of Global and American History, I’ve taught geography, economics, politics, social issues, and history about the US, but rarely do we get to delve into anything specific about particular states. Things like flowers, fruit, population, and such is handled in an earlier grade. I often popped cities and monuments on the board for my students to figure out the state or country in which it was and then find it on a stuffed globe we’d throw around the room. Other than that and a mention or two in a conversation about moving westward, Minnesota and the other 49 fall into the category of ‘just another state’. Cara taught me Minnesota nice, when to appropriately use uff da and the sound a loon makes. These things help make it all real. That’s what we wish for our students – some way to connect to their lives and make textbook typeface into real life truths. In a world of instant gratification, quick fixes, and ask Siri anything, if you can grab one student’s attention for one minute – that might truly be all you need.
My first visit to Minneapolis was filled with ‘tourist’ attractions and luckily, warm weather (in October, that’s saying something). First stop, a quick visit to Mary Tyler Moore’s statue and a trip down television history memory lane. I learned that the ‘land of ten thousand lakes’ is really that of 12,000 but the other sounds better. I learned that a loon is the state bird and the call to others makes a singsong sound. I learned that outdoor life in warm weather is as active for residents as it is in the snow-covered winter. I was met with kindness from complete strangers and kind service in every establishment we entered. There’s something special about Minnesota. Experiences are teachable moments. Those life lessons are equally as significant in a student’s education as reading, writing and arithmetic.
This ocean loving girl had a different upbringing than her friend who grew up in Minneapolis-St. Paul. She took school field trips to a fresh water river while I went to a saltwater beach. That first visit took in much Minneapolis education. First, I found myself wandering the Minneapolis skyway - the largest continuous skyway in the world - a pedestrian walkway in the sky above, connecting most of downtown. This climate controlled feat of engineering ingenuity links hotels, restaurants, and many major downtown venues; so, no matter the weather, life continues to ebb and flow in this major city. We also headed to lock and dam number 1 at the top of the longest river in the country. What a fabulous spot for budding historians, engineers, architects, sailors, and so many others. Witnessing this magical contraption open, fill, close, raise, open, and drain in order to allow boats to flow from one level of water to another was incredible. Somehow, it hadn’t entered into my thought process about varying levels of water and how boats would make that transition. It even led to further talk of travel to the Panama Canal, feats of engineering, and world connections. Even when we least expect it, travel teaches.
From its beautiful lakes and picturesque hiking destinations to fascination with ice fishing and carving butter heads, Minneapolis is a unique place. Blossoming writers will be interested in the irony of the poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Although he never saw the waterfall of Minnehaha Falls, he gave it national acclaim in the Song of Hiawatha.
Even one of the largest malls in America has something to share. There are tons of shops and dining options and far more here than meets the eye. With an aquarium, flight simulation, children’s pop up museum, giant amusement park, mini-golf, and more, there are treasure troves of learning and doing here. Pop a bit of Styrofoam cheese on your head and discuss the dairy industry of Wisconsin, hug a wooden loon and chat about the state bird and where it hangs out, or find one of the many Peanuts characters around to reminisce about the lessons of Minnesota native, Charles M. Schulz and childhood friends Snoopy and Charlie Brown. Share a love of nature through hiking or teach the concepts of money and maths at the mall – this city has it all.
Home to the Minnesota Twins, Vikings, Wild, and Timberwolves, this city has much athletic acclaim. Within footsteps of each other there are the Target Center, Target Field, and of course the flagship offices of Target. Along the sporting arena, we caught a glimpse of a ‘miracle’. History was born and bred here and now takes place in the form of a conversation, statue, commemoration, and a ready-made Disney movie. Herb Brooks, the coach of the 1980 USA Olympic gold medal hockey team, truly believed in miracles, and then he lived one. Talk about perseverance, persistence, determination, patience, grace, teamwork, leadership, sportsmanship, community, and more – all based on the story of one man who believed a group of amateurs could make history. To those interested, this can even lead to a greater conversation of the Cold War, the Iran hostage crisis, and what the world looked like at an earlier time…all of this from a plaque!
If you get the opportunity to visit, take it. If you get the chance to visit for the ten days before Labor Day, jump at it. Not only will you get all of the benefits of Minneapolis, but also, you’ll be able to experience the Minnesota State Fair (whose fairgrounds are in St. Paul). The epic gathering place (otherwise known as The Great Minnesota Get-Together) brings thousands to Minneapolis each summer. Filled with concerts, food vendors, crafts, animals, inventions, farmers, artisans, butter princesses, and people from all walks of life, this annual event is a showstopper. Whether you spend an hour or every day here, there’s always something to learn. Chat with the farmers about their prize-winning produce, watch experienced carvers sit in a frozen tundra for hours as they carve the heads of winning princesses out of pure butter, explore the inventions and projects in the 4-H building, delight in the animals of all shapes and sizes (we even saw some piglets born moments before we arrived), taste the squeak of the famous cheese curds, and interact with people from all around the globe. Personal space, safety, patience, kindness, tolerance, curiosity, culinary arts, science, agriculture, and so much more can be learned from the fair.
I thought I’d go there once, but it turns out, in the past decade I’ve been to Minnesota countless times and enjoy it more each time. For those interested in culinary arts, head to the Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives website and check out how many spots are mentioned in the city of lakes as well as argue over the creator of the well-known stuffed burger, the Juicy Lucy. As in any major city, there’s art and culture, sport and entertainment, theater and cuisine, nature and fun - Minneapolis has it all. Throw your hat near the Mary Tyler Moore statue and feel the positivity, determination, and possibility exude from that cement block. Whether you paddle board on a lake in the June, eat fried anything at the state fair in August, or hang at an ice party in February – you’ll be treated to the magic of Cara’s special city and it will be totally worth it!
Stacey Ebert, our Educational Travels Editor, is a traveler at heart who met her Australian-born husband while on a trip in New Zealand. Stacey was an extracurricular advisor and taught history in a Long Island public high school for over fifteen years, enjoying both the formal and informal educational practices. After a one year 'round the world honeymoon, travel and its many gifts changed her perspective. She has since left the educational world to focus on writing and travel. She is energetic and enthusiastic about long term travel, finding what makes you happy and making the leap. In her spare time she is an event planner, yogi, dark chocolate lover, and spends as much time as possible with her toes in the sand. Check out her website at thegiftoftravel.wordpress.com for more of her travel musings.
All photos courtesy and copyright Stacey Ebert