I think it’s downright sickening that any school would consider a trip to a retail store as a legitimate field trip. Consumer advertising has no place in education. The fact that the U.S. public education system is in such a sorry state that this is even possible doesn’t mean Apple should encourage it. It’s appalling.
I don't presume to know what the American experience of mixing commercial organisations and education is like, but I can offer some experience from a British perspective.
The involvement of business and education has become well-established in the UK over the last decade. The supermarket Tesco has had a long running "Computers for Schools" program in which checkout tokens could be collected by parents in exchange for various electronic knick-nacks. The school where I teach has acquired such items as label printers, lowercase keyboards and miniature mice from this system, but nothing particularly valuable.
Nestlé have, through their cereal brands, been running a "Books for Schools" program for a while as well, the idea being much the same as the Tesco arrangements. The supermarket chain Morrison's is cashing in on the current environmental fashions to run a "Let's Grow" program giving schools gardening equipment. Morrisons have gone a step further than Tesco or Nestlé and are providing schools with vinyl banners to hang on the gates proclaiming their participation in Let's Grow.
So what happens at an Apple Store Field Trip? We sent one of our classes to the Apple Store last week, and it was generally considered a good trip. There were six machines in the store set aside for the trip and the focus was podcasting. The kids were taken through a start-to-finish recording of their own 'podcast' in GarageBand including using Photo Booth to add chapter artwork and burning the CD in iTunes.
Typically with Apple, the whole thing was well-produced. We were sent pre-printed invitations with the school information and the date and time of the visit. I think we were supposed to send these home to parents but unfortunately these were DHL'ed from Cupertino and arrived on the day of the trip! At the end of the trip each child took home a CD of their finished podcast and a t-shirt with the Field Trip design (the ones you see the kids wearing on the Field Trip page).
The teacher in charge considered that the lesson had been very well designed from an educational perspective and was very appropriate for the age and stage the children were at. I might add that this is in stark contrast to many trips we take where the educational content is poorly designed and presented.
Pernicious? I disagree.
I look at the Apple Store program from several points of view:
Firstly, we're desperate for places to go. In our school the younger children do a trip every Tuesday and, frankly, we start to run out of places to go. I would completely share John's concern if a school were to spend one of possibly only two or three trips a year on a run to the Apple Store.
Is Apple's program any more pernicious than these Tesco and Nestlé programs that we already participate in? I suspect it will have a lot less impact than the Tesco/Nestlé/Morrisons promotions, which run throughout the school year.
A large proportion of the advertised-as-educational trips we go on are honestly terrible (this includes many publicly-funded museums with dedicated educational staff). A total waste of time and money. Apple, at least, have made a decent attempt at doing a good job of the trip.
In the end, is it any different from visiting any privately-held facility in school time? We take trips to the zoo, to the concert halls, farm parks and outdoor activity centres. All of these organisations provide discounted entry to schools, which could be seen as a loss-leader promotion for their respective families to come back again. Of course the Field Trips have a benefit to Apple - Apple isn't a charity - but it provided us with a high quality and low cost afternoon trip that the children thoroughly enjoyed and learned from. I'm OK with that.
[Update: I put this in a comment, but I thought I should pull it up to the main post. Someone asked where the educational aspects were. With reference to the 'first stage' of the Draft Outcomes for Technologies in the new Curriculum for Excellence that's coming in here in Scotland:
TCH 110F: "I use different technologies to interact and share experiences, ideas and information with others, and am developing my knowledge and use of safe and acceptable conduct."]
TCH 111G / TCH 212G: "I can create, capture and manipulate sounds, text and images to communicate experiences, ideas and information in creative and engaging ways."
TCH 115K / TCH 216K: "I explore and experiment with the features and functions of computer technology and I can use what I learn to support and enhance my learning in different contexts."