A forest of thorns shall be his tomb! Borne through the skies on a fog of doom! Now go with the curse, and serve me well! ‘Round Stefan’s Castle, CAST MY SPELL!
―Sleeping Beauty’s Maleficent casting her spell to stop Prince Phillip
In 1991, I obtained credit for renewing my teaching certificate by attending an EPCOT seminar entitled “Marketing the Good News About Schools” (public schools), designed by the Walt Disney World Seminar Productions and Florida State University. I kept the fancy plastic notebook, stocked with highlighted paragraphs, emblazoned on the bottom corner with Jiminy Cricket.
I ran across the notebook while doing some cleaning recently. It seems strange to reread the notes now. I mean, who is marketing good news about public schools these days?
The seminar introductory letter says, and this is most important and what I got out of the meeting’s intent, “Amid all the thinking, creating, and planning, please remember to pursue the one element characteristic of all successful learning – having fun!” Can you believe it? They were telling us the public schools needed FUN! And cranky kids and missed fast passes aside, Disney knows fun!
We educators attending the seminar knew all along that where we worked you could never generate Disney revenue for the kind of fun they provide…that’s absurd! Many of us toiled in schools where they had trouble keeping the air conditioning on in the summer and the heat on in the winter. The well-meaning seminar leaders knew that too, but they challenged us to find as much “Pixie Dust” (actual workshop terms) we could, to make public schools FUN.
How much fun do students have in public schools today? Between incessant, insidious assessment, and nonstop, nasty test prepping, FUN is squeezed completely out of the curriculum.
Kindergarten FUN? Oh please! Buzz and Woody left the room a long time ago!
Forget naptime, blocks, pretend kitchens, dress-up and make believe, finger painting, fictional fantasy storybooks (I’m assuming that includes your abridged Winnie and Alice?) In some places, children don’t even get recess for fun!
For many Mouseketeers, especially the poor ones, fun in school is illusive at best.
There isn’t much art or music fun for most either. This can easily make one wonder. Who will be the next Annette Funicello, may she RIP, or Justin Timberlake? Who will grow up with the artistic talent of Walt Disney? How many future artists will we never know because they are lost forever in the standardized testing data mines?
Preschool? Surely one can find FUN there? Sorry. RIGOR has replaced FUN!
Can you imagine if Disney advertised their parks as “Come see Mickey and Friends, the Greatest Place for Rigor on Earth?” Now how many $100 tickets per person do you think they would sell based on that theme?
Let’s break down a few more of the interesting things I learned in the seminar, by comparing the statements of the master of fun himself—Walt Disney—to public schools. Walt Disney was a creative genius at making fun. His words are highlighted.
WD: QUALITY-Anything with the Disney name to it is something we feel responsible for.
How do teachers acquire responsibility for a curriculum and standards that are not their own? They didn’t write the Common Core State Standards. Shouldn’t the venture philanthropists, who create the standards in the first place, be held responsible when the students don’t do well?
WD: VALUE-When they come here, they’re coming because of an integrity that we’ve established over the years. And they drive hundreds of miles. I feel a responsibility to the public.
I am thinking about the 2012 Chicago teachers strike, or, when, in 2013, Garfield High School teachers said “no” to harmful state tests. When teachers stand up for the right principles, it is integrity at its finest. But even when teachers can’t do this, they feel and bear the brunt of responsibility.
WD: LEARNING-We have long held that the normal gap between what is generally regarded as ‘entertainment’ and what is defined as ‘educational’ represents an old and untenable viewpoint…Laughter is no enemy to learning.
Learning and entertainment can be one and the same thing. Learning is best when it is fun! How much laughter do you hear in public schools today?
WD: Curiosity-When I see things I don’t like, I start thinking, ‘Why do they have to be like this and how can I improve them?
How can teachers be curious and improve a situation when they have no control—when others far removed from the classroom, and often not educators, run the show?
WD: Having Fun-Most of my life I have done what I wanted to do. I have had fun on the job. I have never been able to confine that fun to office hours.
I have worked in teaching situations where I couldn’t wait to get to work the next day. While it wasn’t always what I would call fun, it was both challenging and exciting.
It is a well-known business concept that if work is enjoyable, and employees are happy, your business will thrive. I’m thinking Google here.
How many teachers can’t wait to get to work each day? Who ever thinks of lifting their morale, or trying to help them with their difficult jobs? The reality is, many teachers have left their profession due to the harmful reforms that have been foisted upon them.
WD: Family Entertainment-The important thing is the family. That’s the backbone of our whole business, catering to families-that’s what we hope to do.
How seriously do public schools cater to needs of families (stakeholders)?
Do parents have a voice when it comes to the changes made in their schools? Are their needs and concerns addressed? Are you thinking what I’m thinking?
Will keeping children in school for longer days or year round affect the quality of family life?
Do parents get to spend quality time with their children when their students bring home so much tedious homework?
When parents have problems with their children, is the school the first place they will turn to for help?
WD: The Guest Concept-You don’t build it for yourself. You know what the people want and you build it for them.
A public school I heard about a while back canceled a traditional end-of-the-year picnic for 8th graders because of so much test prep and busyness. A disappointed parent stated this is why parents, who can afford it, take their students out of public schools.
How many parents are homeschooling today because their public schools didn’t make them feel welcome?
WD: Teamwork-I don’t pose as an authority on anything at all. I follow the opinions of the ordinary people I meet, and I take pride in the close-knit teamwork with my organization.
How much close-knit teamwork do you see with public schools today? Are parents and teachers working closely with their school board and school leaders? Or are they intentionally put on hold.
WD: Conservation-I urge all citizens to join the effort to save America’s natural beauty…it’s our America-do something to preserve its beauty, strength and natural wealth.
Conservation is one serious issue facing Americans today. There is a long list of others. Here are a few:
- World Peace
- Cancer & Illnesses
- Rogue Asteroids
How prepared are our children going to be to address these problems?
WD: Patriotism-Actually, if you could see close in my eyes, the American flag is waving in both of them. I get red, white, and blue at times.
America’s public schools are one of the last truly democratic institutions in the world! They open their doors to everyone. And all should have a voice through their local school boards on how they are run. Public schools belong to all of us!
Would anyone ever be so harshly critical of the military like they are America’s own public schools?
So these are a few of the Disney seminar highlights. I know people like to criticize Disney, but you cannot argue that they are good at selling fun.
It is what most of us search for and it is a very powerful motivator when it is matched with learning. How much fun do children see in their schools today when all they do is take standardized tests?
I don’t know about you, but I would much rather have Belle as my teacher than Maleficent. You know what I’m saying.
Walt Disney World Education Programs: Learning Opportunities For Education Professionals & Students and Florida State University.