School Disney Trip: Sorry, You Can't Go On Any Rides
We're going to Disney! But we're not going on any rides. No, sir, no rides, no games, no fun at all. This is an educational trip, you see, so absolutely no enjoyment will be permitted.
For nearly two decades, the kids in the band at Great Bridge High School in the Hampton Roads suburb of Chesapeake have traveled to Florida every four years to appear in winter holiday parades at Disney World and as part of the Citrus Bowl festivities. But this year, the Chesapeake school system decided it is no longer educationally appropriate for the high school kids to take part in an officially sanctioned trip if that trip includes participation in the, um, cultural offerings of central Florida--that is, going on Disney's rides.
So the ruling came down: Sure, go on the trip, take part in the parade, but otherwise, stick close to the hotel--no Disney stuff. If the school wants to send kids on the field trip, that's fine, schools spokesman Tom Cupitt told The Virginian-Pilot's Alicia Wittmeyer. "They can do it, as long as once they're done with the performance, they get back on the bus and go to the hotel." (This is an awfully odd stance for a state that sports a King's Dominion law, an actual, real-life law that prohibits Virginia school systems from reopening until after Labor Day so as to protect the business of that big amusement park near Richmond.)
The Field Trip Wars continue apace: This time, the school system says the problem is that kids can get injured on rides and we surely wouldn't want that for our precious little ones, would we? Disney World: So unspeakably dangerous that high school kids cannot set foot on the premises. (In fact, the Chesapeake system recently banned field trips to any amusement parks and water parks, based largely on lawyer-driven hysteria about safety.)
There is a real and serious issue hidden deep underneath this latest bit of kneejerk foolishness on the part of school administrators. School trips should serve an educational purpose. School trips should be a fun, bonding experience. The inability of many schools to find a reasonable middle ground between these two truths has created more annoying and embarrassing situations than almost any debate over, say, school curriculum.
These boneheaded compromises satisfy no one. Hard-core education advocates want school time to be devoted to academics and scoff at the idea that a trip to Disney could be a justifiable use of school money. Many parents and students find it astonishing bordering on insane that schools would stand in the way of volunteers raising money and working like dogs to give kids a chance to take an adult-monitored trip that could bring students together in a powerful way, while also exposing them to valuable experiences they might otherwise never have.
I last got into this minefield in the case of Takoma Park Middle School, which for many years sponsored a student trip to Disney--but only for the high-performing kids in the school's magnet program, not for the kids in the regular classes. In later incarnations, the pool of kids eligible for the trip was broadened, but the Disney trip eventually died, victim of a sticky web of resentments and equity questions that delved uncomfortably into matters of class and race.
Here's the nub of these trip battles: In an era of sharply limited resources and in a political environment in which academics are too often reduced to a grim, narrow focus on funneling learning toward state-mandated standardized tests, a simple band trip to play in a parade becomes a platform on which to debate the nature of education, the role of the public school, the divide between haves and have-nots, the dumbing down of American adolescence, the emptiness of our popular culture and whatever other Big Issues you'd like to toss in there.
It's a trip to Disney World. You either go to Disney and do the Disney thing, or you don't. I personally don't see any justification for spending public dollars on sending kids to an amusement park, nor do I see any reason for schools to be in the business of arranging pleasure trips. There are so many splendid trips high schools could sponsor for kids that would truly expand their horizons and bring alive their classroom lessons that it's hard to see how Disney even enters the discussion. In the case of a band, there are great competitions and parades all over the country that could be combined with visits to essential historical sites or artistic experiences. But to plead that this is a safety issue is absurd, and to try to split the difference by sending kids to Disney and requiring them to be prisoners in their hotel rooms rather than be exposed to the life-altering torment of the "It's A Small World" ride is just batty.
By Marc Fisher |
August 20, 2008; 8:43 AM ET
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