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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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Comments

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So way back in the early 90s when I was in high school, we went to this festival. It's called Magic Music Days or something like that and the band kids participate in a parade, a competition and a performance at the Citrus Bowl. No school is missed because it's the holiday break, and I can assure you that at least at my high school, no public funds were spent. We raised every penny ourselves. So I fail to any logic in the school's argument. A safety issue? Please. An education issue? It's winter vacation - do you think all the other non-band students are practicing their calculus? At least the performance part is an enriching activity. Why deny them one day at Disney? It's pathetic.

Posted by: Anon | August 20, 2008 9:25 AM

My middle school would send all the students who got over a 3.0 GPA to King's Island for a saturday. It was a great incentive to get a good GPA, as I know many students who worked hard to get their scores up. The biggest mistake they made was deciding to us school buses to make the 4 hour trip one year. The drivers didn't get gas during the day, and stopped at a small station on the return trip where only 1 bus could fill up at a time. The 4 hour trip took 6, with parents waiting and wondering what had happened (this was before cell phones). The sad thing is the school actually ended up paying more for the school buses, as they had to pay all the drivers overtime to work on a saturday (they had failed to realize this before the trip).

Posted by: Mark | August 20, 2008 9:49 AM

Once again the PC Police have lost their minds. These kids are on winter break. I wonder how many students from Chesapeake will happen to be at Disney World during this competition, see their classmates perform, then go on the rides themselves because they are NOT part of the band?

Besides, if the NoVA people didn't have their heads up their collective backsides, Disney would have their park opened in NoVA by now, the cost for the trip would be greatly reduced, and the money would be spent in-state.

As far as the Kings Dominion law is concerned, we can fight back against the Chesapeake idiots by not going there for a summer (or longer).

Posted by: DC Voter | August 20, 2008 10:04 AM

My kids go to Catholic school in Fairfax. They start school before Labor day and the 8th grade gets to go to an amusement park at teh end of the school year. Yeah Catholic School!

Posted by: VA guy | August 20, 2008 10:52 AM

No, no, no, no, no. Where the heck is "Hampton Bays"? The area is known as "Hampton Roads" or "Tidewater," not "Hampton Bays." And Chespeake is a city in its own right, not a suburb.

That sentence should read: "the kids in the band at Great Bridge High School in Chesapeake, Virginia..."

Do your fact checking next time.

Posted by: Moose | August 20, 2008 11:03 AM

Yesterday my wife told me that I was way too angry at comments that my son's teachers and school have made in preparation for the fall school year. These teachers are right and truly a misery, they are making our lives miserable, and for what? Every year we are told, send your child with a disposable camera and every year the camera comes back because the teacher "didn't fit that project into the schedule." My kids have yet to have a really successful teacher who accomplished everything they said they would, but if we miss something on the back to school list they have the checklist right there to send home the second day listing what we still need to bring in.

This comes back to my college roommates girlfriend. She called HERSELF "wake and bake" because she smoked pot every single day I knew her and then after 5 years she graduates with an Ed degree, stumbles through an online masters degree and when I ran into her at a street festival last year she was very very high, enrolled in an "online PhD program" whatever that could be, and an employee of the Arlington County school system teaching your kids. Once she gets that PhD she's going to be a very very high principal passing out in the middle of PTA meetings.

We as parents are getting pushed around by ignorant teachers with phony degrees every single day. I'm literally pulling my hair out over this.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 20, 2008 12:06 PM

I know that my school district didn't spend any money sending kids on the yearly band trips - the kids and band boosters worked their tails off during the year to raise the money for the trips...as well as paying for our own uniforms, some of the instruments (things like tubas that no one was going to buy on their own), and equipment trucks. We also contributed thousands for lighting on the football field so that we could have Friday night games (which meant that we could have our saturdays free to go to marching band competitions).

It definitely was harder for the poorest kids to participate, but there was a slush fund built into the band boosters’ system to help out those who couldn't pay for everything themselves. The folks in my school district certainly weren't rich (rural, somewhat economically depressed former coal mining town), so if we could do it, there aren't too many jurisdictions in the DC suburbs who also couldn't raise the money for their kids to go on a band trip without hitting up the taxpayers.

I guess that you could make an argument that all of that time and energy could have been spent on other activities, such as raising school wide reading scores....but you could also make a pretty good argument that the musical training we got from band (we put hours into it beyond the regular class-room time) was wiring enough extra synopses in our brains to significantly improve our test scores in the academic areas that schools are getting rated on.

We could have still had a band without having band trips, but I really don't see how the trips were hurting anything, and they were a fun reward for all of the extra work that we put into the activity.....and honestly, for myself and a lot of the kids I went to school with, this was one of our few opportunities to travel and see other parts of the country.

Posted by: former band geek | August 20, 2008 12:11 PM

Really? Literally? So you're actually sitting there pulling clumps of hair out of your head over this? If so, then why would anyone take your claims seriously in light of your psychological problems?

I literally find people annoying that misuse the word literally for effect.

Posted by: liter-ati | August 20, 2008 12:20 PM

"I literally find people annoying that misuse the word literally for effect."

And I find people like you who constantly point out things like this to be incredibly obnoxious.

Posted by: Arlington, VA | August 20, 2008 12:28 PM

That's a shame, I was so looking forward to being your friend.

Posted by: liter-ati | August 20, 2008 12:35 PM

I literally find people annoying that misuse the word literally for effect.
-----

It's an effective turn of phrase and your complaint is literally wacko. Let me guess, your high school internship is slow this week because your boss is on vacation. Well, high school starts up again in a week, so get ready.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 20, 2008 12:45 PM

Do these people know what happens when high school kids are cooped up in a hotel for any period of time? I remember, and while what went on was arguably more fun than any amusement park, it was probably not anything the school board would approve. Start with sex,drugs and rock'n'roll and go on from there.

Posted by: Lex Pk | August 20, 2008 12:49 PM

May I have the clumps of hair when you're done? The hair club for men is not quite doing the job for me.

Posted by: Mike | August 20, 2008 2:31 PM

Statistically speaking the kids are in more danger on the bus than on the rides. I also second the comment about cooping them up in the hotel and as a guest wish they'd get the h*ll out and quit running up and down the halls. I'm all for them having sex and drugs in their rooms. Just so they're not screamers or anything.

Posted by: Stick | August 20, 2008 2:49 PM

Why would they need to send kids to Florida for a field trip, anyway? Aren't there plenty of fields in the Washington area?
I know that when I was growing up in Connecticut, the farthest that any class field trips went was New York City; that was a trip to an opera for a music class. Strangely, we never stopped in Central Park, which is about the only place in Manhattan where we could have seen a field.

Posted by: Charlie Gies | August 20, 2008 4:11 PM

In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made school boards.

- Mark Twain -

Posted by: SoMD | August 22, 2008 9:29 AM

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