I am an educational engineer.
Okay, maybe not.
Anyway, I have decided to throw my hat into this particular ring of thought, one of which I can barely find any mention of on the interwebs. I had been trying to figure out a good, concise descriptor of what it was I was trying to do with my writings. Sure I may write about Disney, gaming, or woes that I feel haunt the corporate world and shall never be defeated like some wretched Gorgons (if there is anything a bad job or career can do, it is turn one to stone). Those are all things that I will continue to bring up in the future when I see fit, but I have found myself knee deep in what could be a (sort of) new frontier.
Don’t get me wrong, I did find a mention of “educational engineering” as far back as 1961, applied very much the same way as I am going to be applying it. The first sentence in Wikipedia’s article on the whole of Engineering is a fairly apt description of the field — “Engineering is the discipline, art, skill and profession of acquiring and applying scientific, mathematical, economic, social, and practical knowledge, in order to design and build structures, machines, devices, systems, materials and processes that safely realize improvements to the lives of people.”
Hmm…wait, I’m reading it over again. Oh! Guess what I want to do!
If you answer is “that” then congratulations because you are (at least somewhat) literate and attentive. Obviously I am not going to be constructing or designing bridges, cars, buildings (well, that’s a whole other topic that I discussed in some minor detail months ago), or anything that one might qualify as ‘tangible’ or ‘concrete’. I want to look into the expanse, that ‘blue sky’ if you will, that is just waiting to be filled with the next step of evolution to the education process. Things like Khan Academy are just the beginning to what could be an entirely new way for children to experience the joys of learning and not just simply earning a passing grade but achieving mastery of subjects that are the cornerstones for much greater foundations.
Granted, I will be the first to admit that a lot of that sounds like little more than an empty mission statement one might find etched into a plaque out front of just about any institution of learning, but fear not – for there is engineering to be done (If I owned a sword I would probably be wielding it triumphantly at this moment as a chorus of horns bathed me in harmonious melodies)! I must be clear that I am not suggesting we as a society simply throw out decades of systems, processes, workflows, and experimentation just because I have a personal vendetta with the way a majority of people exist as educated entities. However, if you were to ask the people you knew if they absolutely, positively got the best education they possibly could (I’m speaking mostly in terms of public schooling here) they would probably laugh and then spend hours trapped inside a Bruce Springsteen song waxing poetic about the glory days of their youth, which (embellished or not) are probably more about the crazy stuff they did against their parent’s wishes than anything to do with the education that is apparently so incredibly important almost no one would bat an eye at more tax money being spent there (instead of anywhere else).
Society would appear to have a love/hate relationship with education as a childhood rite of passage. We want it to be the best. We want our children to get the best education available and are almost horrified to see reports attacking just how awful the system really is. The main answer seems to be “more funding” more than actually taking a deeper look at the issues and rebuilding the machine to get a better result. We see education as a black box – we know what we are putting into the box [uneducated children] and we know what we want to pull out of the box [educated children/teens/etc] but how exactly the black box goes about morphing one into the other is of very little concern so long as it actually gets done and we can see the change when it’s all over. That is not, nor will it ever be, the correct answer.
A school can not be a black box. It can be a machine, yes, though I have gone on record as thoroughly against the general idea of it functioning more like an assembly line than anything else. Young children are not gewgaws or widgets with no value except to be black boxed into a product that can hopefully sell itself as worthy of adulthood and all of it’s various responsibilities. Adults expect school to be a certain thing, and so long as it falls within whatever definition we give it and as long as our children are showing off positive scores every few weeks, things are a-ok in Education Land. We know what our childhood was like, and we have – whether consciously or subconsciously – created the idea in our mind that what we went through was actually meaningful and the correct way for everyone to experience the system. On my test, that would barely deserve a zero, let alone an actual grade. Once again, ask yourself and those you know if they wished their education had been different, and force them to be honest, and you will probably be treated to horror stories of how awful they did at some test, some subject, or some entire school year that still had them walking across the stage on graduation day with the same peers they started finger-painting with at the age of four or five. It’s scary, and needs desperate improvement.
So, there… a thousand or so words to point out that I am, or hope to some day be, what could be described as an educational engineer. The system is hideously broken, and so help me I want to see real change on every possible level. If it can be re-engineered, it probably should be looked into as a place for improvement. Don’t take my word for it, just think back to your own memories of sitting in a classroom and learning. Strip away the glory and do your best to remember the good and the bad brought on by those twelve or so years of a quest for knowledge that you may not have wanted, needed, or even been aware you were looking for in the first place.
I am posting this almost solely as a follow-up from my previous post that will focus on one specifically mentioned point – that passing a class does not mean that the student has learned the material. There are many factors at fault here, and hopefully I will be able to cover them all without becoming preachy or political (No Child Left Behind is covered way better by people way smarter than me).
First, the standard educational system in the United States asks students to meet or exceed a series of requirements in order to have “passed” a section of curriculum, be that a class, subject, school year, etc. Almost anyone that has been in this system can tell tales of making it through tests, research papers, or even oral presentations by simply memorizing information, regurgitating it, and promptly forgetting it. This is a tangential fault of the system – that some subjects are just taught poorly or perhaps should not be taught at all due to their actual use in reality. I know that I spent around eight hours a day and nine months of every year for sixteen years in classrooms and the only things that have stuck with me are bits of information that are useful (basic maths, reading comprehension, and a general shallow swath of factoids that might help me on a game show). The rest is all but entirely forgotten. However, when it came to subjects that I actually cared about, either because I thought they might be useful for a future career or because they were intriguing from a curiosity standpoint, I was much more adept at not only remembering that information but being able to apply it in ways that were much more indicative of my understanding than filling in bubbles on a multiple-choice test or spouting out lines from a textbook in a five paragraph essay.
A second fault of the system is that it behaves on the assumption that students that are equal in age are equal in ability. This is why there is even such a thing as “being held back’ or ‘skipping grades’ and have it be seen in such a negative or positive light, respectively. Of course, no child wants to repeat a grade of study and live with the idea that all of their friends are moving on. That kind of experience can have a definite psychological impact on a young child that could scar them so detrimentally that no system will save them. On the other side, the reason there is such a thing as “gifted schools” is because there are children that exist that obviously do excel above their age range and they should be given the opportunities to develop at a pace that suits them. It is not exactly a rare occurrence for teachers and parents to note students frustration not due to lack of understanding but due to an overabundance of understanding to the point of confusion as to why they are forced to spend weeks on a subject they mastered in just a few days. The bell curves are there to be adhered to, and separating the best from the rest from the worst is usually looked down upon rather than accepted as a rational plan of action to give students the best chance to succeed. The connotations that exist with the word “remedial” are incredibly far reaching, as anyone that remembers those classes and those students (either seeing them or being them) can attest. I know personally that I would have rather never went to school at all than to be told that I was such a helpless case that I was being relegated to “remedial studies”. Now, as an adult, I understand the value of it and see it as a necessary plan of action in the current system, but can not think of any way to discourage the negativity associated with it. It is a double-edged sword scenario as removing the groups would only cause problems to those in the center of the bell curve, who would suddenly feel much the same way as those on the high end traditionally do normally.
It is tough to admit that not every single person learns at the same rate (be it by pace or by volume) yet society is such that I am sure I will never see a change away from age used as a metric for grouping students together. Trying to break away from that model would cause unimaginable stress, especially to those that are used to the current way of “start at 5 or so and end at 17 or so, then see what happens next”. However, education is not a one-sided affair, and it would be quite against my usual stance on the subject to not put some fault into the educators (and the system) themselves.
Yes, not all students learn at the same rate. They also do not learn equally across all methods. I know I have stated it before, but what may work for one student as a learning tool could be a complete disaster for another. Sadly, the solution to this can not be to just use every. single. method. not just because of the time and resources involved but that there will always be some percentage of the class stuck treading water as their peers either catch up to them or leave them behind as they wait for the one method that might help them better understand long division, prepositional phrases, or who Albert Einstein is and why they should care about all three of those things.
I have not done enough research into all of the various methods employed by teachers around the world and how their positives could be enhanced or negatives be erased by reform, but for now just remember that if you find yourself in a situation where you think you want to actually learn the information being presented – work with the educator and not against them. Understand that there might be other students around you that do not have the same desires or interests as yourself and will not take to memorizing the atomic weights of the elements as quickly as you did. Focus on actual learning, not just passing, and if you feel that you are being forced to digest pointless information please do speak up to those in charge. It could be a simple misunderstanding or it could be that what some consider to be the most precious moments of childhood (the gift of an education) is being wasted on learning that the state sport of Maryland is jousting. Outside of my residence here (and even that is a horrible qualification) I should not be aware of that information. I was never even tested on it…
We have all seen those students in our classes. Some of us may have even been those students. You know the ones I am talking about – the back-of-the-class, clock-watching kids that care more about the bell ringing than anything else around them. At the end of the day (or, well, senior year) you may be standing alongside those same students on a stage, mortarboard-toss just moments away, but while they are not even sniffing at the idea of college life you are sweating the years you have ahead. You know that what might have gotten you an ‘A’ may only grab you a ‘C’ in University Land. This is what your entire childhood has been building up to, whether it was ever truly apparent to you or not. You worked hard, studied, gave it your all, and……you are nowhere close to finished. The trials and tribulations have only just begun.
School (or the educational system, for that matter) is not a prison. Regardless of what tons of popular culture memes, references, t-shirt slogans, and movie plot lines might have you believe. Shawshank High is but a myth that deserves to be buried among the rubble behind a Racquel Welch poster and never exhumed. I will say, however, that “good behavior” is about a much a high mark on the ex-convict as it is on the student who walked after twelve years instead of sticking it out for the full life sentence. Those extra few years – be it two, four, six, whatever - full of riots and lunchroom shankings is exactly what it takes to strip away the us vs. them mentality that is instilled with children throughout their elementary and secondary educations. What it leaves behind is that realization that escape only really matters when you actually deserve it, not just when it is convenient to take a dive into a laundry cart because the ECON 220 Gang wants to spend some ‘quality time’ with you out in the yard.
The school/prison metaphor works because it is something that does trap you, sometimes against your will, and forces you to do things that you otherwise would never wish to experience. This, as I have stated previously, is one of the problems with the current system. “Time served” is not reason enough for me to care about someone’s knowledge base, and it is definitely not a reason for any good employer to care either. So when we, as the prisoners, decide that all we are looking for in our school experience is to rack up points for good behavior and time served, shortcuts become the order of the day.
Students will work harder on making things easier on themselves than they will on just doing the work in the first place. When an educator makes this easier, all the better for the prisoner looking for relaxation instead of a beige lunch tray to the back of the head. If standards were changed tomorrow to calculate effort rather than attendance, a large chunk of the college educated population would suddenly find themselves drastically short-changed on credits (myself unabashedly included). “The Easy Classes” exist for a reason, and not just for nationally recognized college sports programs.
Giving maximum effort in advanced learning is one of the more difficult things a young adult is asked to do, especially when one is also being persuaded by outside influences such as alcohol and potentially a lower parental surveillance than they have ever had before. That is a lot to ask of someone when their entire future could hang on the balance of decisions made before they even have a grasp of what stars are actually revolving around them and locking into place until the moment they retire (if they do at all). I have done no research on this fact, but I would not find it out of the ordinary if it was stated that most college-aged students have changed focuses of study more than twice since their first day as a freshman.
This leads to another way in which prison is like school (again, elementary/secondary), neither does that great of a job at preparing people for what lies beyond “the escape”, even if they are touted as being specifically for that purpose. Of course, this is not a 100% truth. The bell curve is not a lie and there are surely people who have left both ready to take on whatever is thrown at them and be spectacular and worthwhile citizens of the planet. I’ve never said either system is completely broken, they just work well together as a reference.
When I look back on my days in the system, I firstly note that while ‘time served’ and ‘good behavior’ were not my goals, neither was
rehabilitating myself into someone meant to not only go to college, but go to college well. There’s a fine art to that – one that can not be taught through shortcuts or simply crawled away from through an old storm sewer in the hopes that freedom is what they always dreamed of but is seldom anything but.
Earlier this week, it was announced that the Walt Disney Company will be partnering with James Cameron to bring Avatar to the various Disney theme parks, starting with the Animal Kingdom. At first, I was horrified. While almost any Disney park fan worth their salt instantly calls to mind the original plans for the Beastly Kingdom section of Animal Kingdom that was scrapped in development, I instead thought of Harry Potter, and how it seemed like Disney was going out of there way to latch onto a profitable franchise and use it to their advantage.
While there may be a small bit of truth to the idea of oneupsmanship as it pertains to licensing films for attractions, at least in the case of Avatar there is much more coming (two films scheduled to be released in 2015 and 2016, with the latter date being when the attractions are currently slated to be up and running), while Potter is done in terms of films but has things like Pottermore around to at least keep it alive and growing in popular culture. It is sometimes difficult to remember that many of Disney’s most famous stories are pulled from other sources – be it fairy tales, children’s books, or even 1960′s anime (jury’s still out on the last one). Also, a few of Disney’s most famous attractions come from franchises they don’t own (Star Wars and Indiana Jones) so this is not without precedent in their theme park design history.
For now, there are no concrete plans. Construction isn’t planned for another two years, and everything is currently nothing but blue sky (that’s a tie-in to my previous post, probably), but there are actually things that could work in it’s favor…
1. James Cameron is insane. Hear me out, okay? Cameron is a man who has worked on many projects that have taken the limits of creativity, engineering, and special effects and ripped them to shreds. Between Avatar, Titanic, Terminator, and Aliens there is just a whole lot of magnificence that succeeds in pulling you into some other world and keeping you there, enveloping the viewer in a different time and place. That is the exact kind of thing that Disney can be good at and needs to be good at. The idea that I can walk from the hustle and bustle of the Oasis and journey deep into the planet of Pandora and actually feel like I’m on another plane of existence is an experience that sounds too good to be true, but it just might be possible in a few short years.
2. Connections. A big part of the Animal Kingdom’s message is all about conversation of the environment, a story element that was also smeared all over Avatar and is just one connection the two share that can be utilized to at least make sense of placing an Avatar “land” in the Animal Kingdom instead of, say, the Hollywood Studios. There is also the idea that one can go to Animal Kingdom and see animals in natural habitats and even close enough to almost be touched. Now, while i suspect one will not see any Mountain Banshee’s flying overhead around that section of the park, the technology exists for at least the flora (as faux as it will be) to really draw you into this alien world. I mean, seriously, one word – bioluminescence. Night on Pandora might just rival the Osborne Family Christmas Lights as the brightest and most awe-inspiring landscape available at a Disney theme park (the finale to Illuminations would be my third place vote).
3. Technology. I suspect that by the time we get closer to the beginning of construction that some new technology will exist that both crazy James Cameron and profit-hungry Disney will pounce on to create something that is never-before seen in the world of amusement and theme park attractions. Avatar is not something that would benefit by any current off-the-shelf ride model (stupid flying carpets) and by all rights should have something new and exciting to draw people in. It is not enough that the film was immensely popular and has an incredibly large fan base that will no doubt pilgrimage to central Florida in five years and beyond – it needs to live up to the bar already set by the film and be unlike anything anyone has seen before. I can not even been to speculate what exactly this technology could be, but I am sure there are Imagineers sleeplessly staring at their ceilings or fussing about with Erector sets trying to figure out what that is.
Disney, this isn’t about if you are going to make this amazing and brilliant environment that defies all expectations. This is about just how much you will be able to take those growing expectations and smash them to tiny pieces under an entire alien planet that you are inviting us all to experience. I hate to be one to bring this to a close on such a down note, but anything short of perfection is going to be a disappointment. I guess if all else fails, we can be sure to be on the lookout for Dances With Wolves Land in 2018. For now, I will try to be optimistic, if even cautiously so.
It’s my most often used description of myself by myself – I’m total blue sky. As it currently stands, I’m beginning to hate myself for it. I am experiencing almost nothing kinetic in my desire to create, or build, or usher in change on any level outside of those relegated to hygiene. I am not going to sit here and spout of a parade of pity that defines me as depressed or mentally unstable, however the latter might still somewhat apply.
While I may not be the proper medical definition one might assume when they hear the phrase “mentally unstable”, I do feel like some kind of imbalance is existing and has existed for quite a while between my ears. It may not be chemical, or even all that physical. It could be some sort of bizarre emotional or even physiological malfunction that has decided to plague me. Yes, I say physiological only because I feel as though I am actually having trouble living. Again, I do not mean to diagnose myself with some sort of physical or mental malady of perfect scientific description, but when looking out into the rest of the world feels like a chore, there is probably something going wrong that I need to be more aware of.
Specifically, I must narrow down what exactly I mean when I say that it feels like a chore. Being blue sky, black box, or otherwise (some might try and use the term ‘knowledge worker’, but I feel as though I am probably under-qualified to have such a nameplate attached to me) leaves me with what is really a desire to see differences in the world, in as many different ways as possible. I might wish to see a building painted a different way, or a school campus laid out to be more functional, or I might want to see politics as we know them jettisoned into the sun and started fresh from scratch, because while I do not have any sort of hardcore political views I find myself disgusted by the very discussion of them. Granted, there is a big difference between a coat of paint and a political revolution, except for that simple idea of change.
I am not trying to pedestal myself and megaphone that I’m the only one who has ever thought to do things differently or to make a call to action for change, and I am most definitely not one to go on crusades to have all of society wadded into a ball and tossed out with the trash, regardless of whatever it is that may be wrong with it. I must learn to live with the idea that whether I like it or not some set of circumstances has put me where I am, has put you where you are, and has put everyone where they happen to be at any given moment of their lives. I don’t have a special place I can go to or a machine I can turn on to give me any second chances. All I have is my mind, constantly analyzing as much as it possibly can, and sadly doing little else. There is a notion amongst the creative community that one of the biggest problems with having a vast imagination is that it is incredibly easy to visualize all the ways in which potential projects can go horribly wrong, and not even begin them as a result. Even if the chances of failure are relatively small, or rely on various situations to take place which might never take place, the creative mind will excuse itself from continuing down the path in front of them and return to the hilltop, flat on its back and gazing above to that forever-stretching blue sky.
Getting me off my back and down a path is proving monumentally difficult. This is most likely because when I do decide to stand up and look around the hill is such a deluge of paths that I quickly get lost trying to figure out which one leads to happiness – if any (there goes that creative failure module again). So I return to the sky, hoping while my attention is diverted that the paths disappear and leave me with way few options. I’ve tried, numerous times, to sort out those paths, but I inevitably find paths that branch from paths, some I never knew even existed until I walked one step down a path only to suddenly be surrounded by living trees, giant birds, and a rusty Tin Man that I definitely was not seeing from my safe hilltop vista.
I don’t, as of yet, have any sort of solution for this. My mind is a Gordian Knot, and even the greatest of swords are being destroyed by the mere suggestion of cutting through my brain and ruling with enough of an iron fist that I find concentrating on what makes me happy (whatever that is) an actual rewarding experience that can forever change not only my life but possibly the world (a worthy goal if there ever was one). So far, there is no iron fist in sight. No fist, no sword, no path. Only blue sky.
When I think of a theme park, especially in comparison to an amusement park, I really tend to focus on the idea of immersion into a fantasy world, or at least a world that is unlike the real life I just came from. I want to not have to think about the real world for a week and instead be completely enveloped in a world that was seemingly built for sensory overload. I want that overload, and I don’t want it to stop until I have to check out from a hotel and disappear back into my normal existence.
The problem with that is that it is not entirely possible. Real life can’t be permanently left behind, even on the most lavish of Disney vacations. They can try all they want to pull you into a hotel, provide you with transportation and enough activities to keep you occupied for a year and it is still not enough to stave off the real world creeping into your life at least a little. I have a cellphone, and a laptop, and a car, and all sorts of other things that can get me away from the Disney Way so fast it would make the Cheshire Cat’s head spin (not that he would feel it). Suffice to say, I need that sometimes. I need to take a break from the magic at least a little. Even if I was only spending a single day in one park of my choosing, I would find it difficult to go through that day without a cellphone or some other creature comfort I have grown to rely on to keep me grounded. This isn’t the 70s anymore and it is definitely not the 50s. It’s not hard to get away from the magic anymore.
However, Disney seems to have decided long ago that they really don’t care how much of the magic you experience, as long as you are happy with what bits you do get. Where-as I would enjoy becoming entirely wrapped up in the world of the Magic Kingdom or any of the other parks with maybe only my cellphone as a lifeline out, Disney has made it so much easier to picture yourself in a maze of retail rather than a place where dreams come true. Sure, every amusement park and theme park has a merchandising core associated with it, especially those that only make a fixed amount of cash off admission, but there are very few parks that specifically advertise their hollowed grounds as a place that is literally overflowing with magic and imagination. Even through my somewhat jaded eyes, it is hard for me to not look at Cinderella Castle and not hear heavenly music and angelic harmonies as a tear rolls down my cheek. Even though I am walking from turn of the century America to a 180 foot tall European castle and beyond, I can accept that break because, hey, it’s Disney World. I can accept that a few hundred feet separate me from the Swiss Family Treehouse to the Hall of Presidents. I see “Walt Disney World” as part of the reality. I look at it as though I have been shrunk down and placed into a model built for Walt Disney himself of all of his dreams for park design – a place where a family can be together and play together. While I appreciate the planning that went into sight-lines, architecture, and environmental design, I still treat the world of the Magic Kingdom as one man’s dream brought to life, and I am lucky enough to be able to see it along with him.
In that way, I have a bit of a nostalgic heart for the classics (hence my disgust with Aladdin’s Flying Carpets over Dumbo), but only when the refurbishments seem pointless and take me out of the reality I have envisioned for myself. Sorry Disney, I don’t care that the Nightmare Before Christmas crew has taken over the Haunted Mansion, or that Tarzan is really in the Treehouse instead of the Robinson Family or even that Iago and Zazu have somehow procured managerial positions at the Tiki Room. I need to feel like I am taking part in something Walt would have wanted, because that is where I think the magic in the Kingdom comes from. I can even extend this to attractions I do like, such as Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin or the revamped Pirates of the Caribbean. I don’t mind fighting against Zurg or hunting for treasure alongside Captain Jack, even if neither or these were a twinkle in Walt’s eye when he first got the idea to built a park in California sixty years ago. Actually, I kinda like the newer Tiki show, even if it is not out of this world (zah, or far enough out of this world!), but then again a great deal of happiness out of eating ice cream in front of the Castle and listening to music play, so what do I know?
I know that the last thing I want to spend entry fare on is the chance to be bombarded by commercials and advertising, especially if I am a parent. As a note to Disney, if I have a child of age range of your products, I’m already incredibly well aware of them and decided to bring my child to your lovely park in order for them to experience the things I grew up with and to create lasting family memories, even if those memories involve standing in line and getting a little annoyed at prices. I want an augmented reality, something that tells a story that I get to be a part of, not somehow placing me into the part of a consumer upon my arrival through your gates. I was a cast member once, and I know how important it is that one sticks to rigid terminology like “cast member” and “guest”. I threw on my custodial costume every day with the thought that even though my job was to sweep floors, empty trash cans, and answer guest questions like “where is the nearest bathroom” and “what time does the three o’clock parade start” that I am still a part of the show and that the people who wander through the turnstiles are our guests and are deserving of the greatest show they can get even when they are standing in line or lightening their wallets at one of the many retail opportunities that surround them.
As I stated in my previous post, if you give me a good reason to want to spend money, I probably will, but the second my brain tells me that all I am is a queue placeholder with a bank account then the magic drains away with incredible speed. There is no amount of castle-gazing that could make me forget that you took what was one man’s dream and turned it into one corporation’s tillbox. That is nothing worth leaving reality for, no matter how bad it gets out here.
It’s been awhile since I’ve wrote, so I’m not sure how much I have talked about this subject on here (probably in passing) but I am a big fan of Disney. Actually, no, I’m not. What I am a big fan of is the Disney theme parks, specifically Walt Disney World in Florida. In fact, I did my time under the mouse as part of their College Program internship. I will go slightly more in depth about that in a moment (and most likely not in the way you think) but first, a little history lesson.
My first knowledge of Walt Disney World came when I was eight or nine years old, and my family went there for vacation. I remember very little of this experience, except that when I think about it now I know that deep down it helped lead me down the rabbit hole that I would find a few years later in junior high school. I stumbled upon a Birnbaum’s Guide to Disney World at my school’s library. At least, I think it was Birnbaum’s. It might have been a Fromers. It was definitely not the superior “Unofficial Guide” by Bob Sehlinger, of which I own several editions. Either way, it opened a door of information to me that I was previously unaware of. I had no idea just how vast the place was, and this was before Animal Kingdom had opened. I jumped into the internet at around the same time, and began a quest to learn as much as I could about the epic Floridian resort. I honestly paid little attention to California, and still do, because it is some place I doubt I am ever going to see in person. Journeying to Florida, while rough, is still much easier (mainly because I am not a fan of flying). Eventually, I can see myself cementing more information about the various parks around the globe, but for now most of my brain energy focused on that subject goes to Florida.
I have been there a total of four times, counting the internship. What I will say about the college program experience, from the perspective of someone who idolizes the place, gorges on information, and feels like a child whenever they walk through the turnstiles, actually being employed there puts you in direct confrontation with other cast members whose view of the World is much more jaded and cynical. While not every work day I had was fantastic and magical, it never left my head that I was working where I was (happened to be Epcot, which I will talk about in much more detail when I get to the meat of this post…eventually). Those thoughts were the magical ones, not that I was seeing the darker side of the Mouse – the stuff that is supposed to ruin the magic and destroy the charm. I saw all of that, and I didn’t care. The second I saw Spaceship Earth, or the center Fountain, or really anything that was meant for guest consumption I was immediately reminded that I had found myself a job in Walt Disney World, and I will never forget that.
Once I had inhaled as much information as I could about the parks, I was drawn to Walt himself. I was incredibly interested in one very specific idea brought up in his life but sadly never built to his lofty expectations. Of course, I speak of my former workplace Epcot. Epcot was never supposed to be referred to in any sort of lowercase, of course instead standing for the Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow. While I am not going to rehash information that can be found all over the web, let me just say that this is probably the biggest let down I have when it comes to thinking about the resort part of the Walt Disney Company. The rest of the company lets me down in other ways, some that deal with the parks, and I will get to that shortly. However, when I see what could have been created just outside the Magic Kingdom, it breaks my heart to know it will never be there. Sure, I enjoy things like Spaceship Earth, Test Track, Journey Into Imagination, and watching people get blindingly drunk on country after country of alcohol, but the Community Of Tomorrow would have put it all to shame. Every time I look at the giant geodesic dome (that while not currently is usually my desktop background) I envision it replaced by the spires one can see when traveling through the Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland Transit Authority. Toward the end of that ride, there is a closed in model of a city. It is basically the original scale model of EPCOT’s city center. It looks like some kind of idyllic oasis of fantasy and wonder, and it very well might have been. If I had one wish, it would be to experience that place how he wanted it to be, even if just for a few fleeting moments, so as to tell society that a man known more for fantastic films of old lore and silly animation had utopia locked in his brain, and we were all too silly to understand.
Since his death, a few people have stepped into the role as the CEO of the company as a whole, and while great things have come from the company since 1966, one thing has bothered me the most about how they have done business with us, their so-called guests. When I say “The Profit Afterthought”, it could actually be more of a forethought, because the company has spent many years, in my opinion, pushing potential profit over the things that mattered when Walt was alive. From all the things I’ve read, whether it is spun by public relations or not, seems to be indicate that what Walt Disney valued the most was who he was creating for. He knew about all else that if he made something good, people would find it and it would be popular and, eventually, money would come. His quote, and I’m probably paraphrasing, “I don’t make movies to make money, I make money to make movies” is incredibly telling in how he ran his business.
Telling is also what California Adventure did in Disneyland when it opened as what most described as “a couple rides and a lot of shopping space”, a statement that also holds a little ring of truth to it when talking of the Disney Studios, which opened to combat the arrival of Universal Studios and was a husk of a theme park for quite a while after it was built and has since lost an entire facet of it’s original design – that it would be a working film and animation studio while also being a theme park. When the guests don’t show as they predict, the axe of change is swung down and enjoys employing synergy and refurbishment everywhere it lands. While it is true that a lot of Disneyland was designed to capitalize off of his film, television, and animation work, it has turned away from being a draw and more just being an advertisement. I am not saying that they are ALWAYS wrong, as I thoroughly enjoy Toy Story Midway Mania and find it a fun off-shoot attraction of the Pixar films and hope it never goes away while at the same time seeing something like the Flying Carpets of Agrabah (built to apparently synergize with a decade plus old film!) and want to vomit into a jester’s cap. I find it odd that I think that, seeing as Dumbo was built into Disneyland 14 years after it hit theaters, but I give it a pass because everything in the park was designed to be that way, and has become a treasure of visiting families to ride it, no matter which park it is in. The Aladdin variant comes across as a cheap ploy, trying to pull people away from the absolutely crazy lines in Fantasyland while giving them the same ride experience. The problem lies not in the fact that people want to go around in circles at varying heights while music plays, it is that they want to FLY WITH DUMBO, and they want to do it with their children, and their children’s children. Ugh, I just spent way too many words on that.
Still, it illustrates a major problem the company seems to have. They look at an issue like the long line at Dumbo and decide that is a problem that needs addressing and they decide to do it in the worst way possible. Currently, I believe the Magic Kingdom Dumbo ride is being reworked and rebuilt, apparently to feature two separate ride areas. That is how you fix a problem, by replicating the experience in a way that will still give the memories of Dumbo, and not so much the going in circles.
This is getting long, so I will probably have a part two or something eventually. All I am trying to get at is that Disney, and companies in general really, should be much more concerned about making something fantastic than they should be about profit. It should be, as I said, an afterthought. People will find amazing stuff, and they will use it, adore it, and hopefully continue coming back to it for many years to come. Taking a family vacation to Walt Disney World, Disneyland, or anywhere else should not be seen as an obligation of “oh, it’s Disney so we have to go” to “Wow, we have to go because of ____ and ____ and ____!!! I’m too excited to sleep!!”
Capture desire, not loose change. People will pay to see things they want to see much more readily than they will pay for what you tell them they should be seeing and enjoying because it has your name on it. Walt didn’t make his company one of the most respected in the world by popular culture because he screamed “YOU WANT THIS! GO!” He did it because he used his head and his heart to say “You know what, I think you will like this just as much as I do” and it just so happened he was oh so very right.
Class dismissed, and have a magical day.