Many years ago I read an account of Walt Disney that I figuratively carry around with me today. Over the years, I lost track of the source of this quote and despite my recent efforts (and those of my new friend on Twitter, #jonpratt) I have been unable to track down its original source. So, I beg your leniency relative to by inability to credit the source…
Shorty after Disney World opened in Florida, Walt Disney called a meeting of all senior personnel to get an idea of how the opening of the park was going. All members gave their report, some good news, some bad news, including many challenges that had been anticipated during the planning of the park but could not be affirmed until the park was in full operation. The conversation then moved to maintenance and operations. The senior official in charge was very upset because the public was not always walking on the paved sidewalks, sometimes they would cut across his manicured lawns in an attempt to get to a certain location quicker. After a while and many people taking the same shortcut, a unsightly brown swatch formed like a scar across the deep green, finely cut grass. This particular official asked if chains, fences or signs asking visitors to stay on the designated paths could be erected. Disney response was simple, but brilliant:
“No. They’re telling you where to put the paths.”
I first tweeted about this story a couple of weeks ago and learned quickly from #bfchirpy, that the paths that the public was creating have a name: “Desire Paths.” I was directed to two blogs about desire paths here and here. I even learned of a flickr group that focused on desire paths. There, group administrator GeorgieR wrote, “The key to the desire path is not just that it’s a path which one person or a group has made but that it’s done against the will of some authority which would have us go another, rather less convenient, way.”
Fast forward to the typical 2009 American classroom and ask, “Are our students telling us where to put the paths?” and if so, what are we doing about it? Are we following Disney’s lead and adjusting our practices or are we complaining about the “scar” they are leaving on the lawn we call public education?
I think we are doing more complaining than listening. This research suggests that students want to be connected and they are, just not in our classrooms. But, it’s more than just connectivity too. We are losing a whole generation of male students and we are using a tremendous amount medication to mold our students to meet the demands of our classrooms. Let me write that again: to mold our students to meet the demads of our classrooms. Not, mold our classrooms to meet the demands of our students. I ask: Are we listening?
Are our students showing us their desire paths? Are we responding accordingly? Are we engaging them in active, connected classrooms? How many of our classrooms look like this? While I am not suggesting that “connecting” our students will lower the number of medicated students or will turn around the slow decline in the engagement of male students, but I am willing to “listen” to what they are saying – which is to say that I am willing to accept that our archaic practices are leading our students down paths that do not meet their demands and unless we change those practices, they will choose their desire path, and we won’t be there to help them when they stumble.