Desire Paths

Desire Path

Desire Path

Please Note:  Transleadership has moved to   This post can be found at my new site be clicking here.


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.

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71 Responses to Desire Paths

  1. I had not heard of this term nor the description of “paths.” Thanks for sharing this thoughtful post.

    • tbaldasaro says:

      Susan, I think this illustrates the power of social networking. I tweeted about this a week ago and within a day folks replied with information about “desire paths”. I learned a whole new concept from a network of folks I have never met!

  2. I really like the metaphor you used in this post. Powerful stuff.

  3. tbaldasaro says:

    Thanks, Kristen. I appreciate you taking the time to read and provide this feedback. It’s good to know that there are people reading what I write. Please revisit!

  4. finiteattentionspan says:

    Love this! Thank you. (Here via @bfchirpy, of course 😉

  5. 6 months on and I’m looking for the reference to the Walt Disney story – again. I search for Walt Disney and “desire paths” and what do I find?

    A post name-checking me as being the person pointing you to desire paths.

    *This* is what karma feels like.

    • tbaldasaro says:

      I appreciate your tenacity. I want to say that I first read the reference in one of Steven Covey’s books, but unfortunately I can’t be sure.

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  8. abichica says:

    what a beautiful picture, and your post is very inspiring.. 🙂

  9. what a powerful story with a powerful message

  10. I love your optimism, and idealism. Try educating in NYC. What a mess it is.

    I don’t have kids, so have no skin in the education game, but I cannot imagine the frustration of being someone questioning the status quo and still trying to work effectively within the system.

  11. marnieplanty says:

    What a great point of view. Adjusting to change is never easy, no matter how young or old we are. But it is our job as parents and as adults to share our experience and to listen to our children/students. We can learn from them if we are open to it.

  12. I love it! I’ve recently been thinking so much about education in our country as my children begin formal academics. As I learn about where we stand in our country on global education, all the various theories/methods out there and looking at my children individually…how they learn and connecting them to their strengths, I feel extremely charged to break paradigms. I like how you (and what you referenced) said to look at the where we want to go and what is the “desired path” to get there. Thanks for the charge to action!

  13. Very good point. Are the classrooms really doing students a favor? I looked at the youtube video, and it makes a LOT of sense to me. As a student myself, I definitely agree that it would be helpful to have a more connected classroom and have it be set as the standard.

    Very interesting post, thanks.


  14. I have heard of desire paths before, but I don’t know who coined the term. I like the way you related this to education.

  15. happilycurious says:

    I agree that some classrooms are not meeting the needs of the students. Connecting with students is a very important part of the education process. When students do not have that connection they sometimes leave with a sense of loss and lack of understanding.

  16. Karen says:

    Interesting & well put. Definitely something to “think” about. Thanks for sharing this perspective.

  17. Ani Idhamou says:

    I am new here, just trying to figure out this place and very excited about it too. I loved this post very much! It made me think and that is what this is about..sharing and making people’s important to have fresh ideas that make us think. The part about molding the children through drugs to fit in is a sad fact in this society..Thank you for bringing it out.
    I know I will like it here!! I could read these wonderful posts and photos 24/7… Ani

  18. I really like what you said that “to mold our students to meet the demads of our classrooms”. Education has really changed now and we may not be able to beat the fast-paced changes but there is always a way to captivate still the minds of our future students. Nice! ;D

  19. Interesting. Thinking of where desire paths are in my life. Honestly, any path is much better traveled when following God. That’s what I’ve found to be true.

  20. JT says:

    I wonder what happens when desire paths conflict with norms that ultimately would be detrimental. Perhaps if we are only talking about the path between two accepted points it isn’t much of an issue, however becoming lax and flippant about outcomes does raise some concern.

  21. I love the idea of desire paths, but, as an educator myself, I wonder if it’s possible to give them too much power. They make sense at WD World, but when it comes to learning, how do they connect to the new, the unfamiliar, the slightly threatening, the things that we aren’t instinctively drawn to but that have a lot to offer us? In my classrooms I am constantly trying to strike a balance between going where my students want to go and going somewhere they might not have thought of and they might initially resist. I think it’s a teacher’s job to help them do both.

  22. Brilliantly said. Many people cry out about the lack of cursive writing and short cuts youth make in typing. I always maintain that language evolves. I love the way you put it.

  23. hermitsdoor says:

    I find Disney’s observation that people cutting across lawns to get to various attractions is an interesting sociological phenomenon. I am more intrigued by how this concept has leapt into metaphorical realms, such as students “cutting across” the confines of classrooms. I am not sure what level of education at which you might teach (my guess). But, the question arises as to whether education is has the mission of teaching students how to learn (following their desire pathes) verse teaching specific information (confining curriculum).

    The former idea is one I admire & strive to do daily, whether I am studying history or how to care for goats (yes, we have milk goats). When I completed my BA & MS in occupational therapy 25 years ago, I had to follow the confines of the university’s and profession’s standards for academic education. I can create my own desire paths for life-long learning. Meeting my national and state license requirements does not leave a lot of room for getting to the next ride’s line a little fast. Thanks for the contemplation.

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  25. Definitely good insight, love the Disney illustration, I agree with the whole concept of following “desire paths”. I know I naturally do.

  26. k8edid says:

    How very thought provoking. Our educational system seems to be in real jeopardy; and if we keep doing what we’ve been doing, we’ll keep getting what we’ve been getting. We must change or fall further and further behind, losing more and more teaching and learning opportunities along the way.

  27. A wonderful post! Thank you.

  28. maru says:

    This is something I enjoy reading, I agree with you about education forcing students instead of responding to them, but the balance is difficult. Depending on the age of the student there are things they should know, eventhough they cannot understand -yet- it will be a useful part of the block column knowledge is.
    Besides, I read many years ago -please do not ask me for the reference, I cannot remember- an anecdote about a japanese garden designer that let people wander through the gardens and decided the paths depending on the routes people took.
    By the way, congrats for being Freshly Pressed.

  29. -AP- says:

    nice post, topic worthy of deep consideration as we continue to evolve as humans along side technology.

  30. metaplastic says:

    This is awesome! It would definitely be beneficial to start treating students seriously instead of as vessels of obligatory molding.

  31. meerachandra says:

    Thanks a lot for this post.. I try to find such special names when I get a chance. I’m from India, though not a Hindi speaker. A few weeks before, I came to notice a Hindi word called “Godhuli” which means evening (not a common word). I went for the roots and found out Go means Cow and Dhuli means Dust. In the evening, pastorals bring cows back from fields to cattle-sheds in masses. Their march causes dust to rise on the non-tarred roads. Thus the name Godhuli for Evening. Your post reminded me of this. Thanks.

  32. Patricia says:

    Well, let’s just start with…. “2 years on, almost to the day”, I come to Congratulate you on being Freshly Pressed!! Congratulations, tbaldasaro!!

    I was captivated by the picture you have with this post, so had to read your words. The concept of a Desire Path really resonates with me. As individuals, including the students you speak of, we must seek the paths that will lead to our Life Journey. Life is a Journey, not a destination. I have not thought of starting this in classrooms, with High School students who will be our futures. At least not expressed as you have. They need to know that their life’s path starts now. Those that can listen to these young people, and have the authority to do so, need to look at what changes can be made – aligning (in some way) with the students’ Desire Path.

    Thank you for this post!

    P.S. You have converted me to a Subscriber to your blog!

  33. without getting too far in depth (it gets me a little aggravated) on current school practices and the progressive dumbing down of our nation’s eduction system, make sure we treat kids as we did even 10+ years ago. Use red pens, it’s okay if they see they got a bad grade, don’t worry about hurting their pride, they’re not as fragile as you (the general rule makers these days) think. Let them play contact sports; dodgeball and tag are staples of a proper childhood and now are banned for “survival of the fittest” gaming mentality… which may result in more positive outcomes than the negative. Let kids learn at their comfortable pace, and not necessarily halting the progressive learning of all to ensure that everyone is working at the pace of the ones furthest behind… provide them with help on the side, not slowing the lessons of the entire class for one or else our collective innovating thinking is hampered.

    on the lighter side note about desire paths (since this blog seemed like it went into a totally different direction after a grass discussion), look at my VT’s Drillfield and the strikingly noticeable desire paths that the school attempts to regrow with grass every summer

    • hermitsdoor says:

      FBG, if I’m reading your correctly, curriculum sets a formal path, but children learn on may other “paths”. Education is not a singular mode. The teachers I remember most, years after my formal education, were the ones which had an outline, as well as a willingness to let me find my own way to reach the goal. Keep teaching.

  34. tbaldasaro says:

    Thank you all for your comments. Please come visit Transleadership at it’s new home at

  35. Education at this point is so caught up in collecting data and pushing standardized tests we’ve lost sight of the big picture. School is supposed to about learning how to think, rather than rote memorization. We are doing such a disservice to our young people by offering them nothing more than cookie cutter education.

    Currently, there is a huge push for “back to basics” or “reading, writing, and arithmetic.” While these are important skills, they are not end all be all of knowledge. We need creative thinkers that can solve problems and think independently. There’s more to reality than just being able to pass a test.

    Standardized tests have their purpose, but they can’t be the only tool of measurement. Potential can’t be pigeon-holed and intelligence follows more than one road. If our public school system doesn’t figure this out soon, we are going to fall even further behind.

    Great post! 🙂

  36. bob says:


  37. Subhash says:

    Amazing post 😀 Thanks for sharing this info 🙂

  38. Great Post. Well deserved of being Freshly Pressed.

    Mr Bricks

  39. John J. Rigo says:

    From my point of view, “Desire Paths” are leaving a path of destruction across the face of our country. “Desire Paths” represents the easiest way to get to a specific goal without self-control, focus, hard work, and an all consumming desire to become “the best of the best,” in whatever chosen fields, our young students of today, wish to achieve. It is represented today by the riots of the young thugs in England, who are destroyed by the desire and “to get something for nothing.” This further desire of a lack of effort by our young people, in desiring excellence in their lives is, “The, I want it now generation.” As long as I process the things, then I am successful. Just because the tee shirt says “I am wonderful,” does not make it so.

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  41. Mudmap says:

    Thanks for this. I have heard of desire paths before but had not thought of them in the metaphorical sense. Now you point it out there are so many applications for the concept.

  42. nabahanasyr says:

    Very inspiring! 🙂

  43. Mary O says:

    Great post…just a small typo to point out. You missed the “n” in demands on the second to the last paragraph, second usage.

  44. rebeccasretreat says:

    Such a great post, thank you for sharing!

  45. Anna says:

    Such a fantastic and intruiging post.

  46. andshelaughs says:

    Thank you for sharing this idea of “desire paths”. It applies to so many areas of life. Very interesting and insightful.

  47. jwolfe06 says:

    I absolutely love this post. My parent’s are both teachers and often struggle with the school board and government because of the amount of standardized tests they want students to pass. My parent’s then are required to teach to a test- not to the student’s needs or desires. I encountered this in my AP classes where it was hard to get “off-track” and have meaningful discussions about subjects we were interested in because we had a timeline to follow in order to be “prepared” for our AP tests. It’s a shame. It almost inhibits curiosity in learning.

  48. Fantastic post, and great metaphor! These “desire paths” can easily translate to the classroom, where students desire an education that not only provides them with the skills they need and want, but also help them get to the place they want to be professionally.

  49. jennigetsit says:

    What a wonderful metaphor for life and for learning, “desire path”.
    I am a mother of three. When my, now teenaged son, was born I set out on my own desire path of parenting. I did what I thought was best, but now it is clear to me that what I thought was best for him was really what was best for me. My beliefs were based solely upon my own upbringing, rather than my child’s unique and sometimes difficult personality. What I have learned is that we all have our own individual path to take in order to achieve our true potential; a path that will cross other individual paths. It is at those junctures that we learn who we are and how to be part of a whole. It is at those intersections that we learn to grasp the real meaning of being an upright citizen and contributor to society. In the end, to force someone down a path that is ill-fitting hurts not only one, but all of us.
    You struck a chord deep inside me today. Thank you for a wonderful post!

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  51. Interesting blog. I think you make a very important point about the system needing to follow the path being laid out by students. The more time I spend with children of any age and any level cognitive ability, the more I find how intriguing and brilliant they really are. We could learn a great deal just by “listening” to them as you point out. I’m glad you were “freshly pressed” or I might have missed this!

  52. I don’t really think Walt Disney is a politically correct figure in which to shape an argument toward any sort of progressive reform….

    But desire paths is a great concept. I appreciate the article.

  53. laugh2learn says:

    In improv we would call this “yes and.” The staff at Disney were saying “yes but,” the people what to go there, BUT we have a better idea for them. Mr. Disney said, “The people what to go there AND we will put a path there for them.” Are you sure you’re not an improvisor?

  54. cheratomo says:

    This was really lovely to discover. Thank you for sharing!

  55. Great post; I hadn’t heard of this particular concept before, but it’s a terrific one. It applies to all sorts of struggles, I think. At my work we have an all-hands staff meeting at the beginning and end of every week, and getting people to talk at those meetings is a bit of a difficulty, especially since the questions are generally along the lines of, “What are you doing this weekend?” and “What did you do over the weekend?” which to people like me are pretty pointless questions. 😀 We’re constantly browbeaten by upper management trying to cajole us into interacting more in those meetings… when instead they should be looking at what need the meetings were set up to serve, and whether the employees feel that need at all. If people need something, you don’t have to drag them kicking and screaming into it. 😀

  56. thought-provoking post 🙂 desire paths is an apt word!

  57. Sharvil says:

    i think that desire path is a great concept but every had different opinions and i don’t think influencing on others opinion is good..but taking up suggestions and then re thinking it ur way is always good =]

  58. gaycarboys says:

    I think we all make our own paths. Every morning is a menu from which we chose what will happen that day.

  59. very cool post 🙂
    i love walt disney and have read that before and think its very interesting.


  60. Sumukh Naik says:

    The concept and story of ‘Desire’ Paths is very inspiring.Thanks for sharing the same.

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  62. Redeker says:

    Legendary post, I enjoy this spectacular site,I found you along freshly pressed!

    Please do check my personal fascinating training blog.

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