The opposite of escape is engage?

The photo below, from today’s New York Times, drew me to read the accompanying article. I mean… it’s not every day you see a little Lego fireman with a fire hose standing on top of a giant Lego dinosaur…

I read the article, which is about how a British company is “coming after” US theme parks in the emerging theme park market.

Here’s a quote to give you some context:

Legoland Florida, which hopes to attract about 1.5 million visitors annually, is one of six new or coming United States attractions from Merlin, which is based in Poole, England. A $15 million Sea Life aquarium at the Mall of America in Minnesota opened in March. Legoland Discovery Centers — indoor “fun zones” built at about $12 million apiece — are coming to Atlanta and Kansas City; one opened in Dallas earlier this year.

So theme parks are a big deal.

As someone who’s looking to open a school and for whom $100,000 would make a huge difference, I can’t help but be bothered by the amount of money people spend to NOT engage with “the world in which we live.”  (I will come back to that phrase in a moment)

I can relate to visiting a Lego dinosaur in Florida, because my family visited the North Carolina State Fair for the first time on Saturday.

It’s quite a scene… We were among a recorded crowd of more than 125,000 people who went to see such sights as deep fried Kool-Aid.

The event runs for 10 days and last year topped a total of a million visitors total.  Here are some staggering attendance statistics I found online; the day we went is circled:

At the fair, our son got to use a mini fishing pole to fish a plastic fish out of a tub of water.

We paid $5 for him and two of his friends to get this fun and valuable opportunity — “three for five dollars” barked the carnival people — and for his efforts, he won this stuffed snake, made (according to its label) in China in July 2010.

The snake — just over a foot long — is pictured relative to the laptop on which I blog so you can see that it cost at least 17 cents to make 🙂

So here’s my question — how is it that we can get 127 thousand people to distract themselves and eat poorly

(deep fried candy bars?  really?), but we can’t get some sort of mobilization to change the way we educate our children and young adults?

Learning should be fun. And learning is a lot more satisfying than just hanging out at the fair.

The NY Times article that began with the Lego theme park goes on to include this quote, which is what inspired this post:

Theme parks require steep, continual investments in new rides and upgrades, and their exposure to outside factors like weather and the economy makes investors nervous. But most parks are also reliably profitable and have continued to grow even during the recession, as people seek escape.

Why are we escaping rather than engaging?  I’m not arguing that we should not have things like the State Fair or Legoland. Balance is fine. But before we fund entertainment ventures on the scale we’re funding them, it seems like we should structure (and fund) our schools in ways that make sense. That’s not currently the case.

Oh, and about that phrase from earlier — “the world in which they live” — that’s a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Beyond Vietnam speech from April 1967. If you’ve never heard the speech, it’s worth listening to and/or reading (click the link).

Here’s the context of that phrase from Dr. King’s speech. By the way, Dr. King just this weekend had a memorial dedicated in his honor in Washington, DC, so that alone could be a good reason to listen to his words. In this section of his speech from 1967 — delivered coincidentally a year to the day before he was assassinated in 1968 — he’s explaining why he has to take the unpopular position of speaking out against the war in Vietnam:

Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: “Why are you speaking about the war, Dr. King?” “Why are you joining the voices of dissent?” “Peace and civil rights don’t mix,” they say. “Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people,” they ask? And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live.

I share Dr. King’s concern — we need to engage students (and adults) so that they begin to understand and engage with the world in which they live.

The middle school I am opening in August 2013, Triangle Learning Community, will engage students in that way by starting just about every morning by reading and discussing the news from a variety of sources.

I wonder what Dr. King would say about Occupy Wall Street (OWS) … And I wonder if any classrooms in the US today are deviating from the curriculum to discuss OWS…


About Steve Goldberg

I teach students at Research Triangle High School (RTHS) about US History. RTHS is a public charter school in Durham, NC, whose mission is to incubate, prove and scale innovative models of teaching and learning. The blog posts here reflect my own personal views and not those of my employer.
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