Abraham Lincoln was Walt Disney's childhood hero.
When I think of Abraham Lincoln, two things come to the forefront of my mind; he was the 16th President whose administration spanned the Civil War, and he failed a TON to get there. The man had minimal formal education, was a somewhat self-taught lawyer, had a nervous breakdown, lost numerous Congressional and Senate races, and yet he never let his failure get the best of him. Walt Elias Disney, born in 1901, wasn't so far removed from Abraham Lincoln. By the time Walt was in school, he was only 45 about years post Lincoln's death. To give you a frame or reference, that would be like our students saying their hero is Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, Billie Jean King, George Foreman, or former President Richard Nixon--but I digress.
Walt Disney is often hailed as an innovator, a title that I believe he rightly deserves. But after hearing who his hero was, I am not at all surprised that he developed the characteristics that make for successful innovators. Walt had a beaming example of grit and tenacity which he himself embodied as well. He was also surrounded by people who believed in his dream: his wife, Lillian, and brother, Roy.
Disneyland's opening day July 17, 1955, Black Sunday, was a mess. There are quite a few people who can tell the story of ticketing scam that resulted in double the expected admission, asphalt that hadn't set because of the hot summer heat, an unfinished Tomorrowland, and the plumber's strike that left Walt with the having to choose between working drinking fountains of toilets (he chose toilets). For some, this looks like failure. To Walt, these were "opportunities in disguise." Double the ticket sales meant the park was popular, the unfinished land sparked curiosity about what would fill it--and in turn, perhaps created the interest in returning to see what Tomorrowland would become. Weenies aside (more on that in another post), Walt was able to shape his park and perspective to create a magical place that is continually evolving and changing to meet the needs of its guests. He also prided himself on immersing guests in a world where they could feel like kids again, where they could experience stories and adventure, and forget some of their worries for an afternoon. Walt created Disneyland, he just decided, and did it--without fear of failure, because the need for a place for families to spend time together existed. Education needs innovators; our students need innovators.
As much as "Disneyland is your land", so is your classroom. Each and every day you teach, you have the opportunity to immerse your students in the worlds of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy. Nay-sayers and critics aside, you have the opportunity to create magic for your students in whatever way you deem appropriate, available, and attainable. As Walt would say, "It's kind of fun to do the impossible." If the impossible fails? Perhaps in the process off failure you have inspired one of your students.
And, as with anything in innovation:
"We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths." -Walt Disney