“Hey kid! Quit-ya whinin’!”
Maybe that’s not right. Maybe he said: “What’s wit da whinin’, kid?” But you get the point.
The fact is, the admonition from the funny, big-bellied, Brooklyn-born conductor on the Wildlife Express Train at Disney’s Animal Kingdom made a distinct impression on me (and, I’m sure, my 3-year-old — the whiner in question) for two reasons.
One: It worked.
Two: It was decidedly non-Disney.
This week, many of you will be flying to Orlando to attend NSBA’s 68th Annual Conference, and doubtless many of you — especially those with children — will be visiting one of Disney’s humongous theme parks. We did: My family just returned from Orlando. Now, I’m going right back. (I know; it doesn’t make much sense.)
But I must tell you, what you may have heard about Disney’s vaunted customer service is true. And it made me think about how this concept might be applied to schools, in their dealings with the public, to be sure, but also in their treatment of students. Someone at Disney — more likely, many people — has apparently looked repeatedly at how its theme parks are experienced from the ground up. (Literally so, when you think of the sizes of some of its customers.) What if another big bureaucracy — — educational this time, not corporate — did the same thing?
Our conductor notwithstanding, the Disney employees are friendly, polite, and helpful, but not artificially so. There is an incredible attention to detail. For example, at the Animal Kingdom, the walls of the Asian jungle trail have been made to look like ruins, their beautiful pastel tiles seemingly crumbling into various states of disrepair. Disney could have just shown me the Komodo Dragon and hanging Malayan Flying Fox bats, and I would have gone away happy; but it took the experience a step further.
Education is not entertainment, of course. But in this age of standardized testing — and more and more time spent preparing for those standardized tests — schools might learn a little from Disney about how to generate excitement, especially for the younger kids. I’m not talking about turning your elementary classrooms into Disney rides (there are also more interactive exhibits), but it doesn’t have to be all drudgery, either.
And what to make of our conductor? After reprimanding our daughter, he proceeded to rag on an elderly couple from New Jersey — “the wannabe New Yawk” — and told us that if we thought the park was crowded, we should come on days when it’s packed so full “you can’t hardly wauk!”
We all left the train smiling. My younger daughter was an (almost) angel the rest of the day. Maybe, in his own way, our conductor was doing the Disney thing.
Customer service, indeed!
Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor