A Cultural Lesson at Disney

I love being a Social Studies teacher, but I do think I might just love Disney more!  My visits to Disney each year are well planned, and I am always more excited than any child as we pull into the parking lot and head toward the monorail.  

As a Geography and History teacher, I am always seeing "lessons" in our visits to the magical world, and I am constantly amazed at all the culture I see in the parks, not only in the attractions, but through my interactions with the visitors.

And that is why, when in one of my Disney fan forums this afternoon, I became absolutely outraged!

Twice a year, large groups of South American students come to visit Disney World in Orlando, FL.  They wear matching shirts, follow their guides with tall flags, and chant as they wait in line for their anticipated rides.  They also move quickly as a large crowd, are often rushing through lines they are designated for by their guides, and take up seating in restaurants and entertainment venues.

Today, as I flipped through the fan forum looking for upcoming events or tips from fellow Disney addicts, I found absolute ignorance that pushed me to my absolute outrage: A petition to Disney, requesting that the "Brazilian Groups" be banned or "controlled" by Disney due to their creating "an unsafe environment for the paying Americans" who are visiting at the same time. 

Did I read that right?

An unsafe environment?  Let me tell you about my personal experiences at Disney with large South American (they are not all Brazillian) tour groups:
  • A group of 10-12 teenage girls let me go ahead of them in the bathroom line after they saw my urgency, despite our language barrier.  We all laughed when I came out of the stall, after I signaled all was good!
  • A group offered to share their lunch table with us one afternoon, where we ended up spending over an hour talking to them about their culture and traditions and comparing them to our own.
  • While standing in a very long line for Soarin, I was forced to take a handful of snacks from a whole group of teens because my blood sugar had started to drop and my hands were shaking.  They were not going to let me move on until I ate something.
  • Numerous tour group members have offered to take pictures for my husband and I after witnessing us struggle to take that perfect selfie.
  • Three young college students tried to teach me Portuguese as we stood in the waiting area for Fantasmic.  Sadly, I was a dismal fail, but we had great fun trying!
  • And more than a few times, we have been urged to move ahead of the large groups in line when we have ended up between them in ride lines.
Have I ever encountered rude foreigners at Disney?  Yes!  But when that happens, I have to ask:  Could it be the language barrier?  Is it a cultural difference?  Am I in the way?  Are they out of their comfort zone and just trying to stay together?  Are they just kids?

And then there is one other question to ask... Have I ever encountered rude Americans at Disney?  Oh, the answer is not surprising.  The answer is a resounding YES!  And sadly, that happens far more often than it does with the South Americans.

So what does any of this have to do with teaching? 

Social Studies teachers are charged with teaching about the world.  How do we teach it?  Do we introduce each region of the world and discuss the differences OR do we look for the similarities?  Do we find our commonalities?  Do we discuss our interdependence?  Do we teach that we are all have contributions to the world, and without each other, the world would be a very boring place? 

And more importantly, are we teaching tolerance or appreciation of different cultures? 
Maybe that is the answer!

Happy Teaching!

Michele Luck