Today was an interesting day, but to explain, I’ll have to go back in time a bit…
After exploring various educational options for our children, we finally settled on Waldorf schooling two years ago. If you aren’t familiar with Waldorf schools, they’re based on the pedagogy of Rudolf Steiner, and emphasize imaginative play, art, and creativity in the earlier years. While initially dubious about the academic rigor — Waldorf kids don’t learn to read in kindergarten, for example — we have learned to really appreciate the Waldorf philosophy, particularly regarding the negative influence of media on children.
In a Waldorf school, children are strongly discouraged from watching TV and playing computer or video games, and instead emphasize artistic endeavors from painting to molding clay, dancing, singing, creating fantasy worlds with toys, and similar activities. Here’s a good summary of the overall Waldorf educational philosophy. In addition, “character-based toys” are also discouraged, so instead of having what I’d call logo toys (Barbie, G.I.Joe, Mickey Mouse, etc.) we have generic stuffed animals, carved wooden critters, etc.
For us, it works well, and we’re very pleased with how A- is growing up. She’s a bright, engaged and playful 6-yo who sings, dances, and is both silly and perceptive, without nagging or whining about wanting this, that or the other. It’s a nice antidote to the grabby/whiny mini-consumer that we encounter outside of our Waldorf circle. (Which isn’t to say that we don’t endure our share of whining and iwants, but kids are, well, still kids and they still have to go through various developmental stages on their journey to adulthood)
Yet here was our dilemma: we have a week off from school in mid-February and we just couldn’t come up with a vacation venue that would be engaging and fun for the kids. We’ve tried retreats, hikes, etc, and they’ve invariably been a frustration and disappointment.
So L- and I thought that it could be fun to go to Disneyworld, but not go into the parks. If you haven’t been to Disneyworld in Florida, it’s a pretty amazing place. It’s on a piece of land approximately the size of Manhattan, beautifully landscaped, with fabulous pools and a slick transportation system that includes the monorail, boats, and busses. Our kids love these sorts of transportation, and hanging around at a warm pool in the Florida sunshine, swimming every afternoon sounded really nice!
But then the influence of the Disney brand began to creep into our house. The kids suddenly wanted to watch various Disney movies, were whining about reading some collectors Disney books I own (that are off-limits to them), and generally getting sucked into the hype. It was truly eye-opening.
The more fundamental dilemma L- and I faced as the week progressed, particularly post-confirming reservations, was whether it was morally or ethically consistent for us to be fighting the tide of crass commercialism and consumerism on behalf of our kids (and our own mental sanity!) and yet be taking a holiday at Disneyworld?
This morning L- and I went out for breakfast and we both realized that we were deliberately avoiding sharing our vacation plans with our friends and the community at school , and that we were both anxious that we’d return and our kids would be talking about all things Disney for months. Quite inconsistent with our beliefs and values.
Yet… the pools are truly wonderful and Disneyworld is a fun and entertaining vacation destination for families. L- and I have had some terrific vacations there (as a couple, though, not with kids). So we thrashed for about an hour and then finally decided that living to our values was more important that a few days at a warm pool as we contributed to the Disney empire.
So we came home, cancelled all our plans, and booked a shorter adventure trip: Amtrak from Denver to Glenwood Springs (where they have the largest hot-springs-fed pool in the world) and a two night stay at a nice resort up in the mountains. We’ll find other things to occupy our time the rest of the week.
And you know what? As much as I appreciate and enjoy Disneyworld, I’m relieved and pleased that we’re sticking to our principals and living a consistent life. There are other pools, other trains, and certainly other busses in the world, but our kids are only going to get one childhood, and we really want that to be the best, most loving and fulfilling possible. Disneyworld can wait.