I just got back from Disney World, and while I was there it occurred to me that the Walt Disney Corporation believes that it’s customer base is far more intelligent than the does the federal government. Why do I say this? Because as you can see from my photo gallery, I also visited Washington, D.C. recently. While touring several of the Smithsonian Museums, I realized that the museums had a dumbed down, coloring book approach to educating visitors about the topic in which the museum specialized. The American History museum seemed geared as much toward pop culture than anything else. The most interesting exhibit there was a display on the Civil Rights movement. Most of the exhibit was a model of a 1950s era classroom, showing a 5 minute movie loop of video footage from the Civil Rights movement, there was also an old television displaying sound byte length clips of new reports and interviews with politicians. There were several artifacts from the era on display, but for the most part the items were labeled without giving any real detail as to why they were significant or on display. At no point in time were you really challenged to think about the issues addressed in the exhibits. To me it felt like they assumed their target audience was dragged there unwillingly, and they would need to do their best to make the experience as bearable as possible. I realize that this museum is probably targeted at elementary school field trips. Unfortunately, because the exhibits are dull and unengaging, when people walk away from the exhibits there is no real motivation to ask more questions or find out more about the subjects presented.
Compare this to Disney World, where people take there children to be entertained, and walk away having learned quite a bit. Any of the four main Disney theme parks have more to offer in the way of educating children and adults than did the museums I visited in DC. Consider Tom Sawyer Island at the Magic Kingdom, each point in this area of the park is a recreation of particular aspects of the Mark Twain book. Some of the kids who visit this place are going to say “wow, this was cool, there’s a book with all this stuff in it? I want to read it.” Yeah, the animitronics in the Hall of Presidents is pretty lame, but you seem to get a better feel for who some of the presidents were, or at least their contribution to history, through the presentation.
Disney’s emphasis on imagination and creativity seem to me to be far better motivators for encouraging kids to learn than does the Smithsonian Institute.