Chapter Two: Chicken Soup for the Curriculum Designer’s Soul

Responding to a Disney Princess

I often assign a career analysis paper in my composition classes. The assignment is fairly benign. Or boring. Probably both. That changed several years ago when Krystal walked

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Mickey on Piano. Courtesy of WordPress

through my classroom door.

She was just out of high school – a confused kid with no idea what she wanted to do with her life. The semester began, and she kept offering me everything but her assignments, and the excuses became really creative. I simply figured that she was blowing me off. But finally, on one Wednesday morning, when I was simply frustrated with trying again and again to get her to write her outline, I sat down with her and tried to figure out what was wrong. Almost immediately, she began to sob.

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Cinderella’s Castle: Courtesy of WordPress

“Mr. Neely,” she said, “how can I analyze a career when I have no idea who I even am right now?” The issue was not that wasn’t taking my class seriously enough; rather, the issue was that she was taking the class too seriously. I had given her an assignment (and many others too) before I even knew what she needed as a student. As we talked that day and the next, it became clear that she had many dreams and desires, but that she couldn’t necessarily encapsulate them into one singular career.

“If you could do absolutely anything, what would it be?”

“I can’t tell you that, Mr. Neely,” she said. “It’s dumb.”

“Seriously,” I said. “Tell me. I promise I won’t laugh.”

“Okay,” she began, and she hesitated for a full minute or more. “Okay. I want to be a Disney Princess.” I looked at her straight in the eyes.

“Then that is what you should write about.”

Considering Students, Society, and Subject Matter

In this project, through specific sources, I have identified the needs of my students in LIT 255, of the communities in which LIT 255 is taught, and the competing needs of the subject matter itself. These sources include the following:

  • Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs;
  • Mirror/Window Philosophy (Bishop, 1990);
  • Annual 2:2 conferences for discipline teachers of LIT 255. These include the following:
    • Literary Theory, inclusive of (but not necessarily limited to)
      • Structuralism
      • Post-structuralism
      • Social theory: Gender/Queer Theory, Black Literary Traditions, LatinX Literature, Globalism
    • Literature pedagogy;
  • Surveys of perceptions of ECE and elementary teachers, administrators, and librarians;
  • Triennial Statewide Children’s Literature Conference, which will be the culmination of and inclusive of the above elements. Representation will come from students in ECE and elementary education programs, ECE and elementary education teachers, administrators, and librarians, and 2-year and 4-year college teachers of children’s literature.
    • Plenary
    • Title I
    • ESS
    • K6-16
    • Pedagogy
    • Developmental
    • Interest
    • Politics
    • Socio-Economic
    • Existential
  • Every three years, the conference will be held, with the primary goal of the conference to consider surveys and assessments, and to establish refined needs, goals, and objectives for LIT 255.

These culminate in the following statements of needs:

Statements of Needs
Student Society Subject Matter
Students need to see literature that shows humans being fed, cared for. All students need to think about and reflect on the human condition; Students need representation at ELA standards revision and CCCS discipline conferences
Students need to see literature that reflects them and reflect others not like them. All students need to be exposed to diversity of thought, diversity of purpose, diversity of body and mind SM needs to offer knowledge of CL & CL elements
Students need access to textbooks, children’s books, hardware and electronic resources. All students need access regardless of economic  or educational or environmental need. SM needs to offer ways to evaluate CL
Students’ needs must be evaluated for assistance. All students need to feel safe and secure SM needs appropriate example of CL
Students need to be literate (5 components) and creative (storytelling) All students need access to healthcare regardless of economic need SM needs to offer opportunities for teachers to design engaging activities associated with CL
Students need access to bibliotherapeutic literature SM needs to offer opportunities to examine current trends & their impact
Students need competent, continuously improving teachers. SM needs to identify and evaluate and celebrate CL authors and contributors
Students need the opportunity to identify and address developmental needs. SM needs to offer bibliotherapeutic opportunities in the classroom
Table 1: Statements of Needs for Students, Society, and Subject Matter

Final Thoughts

It may very well be that I cannot serve all of my students all of the time. But in the future, and for as long as I teach, I will always consider whether my students or society or the subject matter itself needs “Disney Princessing” as a focal point of the course.

And as for Krystal: she is now living in Los Angeles and working in Hollywood, performing as an extra. She recently received her third SAG voucher, which qualifies her to join the Screen Actors Guild. Unfortunately, this means that she will no longer be able to work in a non-union position, including as a Disney Princess. She tells me she is fine with that.

A  profound thank you to Krystal for allowing me to relate her story here.

Chapter Three: The ABCs