Reaching Kids through Star Wars

(You guys can thank my blog instructor for the trimmed size of this entry.  I do tend to ramble, but he kindly and graciously reined me in.  Thanks, Dan!)

Kids still love Star Wars.  For those of you who have no contact with the under 12 set, they are WAY past Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.  The students I serve as a parapro speak with authority on Anakin, Obi Wan, Lego Star Wars and Clone Wars (Google them if you don’t know), and they are as fanatical about it as we ever were. Though technically I serve students who have been officially identified as special ed, two years ago our assistant principal noticed that there were some others who seemed to be falling through the cracks, lonely and a little out of place.  Several of them were interested in Star Wars and so, knowing my fantastical leanings, she suggested I collect them one day a week to encourage friendships and beneficial social interactions.  She was (and continues to be) a genius!

I started very quietly with four 4th graders.  They became so enthusiastic that word spread, and suddenly I had kids I didn’t know stopping me in the hall to ask if they could join the Star Wars Club.  Hate me if you will, but I turned them away.  My focus was on my four young Jedi apprentices and giving them a safe, happy place to be themselves.  The second year, however, I stumbled upon more students who needed a “home,” and others who had no need of socialization skills but were just too enthusiastic to refuse.  Embedding my original four as the core group, the club grew to twelve members, 4th and 5th grade, girls and boys.  And I was still turning kids away.

Now that you have the framework, let me share the content.  These kids are smart.  Not all of them make great grades, but they think great thoughts and their minds are open to great ideas.  The second year I structured the meetings around the showing of the Luke Skywalker trilogy; the three Anakin Skywalker movies deal with a darkness that I really don’t want to address with 9- and 10-year olds, not to mention the violence of Anakin’s fall from grace. All of them have seen the first two movies, Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, and most are following the cartoon series Clone Wars, so they know Anakin’s story well enough that I can reference it in our discussions.  Here are some of the concepts they’ve embraced:

  1. The impact of George Lucas on movie making, including ILM, THX, Pixar; and the people who were inspired by Star Wars, including James Cameron and Peter Jackson.
  2. Hubris-the Greek concept of “false pride” or believing that you’re more important or more powerful than anybody else.  We start this one after the first Death Star blows up and identify it wherever it shows up after that.
  3. Philia-Greek concept of brotherly love.  We discuss that the Greeks had many words for love instead of just one.  The concept of “love of friends” is one that really appeals to the kids, and we easily extend the conversation to include Harry Potter and others.
  4. You are defined by your decisions.  Everybody faces turning points in their lives.  The nature of your life is determined by the choices you make.  Luke made good ones; Anakin made poor ones.  We discuss the decisions that they, the students, face and how to determine which one is the right one.
  5. The Hero’s Journey.  George Lucas studied Joseph Campbell’s teachings on the hero and so the stages of Luke’s journey follow the structure he set down.  I don’t go into detail because this is a club not a course, but we talk about receiving the call, refusing the call, accepting the call, the wise guide or mentor, companions to share the journey, facing great trials and overcoming them, finding success and returning to the world to share what you’ve learned.  It’s a loose structure, but they understand the gist of it.  And it is easy to transfer the concepts from one story to another.  Kids love patterns, and children’s literature is full of them.

Let me tell you something:  these kids get it.  They see instinctively what many adults have long forgotten.  They take every one of these concepts and make it their own, each of them finding the applications in his or her own life.

It is wonderful.  It is exciting. It is one of the great joys of my life.

9 thoughts on “Reaching Kids through Star Wars

  1. This sentence of yours resonated with me. “these kids get it. They see instinctively what many adults have long forgotten.”
    So many adults don’t know that. Those are lucky kids having a person like you in their lives.

    I used to love working with kids through scouts (girl & boy) and employment as well. I got tired, lost sight of why I did it, and moved away from it. Your post has made me think I needed to get back to those fresh young minds.

    • Even at 53, I continue to be an idealist. I believe in human potential and great possibilities for life. Kids are open to possibilities in a way most adults are not. I watch my husband watching news and news talk shows, and I can’t help but think they could all use a little Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.

  2. This sounds like a great and beneficial club for the kids! It also makes me want to finally go back and re-watch the movies in the “new” order, which would make Anakin/Vader the ultimate, tragic hero of the series, rather than Luke. 🙂

  3. Fantasy (and excuse me if I refer to Star Wars as fantasy, since I do not see much sci-fi in the series 😛 ) is a world of possibility. Tolkien, when trying to define what would be his own point of view in the creation of worlds (“On Faerie”) said that. I always felt, since I was that akward 12 year old child struggling to find a place, that Fantasy gave me another perspective to see the world, to refreshen it. That is what those kids need. They have much to tell and they understand sometimes more than we do. I have seen (and created) a lot of groups that united such common interests (Magic: the Gathering, Star Trek, etc.) and created bonds forever, and that helped develop so many people, making their life, despite its problems easier. I always though that our world is too serious and that it does not permit and that this “fandom” allows us to be children again, in a certain way. This was a very interesting post. And your kids are surely lucky!

    • I agree with you whole-heartedly, and would take it one step beyond. I believe that myths and stories are absolutely indispensible to the success of civilization. It is essential to teach the stories to children who are still wise enough to receive them with joy, so that the values those stories teach become embedded in their psyches. Joseph Campbell was able to define those values across cultures, and many of them are just plain old common sense. Don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t cheat, love your children, honor your parents, etc, etc. In addition with my Star Wars kids I hit heavy on being defined by the choices you make. Learning the “morals” of our stories help children (and adults for that matter) make the right decisions.

      • We have also to rememeber that “stories” and “myths” are essential to the development of what we are as a species. I don’t think myths in past days were believed as many truths, but as woldviews. As modern scientific adults we always think that something is either true or false… but we never try to see it as a possibility (not truth, mind you) and as a part of our culture. Sometimes I wish we could change some categories or at least think of them. Tolkien and some modern Myth studies tend to agree that maybe we shoud read not only sci fi and historic myths, but also fantasy under another point of view, one that most children have not yet had a chance to cast away!

      • I have started a project–currently put aside for others–on American Myth. It’s probably not what you think–a little more fun, I hope–but argues that our disperate society can be eased into a more unified culture by acknowledging the heroes and stories of which we are all aware. Superman, Batman, Indiana Jones, Luke Skywalker and more–these are epic characters whose stories represent common knowledge for all Americans. They celebrate characteristics that I believe we, as a people, value across our diverse ethnic backgrounds, including independence, strength, defense of the weak, and a call to justice for the wicked. True, most of these characters have permeated American awareness through visual media, but I believe that movies and TV are the oral tradition of our time. People did not read Shakespeare; it was performed for them. People did not read the Odyssey; it was told to them as entertainment by professional storytellers. Don’t get me wrong: I am not suggesting we let young people off the hook with reading. I just believe that the stories and the values they teach are the most important thing, whether we teach them through movies, television or the internet. Even video games reach them better than some adults. If we use those platforms to instigate discussions with children and willing adults, we can define more precisely the standard for a citizen of our society and increase our chances for success.

  4. Great job! I wish more schools had this sort of thing going on.
    And adding to your comment, I agree that games and films are the best way to tell myths now a days. Video games give children a hero to look up to and be inspired by… So long as it’s not a game about drugs and hookers.

    After reading, “If we use those platforms to instigate discussions with children and willing adults, we can define more precisely the standard for a citizen of our society and increase our chances for success”, I believe we can at least try and do this across the States. Sending emails or visiting schools, with a mission to give children a better education; To give our future generations a culture that we didn’t really have.

    I sent you an email if you are interested in discussing more.

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