(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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.