Monday, May 16, 2016

Star Wars

In 1977, my girlfriend and I viewed a midnight showing of a sci-fi movie called Star Wars. We had heard nothing about it prior to entering the theater -- the attraction had been the show time. I saw the next two sequels, then lost interest, but obviously the rest of the world did not. 

Of course, the franchise today has taken over the world. Even two-year-olds wear the t-shirts to school. They all know what is meant by terms like "light saber," "Darth Vader," and "R2D2," and as the kids get older, there is a great deal of cache in knowing the more esoteric trivia. There are preschool Star Wars experts just as there are preschool dinosaur experts.

I have some reservations about showing these violent action movies to preschoolers, although in fairness, most of the kids I teach have received their Star Wars education second-hand, through brand marketing and their dramatic play with the few kids who have indeed watched one or more of the films. It's impossible to escape in much the way it's impossible to escape at least some knowledge of the latest Disney princess.

This is the world we live in and the children are not idiots. Star Wars is clearly important, not just to preschoolers but to the rest of society. It's not a fad: fads don't last 40 years. No, this is by now an important piece of culture, if not art, one that has become so ingrained in or society that the children have decided they must approach it like a course of study. At any given moment on our playground, there are light sabers being wielded, for instance. There is one kindergarten boy who spends most of his time outside using a stick pony to practice his slow motion fencing moves, sometimes with others, but often all alone with his imaginary opponents. There are long, intense debates among the children about the "light side" versus the "dark side," who is related to whom, and whether or not a storm trooper can be defeated with this or that particular weapon. It's obviously more important for boys to learn these things (because even the robots in the movie are "boys"), but girls are making a study of it as well, more often as critics than as participants, although there is some of that as well.

I know there are some schools that ban Star Wars play (indeed, all play that involves weapons or fighting), but I hardly think that's wise. I mean, we're talking about culturally significant art here, something that surpasses even Harry Potter, if only because it has been with us long enough that many of its biggest fans are parents of these children. I am not saying that Star Wars is great art any more than I would say that the music of Miley Cyrus is great art, but it is undoubtedly art of such power that banning it only pushes it underground with the rest of the forbidden fruit.

I cannot stop the children from playing Star Wars even if I wanted to and I don't. It doesn't inspire me, but it certainly inspires a large swath of my fellow citizens and that's why we will play Star Wars at preschool: not because it's what I want to teach, but because that's what the children want to learn. That's what child-led education is all about.

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Jessi said...

My exact thoughts! We are a "nerdy star wars" family and proud of it. I played "weapons" with my brother when I was younger. As I grew up and knew what weapons really were I fought hard to be completely against them (still am). During my first several years of teaching I did not allow gun/weapon play. As I grew in my years of teaching I realized there is no stopping it. When I had my first child (boy) we made sure we didn't give him any weapons, did not show films with weapons and yet he still was drawn to them. He is a very loving, well rounded child and loves to play Star Wars or ninja or fill in the blank weapon play. I have come to realize that there is no stopping the children at school. My only rule is "don't point your gun at your friends.". Not even sure that is followed. Don't even get me started on "princess play"! :)

Judy Yero said...

Tom--I think if the series had begun with Episodes 1, 2, and 3, it might not have become a cultural icon. But Lucas' vision in the first two movies was heavily steeped in archetypes, which tend to speak to many of us even if we don't realize it. Luke's "hero's journey" is still one of my favorite movie themes. I agree that the later movies got carried away with computer gimmicks and battles that kept becoming more epic. Hopefully, it will be the question of "what makes a hero" that finds its way into the hearts and minds of children, rather than the "what weapon does the most damage." And Leia may have been a princess, but she was also a hero, so the girls can get in on it too.

Greg said...

I have had the pleasure of hanging out with school age children for the past 20 years. Each and every year there has been a group of children who live and breathe Star Wars. They build aircrafts and vehicles from the movie out of Lego's. They build ports and different lands out of blocks and cardboard to hold their aircraft. Outside this group is always acting out fighting scenes and any stick that is found becomes a light saber while they are pretending to be the characters from the movie. This is true from 5 year old children to 12 year old children. There amazing part is this group will do this type of play for an entire year after school and never be bored or get tired from re-enacting the scenes.

Pat Petrino said...

I am a kindergarten teacher and a grandmother, and not only are the preschoolers' parents fans, but grandparents, too!
We have a no weapons policy, including imaginary ones, at our school, as do most public schools. I follow district policy, but am a little less worried about play with imaginary weapons, than the "zero policy" enforcers. I just remind my students of the school rule about weapons, and let it go at that.

Children will create weapons out of just about anything (blocks, Lincoln logs, sticks, pieces of paper, cardboard, etc.) so not allowing this type of play is just about impossible to enforce.

I think the Star Wars saga is a part of American culture now, and the characters represent good and evil just like fairy tales do. My seven-year-old granddaughter is a passionate fan, especially of the newest film. For whatever reason, the story has taken hold of our imaginations, and is going to be around for a long time. Someone donated two big coffee-table illustrated books of Star Wars characters and vehicles to me many years ago. They have been loved to pieces by my students over the last ten years or so. I have probably used about ten rolls of tape repairing them each year to keep them usable. Students love to look at the pictures, and anything that keeps children interested in books is okay in my opinion.

But don't get me started on the subject of allowing young children to watch horror films! I am shocked at what I hear from my students say they have watched at home with their parents or older brothers or sisters. Today one of my students told me during lunch that he had watched The Boy this weekend, and he said he "just can't get it off my mind." And this movie, apparently, is a rather bland, but scary show. Last month, one of my boys told me he watched The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (don't know which version.) I asked him who watched it with him, and he said his parents. I find it bizarre, and alarming, that parents show such poor judgement in what they allow their children to see.

Rachel said...

I am a motivated teacher of 4 and 5 year olds, and have a very positive class full of kind and happy children who are often involved in lovely (child-led) learning. I think one of the many factors involved in engaging the children is that they know that their teacher loved Star Wars too, when she was a bit older than them.....Fairy Tales AND Space - brilliant!


Anonymous said...

Luke sky walker is the ultimate "hero." Read up on Joseph Campbell and The Hero's Journey. Google "monomyth." Lucas 100% credits Campbell's seminol work as the inspiration - the template! - for Star Wars. Luke's story is the story of humanity. Research bill Moyers PBS 6-hour series from the 1980s in which he interviewed Campbell. They filmed that at Lucas' ranch. Pre-Internet, 14,000 people wrote to the station requesting the transcripts. All stories, fairy tales, and myths are about us! They help us navigate life. Children know this. Lucas just hit the nail on the head with Star Wars. It speaks to us on a very deep level. I think waldorf's michealmaus touches on these concepts too. Thanks.

Jason Hatch said...

Even little kids in early elementary school can grasp the monomyth concept once they've seen star wars and Harry Potter with obvious comparisons. Makes for great discussion of not just the rigid good vs evil but friendship, ethics, personality types. When the kids pick a character to play they're not just picking favorites but often who matches or complements their developing personalities. Let them fight their faceless stormtroopers and redeem Vader with the power of love.

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