Beam Me Up

November 01, 1999 2 min read
An English teacher shares her passion for science fiction.

What do The X-Files, The Twilight Zone, and The Outer Limits have in common? The obvious answer is that they are all science fiction television shows. But for students in one popular English class at J.P. Taravella High School in Coral Springs, Florida, they are also homework.

In a clear case of boldly going where few teachers have gone before, Jean Ann Hagy has incorporated these television shows into “20th Century Literature (Science Fiction),” the English class she created and teaches at the school.

Senior Marco Tacca, one of Hagy’s students, believes the course helps expand teenagers’ imaginations. Though Tacca says it’s a great class for anyone who likes science fiction, it’s not for those looking for the easy A. “You have to put some effort into it,” he says.

Hagy, a native of Souderton, Pennsylvania, has been an English teacher since 1966. She moved to Florida and began teaching at J.P. Taravella in 1986. The science fiction class enables her to share one of her life’s passions with her students. “I’ve loved this stuff forever,” she says. Hagy had her first close encounter with fictional Martians when she came down with rheumatic fever as a child. Confined to a bed for a few months, she escaped through books written by her then-favorite author Edgar Rice Burroughs. Hagy devoured Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars, The Gods of Mars, The Warlord of Mars, and Thuvia, Maid of Mars. Since then, she has been hooked.

Though science fiction can transport the reader or the viewer to the outer reaches of the universe, Hagy proposed the course for a very down-to-earth reason. In 1994, the school’s English department was in danger of losing two of its newest hires. Hagy and some colleagues realized that if they could win approval of two new elective classes, the teachers would be kept on to handle required courses. To Hagy’s delight, the department ended up adding her science fiction class and a film studies course to the curriculum.

Hagy divides her course into four units: aliens; time travel; robots, machines, and computers; and monsters, vampires, werewolves, and zombies. Students watch and analyze films such as The War of the Worlds, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Abyss, and Independence Day, and they read short stories such as “Mars as Heaven,” by Ray Bradbury; “To Serve Man,” by Damon Knight; and “Suffer the Little Children,” by Stephen King. There’s also must-see sci-fi TV.

When Hagy shows a film, she divides it into 40-minute segments to be shown over two or three days, using extra class time to pepper her students with questions. “I want them to be able to critique the things they see,” she says. And critique they do. Occasionally, the kids even stump Hagy with their insights into the sci-fi genre. “It’s great,” she says. “Sometimes my students can come up with a question or viewpoint that I had never thought of.”

-Karen L. Abercrombie