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Equity & Diversity Opinion

Lessons From Star Wars to Inspire Your Students

By Janae Phillips — April 30, 2019 4 min read
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Editor’s note: The Harry Potter Alliance (HPA) serves fan-activists of all ages in 38 countries. The organization pioneered a framework in which fans of pop culture franchises like Harry Potter and Star Wars can have a huge impact on social causes. In honor of May the Fourth, Janae Phillips, director of leadership and education, shares strategies for using Star Wars themes for teaching and learning. Join us on Thursday, May 2 at 8 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time on Twitter for a Star Wars themed #Globaledchat!

Star Wars may take place in a galaxy far, far away, but the story is close to home—and that makes it ripe for global learning. Because Star Wars is universally known, its themes make for useful learning analogies for both casual viewers and hard-core fans. While there are dozens of lessons to be pulled from the franchise, here are four that stand out as part of the series’ core.

1. Rebellion Is Built on Hope

When we look for opportunities to make positive change in our world, it’s easy to start to focus on all of the things that are wrong with our communities, our neighborhoods, and our culture. That’s not to say those things should be ignored or understated, but focusing on the wrongs doesn’t necessarily make for sustainable change-making fuel. It’s all too easy to find yourself feeling a little hopeless, and in Star Wars, we learn that hope is one of the most powerful things we have.

To teach change-making from a place of hope, start with a strengths-focused approach: What resources and skills do your students have as individuals? As a classroom? As neighborhoods and communities? What is completely unique to where you live, and how does that make your community strong? Use this information to think about how your community is uniquely suited to make positive change. For example, if you live where the weather is usually sunny, your community may be uniquely able to champion sustainable energy alternatives. As General Leia says when the Rebellion appears defeated, and they have lost hope in their ability to fight, “We have everything we need.”

2. Women Rule

Speaking of Leia, the Star Wars galaxy is full of women taking leadership roles in their communities. Whether as a princess or a general, Leia uses her bravery, empathy, and strategic thinking to lead the Rebellion through times of great hardship. In the newest trilogy, characters like Rose Tico stand up for what they believe in even when that means standing up to friends and powerful institutions alike. And, of course, there’s Rey, who spends much of her life waiting for an invitation to stretch the bounds of her opportunities and eventually learns the only one she needs an invitation from is herself.

On our planet, women have a long history of leading real-life rebellions and cultural breakthroughs, but your students probably haven’t heard of many of them. Take time to learn about the great women and nonbinary leaders throughout history and current events, and if you notice young women and nonbinary students sitting in the shadows like Rey, be sure to challenge them to step up and take up space.

3. Understand Our Relationship to the Past

It is important to learn about our history and cultural traditions but it’s also important to be able to discern when it is time for those traditions to evolve. From the beginning, Star Wars has spent a lot of time exploring this question; we see that the Jedi are dedicated to their traditions to the point of their own harm, that obsession with the past can destroy, and that old trauma left unaddressed will impact the present and future.

Talk to your students about the ways our own planet’s traditions both help and harm our communities. Can they identify what cultural norms, beliefs, and traditions impact their own families and communities? What do they like and not like about those norms? How are those norms perpetuated by action? In the end, to be able to make positive change, we must be able to examine the cultural roots of our communities, honor the work that has come before us, and be ready to help that culture evolve into something new.

4. Diverse Communities Are Stronger

The Rebellion of Star Wars isn’t built from just one culture or even one planet; it’s strong because it celebrates and empowers the differences of its members. This is in stark contrast to the Empire that erases the identities of its Storm Trooper soldiers and seeks to control everything in the galaxy.

As your students consider strengths, historical leaders, and cultural norms and traditions, push them to think about the ways those things have been influenced by cultural sharing, an exclusion of cultures, or erasure of cultures. What do we lose when we wipe entire planets from the galaxy or exclude and seek to destroy entire cultures? Like the Rebel leaders, your students can become champions of a planet that celebrates and respects the diversity of our communities.

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Follow the Harry Potter Alliance, Janae, Heather, and the Center for Global Education at Asia Society on Twitter.

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The opinions expressed in Global Learning are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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