A Star Wars based English class for freshmen is being offered for the first time this year.
By Reese Plagenz, ’23.
The transition from middle school to high school can be intimidating for most students, but one of the main changes is scheduling classes with different electives students can choose from that align with their interests and future careers.
However, it’s a requirement that everyone takes the four core subjects: math, science, English and history. It’s proven that these classes are important for every high school student, but it doesn’t mean every student is equally interested in them.
This year a new offer has been made for students to take a more specific topic for their English class—Star Wars Freshman Literature and Composition.
The teacher of the Star Wars FLC course, Micheal Donelson, gave a deeper look into the importance of giving students more specific options in regards to their education.
Q: What made you want to start teaching this class?
A: One of the things that we’ve discovered over the course of time is that by the times students get to high school even if they once had enjoyed reading as a young child. They tend to lose interest in reading because they’re being forced to read things that are not of their interest. When I was thinking about this course when we were doing the Epic Hero cycle, Star Wars is the perfect vehicle for communicating or teaching that idea. It kind of started there, and then I started looking at the standards and I’m like, “We could teach all of these standards in a Star Wars class.” I had proposed, four years ago, but it took a long time before the administration came around. Now, the department is currently looking at this as a pilot class and are looking at other classes that we could offer in the same vehicle. The first semester we’re doing Star Wars stuff, but we’re also doing the two core texts because every freshman will read those two works which used to be Mockingbird and Romeo and Juliet, but this year it’s been changed, so we’ll get into full-time Star Wars second semester.
Q: Are you or any other teacher planning on starting on other classes like this one? Do you know what topics it would be?
A: Some have talked about a sports type of class. There was talk of a Harry Potter class. There’s all kinds of literary movement type classes—if someone wants to do a Renaissance class or the Progressives or whatever. Lots of different ideas are being floated around and we’re working on formalizing them now.
Q: Would it just be FLC or would you progress into SLC courses too?
A: Ultimately the original proposal that Sean Martin and I made to the department was that we do what we call an eight semester curriculum. Meaning, they would be semester classes where you would take Star Wars semester one and Dystopia semester two and then your third semester sophomore year, you’d take something else and you’d just work your way through. It got a lot of resistance from the upper levels because it gets more difficult when you’re looking at AP and IB because their curriculum is pretty much set. It’s looking like it’s probably going to be more freshmen and sophomore [thing], and there might be some offerings for juniors and seniors, but they’ll probably be limited compared to the offerings we’ll make here.
Q: How do you think this has affected the students learning, either positively or negatively?
A: I think ultimately it will be positive it’s been difficult doing it in a distance learning environment. There are things that I would do a lot differently in the classroom than I get to do now, but hopefully we will one day be able to go back to the school and do it the full blown way.
Q: Have you had to make any big changes to the course due to COVID-19?
A: Yeah, I mean the research component is going to be a little bit more challenging doing it from home because we won’t necessarily have access to the resources or the media specialist the way we would if we were in school. it’s not like I’m not doing the things I would’ve done, it’s just I’m not able to do them in the same way or with the same depth. We’re still meeting standards, it’s just not as rich as I would like it to be.
Q: Why did you choose Star Wars as the pilot course, was it from personal interest or did you think students would be most interested in the topic?
A: As you already know I’m already a big Star Wars fan, so I’m very much into the genre. Over the course of years, about 27 years, during each of those 27years I have students who are interested in Star Wars even though it came out thirty years ago. There’s some enduring quality about it that I thought would resonate with students. Honestly, I believe that the Epic Hero Cycle that is embedded in it is really each person’s story. You know we’re all on a journey of some kind. We’re all going to face testing and if we’ll be able to rise above it and have victory. I think that is just a core element that even people who haven’t seen Star Wars can relate to that cycle.
Q: Has there been any backlash or negative comments towards the course?
A: I haven’t heard anything specifically about the Star Wars course. There have been some people in the district concerned that the current curriculum celebrates too many dead white authors as opposed to a more rich diversity in gender equality and racial diversity. Part of the problem there lies when you look back at the authors who wrote the classic Epic Hero Cycles, that time in history there were not as many women authors. In fact, it was looked down upon. It’s hard to pick somebody from that genre that would fit because it would be like saying, prior to when they allowed women to vote, that you should go out and find a women voter. You couldn’t do that then because it wasn’t an option. No, the modern literature that we’re looking at in Star Wars we have more diversity and we have more celebration of female protagonists. Characters like Padimae, Princess Leia and Ray are examples of strong characters that are just as good as any male character.