When I was growing up, the nuclear-war nightmare and other end-of-the-world scenarios weighed heavily on filmmakers’ minds. From radioactive giant lizards trashing Tokyo to the ironic Planet of the Apes, from On the Beach to Dr. Strangelove, the movies made it clear that our social order was on the edge of extinction.
The Terminator series was the last really popular hurrah of this genre. Unlike the earlier films, it strongly made the point that the future is not fixed. And unlike other dystopian movies, the series’ real hero, John Connor, the young boy destined to organize humanity’s overthrow of the machines, rejoiced in an unconventional education. Rejecting schooling as much as possible (we meet him playing hooky), the future savior learned survival skills at his mother’s knee.
Somewhere along the way, the public got tired of all this doom and gloom. As the technology to make blockbuster science-fiction epics emerged, a more optimistic view of the future grew up with it. Today, the two most popular science-fiction franchises are the universes of Star Trek and Star Wars, which also contain the two most likely futures of education.
Star Trek is the future as modern liberals and socialists imagine it (not as it would be if they actually ran it, mind you). Money as a means of exchange has been abolished in the Star Trek future—a sure giveaway of its socialist core—although even Spock cannot explain how this works. Businessmen are evil and to be mocked—Quark the Ferengi gets no respect from police-state privacy-invading Constable Odo, even when Quark has just saved the Deep Space Nine station. The Star Trek “Federation Council” is modeled on the United Nations, and in the Star Trek universe, a planet has to have a world government to have its membership application even considered by the Federation. Planetary sovereignty does not really exist—in fact, the plot of an entire Star Trek novel revolves around the necessity’ of saving a known terrorist from the wrath of his planetary authorities. The authorities want to execute the terrorist, but in the world of Star Trek, mass-murdering criminals get therapy, not punishment.
Consistent with socialist behavior, careerism comes first in the Star Trek universe. Children, spouses, and lovers are routinely abandoned by parents, spouses, and lovers in pursuit of Starfleet careers. A few examples: Kirk and Carol, the lover he impregnated; Janeway and her ever-absent Starfleet dad; Kirk and his ever-absent Starfleet dad; Riker and his ever-absent Starfleet dad. Even poor pathetic Lieutenant Riley, Kirk’s attache, is left behind by his love so she can pursue Starfleet career ambitions.
The Star Wars universe, on the other hand, is organized according to classical liberal and republican principles. The conflict between the Empire and the New Republic was modeled on the conflict between Great Britain and America during the War of Independence, according to Star Wars creator George Lucas. Planetary sovereignty is important in the New Republic; violating it could cause other planets to secede—a constant worry for New Republic warriors and diplomats.
Nothing is more important in the Star Wars universe than family and fidelity. Some, though not all, bad guys can be redeemed (e.g., Darth Vader), but redemption includes paying for your evil deeds. Even scum care for their families and recognize debts of honor.
Sadly, in the hands of the less-competent writers of Star Wars novels, the distinctive republican features of the New Republic are blurry. (I am not speaking of Timothy Zahn, who should be drafted to write the screenplay for the next movie.) The new Phantom Menace movie also strikes some troubling notes—a democratically elected queen? With the wooden face of a marionette and painted like a mime? Artistically speaking, everyone agrees the new movie is loaded with eye candy, but the clever droids-in-a-box army and other such touches cannot make up for the fact that the citizens of Naboo—whose fate is the centerpiece of the movie—are alarmingly absent. I low are we supposed to care about the sufferings of people who, as far as we can see, either do not exist or are invisible? With all the money they spent on the special effects, couldn’t they have afforded a few extras? And what is with the wooden acting, the repetition of scenes from previous Star Wars movies (the good guy blowing up the bad guy’s ship from inside, the predictable racing scene, the ending ceremony, ad nauseam), the cartoon-like Jar Jar Binks, the unlikely appearances of R2D2 and See-Threepio, the boring revisit of Tatooiue, Anakin’s “virgin birth,” and other elements that had everyone in mv family over age nine squirming in our seats?
As befits socialists, education in Star Trek consists of public schooling, a few private schools, and elitist academies where only a handful get the training they need to attain posts of importance in the Federation. The public schools of the Star Trek future have bells ringing to announce classes starting and ending, homework, grades, detention, gyms with bleachers, school libraries, and school bullies. Both Worf (the Klingon raised by humans) and Alexander (his son) are forced to endure years of taunting from their classmates. The Vulcans, usually so logical and intelligent, have public schools too, where in an earlier generation Spock also had to face endless cruelty from his classmates. Even out on the frontier, Keiko O’Brien bravely sets up a one-room school on Deep Space Nine rather than have her handful of students instructed by their parents or mentors. hi line with much of today’s public schooling, her classes follow no logical, systematic plan. Instead of giving children the “tools of learning”—basic instruction in reading, writing, math, science, and logic—her classes are full of factoids about randomly chosen races and planets, and the field trips are life-threatening.
The sole exception I have been able to find in dozens of Star Trek novels and junior novels is Beverly Crusher. Her pre-Starfleet Academy education was a mix of apprenticeship to her herbalist grandmother, tutoring from various adults, and selfstudy. That book (Starfleet Academy #10: Loyalties) was written in 1996, about three years after the homeschooling movement began garnering media attention, and so far is the only Star Trek book to admit that children can be educated anywhere other than in formal classrooms.
In contrast, schools below the academy and university level are practically unknown in the Star Wars universe. Scanning dozens of books and graphic novels, I found that, while rich kids on Corellia go to school, other children learn from parents, computer programs, droid tutors, mentors, and the world around them. There are no discernible compulsory attendance or child-labor laws, so “street rats” are free to pick up spare credits legally if they can do the work. Hands-on, on-the-job training appears to be the norm. Nine-year-old Anakin Skywalker, who has never been to school, builds his own protocol droid and Podracer, and while this is precocious, it does not appear unusual to anybody. I am very curious about the “training” (not “schooling”) that 14-year-old Amidala received that enabled her to rule a city and then successfully run for queen. I do not have to be curious about the training of other major Star Wars characters. Han Solo was self-taught, mostly via the computer on the ship of the Faginesque “trader” who raised him to be a thief That self-education, plus his real-life experience, was enough to get him through the tough entrance exams for the Imperial Navy Academy. Princess Leia received her diplomatic training via apprenticeship to her foster father. Bail Organa. Wedge Antilles was homeschooled by his parents. Luke Skywalker was brought up on the farm. The huge variety of lesser characters mostly follow in their parents’ footsteps, having learned their parents’ skills.
For those who leave home, apprenticeship is still the norm. Jedis take apprentices, not students. So do bounty hunters. Academies and universities (with the notable exception of the Jedi Academy established by Luke Skywalker, which offers informal seminars, no formal classes, and a lot of individual mentoring) are run by the Empire. In Truce at Bakura, we are told that promising students are funneled through the centralized universities so they can be indoctrinated in Empire propaganda. Graduates are then funneled into powerful positions in the bureaucracy and regional governments. From this we may infer that government-funded universities are not seen to be altogether a good thing in the Star Wars universe.
The military academy on Carida, which Han Solo briefly attended, is where promising students are turned into brainwashed storm troopers. This problem is eliminated when one of Luke’s Jedi Academy students does what every right-thinking kid has imagined—he nukes the school (in this case, by blowing up the planets sun). New Republic leaders feel bad about it, but hey, the kid was under the influence of the Dark Side at the time, and he said he was sorry, so what more can you ask?
Another of the Empire’s delightful educational gambits, as seen in the book Jedi Search, invokes the planet Omwat. The Empire selects promising preteen students and crams their brains with information at a staggering rate. They are repeatedly tested, and if a student fails or cracks up, his hometown is destroyed. It is not hard to see the analogy between this and the crushing pressure of the Japanese education system, where children were once taught their greatest honor would be to the for the emperor, and where even now families are shamed if a child cracks up under the pressure or flunks the all-important pre-university exams.
Here in the real world, we seem to be moving in the direction of Star Wars-style educational freedom and out of the Star Trek educational straitjacket. About 1.75 million children are currently homeschooled. The movement has grown at a rate of at least 15 percent per year for over ten years now, and shows no sign of fading.
Years ago, people used to ask me, “What about socialization?” or “What about college?” Today, they are more likely to say, “I don’t blame you for homeschooling; the public schools aren’t safe.” Movies like 187 and Substitute Teacher are unintentionally great recruiting devices for homeschooling, while the latest round of school shootings sadly underscores the fact that concerns about student and teacher safety are not Hollywood alarmism.
But dodging a bullet is not the main reason more and more families homeschool. We are searching for something more for our children and ourselves: A better education, tailored to our cliild’s abilities. An education that honors God, instead of ignoring or insulting Him. Courses most schools no longer teach—Latin, Renaissance painting techniques, etiquette. Hands-on learning projects that draw the entire family together. The opportunity for work or volunteering that meets the child’s interests, as opposed to politically correct “community service.” The chance to get out in the real world, instead of sitting at a desk eight hours a day. Kids who respect and honor their parents.
Homeschoolers do not have to get all their learning at home or from parents. Educational software, adult mentors, the library, the piano teacher, Internet newsgroups, online academies, websites, 4-H, church groups, the YMCA, and more are all grist for our mill. The real world beckons.
We still live in a society where government rigorously controls childhood. Social workers prowl everywhere, and most people still send their kids to school. Most children are not legalK allowed to work. (One important exception: At any age you can work in your parent’s business or on your parents farm, which is one reason so many homeschooling families have started their own businesses.) In the past, an American street kid could get a legal job sweeping out a store in exchange for food and a place to sleep, but not today. Child-labor laws aside, no store owner would hire him for fear of legal liability’.
For the kids of tomorrow to have the educational freedom of the street scum in a Star Wars movie, much change is still needed. The diploma-granting university system continues to have a virtual monopoly on entrance to good-paying jobs, and it is becoming more difficult to enter or graduate from such an institution without offering a pinch of incense to the caesar of political correctness. Apprenticeship, outside of a few carefully guarded union jobs, is not widely recognized as a valid educational method. Child-labor laws make it difficult for kids to learn a trade without formal schooling, and the plague of lawyers and bureaucrats make informal learning and work arrangements difficult.
But then, homeschooling itself was difficult only ten years ago and barely legal 15 years ago. With steady effort, we now have thousands of educational products to choose from, huge conferences to attend, and dozens of books to instruct us. Homeschool support groups are found from coast to coast, and homeschool magazines are on the newsstands. Research continues to show homeschooled children doing significantly better on standardized tests than their public-school peers, and in every issue of my magazine you will find success stories of homeschooled children winning competitions, creating impressive projects, or receiving some other form of recognition for outstanding work. Fifteen years ago, who would have imagined all this?
Fifteen years from now, how much further might we have gone? Punch it, Chewie!
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