chapter  11
13 Pages

Long ago, in a galaxy far away . . . . science fiction in the classroom

ByHazel Bryan

Carr reminds us that our classrooms are microcosms of society. As such, teachers have an obligation to understand their role in a holistic, organic sense with an emphasis on developing the whole child. What, then, does this mean for us, as teachers of English? It means, I believe, that we should embrace a broad view of the purpose of literacy, harnessing its power to provide stimulating, thought-provoking learning experiences. Historically, there have been shifts in emphasis upon the use of English, from the hierarchical, fixed tradition of English presented by Arnold, Newbolt and Leavis (where English was presented as the vehicle through which a national identity could be fostered) to Britton (who sought to promote the actual life experiences of pupils, placing them, rather than the text, at the heart of the learning experience). The visions of English within each of these paradigms are developed around a clear epistemology and embody a particular political perspective. Each version of English views the purpose of English differently; each version has a different approach to subject knowledge and each version places both the teacher and the learner differently in relation to the subject. As such, English, culture and identity are inextricably linked (Marshall 2000). But what of our culture and identity today? Within the colourful, pluralist context of British society, what

might the role of the English teacher be? It has been suggested that ‘Teachers and schools exercise influence not only upon the thoughts and minds of students, but also on their wider development as persons. In an important sense, education shapes persons and their lives’ (McLaughlin 2000 : 112). No small undertaking then! But what of those inter-galactic travellers we considered earlier? How might an in-depth study of their experiences throughout the universe help us to shape the thoughts and minds of the children in our classrooms? This chapter argues that science fiction is the perfect vehicle through which young imaginations can be set alight, moral dilemmas can be explored and the question of what it is to be human can be perfectly contextualised. The chapter offers, initially, a definition of science fiction, exploring the essence of this genre. The chapter then moves to a brief history, from early fantasy stories, through American pulp fiction to the blockbusters of today’s box-office hits. Key themes and icons of the genre are then explored in the context of children’s texts. Finally, a suggested unit of work is offered. This unit has been written with the aim of exploring science fiction in the primary classroom with the theme of ‘cross-curricular work’ woven through it. We know that ‘Children learn best when they are excited and engaged’ (DfES 2003); this unit of work aims to embrace children’s interests and to offer a rich, cross-curricular experience where ‘curiosity, fascination and mobility of thought’ (Brice Heath and Wolf, 2004 : 13) are foregrounded.