By Sean Fitzpatrick
“There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?”
You probably have if you live with young people. Having gained control over the galactic Star Wars empire for 4.5 billion dollars from George Lucas, Disney has launched the eagerly awaited seventh episode of the generation-spanning franchise. No need to have a bad feeling about this article just yet. (If you have one, I find your lack of faith disturbing.) This piece will not push a pious Catholic interpretation on a swashbuckling space opera. Nor will it moralize the saga’s pseudo-mythical themes so that movie-goers may be edified by the random laser-blasts of pop culture. Move along. This is not the article you’re looking for. Instead, it looks to often overlooked opportunities that modern manias like Star Wars afford when it comes to winning the hearts of our children. Anyone who has contact with and concern for youngsters itching to experience the new installment of Star Wars should not miss the chance to share this popcorn experience, and use it to build up a rapport that can introduce and influence important experiences.
Catholic author and educator Dr. John Senior wrote, “I have found a large plurality of students who find, say, Treasure Island what they call ‘hard reading,’ which means too difficult to enjoy with anything approaching their delight in Star Wars.” As true as this is nowadays, it does not mean that Star Wars should not be delighted in at the right time and in the right measure. Though people should not become immured in their youth, youth must still run its course—and have its fling to some degree. The natural propensity children have to indulge in romanticism, sensationalism, and escapism is a force to reckon with, for it is something that can either be harnessed by parents and educators towards nobler ends or repulsed towards the possibility of rebellion. Bringing balance to the family involves allowing youth to be young, while at the same time, raising them steadily above the frivolities they cherish as children.
No matter how unappealing Star Wars is to some adults, Star Wars will always be appealing to most children. When faced with the enthusiasms of children in their care, there is a tendency in culturally-protective and traditionally-minded parents and teachers to give things like Star Wars the indifference it ultimately deserves. Though a case may easily be made for setting such a tone in order to demonstrate a mature attitude towards immature entertainments, a case can also be made in favor of holding them in some favor. Children must be met where they are. Though the odds of successfully navigating this course are not so stark as the odds of successfully navigating an asteroid field, care is required. True parenting involves a loving rhetoric, a persuasion to desire the good. To be dismissive is the furthest thing from being persuasive. Rhetoric presupposes conversation, and conversation presupposes relationship, and positive conversation presupposes a positive relationship.
With diversions as innocent and as intoxicating as Star Wars, parents and teachers have an opportunity to thrill and enthrall the hearts of children by permitting fun, accepting their interests—uninteresting though they may be—and reinforcing friendship. Children, like all people, must move from the more known to the less known. The responsibility of parents and teachers alike is to lead and influence children along this path while understanding that they are children, which often means giving them the freedom and the sanction to be childish—including when it comes to harmless silliness in galaxies far, far away. Adults who regard what makes children happy will win their trust and their loyalty.
It is only through affection that young people recognize that their guardians desire their happiness and their good. It is then that they will heed them, and sometimes it takes a little allowance before obedience is embraced. Parents and educators who show that they enjoy talking about Kylo Ren’s cross-guarded lightsaber or the fluvial dampers required to fire up the hyperdrive motivator on the Millennium Falcon are including themselves in the lives of their children and students. It is an inclusion that builds fellowship and friendship. It may even be the case that adults who cheerfully concern themselves with what their children think of wookies and droids may find, in later years, that their children will concern themselves with what they think of adolescent love affairs, the lure of the tattoo, or the myriad pressures of immoral culture.
These menaces are phantoms that must be confronted, and it is surprising how much a common pleasure over a fantasy as flimsy as a Star Wars film can serve as a beginning to an alliance that can withstand attack or trap. Of course, there are lines to be drawn against what sorts of youthful interests parents and teachers can condone and share. Many things that draw the young are empowered by the dark side and, therefore, deserve no quarter as intrinsically perverse or harmful. But Star Wars is not ranked among these. Though banal, it is, at bottom, benign, and its popularity is a powerful platform for a mutual jollity that can lead to a mutual affinity which is essential to any educational endeavor.
St. John Bosco, that winner of souls, had a simple answer to the complex question, “What is the secret of education?” “Love the things children love,” said he. So he practiced and so he wrote: “Affection cannot be shown without this friendly relationship, and unless affection is seen there can be no confidence. He who wants to be loved must first show his own love. Our Lord made himself little with the little ones and bore our infirmities. He is our Master in this matter of the friendly approach. A master who is seen in the master’s chair is just a master and nothing more, but if he goes into recreation with the boys he becomes their brother.” Whenever John Bosco approached a child on the street, his contact was invariably based on soccer, sweets, and the situation of Turin gangs. Only once confidence and camaraderie were given and gained through such lesser subjects was the saint able to teach boys the Sign of the Cross and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is a safe bet that if Don Bosco were at work today in America, he would be ready, willing, and able to chat with enthusiasm about Star Wars.
It is a paradoxical truth that silliness can make seriousness more achievable, and even things as specious as Star Wars can provide a bond for bigger and better things. So, don’t be a nerf-herder when your younglings want to see The Force Awakens this Christmas. Search your feelings. Consider using Episode Seven to your rhetorical advantage and join in the fun. Without giving and sharing some ground, new ground cannot be gained. Unless you love what your children love, they may find it difficult to love what you love someday. Do, or do not. There is no try. May the Force be with you.
Article originally published on CatholicExchange.com
Sean Fitzpatrick is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and the Headmaster of Gregory the Great Academy. He lives in Scranton, PA with his wife and family of four.