A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…
Seeing these simple words, vibrant blue letters on a black background still gives me the chills. I take no shame in the fact that I’m a geek when it comes to Star Wars. And before you start thinking that I was that kid that collected all the figurines and Lego sets and lunch boxes when I was a kid, well, you would be wrong. That was my old neighborhood friend who lived behind me and, yes, I was super jealous.
As awesome as the Star Wars franchise is, I’ve always been drawn to the stories behind the movies, especially the movie-making process and creativity behind the scenes when it comes to George Lucas’s epic saga (and let me please go on record and say that I was not a fan of Jar Jar Binks). So it came as no surprise to my family that Disney’s new series, The Mandalorian, was going to be must-see television in my house.
Aside from all the connective tie-ins to previous Star Wars movies and sub plots, the main character, a bounty hunter who is so far unnamed – he’s been called Mando, short for Mandalorian and it if you really want to know you can click on this spoiler link – is literally someone who has not shown his face to another life form since he was a child. As he explained in the fourth episode, “This is the way.”
So what does this bounty hunter have in common with the rest of us, including our students, in this galaxy? He’s the metaphorical depiction of how we can all find ourselves hiding behind a mask.
There’s a reason why the famous line from Shakespeare’s As You Like It – All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players – still resonates with us today. Like the actors portraying our favorite characters on television and movie theaters, we all tend to hide behind a mask of our own making. And we do this for various reasons. Sometimes we’re hiding pain or fear. Other times we’re trying to portray ourselves as someone we really wish we could be (but really aren’t). Adults put on their masks at work to hide what issues they may be facing at home. Students in classrooms all across the country put on their masks in an effort to be accepted amongst their peers.
Unfortunately, people sometimes feel they have to confine themselves to what society expects them to be. I know people who have put on a mask and pretended to enjoy being boxed into such an uncomfortable space in their lives that they felt like they were drowning.
On a work trip to Australia a few years ago, I encountered the tallest human being that I have ever been in the presence of (and I am a huge NBA fan.). I know it was wrong of me – seriously, some force of nature just took over and the words just poured out – but I asked him if he had ever played basketball, knowing, he was probably sick of that question. I may as well have asked him how the weather was up there.
“The truth is that I have never felt the desire to pick up a basketball in my life,” he said matter-of-factly. He essentially accepted my apology without me having to even ask for it. My face must have said it all.
“Listen,” I began, “I am not always a moron. But this isn’t one of those times.”
As we continued to talk, he let me know about how much he hated playing the game as an awkward kid, disappointing coaches and teammates at how uncoordinated he was. For many people, being tall automatically equals good basketball player. We’re actually shocked when this isn’t the case. But this is a standard we’ve created in our society.
And it’s no fun having to live up to them.
The Dove Campaign For Real Beauty, aims to “celebrate the natural physical variation embodied by all women and inspire them to have the confidence to be comfortable with themselves.” Although efforts like this are important, more needs to be done to get these messages out to our younger girls. From influencers on social media platforms and magazines to Hollywood films, the expectations and pressures that young girls are facing today is incredible. The definition of what beautiful is supposed to look like is being fed to them earlier and earlier in their developmental years. By the time they are exposed to campaigns, such as Dove's, it's sometimes too late.
Jennifer Siebel Newsom founded the nonprofit, The Representation Project, after her first film, Miss Representation, garnered critical acclaim at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. The documentary “exposed the ways in which mainstream media and culture contribute to the underrepresentation of women in positions of power and influence,” according to the organizations website. The film warranted a lot of attention and demand for more discussion and social action, according to organization’s mission.
While Newsom’s first film focused on the underrepresentation of women, the lens focused on men in her second film, The Mask You Live In. The movie follows the lives of young men and boys as they “struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating America’s narrow definition of masculinity.”
The film dives deep into the kinds of messaging that boys and young men hear today through various media and in society, including “messages encouraging them to disconnect from their emotions, devalue authentic friendships, objectify and degrade women, and resolve conflicts through violence. These gender stereotypes interconnect with race, class, and circumstance, creating a maze of identity issues boys and young men must navigate to become “real” men.”
What Does This Have To Do With Our Students?
In a perfect world, parents would send their perfect children to the perfect school where the perfect teacher was always met with perfectly smiling, happy students ready and willing to learn and have fun. But we don’t live in a perfect world. And our children are not always perfectly happy. Our kids, unfortunately, know what it is like to wear a mask in and outside of the classroom. Gaining acceptance amongst their peers and even other teachers, is important as kids grow older. They are struggling with their identities and who they think they are, what they want to be.
As teachers and parents we have to be Better Than Good for the sake of our children. As I mention in the book, The Happy Manifesto, before our kids can follow the First Rule of Happiness, which is to be Better Than Good to others, they have to understand the importance of being Better Than Good to themselves. Self-love means respecting and appreciating themselves for the people they are – inside and out.
Activity: “I Am”
There are many resources available that provide classroom activities to support the self-esteem in our students. One of those resources is the Teach organization dedicated to helping teachers find educational opportunities to enhance their careers. One activity they list in a blog post is the “I am” classroom activity, in which kids list positive traits about themselves on a sheet of paper (I am caring; I am loving, etc.).
“It utilizes the effective and positive affirmation technique. Students are encouraged to think positively and with energy about what makes them who they are. The idea is that by writing down such positive thoughts, they are reinforced in the students’ minds, and by thinking about themselves and their attributes positively, their self-esteem is heightened,” according to the Teach blog.
Once the list has been completed, students are then challenged to decorate their papers by finding images that correspond to the positive traits they listed. Images can be found online and in magazines.
I like the idea of taking the “I am” activity to another level by having the students not put their names on their papers. This way, the teacher can read the characteristics out loud so the class can guess which of their classmates match these traits. Again, the effective and positive affirmation technique is now shared amongst the entire class.
For example, when Student A hears how awesome student B is by hearing a number of B’s positive characteristics, Student A will associate these with Student B. This is the kind of activity that can create a more positive culture within the classroom. Studies have shown that happier and positive classroom environments are conducive to academic success. It might not happen overnight, but with consistency and conscientious effort, we can make a big difference for our kids. With our help, they can avoid floating around through galaxies far, far away hiding behind a mask.
Click on this link for more great activities centered around building self-esteem in our kids.
Question: How have you as a teacher implemented any kind of self-esteem activity in your class? What was the outcome? You can comment to this blog or tell me on Twitter @phillipdcortez.
Phillip Cortez is the author of several children’s books, including Ava & The “Monsters”; When I Close My Eyes/ al cerrar mis ojos and The Happy Manifesto.