I am taking a quick break from my current Hero unit to remember better days. This is not to say that I don’t enjoy exploring heroes from other cultures and the cultural studies that come from it, but I am just life tired right now. My school is constantly going back and forth with in-person and online teaching/learning and things are constantly in the air one day to the next. I was looking through my “memories” on Facebook and a year ago I was in the middle of my fairy tale unit and having a BLAST with my 10th graders!
This unit is the favorite every year (with both students and myself), so I prefer to go back in time today and recharge on that positivity! Come along if you like 🙂
I remember being pretty young when I first discovered that the REAL Little Mermaid did not become a princess and she actually DIED to save her prince! While I still dance along and belt out “Under the Sea” every chance I get, seeing this other side of the story was also intriguing to me. I remember thinking about the sacrifice she made for someone she loved. Shortly after that I started reading the Grimm stories and seeing the “darker” side to the Disney movies I loved; comparing/contrasting their stories and meanings.
Fast forward to being in my early 30’s and back in college pursuing my teaching degree and being exposed to critical lens theory for the first time. I was hooked and realized that in a way I had been doing something similar for years by just being extremely analytical, now I was just taking it to a new level! Then, becoming a new teacher and wanting to introduce my 10th graders to wide world of critical lens theory. I was positive that it would enhance their analysis skills just as it had for me, but how would I do it?
It was then that I started to think about some of the classic Disney movies I had grown up with that were now seen as problematic- such as Peter Pan. If I thought more critically about it, would I really want my daughter to watch a movie that literally sings about “What Makes the Red Man, Red”? If I look at it from a post-colonial lens, that and so much more is extremely problematic. Of course, “it’s just a children’s movie”, but weren’t so many children’s stories and songs created to teach them a greater cultural truth?
The list just started to grow and grow of things I could see and do with Disney movies and critical lenses. Such as gender norms in Snow White, social class issues in Rapunzel, cultural issues in The Princess and the Frog, etc. However, I also needed to make sure it was tied to the standards. So, I had to make sure that cultural viewpoints and experiences were connected to the text as well how looking at how Disney transformed the original source maternal.
This made for wonderful discussions on the cultures these stories came from and how Disney both “transformed” the stories while still letting the original cultures come through. To add to the fun, they got to have a go at it themselves!
As one of the culminating pieces, my students worked together in groups to identify a culture that they felt had not been represented at all or not represented well by Disney. They researched the culture, identified a story that well known and connected with that culture, and modified it and make a Disney movie pitch. To turn up the heat on this assignment, I asked for business professionals in the area to come in and judge the group pitches. It was a wonderful way for students to see how their skills could be leveraged in “the real world” as well as get feedback from others in that professional setting.
All in all, this is one of my most favorite units ever and one that my students always respond well to and remember long after they officially leave my classroom. I hope that this inspires you to do something a little creative and fun in these crazy times!