- The Student-Teaching Model Is Outdated: Here's How We Can Do Better - September 15, 2021
- Visualize: How Seeing What's Coming Changed My Teaching - August 16, 2021
- 10 Lessons About Teaching from My Youngest Son - June 24, 2021
- Ending the Epithet “Try-Hard” Once and for All in Classrooms - June 18, 2021
- From STEM, Let's Pivot to the BRANCHES of the Humanities - May 25, 2021
- Would Education Collapse If Teachers Stopped Working for Free? - May 20, 2021
- 10 Ways to Teach Like Ted Lasso: Part II - April 21, 2021
- 8 Tips So Your Substitute Plans Don't Suck - April 14, 2021
- 10 Ways to Teach Like Ted Lasso: Part I - March 12, 2021
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teachers: Habit 3 - First Things First - February 26, 2021
Spoiler Alert - If you haven't seen The LEGO Movie, plot lines will be shared in this article!
I can't believe I'm saying this, but as my wife and I left the theater after watching The LEGO Movie, we were jaws agape. What The LEGO Movie Can Teach Kids of All Ages As self-proclaimed LEGOphiles, we spent much of our youth constructing worlds both with the directions and totally antagonistic to them. Yet, as I drove home, I couldn't stop thinking about one thing - that there was a message for children of all ages (including this 31-year-old one). It was a bunch of conflicts. It was child psychology.
I came home and poured over my notes from college, trying to piece together a connection. Lo and behold, The LEGO Movie can relate to all facets of Erik Erikson's psychosocial stages of development. My child psychology professor is going to be so proud.
Trust vs. Mistrust (Birth - 2 years)
Question: Can I trust the world?
Wyldstyle (played by Elizabeth Banks) is one of the more unique characters of a children's movie. Her appearance is certainly atypical of a heroine (with bright colors in her hair and on her clothes, she humorously reminds the rest of the cast that she's "not a DJ"). She's also arguably the most important character, since she drives most of the plot line. Wyldstyle is the first Master Builder we meet - a cadre of characters who are able to quickly build anything with the bits of LEGOs in their environment. She also has major trust issues, as her name is nothing more than a self-generated pseudonym (Emmet, the main character, learns her real name is Lucy). Oh yeah - and she's dating Batman.
What Wyldstyle can teach about this stage of development is that we often create alter egos to protect ourselves from the possible harm of the world. It's only when we learn to develop trust for those who care about us that we can realize who we truly are and how important we can be. Trust is one of the biggest components of education, and we all tend to be more leery the more we are burned. It should be our job to encourage trust and cooperation not just in toddlers, but kids of all ages.
Autonomy vs. Shame / Doubt (2-4 years)
Q: Is it okay to be me?
Our main character and protagonist is sure to invite the laughs. He's your typical, everyday person - much like the voice actor Chris Pratt (prior to Parks & Recreation). Emmet follows the rules. He seems relatively happy. He tries hard to do good. He goes to work. He has interests - sort of. And friends - less sort of. Most of all, there's nothing special about Emmet until he uncovers the Kragle - and then he lets everyone down for not being the "Special" that the prophecy predicted would save their realm.
I think many kids in this age enter this conflict with some struggle. When they're younger, they are oblivious to the world around them. However, once they realize that others have thoughts and feelings, they begin to see guilt and embarrassment. Most of them are happy-go-lucky, but it's important to build the self-esteem of all these little people, even when they're not the "Special" we wished they'd be.
Initiative vs. Guilt (Pre-schoolers)
Q: What is okay for me to do?
A: Good Cop / Bad Cop
One of the more interesting and dynamic characters in this film is Good Cop / Bad Cop (voiced by Liam Neeson). A split personality that shifts at the turn of the head (with LEGOs, that's pretty easy to do), he transforms from your tough-guy-cop (I couldn't stop thinking about T-1000 in Terminator 2) to an affable, thoughtful, Irish-accented caring police officer. GC/BC is later blackmailed by Lord Business, the main antagonist of the movie, to do his bidding. He does this by Kragling Good Cop / Bad Cop's family and later erasing the Good Cop face. However, Good Cop re-emerges to make some fateful decisions that help Emmet to save the day.
Many pre-schoolers struggle with limits. They also try to understand how they are helping. Sometimes their thought process of "help" isn't exactly what we think it would be - think of the kid who tries to wind the 150-year-old cuckoo clock for you while you're in the shower. Likewise, pre-schoolers want to still learn and experiment, but try to figure out the boundaries of what is acceptable before becoming their own version of Bad Cop in the grocery line. In addition, we sometimes have to remember that there is often more to people that cause them to act the way they do. Granted, their family might not being held hostage by Krazy Glue, but there is often more to the story.
Industry vs. Inferiority (K-6 Grade)
Q: Can I make it a world full of people and things?
Just thinking about Benny (voiced by Charlie Day) makes me laugh. Everyone who's had LEGOs remembers that one guy you never played with. He's the one with a broken helmet that the dog got a hold of back in 1995. Part scrappy and part one-dimensional, Benny is the only Master Builder who builds the same thing all the time - a 1980s spaceship - and is of little use until the end of the movie -- when the perfect thing needed at the time is, you guessed it, a 1980s spaceship.
As young students enter elementary school, they begin to look at their value in comparison to their peers. They measure their worth to that of others their age in terms of reading ability, general knowledge, humor, appearance, and kindness. For some students, this is empowering. For others, it's almost disemboweling. It should be our goal - as educators - to help every student find that their unique and complex natures all contain great intelligences and that they'll all be valued in some way, even Benny's.
Identity vs. Role Confusion (7-12 Grade)
Q: Who am I and what can I be?
Master Builders vs. "Everything Is Awesome"
This is the conformity vs. individuality theme that is most apparent in The LEGO Movie. On one hand, we have a group of characters who do nothing but work on their own, constructing unique and awesome pieces from their own imaginations. The problem is that they are unable to work together, and sometimes their imaginations get the best of them. On the other hand, the fun theme song "Everything Is Awesome" elicits the importance of conformity ("everything is cool when you're part of the team") and building community. The downside of this is that nobody living "by the rules" has any personality.
As a middle school teacher, I continually watch students struggle to strike it out on their own, pushing limits while also trying to maneuver within social boundaries and expectations set forth by their parents, friends, and us teachers. There is a fine line that each of us toe, and we have to be able to teach students that there's time for that imagination and there's time for us to work together. Truly great individuals learn what composite of each they possess.
Intimacy vs. Isolation (Age 20-39)
Q: Can I love?
Just like in the comics and in his own movies, Batman (voiced by Will Arnett) is an enigma. It's somewhat startling to learn that he has a girlfriend. However, the viewers can see he struggles with his love for Wyldstyle in comparison to his own interests, some selfish (think of him looking in the mirror), but some also selfless (as he is continually the savior of the missions).
By the time people reach this conflict they are no longer kids, but young adults. Oftentimes, the most important piece of their growth here is finding love. During these 20 years, these adults seek out their mate. Jumping on the love wagon too soon can sometimes crash the Batmobile directly into the tree of love. On the other hand, the longer it takes to find love, the harder it seems to be. People in this age bracket need more than a mate - they need support of family and friends to offer companionship. Love is more than just what occurs between a pair of lovebirds; rather, it stems from a thought in the world that we can give more than we can receive and be okay with it.
Generativity vs. Stagnation (40-64)
Q: Can I make my life count?
A: Lord Business
You learn to hate Lord Business (played by Will Ferrell) right from the start. He's pure evil, and his actions are reminiscent of Ferrell's Jacobim Mugatu villain character in Zoolander. He flails himself upon the people as a dictator, portraying an easy happiness below a glacier of gloom and doom. He makes himself look larger by using leg pedestals and encourages his "subjects" in his realms to follow his rules to the "T" - or else.
Later we learn that Lord Business is nothing by a personification of how a real-life boy feels about his father. His father is a successful businessman who returns home after a long day at work to his basement, which has towers of incredible looking LEGO worlds constructed by the plans in the box. The young boy wants to play with them, but the father / Lord Business puts limits on his access to those toys. As many of us in the "workingman" phase of life struggle with defining our role in the world and our employment, it's easy to forget just how large an impact we can have on our kids. We shouldn't.
Integrity vs. Despair (Retirement)
Q: Did I do good for the world?
A: The Kragle
The dreadful Kragle is a superweapon that falls into the hands of Lord Business. Business attempts to use the Kragle to "freeze the world," a power that each one of us fears - until we realize that Kragle is just a shortened version of the term "Krazy Glue." Lord Business (the real-life father) uses the Kragle (Krazy Glue) to freeze things so that they cannot be disturbed, almost locking in what has been done, protecting it from the possible disturbance of others - like the young boy.
As elderly people approach the end of their years, they want to be sure that what they've done and what they continue to do is impactful. They want to approach their twilight years with no regrets. This involves their employment, their community giving, and their children. It often involves a lot more questions than answers - and sometimes that's okay. But these biggest of kids need support to know that what they've done has made a positive impression on many surrounding them, friends and family most included, but applying to just about anybody. As older teachers approach retirement, they find themselves in a similar mindset. However, after 35 years of teaching, they'll have interacted with nearly 1,000 students at the elementary level and nearly 5,000 at the secondary level. You're darn right they did good for the world.
Looking forward, children's films like The LEGO Movie are beautiful contraptions on the surface, but there is so much more below the surface in the hidden messages. Such is the impact of education. Class should be and often is a bunch of fun. We teachers do some of the most bizarre things to make students learn (I work on my vertical leap just so I can jump on desks for the sheer impact of the surprise). But, then again, Erikson would say that I'm still in the phase of life where I'm trying to get my students to love my class. He's mostly right.