28.01.2019 change 28.01.2019

"The Matrix" or "Avatar" can help young people understand stereotypes

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Hit science fiction films such as "The Matrix", "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" or "Avatar" and science fiction books can help schoolchildren understand stereotypes and thus prevent discrimination, believe the authors of the international project "StereoSciFi - Stereotypes and Hard Science Fiction".

As part of the project, its authors created a catalogue of 12 SciFi films and 12 hard science fiction books, portraying social stereotypes and various ways of organizing the society. According to the catalogue authors, they can be attractive for young recipients and useful for teachers who create educational programs.

They emphasize that discrimination, and even violence resulting from stereotypes is a current issue in our daily life and in the media. "Using something associated with leisure and entertainment, that is, science fiction books and movies, is a great way to innovatively and interestingly introduce and discuss the problem of stereotypes and discrimination among young people" - says Angelika Siniarska-Tuszyńska from the Faculty of Philology of the University of Lodz.

"StereoSciFi - Stereotypes and Hard Science Fiction" is an international project, in which institutions from Italy, Portugal, Spain, Poland and Lithuania participate. It is co-financed by the European Commission under the Erasmus+ programme. In Poland, it is carried out in the Department of Educational Research of the Faculty of Educational Sciences, University of Lodz.

Its main objectives are to help students understand stereotypes, prevent discrimination and facilitate teachers` work with youth. For that purpose, science fiction books and movies have been selected for the StereoSciFi catalogue in a multi-step selection process.

Among the 12 films that can be used to discuss particular stereotypes, the authors propose such films as "Stepford Wives", "The Matrix", "Terminator 2: Judgment Day", "Avatar", "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" or "Bicentennial Man". The 12 proposed books include "Beggars in Spain" (Nancy Kress), "The Positron Man" and "The Ugly Little Boy" (Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg), "Friday" and "Stranger in a Strange Land" by Robert A. Heinlein or "The Time Machine" by H.G. Wells.

For each film and book, the authors present an overview, storyline and included stereotypes. Often repeated social stereotypes include race, gender, origin, social class, health, religion. There are also cultural stereotypes, such as social roles, technology in culture, customs or subcultures.

In "Stepford Wives", women are required to be perfect wives - a clear stereotype from the 1950s or 1960s - and the world should be adjusted to male requirements. In "Avatar", we are obviously dealing with a racial stereotype: colonizers, conquered tribes" - explains Siniarska-Tuszyńska.

As part of the project, the authors have also created StereoSciFi Activity Suitcase, which will contain a minimum of three exercises for each book and film in the catalogue. Exercises intended for students over 14 years of age are designed to involve various activities.

"We are still working on the exercises, but they will certainly include work on an alternate script, where the main character is not an individual discriminated against because of the origin, but someone else. Or maybe it is the same character, but he or she encounters different people. Exercises can also include campaigns organized by students as part of the fight against a given stereotype or discrimination motive, as well as all kinds of discussions or attempts to reach a compromise" - notes the cultural expert from the University of Lodz.

A guidebook for teachers has also been prepared. It contains tips on the use of the StereoSciFi Catalogue and Activity Suitcase, as well as suggestions for discussing stereotypes and discrimination issues with students.

Why have the authors selected science fiction books and movies to discuss stereotypes? According to the creators of the project, it is an extremely popular genre among both young people and adults, because it is a product of mass culture. "But also because stereotypes in science fiction works are simply extremely clear, easy to read, interpret, and interestingly emphasised" - admits Angelika Siniarska-Tuszyńska.

The selection of films and books was made by: AidLearn, University of Lodz, Telsiu Švietimo Centras, EuroNet, Otxarkoaga and Agrupamento de Escolas Emídio Navarro. The catalogue will be available in many languages and can be downloaded for free from the StereoSciFi website.

The catalogue and proposals for exercises will also be distributed to schools in partner countries: Italy, Portugal, Spain, Lithuania and Poland. The project authors will also try to promote the catalogue in other EU countries. The project will end in autumn 2019.

PAP - Science in Poland, Kamil Szubański

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