As the end of the year approaches, and cinemas are chock full of the latest blockbusters, there’s one film that has left me thinking about the current state of pupil wellbeing.
Admittedly, the futuristic dystopia of The Hunger Games may not immediately seem akin to the school playground (though the scrum for chips on Friday lunchtimes was a pretty scary place to be), but amid the violence and despair there are some valuable lessons for pupils of all ages.
Back in August, The Children’s Society reported that pupils in England are unhappier at school than children in many other countries. And it’s not just the pupils who are concerned; in July 2015 The Key found that among the top ten pupil health and safeguarding issues for school leaders were cyberbullying, bullying, and gangs and youth violence.
So what does this have to do with The Hunger Games?
SPOILER ALERT: Fans of the series will know that the story revolves around Katniss Everdeen, who survives the barbaric annual elimination contest run by the government to instil fear and keep the populace in check. She goes on to inspire a revolution, eventually toppling the totalitarian state.
Luckily for us, we live in a society where incidences of violence in schools are mercifully rare, and it’s important to note that The Hunger Games is anything but peaceful. However, using the medium of popular culture to interest pupils in democracy and social equality can be a great catalyst for debate. This is especially true here, given that the basic context of The Hunger Games can so easily be related to situations where non-violent protest prevailed (think Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Aung San Suu Kyi).
Besides, the main protagonist is a strong, independent woman. Surely this is a good thing for boys and girls alike to witness, especially when there is clear evidence that the gender pay gap in the UK is still very much alive. Pupils need to see more examples of female leaders who command respect – regardless of whether they’re real or made up. Those who know the story will be well aware that Katniss is a far more confident character than her male counterpart, Peeta Mellark, and it’s nice to see a reversal of the stereotypes often portrayed on screen.
Despite media reports that schools are “exam factories” producing students unequipped for the real world, I haven’t met a single school leader who doesn’t extoll the virtues of individuality and independent thought. We all know that in applications for apprenticeships, jobs, colleges and universities the key to success is standing out. So encourage your pupils to question the norm, teach them to challenge injustices, and allow them to disagree with each other and yourselves. And if you can do it off the back of a great film, all the better.
*Other dystopian fantasies are available