Friday, April 8, 2011

Homeschooling, The Star Trek Way.

When we started homeschooling in 2008, I frequently used Star Trek episodes as a mental health break. I arranged our lesson schedule so the boys' one-hour quiet-time began at 2 pm, when Star Trek Deep Space 9 aired. It was a lovely respite that bolstered my spirits so I could face the dinner rush.

Now the boys watch with me. Initially I just let them watch because I'd reached a point where I believed viewing one more single episode of Dora The Explorer or Blue's Clues or Scooby-Doo would drive me insane. So we began with a few of the tamer episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, moved onto the original series, got hooked on Voyager, and fell hard for Deep Space 9 before moving onto the movies.

Star Trek an integral part of our homeschooling life.

Overall it's been a positive influence on the boys. They follow and discuss the story arcs and themes. They theorize outcomes and character motivations. When they engage in imaginative play, the solutions are now less likely to be a light saber battle than a technical or engineering fix. I credit Star Trek with giving the boys language skills and vocabulary that outstrips their peers, ie the other day my 9 year old marveled that his new science kit had "an ingenuous closing mechanism."

Star Trek episodes1 are a great supplementary tool for our course work. Here's a list of possible tie-ins:

Language Arts

Shakespeare lovers will enjoy The Conscience of the King (TOS) about an inter-galactic travelling troupe of Shakespearean actors.

Wrap up a unit study on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes with the episodes Elementary, Dear Data (TNG) and Ship in a Bottle (TNG).

Wonder how Mark Twain would get along with Data and Picard? Check out his appearance in Time's Arrow (TNG).

Picard and the crew are trapped in a recreation of Robin Hood in Qpid (TNG).

A character's obsession with Les Miserables is at the core of For The Uniform (DS9).

After my boys watched Heroes and Demons (VOY), a retelling of Beowulf, they were obsessed with Grendel for weeks.

(Edited: April 13) The tradition of Ancient Greek drama is evoked in Muse (VOY).


Star Trek The Original Series is a treasure-trove of lessons for Classical Education students. Want to learn about Greek mythology? Well, it's been liberally interpreted, but Who Mourns for Adonis (TOS) is interesting.  Curious about the Romans? Here's the episode for you: Bread and Circuses (TOS). Need to learn more about Greek gods? Plato's Stepchildren (TOS) is sublime. This episode features the first interracial kiss on network TV!

Life in the thirties plus the evils of pacificism can be discussed after you watch The City on the Edge of Forever (TOS). Not had your fill of history? Try A Piece of the Action (TOS)  about a planet where the culture is -- for reasons I can't recall -- based on 1920 gangster film. FIZZBIN!!

Doing a unit on the Third Reich? I highly recommend Patterns of Force (TOS). Don't dwell on the natural questions of "WHY? WHAT? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? SPACE NAZIS!!??" just enjoy the ride.

Who doesn't love a good "Jack the Ripper Was An Alien Parasite" story? WHO?, I ask you. Watch Wolf in the Fold (TOS)  -- it'll knock your socks off.

Everything I know a know about the OK Corral I learned from Spectre of the Gun (TOS). I'm going to assume the whole episode is a documentary. A HISTORY documentary. Homeschool lesson LEARNED.

Are there gaps in your knowledge about Abraham Lincoln and Geneghis Khan? Good news! Both are featured in Savage Curtain (TOS).

Finished reading "The Crucible?" Bet you'll get a lot out of The Drumhead (TNG),  an exploration of witch hunts and the Macarthy Era.

Life for a black man in 1950s America is the framework for Far Beyond The Stars (DS9) while Roswell, New Mexico (circa 1945) is the backdrop for Little Green Men (DS9).

Supplementary information from the episode Concerning Flight (VOY) concluded our Leonardo Da Vinci study.

What ever happened to Amelia Earhart? Turns out she was abducted by space aliens and used as genetic source for a race of slaves: The 37s (VOY).

Social Studies

 Human trafficking and drug use is covered in a surprisingly light manner in Mudd's Women (TOS).

A discussion about racism and intolerance might be inspired by a viewing of  Let That Be Your Last Battlefield (TOS)

Researching the issue of over-population is a good reason to watch The Mark of Gideon (TOS).

Angel One (TNG) would be a great supplement for a discussion on matriarchy. Secondary goal: teaching young people that no one can resist Jonathan Frakes in a sparkly v-neck blouse.

Fun with archaeology in Captain's Holiday (TNG), The Chase (TNG) and Gambit (TNG).

Where do you stand on euthanasia? Use Half a Life (TNG) as a starting point for a debate. Then segue into the subject of eugenics with Space Seed (TOS)Doctor Bashir, I Presume? (DS9),  Masterpiece Society (TNG).

What are the ethical considerations when granting rights to artificial life forms? The matter is dealt with in Author, Author (VOY), The Measure of a Man (TNG) and Ship in a Bottle (TNG).

The plight of First Nations people is showcased in Journey's End (TNG).

There are many parallels between the Deep Space 9's Dominion War and our current War on Terror .  Though they were produced in 1996, Homefront (DS9) and Paradise Lost (DS9) are even more poignant today when our civil liberties are curtailed due to media-hyped fears of sleeper cells and domestic terrorism.

Neo-luddites are freaks. To wit: Paradise (DS9).

Will America descend into fascism in the 21st century. That's the basis for a gritty episode called  Past Tense (DS9).

Capitalism is going to be the downfall of America. If Americans won't learn the lesson from Canadians maybe they'll learn something from Prophet Motive (DS9).

It should be watched in combination with Bar Association (DS9) which is about collective bargaining and trade union.


Most of the shows are math-centric. Very often the manipulation of figures is the turning point of the plot. But there are a few specific instances:

Fun with binary numbers: 11001001(TNG).

Researching principles of Dyson Spheres? Check out Relics (TNG), featuring James Doohan.

Everything I know about Fermat's Last Theorem, I learned from The Royale (TNG). Erm. I actually don't know shit about Fermat's Last Theorem. Or his first theorem, for that matter.

Let the kids watch Move Along Home (DS9) and call it research into game theory. A viewing of Statistical Probabilities (DS9) is a reinforcement of the principles of statistics. Same goes for Think Tank (VOY).

Astro-physics is discussed in Playing God (DS9) and Starship Down (DS9) and a few hundred other episodes.


Really any episode that features the science or engineering officers from the crews (Spock, Data, Seven, Dax, Scotty, Geordi, B'Elanna, Miles) is going to be science-rich.

Zealots **cough*Creationist Nut Jobs*cough** using religious doctrine to stifle scientific discovery and discussion is the theme of In The Hands of the Prophets (DS9).

Evolution isn't pretty. As witnessed in Threshold (VOY). Who needs a tongue anyway?

Science always suffers when doctrine stymies research, as explored in Distant Origin (VOY).

A Bill Gates/Steve Jobs-type character finds a space ship from the 29th century and harvests the technology in a bid to get very rich: Future's End (VOY).

The real-life applications of space elevators warrants a viewing of Rise (VOY).

Health studies:

When intoxicated you will do crazy things, a la The Naked Time (TOS). Teach your kids about that addictive behaviour can start from benign circumstances by watching and discussing Symbiosis (TNG) and The Game (TNG). The biological components of drug addiction are discussed in Hippocratic Oath (DS9).

Are your children leaning toward an unsavoury lifestyle choice, ie becoming hippies. There's no time like now to teach them that no one like hippies. Especially space-faring hippies, so sit them down and watch The Way To Eden (TOS).

If you have unprotected sex with strange alien ladies you'd better be prepared to parent a little brat like Alex, the relevant episodes are The Reunion (TNG) and New Ground (TNG). Same lessons go for ladies who let alien life forces enter their wombs (see: The Child(TNG)).

Sexual orientation was explored in The Outcast (TNG). Yay, that's right Star Trek was lobbying for gay rights in 1992. Suck on that Glee! It's not handled as adroitly as I would like, but the issue of homosexuality is also touched upon in the episode Rejoined (DS9).

Have any more episodes that can be deemed educational? Let me know in the comments and I'll update this list.

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1 Missing from this list are episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise, because I wasn't an avid viewer. On account of it sucking.


  1. Wow, I've never had any interest in watching Star Trek before, but this has me curious. Especially the part about using ingenuity to triumph instead of guns...

  2. I'm impressed. No, really. I had no idea Star Trek covered so many historical topics. Now you've got me thinking I should watch an episode, just to see what I've missed. So see? Now you've taught me too.

  3. Nice.Have you seen the new Starfleet Academy store? Although, I have yet to complete the book: Science Logs. Gives real world comparisons. Make it more memorable than a regular science reader would. For Physics there's also Star Trek Physics which I have read almost twice. There's also Trek Law and Ethics. Both I own, but I have yet to read. They are more for adult fans or really studios younger ones in say, 8-12+grades...

  4. This is a wonderful post! Before I homeschooled both kids, Popeye coming on Cartoon Network was our lunch break. Then we'd go back to work until sister got home from school. I'm doubtful I could write up a similar post about Popeye....

    I love tying in fictional shows related to whatever non-fiction topic we've been studying. I'd pick Star Trek over The Magic Treehouse any day.

  5. I'm your willing slave. Except I almost just said hey, I liked Enterprise, then I realized that I was actually thinking of TNG and if I'd actually said that I would have incurred your everlasting scorn and disgust. And yet I'm never capable of just not saying what I almost just said. Magic Treehouse - GAH!

  6. Impressive! Wow. I think if I homeschooled I would let them watch Star Trek all day.

  7. I've never been a fan of the original series (Shatner makes me cringe), but Patrick Stewart set my sexual compass to intellectual and well-spoken back when that was a very needed counterpoint to the neanderthals with whom I went to school. We watched Voyager with our girls when they were about 18 months old, and the (original) theme song, along with Jonathan Archer, made up for some of the problems with Enterprise. I liked DS9 too, naturally, but the slimmer cultural scope made it a very different kind of program.

    And yes, Jonathan Frakes actually DID look hot in that outfit, for once. I love how they expected him to be the hottie of NG, but it was Picard all the way, with *very* rare exceptions like that one. Another was when they discover the alternate Riker that got left behind in that underground tangle; he was far less arrogant and deeper somehow, as though he had grown up without an audience to impress.

  8. I love love Star Trek. I own all of TNG on DVD (it's my favourite). The last time I was able to watch every Star Trek (and I do mean every Star Trek, not just TNG) was when I was nursing my first. He used to nurse for 45 min every 3 hours, and he did that for months. It gave me a lot of TV watching time. I can't wait to indoctrinate the kids.

  9. Wow. Can I just say you're all kinds of awesome? My daughter is three and we're just starting to homeschool her. The Hubs and I are both geeks and this just totally opens my eyes to the possibilities of integrating entertainment and learning. You've got my mind buzzing thinking about other shows that you can use as supplementary education but Star Trek is definitely a great starting point.

  10. Oh my goodness, LOVE THIS! Thank you :-)

  11. Ancient Greek drama: Muse (VOY)

  12. Is there a Star Trek episode which relates to claiming welfare benefits?

  13. Love this! Thank you. (Enterprise is good, though - trust me.)

  14. Great article, except for the bit about Enterprise sucking. It didn't.

  15. " one can resist Jonathan Frakes in a sparkly v-neck blouse." <-- Best line ever! LOL!!

    We have found that Star Trek has the ability to wrestle with serious issues in a very balanced and thought-provoking way. It certainly is a good way to initiate discussions on those topics. I look forward to using Star Trek with my own children when they're old enough. (They're 3.5 yrs and 10 months, so we have a few years before they're old enough for Star Trek.)

    I agree that Star Trek: Enterprise sucked. I stopped watching partway through the 2nd season (or was it the 3rd?). I tried to give it a chance, but it was quite disappointing.

  16. I agree with Jeff B. Enterprise didn't suck. It was a little weird in that the tech was slightly more advanced than TOS, which was a bit of a mindbender, but the story arcs were really good. I was pissed when it got cancelled. I'd have loved to see more of the Trip/T'Pal story.

    Now see, here's the thing... I've been a Trek Junkie since I was... oh hell... Let's just say I was sneaking staying up late to watch TOS at midnight when I should've been in bed during school. Anyhow, my kids have grown up watching Trek. It doesn't hurt that our last name is the same as the swashbuckling Hikaru Sulu. I kid you not. I'm so much a Trekkie that I married Sulu(h). My parents used TOS as a teaching tool with me when I was small. Roddenberry was a GENIUS and his writers were amazing at being able to take topics that could have been potentially explosive and make them entertaining and a teaching moment.

    Another great thing to watch as a teaching tool is Super Dimensional Fortress Macross. Not Robotech which is an abomination that concatenates parts of Macross with other anime and totally butchers it, but the Macross series itself. Also, Macross 7. Bonus points for watching it in Japanese with English subtitles. That counts for foreign language study right?