Teaching Star Trek

If I wanted to teach my daughter about Star Trek where would I start?

Answer by Jon Ferreira:

When approaching your daughter about the virtues and joy of being a Star Trek viewer, I would start with explaining that despite being set in the future, it is a pointed reflection of our contemporary society, with all its injustices and social inequities. It addresses our prejudices, and all the work we still have left to do. But it’s projected through the lens of the future, replete with dazzling technology and a truly egalitarian society, free of greed, enmity, and exploitation. And yet, the show is not about gadgets and technobabble, but rather, the human condition. It is about us —  more evolved and enlightened — yet still facing the struggles of overcoming the corrosive and dangerous elements in ourselves, regardless of how accepting and magnanimous we’ve become. The future is about personal responsibility, and being responsible citizens of the galaxy. The characters on Star Trek are stewards of the universe, and their ongoing mission is one of exploration and making peaceful contact with new species. Roddenberry had a very touchy-feely idealism, but examined the human condition with great depth and philosophical rigor.

In order for your daughter to understand the spirit of Star Trek, she must first understand the guiding principle by which every Federation/ Starfleet character lives by. The Prime Directive, also known as Starfleet General Order 1 or the Non-Interference Directive was the embodiment of one of Starfleet’s most important ethical principles: noninterference with other cultures and civilizations. At its core was the philosophical concept that covered personnel should refrain from interfering in the natural, unassisted, development of societies, even if such interference was well-intentioned. The Prime Directive was viewed as so fundamental to Starfleet that officers swore to uphold the Prime Directive, even at the cost of their own life or the lives of their crew. Undoubtedly, Roddenberry was thinking of European’s treatment of Native Americans and subsequent genocide, African Americans path to slavery, the forced conversions of Amazonian tribes, and every other act of subjugation, even when governed by the best intentions. Gene wanted socially conscious explorers who didn’t ‘conquer’ space, but respected the aliens they came in contact with, and didn’t impose their technology, morality, or belief systems on those unlike us. It’s the very essence of tolerance and cultural communication and exchange. Star Trek embodies the good in each of us, and the simple commitment to empathize with others. You can point to the bitter and acrimonious culture wars and race riots ripping apart our country today. It’s found in the urban streets of Baltimore and the lofty halls of Congress. In the words of Lincoln, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Roddenberry saw the same division and unrest out his window in 1960s America. An unpopular war was waged in some far-flung country we didn’t belong, and the streets were erupting in peaceful and violent Civil Rights protest. Star Trek was not some cold, distant, and alien fantasy, but an introspective work of art targeted at the very heart of our society.

The obvious first place to start is with the original series — Star Trek: TOS. Although the production qualities are abysmal, and the acting broad and overblown, the stories are some of the best Science Fiction has ever produced. Famous Sci-Fi writers wrote for the show, and often explored complex issues like race relations, intolerance, prison reform and rehabilitation, the darkness found in each of us, imposing their views on other species, ethnic cleansing, genocide, keeping peace and upholding justice without interfering or meddling in others’ affairs. You might have to directly address the fact that although the show is very progressive and enlightened, there is still rampant sexism on the show. Apparently, there is a limit to how far into the future you can see the evolution of your society. We are all products of our time. A good lesson, and undoubtedly, a teachable moment.

Once you’ve worked your way through the sadly brief three seasons of TOS, you should probably move on to the first six films. In many ways, these films add depth and credibility to the franchise, and counter the cheesy distractions of the poor production qualities of the original series.

From there, the other series vary in quality and efficacy. In my opinion, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is the most mature, profound, cerebral, consistently high quality, well written, and exquisitely acted. But there is much to love about Star Trek: The Next Generation as well. The other two series have great episodes and memorable characters, but aren’t always consistent in quality and delivering the signature Star Trek philosophy and world view.

At the end of the day, the most important thing to convey to your daughter is that Star Trek is so popular and has such a devoted fan base because it meets so many of our human needs. It is a nourishing and visceral combination of ideas, action, story, philosophy, morality, ethics, and social commentary, and it has the ability to inspire us to be the evolved and enlightened society we should all aspire to. It is thrilling and action packed, yet cerebral and thought-provoking. Star Trek dares us all to boldly go where no one has gone before. To be our better selves.

If I wanted to teach my daughter about Star Trek where would I start?