Top 5 Star Trek Life-Lessons for Teachers

“Space, the final frontier, these are the voyages…”

If you’re a fan of science fiction or have been paying attention to American culture over the last five decades, you can complete that sentence.

Whether it is Star Wars or Star Trek, our fascination with space entertains us and challenges us. As for Star Trek, its mission is derived from its very name. It’s not about war, it’s about a trek, an exploration of the unknown.

Since airing the first episode on September 8, 1966, the media franchise created by Gene Roddenberry has become a worldwide pop-culture phenomenon.

ThinkFives asked our Trekkie colleagues if there are life lessons for teachers that can be derived from Star Trek. Their answer was predictably, “It’s only logical.”

Trust Logic

In many episodes, Mr. Spock would turn to Doctor McCoy and say, “It’s only logical, Doctor.”

The tension between logic and emotion is one of the driving themes of Star Trek. Mr. Spock himself epitomizes the tension as he is half Vulcan and half human. Spock speaks for the importance of logic and even his ultimate sacrifice in the Wrath of Khan is summed up in the ultimate logical line, “The Needs of the Many Outweigh the Needs of the Few.”

The importance of logic foreshadows the coming of the computer revolution and how today logic underlies the basis of all algorithms and robotics we create. Later Star Trek series more deeply explore the challenge of robots and humans interacting in the same world.

What does that mean for teachers?  Developing logical thinking, problem solving, and critical analysis in students is so important. It is also why coding class – even for those not interesting in programming – is a great life-lesson.

The Wisdom of Star Trek

  • “Logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end.”
  • “Insults are effective only where emotion is present.”
  • “Insufficient facts always invite danger.”
  • “In critical moments men sometimes see exactly what they wish to see.”
  • “Computers make excellent and efficient servants, but I have no wish to serve under them.”

Embrace Humanity

While Mr. Spock represents the indisputability of logic, Captains Kirk, Picard, Janeway and others are the leaders who embrace their humanity. They balance logic and emotion, their personal needs vs the needs of their crews. While humans are imperfect, through their missions they learn to embrace the best of it while constantly trying to learn from others and improve our shortcomings.

For teachers, it is so important for our students to embrace their talents and accept their mistakes.  Students by definition are unfinished products and teachers must appreciate their “incompleteness.”

The Wisdom of Star Trek

  • “Intuition, However Illogical, Mr. Spock, Is Recognized As A Command Prerogative.” –Captain James T. Kirk
  • “Compassion: that’s the one things no machine ever had. Maybe it’s the one thing that keeps men ahead of them.”–Dr. McCoy
  • “We prefer to help ourselves. We make mistakes, but we’re human–and maybe that’s the word that best explains us.”–Captain James T. Kirk
  • “Improve a mechanical device and you may double productivity. But improve man, you gain a thousandfold.”–Khan Noonien Singh
  • “Sometimes a feeling is all we humans have to go on.” James T. Kirk, “A Taste of Armageddon”

Obey The Prime Directive

Every Trekkie knows, the Prime Directive is not just a set of rules; it is a philosophy of exploration and at the very heart of Star Trek. History has endlessly proven that whenever one powerful group interferes with a less developed civilization, no matter how well intentioned that interference may be, the results are invariably disastrous.

The Star Trek Prime Directive – a prohibition on interference with other cultures and civilizations – is the cornerstone of Starfleet philosophy.

The Wisdom of Star Trek

  • “A star captain’s most solemn oath is that he will give his life, even his entire crew, rather than violate the Prime Directive.“– James T. Kirk
  • When the evil must be destroyed. That is the Prime Directive. And you are the evil.
  • “There’s a reason why it’s Starfleet’s General Order number 1.” – Harry Kim
  • A rationale to break the directive, “that refers to a living, growing culture. Do you think this one is?” Kirk to Spock.
  • “A species that enslaves other beings is hardly superior — mentally or otherwise.” – James T. Kirk, “The Gamesters of Triskelion”

Embrace Diversity

“Star Trek” broke barriers with each successive series, and the Original Series touched upon many of the most important topics of the 60’s – but wrapped in science fiction in a way that avoided preaching. The initial cast had a black woman, a Russian during the Cold War and an Asian man among the main crew working together for the survival of all. The series also famously had the first interracial kiss on network television when Lieutenant Uhura and Captain Kirk kissed.

Such messaging is evidenced in the leadership of Kathryn Janeway or an episode showing two survivors of a war-torn planet, each half black and half white, but mirror images of each other and both insisting in their natural superiority.

The Wisdom of Star Trek

  • “The prejudices people feel about each other disappear when they get to know each other.” James T. Kirk, “Elaan of Troyius”
  • “Leave bigotry in your quarters; there’s no room for it on the bridge.” James T. Kirk, “Balance of Terror”
  • “The glory of creation is in its infinite diversity, and the way our differences combine to create meaning and beauty.” Mr. Spock
  • “‘Star Trek’ is about acceptance, and the strength of the Starship Enterprise is that it embraces diversity in all its forms.” George Takei
  • “Star Trek was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms.” Gene Rodenberry

“Boldly Go Where No One Has Gone Before”

The world awaits you.  Never stop discovering or learning.

At its core, Star Trek is an adventure of exploration. The original Star Trek’s 5-year mission was to explore strange new worlds and to seek out new life and new civilizations. As Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek’s creator, shared, “It isn’t all over; everything has not been invented; the human adventure is just beginning.”

Captain James Kirk was named after Captain James Cook, famed British explorer, navigator, and cartographer. The USS Enterprise was named after Cook’s HMS Endeavour and even Star Trek’s celebrated mission was inspired by Cook’s journal entry “ambition leads me … farther than any other man has been before me”.

As teachers we captain the launch of lives of learnings for each of the students entrusted in care. If we can spark that love of learning, who knows where that will take our students – to college, to career and yes, if we teach long enough, some will go to space.

The Wisdom of Star Trek

  • “They used to say that if Man was meant to fly, he’d have wings. But he did fly. He discovered he had to.” James T. Kirk, “Return to Tomorrow”
  • “It’s not safe out here. It’s wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross; but it’s not for the timid.” Q, “Q Who?”
  • “You know the greatest danger facing us is ourselves, and irrational fear of the unknown. There is no such thing as the unknown. Only things temporarily hidden, temporarily not understood.” James T. Kirk, “The Corbomite Maneuver”
  • “Our species can only survive if we have obstacles to overcome. You remove those obstacles. Without them to strengthen us, we will weaken and die.” James T. Kirk, “Metamorphosis”
  • “To all mankind — may we never find space so vast, planets so cold, heart and mind so empty that we cannot fill them with love and warmth.” Noel to Kirk, “Dagger of the Mind”

Is there a lesson in Star Trek that you appreciate?



What do you THINK?

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