Sci-Fi College Courses: Why Can't Star Trek Teach You About the World?

By Melissa Lafsky | March 30, 2009 2:06 pm

Who says science education is falling by the wayside? The Online Colleges Blog has compiled a list of the “15 Strangest College Courses in America.” And while the general list is pretty standard (yes, Virginia, there really is an underwater basket weaving class) a decent chunk of them are sci-fi related. The geek-friendly choices include Georgetown University’s  “Philosophy and Star Trek,” the University of California at Irvine’s “Science of Superheroes” (plenty of new material for that syllabus these days), “Myth and Science Fiction: Star Wars, The Matrix, and Lord of the Rings” at Centre College, UC Berkeley’s “The Strategy of StarCraft,” and our personal favorite, “Zombies in Popular Media” at Chicago’s Columbia College.

While it’s easy to laugh these off as “rocks for jocks”-level fluff, discounting sci-fi as an academic-worthy subject is a pretty big oversimplification. The best science fiction becomes so popular, and has such a lasting effect on culture, because it taps into underlying truths about humans, culture, and society.

Even now, current sci-fi mirrors just about every controversy we’ve got going, from the recent “Is Resident Evil 5 racist?” controversy to the religious fanaticism in BG. In fact, many sci-fi writers can get away with plotlines and characters that would never fly in a film or series set in the “real world” (reincarnation-obsessed Muslim fundamentalists as key characters? We think not. Attractive females in wading pools out to destroy humanity? No prob.) Plus there’s the fact that the best sci-fi spawns some pretty interesting work by big names in (real) science.

Of course, choosing the subject matter carefully is important—it’s easy to enhance young minds by teaching the original Star Wars trilogy, while not a shred of academic benefit can come from the wasteland of newer chapters. Unless you’re discussing cautionary tales in film school, that is.


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