Most middle school and high school literature courses include some introduction to world mythology. It continues to be part of curricula for good reasons. The archetypes found in literature from cultures around the world have their roots in the mythologies of those cultures. Any culturally literate person should have some exposure to recurring mythological tropes as well as to the sources of some of literature’s prevailing allusions. Schools provide this, but the impact often depends on the interests of specific students. Technology can be the unlikely bridge to these ancient stories.
One of the difficulties in connecting students with this content is the abstract nature of most world mythology. The characters and circumstances aren’t always relatable. Although mythological characters tend have timeless traits that are designed to be relatable, many of these same characters also have fantastic powers or live in impossible realms. Given the current popularity of fantasy in literature, film, and gaming, some students love these vivid characters and the exciting worlds they populate. Other students dismiss the same characters as being too unreal. Students who prefer concrete subject matter and relatable situations might scoff at mythology. Some will turn away just because the stories are from such a distant time. Winning over these students isn’t easy.
Despite initial reservations, reluctant students sometimes come around to mythology units as they see the universality of the themes. Not every student will make such connections, though. For those who continue to struggle, another route might be necessary for engagement. Teachers can meet the students where they are by having students immerse characters from world mythology into social media platforms.
This isn’t exactly a profound idea. English language arts and social studies teachers have been doing this for years to bring to life the arcane figures from the content they teach. However, the vibrant personalities of mythological characters are perfectly suited to social media. Students wouldn’t have to base content solely on the actual lives of historical figures, nor would they be limited to a handful of fictional characters from a novel or series. With mythological figures, students could design posts using the bold personalities of figures as guides. They could put the characters in any situation and gauge their likely responses in ways that might be more difficult with individuals from history. Most world mythologies contain enough characters that an entire class could have individual profiles, expanding the dynamic for interaction.
The methodology should be readily apparent. Students would select or be assigned mythological characters and would create and maintain profiles for these characters via Twitter, Facebook, or other platforms. Each post would become a piece teachers could use to assess the students’ understanding of the characters. Students could be assigned to interact with other characters or could be asked to create comments about events taken from the myths in which the characters appear. They could have the characters respond to current events or engage modern situations to help bring onboard the students who struggle to relate to the actual myths.
Such a project could be limited by a few factors. To begin, using social media might not be permissible in some schools. Teachers often can request exemptions for blocked sites or apps, but that doesn’t always work. In any case, privacy setting might have to be at their strictest. If teachers aren’t able to access typical platforms, the same concepts could be parlayed into writing assignments. Another possible blockade might come from students or parents who resist the idea of taking artistic liberties with characters that were once worshipped as deities. This could be more difficult to work around, so an alternate assignment such as finding examples of mythological allusions in contemporary news stories, song lyrics, or films might be needed.
Again, teachers have been using this idea for many years, but its success makes it worth repeating for teachers who might be struggling with a mythology unit. Bridging the most ancient stories with the most current methods of communication might be enough to involve those students who aren’t immediately excited by mythology. If nothing else, teachers will have a novel tool to use for formative or summative assessment. Seeing what the students create could be as lively as reading the myths for the first time.
Written by Jeff Hartman