What has pale skin, drinks blood and makes a good teaching resource?

8th January 2010 at 00:00
Edward and Bella of the Twilight novels may not be the best role models, but they are characters that teenage girls can really sink their teeth into in the classroom

His skin sparkles like diamonds in the sunlight. When he isn't stopping cars with his bare hands, he's blazing fury from his irresistible ochre eyes. And, y'know, trying not to drink his girlfriend's blood and stuff.

But Edward Cullen is not just the supernaturally dashing - if emotionally abusive - teenage vampire hero of the Twilight series of books and films. He is also a teaching resource.

Rachel Simmons, a California-based writer and educational consultant, has designed a series of exercises to help teachers deal with the Twilight obsession that has swept classrooms on both sides of the Atlantic.

Following the recent film New Moon, based on the second book of the series, Ms Simmons decided to help teachers point out some of the unhealthier aspects of the Twilight saga.

Edward Cullen has an unfortunate tendency to treat his girlfriend, Bella, like an incompetent child. He also sneaks into her bedroom to watch her sleep, and blames her for his inability to be in her presence without wanting to sink his teeth into her neck.

Such problems are only multiplied in New Moon, when Edward leaves Bella. Bella repeatedly attempts suicide, in the hope that her befanged beloved will rescue her.

"Among the cringe-worthy morals of this story: when you're in love, the only thing that matters in life is your man," Ms Simmons said. "If you get dumped, your life is over. Manipulation and game-playing are effective ways to get his attention."

Bella has no motivation in life, aside from desire for her bloodsucking paramour. "I found myself praying quietly for a scene where Bella paints, or sits on a bus with the debate team, or does something unrelated to obsessive, self-destructive pining," Ms Simmons said.

However, she believes it would be counterproductive for teachers to launch into an itemisation of the series' flaws. "Twilight is a sacred cow to girls: you don't insult it," she said. "It is as much a means of bonding with other girls as it is a piece of literature. Challenging Twilight is like taking on rock 'n' roll. You're not going to win."

She suggests that teachers approach the subject with tact, asking general questions. Did pupils like New Moon? Why do they think girls are so obsessed with Twilight?

This can lead to harder questions: would pupils befriend someone like Bella? If they were introducing Bella to their friends, how would they describe her?

She then recommends that pupils examine the lyrics of the song "Addicted", by Kelly Clarkson: "It's like I can't see anythingNothing but you." They can then debate whether the song applies to Bella.

Finally, pupils divide into different teams, and discuss whether Bella is better off with Edward, with Jacob Black, his werewolf rival for Bella's affections, or on her own.

"It's an opportunity to get them to talk about relationship dynamics," Ms Simmons said. "I wanted girls to question Edward and Bella's relationship, and the dynamics of abuse. Is this the kind of love story they want?"

But Jessica Ringrose, of the Institute of Education in London, argues that teachers can also use such activities as a spring-board for more challenging discussions.

"Twilight articulates lustful teenage desire very, very well," she said. "It's like porn for teenage girls - they want to feel that intense sexual chemistry.

"Often, teenage girls' desire is shot down. So we need to make space to talk about desire and about acting on that desire. Girls should have the opportunity to explore what it feels like to be sexually aroused."


Focus students' vampiric obsessions in educational consultant Rachel Simmons' three easy steps ...

1. Questions

- What was your favourite part of the New Moon movie?

- Why are girls so obsessed with the Twilight saga?

- Do you think you'd be friends with a girl like Bella? Why?

- Who is Bella, besides Edward's girlfriend? Does she have another identity?

- Bella seems willing to die to get Edward back. Is this an accurate portrayal of a typical girl in love?

2. Love as addiction

Distribute a copy of the lyrics to Kelly Clarkson's song "Addicted". Ask pupils to raise their hands if they agree this song could be about Bella. Then ask who believes the song does not apply to Bella. Divide into groups accordingly, and ask each group to prepare an argument about why the song does or does not apply to Bella.

3. Team Edward, Team Jacob or Team Bella

Ask pupils if they believe Bella is better off with Edward or Jacob, or on her own, and divide them into groups. Ask each to prepare a short presentation defending their viewpoint with evidence, and allow time for questions and debate.


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