Why I teach ‘Star Trek’ in my class

My children grew up watching the shows that followed the original series, which continued the tradition established by “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry of tackling current events like war, genocide and pollution. It was good family entertainment that also prompted reflection on issues of the day. And it was this exploration of both space and the issues of the day that inspired me to try to apply these moral lessons to students.

First there was the friendship between Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and Dr. McCoy, aka Bones. Plato described the human soul as composed of three aspects: spirit, reason and emotion. Internally, we each strive to balance these three forces. If we manage to do this well, we become a more virtuous person and attain a fourth virtue: justice. By placing Kirk (spirit), Spock (reason) and Bones (emotion) into challenging situations, we get to observe this interplay of these forces, and we get to hear them say what would otherwise be an internal dialogue.

Spock intends to deliver Pike to this planet so that he can live out his life in a reality unconfined by his physical impairment. Along the way, Spock faces a court-martial where a guilty verdict would result in death. Yet his loyalty and love of Pike override his awareness of the irrationality of his actions. (In the end, the court-martial is dropped, and Pike lives long and prospers.)

Nearly every episode had a moral lesson or dilemma like this, meaning that not only was “Star Trek” great entertainment, but a show that could really make you think. That’s why I was saddened to learn of Leonard Nimoy’s passing Friday. But it is also something that allows me to take some comfort, because I know that his legacy as Mr. Spock, science officer of the starship Enterprise, will live on.