Teaching Identity through Alice’s Wonderland

middle school play

It is no secret that theater provides valuable learning opportunities for middle schoolers. At a time when they learn best through physical activity and immersion, it makes sense that putting on costumes and trying out new identities activates their desire to learn. Plays also make perfect projects for middle schoolers. They get to be part of a team, satisfying their social needs, and they are providing a public service, helping them feel part of their community. So how can teachers capitalize on this excitement and high level of engagement? They want to choose subject matter that will both educate their students while still capturing their imaginations.  Why not pick a story that is all about identity and independence, themes central to being a middle schooler?  Why not choose Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland?

illustration of Mad Hatter tea party

A Story About Identity

“Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle.” Alice asks the white rabbit this question early on in her adventures, right after she grows into a giant. In a single phrase, Lewis Carroll is able to summarize his entire fantastical novel as well as draw light onto the subconscious mindset of young adolescents everywhere. He states plainly the struggle middle schoolers face everyday as they try to navigate growing up: who am I?

Since its publication in 1865, many people have incorrectly interpreted Carroll’s nonsensical story as being about drugs or sexual innuendo. They theorize Lewis Carroll was on an intoxicated bender when he wrote about a young girl meeting disappearing cats, eating size altering mushrooms, and arguing with hookah smoking caterpillars.  These theories make logical sense, but Wonderland isn’t supposed to be logical.

middle schoolers in costume

The truth is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is about the journey from childhood to adolescence. It is a story about maturing and finding one’s place in the world. Alice is trying to navigate the confusing, sometimes contradictory world of adults as she leaves her childhood notions behind.  Throughout the story, her body changes shape and size.  She travels through a land where the rules are constantly changing and cause and effect suddenly seem random.

Just Like a Middle Schooler

These obstacles are similar to the challenges middle schoolers face as they go through puberty and face higher expectations. The madcap creatures Alice meets on her adventure represent the adults in her life who tell her what to do, sometimes leading her astray.  Like middle schoolers, Alice must figure out who to listen to and who to ignore. As she makes decisions, she learns to trust her own judgement and feel confident in herself.  There is no better allegory for growing up.

middle schoolers actingMiddle schoolers are in a stage of development where they trying to assert their independence and their identity. They value experiences that help them discover who they are. They are curious and creative.  Middle schoolers long to be taken seriously by adults, but still seek guidance on making good decisions.  It is a very confusing and sometimes illogical time.  That is why Alice’s Wonderland makes the perfect backdrop for describing adolescence. Just like Alice, middle schoolers are filled with curiosity. They want to explore the larger world and interact with it.  They want to make mistakes and challenge ideas that don’t make sense to them. And they want a fun adventure.

Bringing Alice to Life

This November 17th at 6:00 pm at the Burnsville Town Center, students at Arthur Morgan School will demonstrate their theater education by  putting on a production of Alice in Wonderland. In addition to an opportunity for learning about themselves, the play serves as entertainment for the school’s Scholarship Benefit.  The benefit will also feature an elegant four course meal prepared by local farmer, Galean Cortizone and Penland baker, Alena Applerose. All are welcome and should expect an evening of delicious food and hilarious entertainment.

They will also get to see effective, successful middle school education in action. Students will transform into the Mad Hatter and White Rabbit as they entertain and explore what it means to be an adult. They will learn while having fun. They will also take a valuable step to solving the puzzle of “Who in the world am I?”

-by Nicholas Maldonado

Learn more about Arthur Morgan School’s Art Program.
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