Monday, February 10, 2014

"Everything Is Awesome": A Lesson from The Lego Movie

Image by TooMuchDew
[CC BY-NC 2.0]
I took my kids to see The Lego Movie over the weekend. Truth be told, I was as excited to see it as they were! And it did not disappoint: the kids loved it, and I loved it too. Partly I loved it for the nostalgia--I was a Lego Maniac back in the day--but partly I loved it because of the message of the film. (Here's a solid review of the film that doesn't give anything away, but might convince you to go see it: I Really Wanted To Hate THE LEGO MOVIE.)

The film tells the story of Emmet, an average, happy-go-lucky guy living in Bricksburg. He lives what might be considered a boring life: he follows "The Instructions" to a T. (Get it? Lego? Instructions?) He loves his job as a construction worker, building things according to The Instructions. His life's credo is summed up in the movie's theme song, "Everything is Awesome" (I can't help but love it--it's so infectious!) everything is long as you are a team player, and get along well with others, and follow The Instructions.

But despite his by-the-book life, Emmet may be more than he first seems! Could he be a Master Builder? Can he learn to build without following The Instructions? Could he be The One? (Okay, so the story is a bit of a knock-off of Star Wars, The Matrix, Lord of the Rings, The Wizard of Oz, or any other average-person-might-be-more-than-s/he-seems-and-is-in-fact-going-to-save-the-world film. But truly, it works on a lot more levels than that!)

With the possibility that he might be a Master Builder, Emmet begins to think that not following The Instructions might actually be the real way to find that "everything is awesome."

Here's a bit of a scene I thought was pretty terrific...

Here we find Emmet, explaining to his mystical mentor and fellow Master Builder his amazing idea...but he's so used to following the instructions, they think his out-of-the box idea is...kinda lame, actually. The Master Builders start to question whether he actually is as special as they first thought.

But, later in the film, Emmet actually finds a brilliant way to help solve their incredible problem because he knows how to follow the instructions.

I loved this theme of the film: there is no "wrong" way to play with Legos. Some people follow the instructions. Some people never follow the instructions. Both are okay. Both are necessary if you're going to save the world. Both ways to play are "awesome."


I wonder if the same thing is true in education today? Are there times we need to do it by the book--"follow the instructions?" Are there times we need to mash-up the pirates, the superheroes, the spaceships, and the wild west--"breaking all the rules?"

I wonder if there is a place for standards documents to provide structure, but also a time to raise questions about whether these standards are actually the best fit for the needs of students?

I wonder if we can recognize that standardized testing has a place and a purpose for understanding student achievement, but also recognize that the way the data generated by testing is often used in ways that are so, so out of whack?

I wonder if there is a place to expect all teachers to follow specified "best practices," but also room to encourage teachers to teach with their strengths?

I wonder if there are times we all should follow the same procedures and policies throughout the school, and other times teachers should flexibly customize these procedures and policies in ways that are authentic to their subject area, the developmental needs of their students, and their personal dispositions?

I wonder if finding that balance--as Emmet does--might make us more likely to apply the theme song from the Lego Movie to our own schools: "Everything Is Awesome!"


  1. This is something that I have thought a lot about as well. I sometimes feel guilty when I go by the book, my way of "following the instructions", but really the book was made by someone who had a great idea. But we also don't have to let ourselves be tied to the great ideas of others. Like you said, we all have our own strengths and we should be brave enough to seek them out and probably fall flat on our faces from time to time. I've found it humbling when this happens because I admit it to my kids and we are both able to shrug our shoulders and do better next time around. It's wonderful exposing our humanity in this way. And I guess even failure can be "awesome".

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Amber! You're so right about failure being awesome. Don't get me wrong--it's kind of awful to fall flat on your face in a public setting. But even if the lesson flops, we can learn from it, right? It's not that great teachers never have a lesson's just that they take it as an opportunity for reflection, and a chance to get better!

  2. Here I am researching a masters in education googling emett as a fictional Representative of suppressed thinking in society. I hope you will not mind me citing your blog in some academic work as proof that I am not alone in my thinking.