The fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana became the epicenter of a lot of “binge-watching” in the last year as the second season of the hit series Stranger Things was released in nine episodes.
Following the trials and tribulations of these school-age kids and their families is rather surreal; the music, the fashion, and the hair styles are as authentically presented now as they were actually in the 1980’s, especially if you are a middle-aged public school teacher who listens to The Clash like he did growing up in a small rural town in Georgia where he rode his bike everywhere without a digital link to everything else in the world.
He just had to be home by dinner.
While the kids and adults in this fictional town battle forces from the “upside down” amidst a government cover-up during the Cold War, it is easy to get lost in the sci-fi aspects of this well-written show. And it is very well-written and produced. But there is one non-human entity that is foundational and serves as the cornerstone to those people in a small section of Indiana: Hawkins Middle School, Home of the Tiger Cubs.
Is there ever an episode where the school was not used as a setting? A place for Mike, Dustin, and Lucas to find answers? Is there ever an episode where the school is not juxtaposed against Hawkins National Laboratory where secretive actions took place?
Think about it. One place is an established public good where taxpayer money helps to educate all of the students who pass through its doors no matter what socioeconomic background they come from. They could be students from single-parent families or presumably stable nuclear families. They could be interested in a variety of curious endeavors like Dungeons & Dragons or audio/visual technology. Some of the kids ride their bicycles to this place.
The other is surrounded by gates and fences and can only be entered by people who are “chosen.” That place does not have to show others what happens there or how it “assesses” matters. If someone who is not a “staff member” or “student” there is caught on the premises, then punishment ensues.
But like the first place, this one is also financed by taxpayer money. Yet here, money is being used to create something private that is supposed to combat a problem that does not exist, but it creates an even bigger problem for all people.
While the parallels between Hawkins Middle School and Hawkins National Laboratory may be an exercise in fandom, they are rather apparent to those who question the actions of the North Carolina General Assembly when it comes to “reforming” public education.
If there ever was a cornerstone for the characters in Hawkins, IN, then it is the public school. It serves as the greatest foundation of that community.
The AV Room. Heathkit. School assemblies. The gymnasium. Science class. Mr. Clarke. Eleven channeling Will. Makeshift isolation tank. Portal to the Upside Down. The Snow Ball. Parents were students there. Ghostbusters suits.
Those are tied to Hawkins Middle School.
So is growing up, coming of age, hallway conversations, epiphanies, learning about others, following curiosities, finding answers to questions you learned to ask.
Those are also tied to Hawkins Middle School.
What is attached to Hawkins National Laboratory is unregulated, politicized, and secretive. That is not to say that some charter schools do not serve vital purposes. Their original intent was to be a place where pedagogical approaches not used in traditional public schools would be used to see if what was successful could be implemented into public schools. But that is becoming more the exception and not the norm here in North Carolina.
Yes, the show takes place in Indiana and not North Carolina. My childhood roaming on a bicycle happened in Georgia and not North Carolina. But does that matter?
Ironically, Stranger Things happens to be a show created by two North Carolinians (from Durham, no less – “Mess With the Bull, Get the Horns”) and shot in Georgia, but Hawkins is really any town where a majority of students go to public schools.
And just like in the 1980’s, public schools today are the heart of communities.