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Embracing the Eddie Munson Effect: A New Lens on Learning and Belonging

The latest season of Netflix's hit series, Stranger Things, introduced fans to the newest member of the show's eclectic ensemble: Eddie Munson - portrayed by Joseph Quinn. People absolutely adore Eddie Munson, and I want to explore why that is, and, most importantly, what it might be able to teach all of us about parenting and education.

When we first meet Eddie, we learn that he is the leader of Hellfire Club - Hawkins High School’s Dungeons & Dragons group. We are also told that he isn’t a great student and has failed to graduate in the past, perhaps multiple times - but perhaps this year will be the lucky year. Eddie is also openly and comically disdainful of the popular cliques in school and conformity in general. But even his disdain, although very real, comes off as playful and lighthearted. And it also appears to be a reaction to years of ill treatment from peers like the basketball team. But it’s obvious to us that Eddie has a good heart, made evident by the kind way he treats cheerleader Chrissy Cunningham when she comes to him for help. And, most of all, we see it in the way he benevolently acts as a shepherd for all the freshmen “lost sheep” like Dustin and the boys. His relationship with and his impact on Dustin in particular proves to be very meaningful. And of course that good heart becomes more and more clear the more you get to know Eddie. But what is it about the story of Eddie that makes him such a ravenous fan favorite? After all, the 4 main stars of the show have been playing D&D and not fitting in for years. So how and why has the character of Eddie sparked so much adulation so quickly?

I think a large part of it is because his character is explicitly written as the champion of a cause. Not only is he a geek, but he’s a champion and a shepherd of geeks. And what he represents is easy to digest and explain. He is the person you should have gotten to know better. And he is also the antithesis of everything that is wrong with public education. Eddie is an artist. He’s obviously incredibly imaginative and a talented storyteller, based on his leadership role in Hellfire Club. He’s also an extremely talented guitarist, which is clear to see in one of the most epic scenes of the season and perhaps the entire series. It’s the scene that brought Metallica back to the charts, and you’ll know it when you see it.

And if we’re talking about education, those two things alone should be enough to declare Eddie a smashing success of a human being - an extremely talented child with interests, dedication, and passion. Instead he’s had lots of trouble graduating, he’s been made to feel like a failure, and he’s been turned into a social outcast. This story may be set in 1986, but this sad state of affairs is as true today as it was then. As far as education is concerned, we still have it almost entirely wrong. We put far too much emphasis on grades, tests, memorization, and the need to devote equal time to every subject - subjects that have been arbitrarily chosen as important.

When I think about Eddie Munson, I’m immediately reminded of the best TED Talk ever - Sir Ken Robinson’s Do Schools Kill Creativity? I highly recommend watching the entire thing. In it, he very eloquently describes how our hierarchy of school subjects is profoundly mistaken, and how the consequence is that “many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re not.”

I’m also reminded of The Little Prince when I think of Eddie - specifically the scene where the boy describes his artwork:

"...since the grown-ups were not able to understand it, I made another drawing: I drew the inside of a boa constrictor, so that the grown-ups could see it clearly. They always need to have things explained. … The grown-ups' response, this time, was to advise me to lay aside my drawings of boa constrictors, whether from the inside or the outside, and devote myself instead to geography, history, arithmetic, and grammar. That is why, at the age of six, I gave up what might have been a magnificent career as a painter."

It’s heartbreaking to read, and it’s the reason the image of a boa constrictor eating an elephant means so much to me. And I also think it’s basically the same reason Eddie Munson is so universally beloved. I think he’s exposed the major shortcomings of our education structure and our misplaced priorities in society on one of the biggest stages in history. The same stage that was able to catapult music from the 80s onto today’s charts.

Of course, many of you feel the exact same way about all of this that I do, and that’s likely why you fell in love with Eddie. But, to me, his popularity feels like much more than mere preaching to the choir. Even if it happened subconsciously, I think many viewers had their eyes opened by Eddie. And now we all have to remember why we love him so much. Eddie's gender plays a significant role in how he is perceived and why he becomes a fan favorite. As a male character, Eddie breaks away from traditional masculine stereotypes often seen in media. His interests in Dungeons & Dragons, his artistic talents, and his emotional depth challenge conventional depictions of masculinity. This is particularly impactful in a media landscape where male characters are often expected to conform to certain norms of toughness or emotional reserve. Eddie's portrayal shows a different side of masculinity, one that is more nuanced and relatable, especially to audiences who feel that their own complexities and interests aren't represented in typical male characters. His representation as a multi-dimensional character who defies gender norms makes him relatable and appealing to a broad audience. His struggles, passions, and kindness resonate with viewers who are tired of stereotypical male characters and who find inspiration in his more holistic depiction.

To all the teachers and administrators out there, Eddie is every kid in your school. Help them find their passions and talents and celebrate them for whatever their interests are from the first day they walk into your school. Help send them down a path of happiness and curiosity for the rest of their lives. And to all the parents out there (or uncles like Wayne Munson), you have the very same mission - with the added difficulty of convincing your kids to ignore the opposite messages they are getting from the priorities that are stressed in school every day (until they finally fix the system of course).

It’s easy to watch season 4 of Stranger Things and think to yourself - “Eddie Munson is a misunderstood, good-hearted person with hidden talents and passions that other people should know about.” What’s difficult is remembering how insanely common this scenario is in real life, how it’s a product of our system, and how we should absolutely still do something about it.

Did you fall in love with Eddie Munson in season 4 of Stranger Things as well? What do you think he has to teach us? Let me know in the comments!

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