I see a lot of superheroes at Diegueño. Not just on spirit week, when I saw full Superman costumes on both boys and girls, but day to day, when it’s not unusual to see students in Batman or Avengers t-shirts, Superman socks (complete with mini-capes), or even riding a Green Lantern skateboard.
A part of me chalks it up to middle school being that time when childhood pursuits aren’t too far in the rear view mirror, even as adulthood looms with its Clark Kent glasses and a necktie.
The more I get to know the students, however, the more I don’t think that sentimental remembrance of youth really answers the question of why on any given day I might see a half a dozen examples of masked marvels, from Wonder Woman t-shirts to Iron Man backpacks, with even the occasional Deadpool sweatshirt. As I talk with the kids, listen to their adolescent sense of justice, and witness their propensity to do right, I’m increasingly convinced that sporting a Spider-man logo might just be a reflection of who these kids really are.
These are students who look out for one another, reaching out when someone is feeling down, coming to an adult when they notice something is wrong. Earlier this year a student stopped me at lunch to show me a text message she’d gotten from an 8th grader at another school; the student had said some things that had her worried and she wanted to let us know right away. Within minutes I was able to reach the counselor at that other school and the student got the help he needed. This little girl’s presence of mind and willingness to say something spoke to the poise she will carry throughout life. In my book she’s a hero.
Years ago I remember seeing a Sunday comic strip that caught this spirit. Two little boys engrossed in a stack of comic books imagined themselves in the role of Thor, the Hulk, and Shazam. Their sister stands over them, picks up a comic and shakes her head saying “I can’t figure out what you see in these things.”
I’ll admit that the kid in me finds a quiet happiness in watching my six year old son pick up superhero comics. Together we get to spend some time with Hawkman and Captain America, and I read along (years after my comic book prime) with that same sense of comfort that comes in spending time in a world where the heroes always win.
I think I’m like a lot of educators who really believe that the work we do can, in its own way, save the world.
What do the kids see in the superhero shirts? Maybe it’s just a fashion trend, close on the heels of blockbuster movies. I’m sticking to the belief, however, that it’s something else. I think that what the kids see in those bats and lightning bolts and spiders is something even better. I think they see themselves.