Last night my seven year old asked me to read a 1977 Invaders comic book with him at bedtime. Wearing his coonskin cap (faux raccoon tail in our liberal, vegetarian household), he joined me in reading the dialogue bubbles, alternately playing Captain America and the ridiculously vintage Scarlet Scarab, who transformed from a fez wearing archaeologist to lead a band of bad guys against our heroes.
My son has been off the superhero train for a while now, Star Wars and Legos captivating the bulk of his attention, but spotting the comic he’d found at his grandparents’ house, heroes battling a villain in glorious 1970s style, it was hard not to be captivated.
I think that for a lot of kids the notion of being a hero resonates well beyond the Disney Channel years. It’s something I see even at SDA, where graphic novels sit alongside more lit’ry fare in our media center. The students certainly read Ken Kesey and Toni Morrison, but our copies of Ultimate Spider-Man are well thumbed, and I see superhero t-shirts from Batman to Deadpool every week.
As a fellow who taught English for more than a dozen years, I think I get it. In an increasingly complex world, and adolescence is certainly that, it is reassuring to be able to identify the hero.
Part of our job as educators is to help students recognize and understand the complicated world in which we live. We see this happen in history classes, where students discuss the biases and points of view of the authors of primary sources, and in English, where teachers help students see the world through the eyes of diverse characters.
As students gain this perspective they are increasingly better able to navigate their own lives, treat others with empathy, and contribute to the world kindness and compassion.
In a very real way, education helps them have the tools to be good citizens, good neighbors, and good humans. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, education helps students have the capacity to be heroes.