I was in the middle of writing “Our Story” for our media kit, when a note from my editor snapped the purpose of Peace Valley School into focus for me. My editor is also my friend, Melissa, who is an English and journalism teacher and fellow UVa graduate. She is therefore, shall we say…exacting? She’s the kind of editor everyone needs: a killer of egos, protector of the Oxford comma, slayer of both superfluity and the passive voice. Here is a screenshot of the document while it was in process in February, including both her comment and my response:
So here is the question at hand: Should I use the phrase “fight for justice” when I talk about student outcomes? What is this? Superhero school? The answer is, as you can see, “Yes.” And why aren’t all schools “superhero schools?” Of course, all schools want students to become life-long learners, problem solvers, and the like. But we also want our students to be good people. Usually morality and justice-fighting are disguised in strange words like “citizenship.” But the world doesn’t just need good citizens, it needs Superheroes, and I know just where to find them.
There is a fabulous book by James W. Loewen called Lies My Teacher Told Me. It is up there with Howard Zinn’s A Peoples History of the United States, and Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent in the mind-blowing-facts-that-negate-my-childhood-notions-of-the-United-States-of-America genre (this is a genre I just invented, a few Gore Vidal books go here too.) In the opening pages, he makes a remarkable argument against hero-making. He argues that if we make the great people of our history, those who have achieved amazing things (the Martin Luther Kings and Elizabeth Cady Stantons of our story) into heroes, then students will think of them as inaccessible, and their feats as impossible, they will think that what these heroes have achieved will be out of reach to regular people.
Any of my students reading this will remember me taking this to heart and telling the stories of these history-makers as real people who made mistakes, just like you and me, but also achieved something that changed the world. This means villains, too. I usually use Ollivander from Harry Potter as my jumping-off point there.
I think this is true, and continue to teach about complex humans in complex ways. Yet we still have a hero problem in our society. However, the issue isn’t that the great people of history aren’t heroes and should therefore be brought down to our level. It is instead that we are all heroes and we haven’t been going to superhero school. We are all wizards who haven’t been going to Hogwarts, X-men without Xavier Academy, Meta-Humans with no S.H.E.I.L.D. It is time that we learn the Force, and we are, none of us, too old to begin the training.
So I’m opening a superhero school and I’m damn proud of it. The job of a superhero school is to make its students ready to fight for justice when the time comes. Except being a nonfictional super hero takes a lot of practice. We have no bat signal, so we need to learn media-literacy, watch our leaders for corruption, and provide an informed vote when called. We don’t have a fortress of solitude so we need to learn emotional intelligence and non-violent communication so we can participate in society and take time and space for ourselves when we need it. We don’t have a Lasso of truth or super strength or freeze breath, and we can’t fly. This means we have to learn how to stand up for justice using the law, and our words. We need to learn to grow food, stay healthy, and problem-solve to design better and more sustainable super-powers (I would argue that agriculture, wifi and electricity are all super-powers.)
This Spring, we’ve seen that there already are people that run into burning buildings, stop armed harassers on public transportation, and run-down gunmen on baseball fields. Our natural powers for good are evident in this time of great disturbance in the Force. And even if we feel we aren’t ready for Superhero school, we need it. Because we need more Superheros.