Reexamining Heroes, Superheroes, and #Eduheros

Monday, March 28, 20164:00 PM

A hero is someone who gives his or her life to something bigger than oneself. Often, the best heroes--both super and not--are those who are better defined by their humanity than they are their powers or abilities. They overcome human flaws to do something great.

But if you went looking for heroes in theatres this week, humanity took a backseat to the grim and gritty pessimism in a world without hope and without real heroism. While this piece was inspired by my recent viewing of (and mostly disdain for) Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, I won’t spoil anything you can’t see in the trailers.

When the stories work, these heroes endure because of their universal experiences, and not because of anything super: Batman is a young boy who can’t cope with loss; Superman epitomizes the immigrant experience; Spider-Man learns about guilt and responsibility; and the X-Men are persecuted for being different. Powers, alien DNA, and billionaire fortunes notwithstanding, it’s the drive to help, save, and sacrifice that makes these characters matter and withstand the test of time. It’s the decision to do better and actions that inspire hope that make a hero.

Image courtesy of

Now what does any of this have to do with education? I’m a huge comic book fan--I’ve read them all my life and teach them every year. My #PLN and I nicknamed ourselves the #EdJusticeLeague, a homage to our favorite superheroes and a link to the world of the edu-hero where we work, connect, and grow. I also often teach a class called Myth, Magic, and Make Believe where the world of mythology, archetypes, and heroes is analyzed and deconstructed each and every day. But there’s more to it than that.

If you are an educator, you lead and help. In many ways we save, and we always make sacrifices. In the best cases, we inspire a greatness in the future. Educators have given their lives to something much bigger than themselves. We don’t teach subjects or ideas--we teach students; we’ve given ourselves to build a better tomorrow. On our best days, educators inspire hope.

And like the grim world of dour grimaces, wanton mass destruction, and apocalyptic death tolls of our superhero blockbuster landscape, we too live in a world of complexity, grey areas, and maybe even super villains. Common Core, politics, top-down mandates--often with the best of intents--seem to loom over the real world of teaching like Lex Luther clutching Kryptonite. Instead of working together to prepare students for the future, we’re jumping through the hoops of APPR and standardized testing. It sometimes seems that before we can form our Justice Leagues, we need to remind the world of what it means to be a superhero, a hero, and an educator.

I was trying to enjoy the film--really, I was--but my mind was racing, deconstructing the movie and why I didn’t care for it, but all while viewing it’s tone and themes through the lens of 21st century education. Why? Because I’m a nerd and a teacher, and it’s as simple as that.

Throughout the film, Batman and Superman both struggle with their purpose and actions. What does it mean to be a hero? What are their responsibilities to their cities and world? Does power need checks and balances? And do the ends justify the means?

They spend so much time debating these issues and getting distracted by plot holes that they never have the chance to be the heroes, let alone superheroes. Their world is dangerous. It’s new. It’s complicated. It’s a world that’s desperately in need of hope and a smile.

Despite the title and characters, I’m not sure this version of Batman or Superman remember what it’s like to be a hero. Or what it’s like to be a person--not the alien messiah but the farm boy from Kansas. The story throughout this film is clouded by so much style and so little substance; by empty choices and too many players; and simply by odd choices from the people in charge and by the heroes that these icons could be.

Sound familiar?

Superheroics, like education is filled with so much noise that it can be hard to know what it’s really all about. It can be hard to always build up without tearing down and to always put our students and their humanity, growth, and learning first.

Don’t stop giving to something bigger than yourself and doing what’s right--with our without the capes and cowls.
Image courtesy of

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