If you’ve seen the recent Avengers movie, you have some idea of how The Big-Brained Superheroes Club got started. First, recollect just a few of the challenges that Nick Fury faced when trying to get his band of brainy heroes to trade contretemps for cooperation. Now, add to those recollections a few unconvincing lectures by a crackly voiced, brown-haired girl about how “we’re all in this together.” Finally, toss in a considerable number of math worksheets, some reading exercises, and a bit of homemade play dough, and you have the essence of our weekly after school homework help sessions.
OK, maybe that’s hyperbole. But it’s an analogy based in today’s pop culture…What did you expect? A
Lord of the Flies Survivor reference? We’re better than that.
If you’re familiar with Who we are, then you know that one of the top priorities for our after school program is “fostering a collegial atmosphere,” and you know the reason we feel that’s important is that stress has been shown to inhibit learning, and there’s a lot of stress involved in interpersonal conflict, etcetera, etcetera, whatever, just re-watch The Avengers and you’ll get the idea. "That’s great,“ you say, "but what does all that have to do with superheroes? And superpowers—what’s with those?”. Well, just unclench for a second, exercise your Sense of Adventure and Persistence superpowers, and we’ll get there.
Because superheroes have superpowers.
OK, then. Why Superpowers?
Easy. Superpowers are manifestly cool.
A couple of us were sitting in the movie theater watching (SPOILER ALERT!) the recent Avengers movie wondering what made Captain America cool. Was it his spangly outfit? Was it his snazzy shield? Not really. Not to us. What made Captain America cool to us was when, at the end of the movie, he used his Leadership and Teamwork superpowers to inspire the Avengers to make optimal use of their own individual superpowers. To that end, he gave general suggestions rather than specific orders. And he modeled rather than simply dictated the behaviors that he wanted to see. That’s what made him cool. Captain America’s shield and spangly outfit were simply technologies with which he exercised his Leadership and Teamwork superpowers. Or, at least, that’s what we saw.
But beyond the coolness factor, the superpowers metaphor serves a valuable function. Like other metaphors, It helps us see the otherwise unseen. If we flip the standard comic book concept of superpowers upside down and abnormalize the “normal”, we can more easily become aware of, clearly define, and maybe eventually taxonomize the behaviors that we otherwise take for granted on a daily basis. (Shout-out to all the sci-fi nerds rolling their eyes that we’re like a textbook with arms right now…yes, we know you know this, but you’re special.) If our Leadership and Teamwork superpowers start to become as apparent to us as shields and spangly outfits, then we are more likely to pick them up and use them in our most stressful moments. And, at the end of the day, isn’t that what education is about? Giving us the power to defeat supervillains?
UPDATE: Check out the PREQUEL of this origin story HERE: http://www.bigbrainedsuperheroes.org/post/41290034499/what-the-a-why-we-see-stem-as-a-path-to-failure