Why it Matters: Superhero Writing Projects
“A mystical child was born into the blood-curdling world. Her name was Odial. A golden feather grew from the middle of her head down to the middle of her back. Her appearance is like no other.”—An excerpt from a student’s work.
Little Mountain often offer intensive classes aimed at improving skills in a short period of time. My recent teen reading and writing class focused on reading about everyday heroes and superheroes. We have studied Helen Keller and Superman and many in between. We read the Joseph Campbell Monomyth and the journey every hero takes to become super. The two week unit ended with students’ publications of their own superhero comics.
Why do hero stories matter?
I asked my students why Superhero stories are important. They responded with this: Superhero stories give us hope that things can change, that we have a saviour who can help solve the problems of the world. We also see that power within ourselves, as we recognize that superheroes were once ordinary people, out of touch with their own abilities, who become Superheroes through a process of training and continually rising to new challenges.
Ordinary heroes such as Helen Keller matter because they show us that in spite of our own obstacles, it is our will and our drive to make a difference which empowers and compels us to follow our calling.
The qualities that teen students may relate to in Superheroes are many. First, they are typically loners who by entering into the world of super-service they must leave their home, and closest relationships. This sacrifice is turned around to become one of the heroes greatest strengths; their independence and willingness to be beyond average—to be super. Second, superheroes usually have to learn to deal with challenges and difficulties in their lives. Many begin with a tragedy or a weakness which they must overcome. In fact, they usually have no idea of their powers and strengths until someone comes along to tell them about it or they accidentally discover it. In this way superhero stories show us how to deal with very human problems. As the superhero learns of their own agency and power, they face increasingly larger problems. The audience presses in to watch how the protagonist will solve societal and global problems such as autocratic governmental control or environmental mayhem.
An excerpt from students’ superhero stories:
“Vivian had a very safe and normal life. She was studying in a high school in a little town. She was a very happy and ordinary girl living a normal life. When she was a child, she wasn’t beautiful. She had black hair and brown eyes and dark skin like black pearl. When she was a young child, her eyes were very spiritual: it seems like she could think by herself. Sometimes, she smiled while she was watching bad people. She lost her parents when she was 5 years old but she couldn’t remember what happened. Her aunt told her that they died of a traffic accident.”
Why does this kind of project work matter?
After the final project was complete, I interviewed my students. I was curious about their experience of this literacy-based project work. I suspected that since they were each students who had arrived here very recently from China, that they would at first find this kind of class a bit awkward. Each time they completed something for me I would send it back, saying “Think more deeply.” I would give them huge lists of questions to answer to prepare them to write very thoroughly about their characters’ adventures. But I anticipated that they would somehow feel exhilarated by the process of seeing their ideas take shape upon a blank page. I also hoped that they would see their own agency through this task completion and perhaps feel somehow more capable of accomplishing great things. I wanted them to feel a slight bit of heroism, I’ll admit.
This is how they responded to the questions I asked about their writing process. At the beginning, they said, it felt like an insurmountable challenge. They didn’t know how to start. It was through answering my questions that they felt more dedicated to the task, gained direction, and were able to envision a clear story. With the mounting deadline there was a huge risk, that all of the hard work they were putting in would be lost! But when the project was finished, they each beamed with real sense of success, pride, satisfaction, and invigoration.
I hope that these students will have gained some confidence and inner light as they prepare to join school once the strike is over. Hopefully their time at Little Mountain has shown them that “Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.”
As another student wrote, “On a black and cloudy night, a dragon child was born into the wonderful world.”