Since my semester in Chicago has ended, I’ve been in Florida while my teenagers finish their last week of school. My son needs to excel on his final exams in order to receive grades higher than a ‘D’ in several classes for which he has lacked the ‘appropriate’ motivation to participate. His father and I (both educators) are mystified by Nick’s lack of concern for his grades. We suddenly don’t quite recognize our son.
Perhaps my life in Chicago has weakened my tolerance for heat or the extreme drought conditions in the south are making me thirst for a cold soda, but — whatever the cause — my teenagers and I are spending our study break time in air-conditioned movie theaters. The film we watched this past weekend is the latest iteration of the Marvel comic books series -- the X-Men: First Class. Even though I knew that the reviews have not been very strong, I relented to watching the film, since my son has been working hard (I think) to improve his grades.
I admit to not being a huge Marvel Comics fan, but I was pleasantly surprised with how entertaining I found the narrative of young ‘mutants’ with extreme skills such as laser-burning eyesight, whipping up instant storms or walking through walls. The films are directed to elicit lots of different audience ‘responses’ by showcasing barely clothed (but kick butt) female characters and barely clothed but death-defying male characters, such as Hugh Jackman, whose nails are longer than any woman’s.
Yes -- this film is pure pop for our debt-ridden, climate changing, technology obsessed society. So why did I respond to it? I certainly appreciate the underlying themes that have long been the subject of young teen writings — e.g., I want to change the way I look since I don’t think anyone will be attracted to my blue skin; or I’m too much of an independent, working-class ‘animal’ to fit in with most groups. In the X-Men stories the mutants must unite over their differences in order to combat the genocidal humans and their own 'bad apples'. Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters is the one place where these positive connections (and rebellions) seem to happen.
No wonder I liked the film. School is the place where you learn how to save the world! In the real world--unfortunately -- our young people may be starting to join forces to rebel against the humans who have created our current Earthly mess, which includes loads of personal debt and high costs for college tuition. In her recent column on the “Commercial Model of Education” Susan O’Doherty addresses negative attitudes towards instructors and the debate over what exactly education ‘provides’ young people. Many educators are starting to witness signs from their students of a more general rebellion against the expectations for a classic liberal education: Is class attendance really necessary, students are wondering? Are course materials online in order to accommodate my working hours and other commitments? Can I get credit for the work I am doing in my job to pay for tuition?
New teaching strategies, like Edupunk -- are desperately being developed to keep students as interested in engaging with classroom knowledge as they are with Facebook. Universities are increasingly providing 'hybrid' classrooms that allow for less physical presence and more virtual education to adapt to these new demands. I recognize that my son needs to solve his homework motivation problems in his own way, but I do not think that he is alone in his disillusion. I hope that Nick can figure out how school -- besides being an adult-ridden institution -- can also be a dynamic space where strategies for creative rebellion are taught.
Beyond holding fire in our hands or turning our skin blue--how can we keep our mutant students (and children) interested in fighting for their education instead of rebelling against it?