[An Abecedary of Cape-Wearing] K is for Kal-El

Back in the day, my wee little students wrestled with a big question.

What is a superhero?

Their conversations during the various phases of this discussion were awe-inspiring. They thought deeply about heroism, super-heroism, humanity, the forces of good and evil, and their own belief systems.

Each time they thought they had a clear answer to the question; another facet would rise up creating more layers of questions and fewer answers.  One of my favorite unanswerable questions that came from this ongoing discussion was:

 Is Kal-El a superhero?
Kal-El was a boy on the planet Krypton without special powers. Due to a brief ride through space, and  a shift in gravity, he was graced with incredible strength and some laser vision and became what we know as Superman. But as Kal-El—is he a superhero?  If one characteristic of a superhero is that she or he have super powers, can we count Kal-El? If we can’t count Kal-El until he lands on Earth and becomes Superman, can we say he is a superhero?

The beauty of this question for my students at the time was the possibility of either answer.

If Kal-El was superhero because of his potential on another planet—then aren’t we all superheroes just waiting for a new planet?

If Kal-El is not a superhero and Superman is—then doesn’t that mean we can all be come a superhero if the right things happen to us? Are we all just waiting for the right circumstance to reveal our powers?


If Kal-El isn’t a superhero and Superman is likewise NOT a superhero—then what does that mean for the definition of superheroes? Can we honestly say that Superman is not super-heroic? If we cannot, then what is super-heroism exactly?

Surprise, surprise, I am applying this teaching and learning. My students loved the idea of superheroes. They loved the idea that they could be a Kal-El  waiting for a new planet, or a Bruce Wayne waiting for the right technology, or a Peter Parker in need of a mere spider bite to unleash their amazingness.  Superheroes show us our potential to be amazing. Just add enough strength, enough flexibility, enough learning, and KaBlam!  Superheorism all around.

This speaks to the eternal hope of possibility we need to have for ourselves as teachers and for our students as learners.

Why not believe that it is possible?  Why not believe in the possibility of what we could be rather than focus on the limitations of what we’ve been told we are?

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