When I was in my teens, my heroic Dad was watching the Power of Myth on PBS (1988) and eventually purchased each of his family members a copy of the book (1991). He started using the phrase “Follow Your Bliss” and I entered college and my resulting teaching career with this philosophical undertone echoing in my ear. It’s possible my upbringing was atypical….
Imagine my tickled-pinked-ness when I discovered that Campbell’s’ work on mythology provides a window into the world of superheroes. In Superheroes and Philosophy edited by Tom and Matt Morris, It is explained like so:
“Campbell’s definitive work on the mythologies of all cultures is crucial for understanding the parallels between traditional mythology and Hollywood superhero myths. It can also be used to construct important elements of a philosophy of human nature, focused especially on the question of what is involved in heroic excellence.”
Since my kiddos were asking some of these questions, it was important to me to delve into the questions on my own. While I didn’t intend to answer for them, I wanted to have some ideas of where they could go, what texts I could put in their path, and how I might support the journey. I’ve said before, and I tend to repeat myself, I wasn’t a superhero fan growing up. I became knowledgeable about them in order to follow a spark in my students. They were intrigued, so I was. My students at the time had struggled mightily with school, at home, and within themselves and this spark was teaching me more about them than anything else.
I read that Campbell’s “monomyth” is the name for the cyclical heroic journey reflected in nearly all cultural mythologies. In this journey the hero goes through three phases: departure, initiation and a return. Rather than delve into a philosophical lesson, here’s a great diagram:
When the hero returns, bringing with her all of the learning from the journey, she becomes the Master of Two Worlds—achieving a balance between the journey of life and being settled within her own self. And this is where the link comes in (finally!)
Certainly, teaching requires us to be the Master of Two Worlds. We are on a journey to educate children, prepare them for success, and support them on their own journey. To do that successfully we have to be balanced between the heart-wrenchingly heavy load of that work and the moral imperative of living our own lives with purpose and integrity. Achieving that balance is the true art of successful teaching—successful anything-ing I think. But at the same time we are striving for that balance, our kidlets are in the midst of their own heroic journey. Of course it’s a bit of an stretch, but if we can allow ourselves to compare the struggles of growing up with that heroic cycle, it looks like some awfully hard work!
It’s a safe bet that they are in the beginning of their journey and haven’t achieved the balance that we ourselves have (or are trying to have).
Their home stressors affect them at school. Their school stressors have an impact on their time at home. They show up to us every day with what I believe to be a true desire to be present in what we ask of them, but possibly lacking the experience or skill to combat the roadblocks they may have. They are not yet masters of their two worlds, and their behaviors show us exactly that. We can deal with the behavior as an insult, a slight, a challenge, and it well may be. Or we can deal with the behavior as a communication from a person that is on a journey to be the best person they can be. They might be struggling on that journey, they might need space to learn or guidance to understand, but what they don’t need is anger, recrimination or false consequence.
Yes, behavior does lead to consequence—no doubt about it. In schools, though, it can be too easy to apply a consequence that doesn’t match the behavior, doesn’t teach the desired behavior, and doesn’t have any impact on the journey of our littlest heroes.
Consider a little hero you have in your life, classroom, or school. Is there behavior you’re dealing with that could be reframed through this lens? How might that change your reaction?