CentreTerm 2015: Education course examines if superheroes do more harm than good
The extraordinary success of Centre College graduates begins in the classroom, with stimulating courses that offer new perspectives and nationally recognized faculty who challenge students to reach their highest potential.
This CentreTerm, Professor of Education Donna Plummer designed a new course to prepare future educators for success in their own classrooms by studying a question that is as interesting as it is relevant: what educational issues arise when superheroes are viewed as models of “truth, justice and the American way”?
The course, entitled The Superhero: A Role Model?, examines the influence of superheroes on the social, gender and moral development of children and adolescents. Both the prevalence and popularity of superheroes in our culture has given rise to what Plummer calls the “superhero phenomenon.”
“The ideas of heroes have been relevant to our lives for thousands of years. The course considered some of the gods of the Greeks, Romans and Vikings as heroes of other cultures,” explains Plummer. “But superheroes as we know them are a unique American invention that impact children and adolescents through the varied media of film and comic books.”
Since children are especially impressionable, Plummer believes it’s crucial to consider the messages superheroes send.
“Models of morality have an impact on students both in and out of the classroom,” she says. “Children bring what they learn from their early moral models to the classroom setting and the school setting also impacts students’ development as moral beings.”
The inspiration for The Superhero class stemmed from a past CentreTerm class Plummer led, Teens and Teachers in the Media, when she mentioned superheroes in a discussion about child and adolescent development. Students immediately latched onto the idea, and after a few years of research and plenty of encouragement from her students, the course was born.
“We enjoyed taking her past course so much that we proposed the idea for another CentreTerm class,” says Jake Johnson ’16.
For Michelina Henskens ’15, both Plummer’s charisma in the classroom and the topic of superheroes drew her to the new course.
“I’ve taken multiple education courses at Centre so far, and I always enjoy delving into the psyche of children and the way they view the world,” she says. “This particular class was really interesting to me because it focused so much on outward societal influences on children and to what extent we as a society affect children as they grow.”
In addition to discussing films with superhero protagonists such as Superman, Batman and X-men, and reading works by famous superhero originators such as William Moulton Marston, creator of Wonder Woman, the class also spoke with local children to hear their thoughts and ideas on superheroes.
Though some of the students in the class hope to one day become teachers, Plummer says they also became a “community of learners,” exemplifying how important it is to be both.
by Caitlan Cole
Photos: Students in Professor of Education Donna Plummer’s new CentreTerm course met with local child “experts” to hear their thoughts and opinions on superheroes.