The other evening I saw Davis Guggenheim’s powerful documentary, “Waiting for Superman.” It’s about the failures of the public school system and how we as a society fail to reward outstanding teachers. Yes, the film has a point of view — that charter schools are superior to public education. I don’t necessarily agree with this premise but I do believe that every child has the right not to attend a failing school. See it for yourself.
This isn’t a post about what is and isn’t working in education. It’s about Superman. You see, the film gets its name from a story told by Geoffrey Canada, leader of the Harlem Children’s Zone. Geoffrey reflects on his rough childhood in the South Bronx, and his belief that only Superman could rescue he and his friends from the gangs, violence and drugs that colored their world. Canada was crushed when his mother told him that Superman didn’t exist beyond the television screen. Over time, he turned this disappointment into triumph, understanding that he would need to be the architect of his own life.
Superman exists within all of us. Yes, there are heroic figures like the American doctor Rick Hodes who has dedicated his life to caring for children with severe physical deformities in Ethiopia, children whose families sometimes shun them because of shame or expense or both. HBO released a documentary about Hodes this year called Making the Crooked Straight, and there’s also a new book, This is The Soul. I’ve met Dr. Hodes and interviewed him for an upcoming feature in Colorado View. He is Superman incarnate.
But he’s not alone. There are so many people who embody heroism every day. Some are famous, most are not.
And then there’s my daughter, Rebecca, now nine years old. Maybe because of the losses she’s already endured, maybe because of her mild yet real physical disability, or maybe just because of her own DNA, she’s the type of kid who looks for Superman to boost her spirits in the form of a new toy or a special play date. None of these outside “fixes” fill her, of course, and believe me, she’s plenty disappointed by this outcome. Yesterday morning on the way to school she was grumpy because it hadn’t snowed when the weather reports told her it would. “But honey,” I said, “Just look at the sunshine,” directing her view toward another cerulean Colorado sky.
Rebecca and I have a new mother-daughter ritual: gratitude journals. We write them separately but always at the same time. By touching down on the things that make her happy, that make her want to celebrate the tiny heroics of her own life — attempting to read a 300 page book, facing down her fear of riding her bike across main streets, holding her dad’s memory blanket — she comes closer, I can only hope, to realizing that she is the Superman of her own world.
Look: it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s mighty Rebecca.