Monday, August 22, 2016

Science Technology Engineering Art Marvel

credit WIRED and Marvel

Representation matters.

The new Iron Man is a 15- year old black woman named Riri Williams.

Teachers spend an inordinate amount of time looking for ways to connect with our students. What can we use to help them latch on to what we're teaching? What tricks can we pull? PokemonGo is huge, let's cover graphs and banners with pocket monsters!

But sometimes we're handed an opportunity on a red and gold platter, and we need to jump at it. If you've been to a edtech conference* or read an edtech blog you know one of the major challenges we're facing is getting women into STEAM (I like the A, and so do you, iPhone users). A sad but natural connected challenge is getting women of color into STEAM. The technology sector has well documented issues hiring people of color and women. We claim to be training kids for the jobs of the future, and the tech sector is where those jobs will be. So if we're not working as hard as we can to get students of color, especially our girls, trained in STEAM subjects we're perpetuating the problem. Notice I didn't say "get them interested in STEAM". They already are. The trick is keeping them interested and not shutting them out.

And if you haven't been living under a rock you know that every Marvel movie that comes out makes approximately nine bijillionty dollars.

While Marvel's movie productions haven't been as quick on diversifying their cast of heroes as we'd all like (I can't wait for BLACK PANTHER and CAPTAIN MARVEL but it's been too long and they know it), Marvel's comic side has been making strides for a few years now. Oh yeah, you realize. All those movies are based on books! Currently-

  • the mantle of Captain America is being carried by Sam Wilson (formerly the Falcon, yes guy with the wings in the Captain America movies) 
  • Black Panther is being written by the brilliant Ta-Nehisi Coates. 
  • Roxane Gay is about to start a run filling out the world of Wakanda. 
  • Thor is a woman, Jane Foster (yes, Luke Skywalker's mom from the movies). 
  • Amadeus Cho is Hulk-ing it up. 
  • Miles Morales is everyone's favorite wall crawler. 
  • Kate Bishop is Hawkeye. 
  • And, my personal favorite comic of all these, Ms Marvel is Kamala Khan, a Muslim teenager, and her book is written by G. Willow Wilson, a Muslim woman.

And now Riri Williams will be joining this illustrious group of Earth's Mightiest Heroes as Ironheart. I don't know too much about her yet. I know she's already part of Tony's stories, but I don't have as much time to read comics as I'd like. I know she's already built herself a suit. I know she's going to MIT. I know that Ironheart is a better name than Iron Maiden if only for legal reasons. And I know that I can't wait for November so I can start buying and reading her stories.

I also know that a lot of our kids are invested in these movies, if not these books**.

Marvel is gift-wrapping engagement and representation for us. Look at that list. Those are The heroes of the Marvel universe. Almost all of them are geniuses. Not because a super power made them geniuses, but because of hard work and training. You can't even pretend Captain America being black doesn't mean something. Or that the character with Marvel's name is a Muslim teen.

We want to use something the kids care about to engage them? Don't*** pander to them with a faceless Pokemon game (face it, we don't actually need them caring about Pokemon, we need them engaged with the technology and, therefor, with the lessons we're teaching). Use these characters and their stories. Hang a poster of Riri Williams on your wall and explain why she's there. She's the new Iron Man and she goes to one of the best technology schools in the country. Let them see her face. Riri might engage the ones who need it and she might be just the thing that those who feel unwelcome in the tech world can cling to. Please, if you're about to hand wave about fictional characters not motivating people, put your hands back in your lap. LeVar Burton and Nichelle Nichols have a thousand stories about young people of color telling them that it was Geordi Laforge and Lt Uhura that showed them it was ok to be who they are and go into technology. And don't tell me you'll feel silly talking about a comic book character in class if you're about to use the words "pokeball" or "Goldeen" out loud.

What if the kids don't know Marvel comics, you ask? You just introduced your students to a whole new genre of books! Way to go, teach! Time to buff up that class library.

Representation matters. We don't have any Pikachus in our classrooms, but each of us has a Miles, an Amadeus, a Kamala, a Riri.

credit- Marvel

*can we stop calling them that yet? All teacher conferences involve technology now. They're just teaching conferences.

**they are books. Don't devalue comics. Watchmen and Winter Soldier alone are stories better told than 90% of the books you read last year.

***just- balance in all things. But seriously, don't pander. It's gross and doesn't last.

tons of credit to WIRED and Birth.Movies.Death writers Scott Wampler and Siddhant Adlakha for writing articles invaluable to this one.

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