Do you work well with troubled youth? Well perhaps you too are a mutant

Stories often emerge in our culture as metaphors for a social phenomenon, and the X-men is a great example. We have all heard of, or known families, where something emerges in adolescence that turns a previously manageable young person into a force to be reckoned with, and to mainstream education and community systems they become unmanageable. Their parents, family and teachers find the change alarming and are unable to understand how it happened or what it is. Every intervention, while well intended, seems to make things worse

In the X-men story, youths such as these that had been marginalized, bullied by peers or punished by adults without an attempt to understand them became resentful. If the adults managed to connect with them, that resentment shifted to understanding and their energy went into a useful cause. One boy, Pyro, who’s resentment was simmering over, attacked a boy who was teasing him. The head of school settled the incident but told him dismissively ” Next time you feel like showing off, don’t!” and left. The break in their relationship left the space for him to be seduced by the dark side of mutants. The mutants who’s resentment had found relief in revenge.

As Gandhi said: An eye for an eye just turns the whole world blind. Cohesive communities find a way to include marginalized minorities and help them heal the hurts that would otherwise fuel division. In patriarchal societies, breaking the rules results in blame and punishment, in a mood of negation. For an emerging x- man, digression can happen just through self expression, with gifts that are not yet understood or controlled. The punishment, then, feels unjust and fuels resentment. In matristic cultures, however, people who have digressed are included in a ritual that allows restoration of the digression, learning, and re-connection with the community, in a loving and understanding mood. The X-men knew about this.

The spectacular thing about the X-men story, is that there are adults who understand, and know what to do. In the story, these adults are called mutants by the larger community, but they wear the badge with honour. They understand the emerging abilities in the young person and view them as gifts. They do not claim a superior understanding of these abilities, because each mutants gifts are unique, but they know that the youngster can learn to explore them, learn to use them and embrace them as part of their individual uniqueness.

In the story, Charles Xavier, a talented and experienced mutant, created a school for these gifted youths, where they could learn from adults who understood them. They weren’t segregated into age groups. They learned from each other. They learned what was relevant to their unique gift. They did not learn irrelevant things.

Imagine that such a school for troubled youth was available in our community. There would be no curriculum. Learning would happen in relationship with an adult who trusted their own abilities and was not afraid of the young person’s emerging skills. Irrelevant things would no doubt be accidentally learned, (such as literacy and numeracy), but the emphasis would be on expanding the abilities of the individual youth in a way that felt relevant to them.

The importance of experiencing the world through their senses, not just their cognition, would be rightfully returned to them, as well as an understanding of why mainstream schooling did not work for them as it emphasised thinking, and not feeling, being or even doing. X-men know that over- thinking gets in the way of their powers.

Parents see their child transformed into a confident, self trusting person, experiencing success in their personal learning in areas of interest to them. They would come to understand that they needed the same length of time that kids have in mainstream schools to feel calm, happy and engaged with their peers, in order to succeed, so it would be understood that the sum of time they spent in distress before they found the school would be added to their school time. This might mean that an 18 year old with 6 troubled years might remain in the school until they were 24 before they were asked to be productive in the world (or to train as x-men).

Instead of the disconnecting experience of pathway planning that takes these young people out of their present and into some imagined future, mutant teachers understand the importance of helping these youths to stay grounded in the present, where they are connected to their senses through which they learn. As their skills grow they lay down a path into the future that is right for them. This future could not have been known in advance.

If you can imagine that, you may well be a mutant.

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