Our UU Superheroes curriculum came with a little song called “I’m a Superhero,” which focuses on all the ways, large and small, that people can help others who need help. Alex hates it. I played it for Colin before our lesson today, and she burst out with a complaint:
“It makes it sound like the superheroes are really important, and like the other people are just around to be there for the superheroes to save.”
I asked her to explain more about what she was thinking. “See, everyone should have a certain amount of attention, but not more. That song gives too much attention to the superhero.” Even though it’s saying that everyone can be a superhero by doing caring things? “Yes! It makes what he’s doing sound bigger than it is.”
Interesting to start teaching a religious education lesson and suddenly find yourself receiving one, instead. But that wouldn’t have surprised our UU Superhero of the day, the revolutionary liberal religious educator Sophia Lyon Fahs. She utterly transformed Unitarian Sunday Schools (and, by diffusion, many mainline Protestant Sunday Schools) to focus on children as authentic religious seekers, not passive recipients of religious knowledge. She wrote: “We wish children to come to know God directly through original approaches of their own to the universe.” Because of Fahs, since the 1940s UU Religious Education curricula have been experiential and reflective rather than didactic.
Alex’s lesson focused on a conversation in which Fahs’ young daughter asked “where is the me?” – meaning the true self that experiences things. As they explored the question together, Fahs told her daughter that “we all have a me… our body is just the house where the me lives.” We spent some time talking about Alex’s ideas about “the me.” The curriculum presents it as the kind of difficult question Fahs thought children should be encouraged to wrestle with, but Alex’s answer was swift and eager and sure.
“The me is where you think and where you you feel things. It’s not part of your brain, though. It flows through your brain. It actually flows through every part of your body. In Harry Potter, a dementor would suck out your me, and your body wouldn’t be dead, but you might as well be. It’s also called your soul.”
The lesson also discussed Fahs’ belief that children ought to use their imaginations – to the extent that she didn’t buy her children toys. Instead, they made their own toys out of cardboard and tape. I brought out several large cardboard boxes, painter’s tape, scissors, markers, and some miscellaneous supplies, and encouraged the kids to get started building creations of their own. When I came home from work, this is what greeted me:
Our nanny helped with the cutting, but the design work and the assembly was all Alex. Can you see the cardboard pennant that’s drawn and cut to look like it’s rippling in the wind? And inside, there’s a tape sling hanging from the ceiling, just big enough to hold a battery-operated candle. She had a fantastic time. (So did Colin, covering a box with vast amounts of blue painter’s tape and old pieces of his own art. He calls it his “shelter”.)
It was a great RE lesson, in ways that were surprising to me. Obviously we need to be having more deep religious conversations with this kid.