Modern day heroes? I am just about to start teaching a small unit on Epic Literature with my Grade 12s. Part of this is the discussion of epic heroes. I give them an assignment where they have to research into somebody from today or recent history and critically discuss whether they are a hero or not. What I really want to do is give them people that they will never have heard of - if I have to mark another essay on Martin Luther King I might scream! So, can you think of alternative figures from either today's world or recent history that would prove suitable for an essay discussing the nature of heroism? No obvious candidates, please! I need quite a few names, as each student will have one to research for themselves.

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What about actors who have been rather heroic--probably in a different sense than the definition of an epic hero, though--about failures in their bodies that robbed them of function yet they kept/keep plugging on? I'm thinking of Christopher Reeves as he turned his accident into a platform for drawing attention...

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What about actors who have been rather heroic--probably in a different sense than the definition of an epic hero, though--about failures in their bodies that robbed them of function yet they kept/keep plugging on? I'm thinking of Christopher Reeves as he turned his accident into a platform for drawing attention to and raising money for needed research. I'm also thinking of Michael J. Fox, who is similarly heroically ploughing through and turning his illness to the same good purposes as Reeves did.

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Every night on NBC News with Brian Williams they end with a segment entitled, "Making a Difference".  They highlight an ordinary person who's heroic actions make this world a better place.  The following web site has plenty of ordinary heroes that could be used for your project: http://www.facebook.com/nbcmakingadifference.

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When my students look at modern heroes before our Beowulf unit, I'm amazed by who they pick and why they do.  I too read many papers on Michael Jordan, Martin Luther King, Jr, and even Britney Spears.  This year I tried to steer them away from pop culture and more towards heroes.

This year students presented discussion on Steve Jobs, JR Martinez, Nelson Mandela, Gloria Steinem and Condoleezza Rice.  The thing that helped to improve their choice in heroes was given them a chance to think about what truly matters to them- events, issues, topics- and then look for people who created, supported, or developed them.  Students soon learn they have more heroes than they ever thought.

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Have as essay I assign with a unit my seniors do over Beowulf. In the essay they must define the characteristics of the Anglo-Saxon epic hero and define how Beowulf fits into these characteristics of the epic hero.

Next, they must examine the characteristics of the modern hero. Here is where each of the students define what they believe a hero to be. After, they must tell me who their hero is and how their hero aligns to the characteristics of a hero they have defined.

Normally, I am rather pleased. Students name parents, teachers, and people who have made a direct impact on their lives as their hero. I rarely get the typical modern day hero names.

Perhaps try this. It has always worked well for me.

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Maybe this is too obvious. Rick Reilly (a writer with Sports Illustrated) did a piece on the four athletes that (it would appear) took over Flight 93 when terrorists tried to turn it toward Washington, D.C.—instead overpowering their captors and causing the plane to crash into a field in upstate Pennsylvania, all hands lost.

I am including a website (it is one of several, I believe) that contains the story of the four athletes, though this specific site concentrates on Mark Bingham. However Reilly's story is there as well. It is a piece I revisit each year when we remember 9-11, and it still gives me goosebumps.

So many people were lost, that the stories may be endless—for some, we will never know what they did in giving their lives to help others. However, I find that those people whose stories we know can provide very real and modern day examples of true heroes.

http://markbingham.com/hero.html

And for any young man or woman who has served in the war in Iraq or Afghanistan, certainly there are heroes there, and stories to tell. I'm not sure how in depth you will want your students' work to be, for there are some of these heroes whose recognition begins with their death, and there may only be local accounts in the newspaper or a magazine. But I would expect that perhaps in looking at these kinds of people, especially with things that have occurred in the students' lifetimes, the experience may also be more meaningful.

Other heroes, not as well-known as MLK, Jr., but still as brave and still inspiring catalysts for change, were the Freedom Riders, those who occupied lunch counters in sit-ins, those who marched from Selma to Montgomery, etc.—they were heroic. And then there were those who never asked to be heroes, but changed the face of America: Emmett Till, the little girls killed in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, the Little Rock Nine, the three Mississippi Civil Rights members murdered, among so many others...all were heroes—and never knew it. Then the question arises, what is a hero. Must it be someone who consciously decides to take a stand regardless of the sacrifice required? I'm not sure if this last group "counts" for this assignment, but heroism has many faces...it brings up an interesting question.

Good luck: great assignment.

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You could look at Nobel prize winners for more individuals who aren't as well-known as their work would merit. I doubt that all of them could be considered heroes, but I'm willing to guess that some of their awards qualify them for hero consideration.

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One person you might consider whom your students may never have even heard of is Dr. Jonas Salk. It was his work that produced the first effective polio vaccine, and virtually eliminated this terrible disease. I am old enough to remember seeing young people horribly disfigured--if they even survived--from the disease, and whole areas quarantined. I was in the first group of children to test the vaccine in the early 1950's and obviously benefited from it. Dr. Salk is certainly an unsung and largely unknown hero.

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How about Aung San Suu Kyi?  She's a human rights leader in Myanmar who has been repeatedly arrested and imprisoned.  Along with that theme, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Liberia), Stephen Biko (South Africa), Zlata Filipovic (Bosnia, child diarist), Diane Nash (US Civil Rights), Jimmy Carter (post-Presidential work?), Lech Walesa (Poland), Vacalv Havel (Czechoslovakia), "Tank Man" (anonymous Tianenmen Square protestor) and Shalah Sherkat (Iranian journalist) would also be good, off the student-beaten path topics.  Maybe Margaret Sanger and Jane Goodall too.

 

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I notice another post mentioned Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, the pilot who commanded U. S. Airways Flight 1549 in his "Miracle on the Hudson" landing. I think he would be an excellent choice. I think someone like Roberto Clemente, the baseball superstar who died at the height of his career in a plane crash in 1972 on his way to deliver aid to Nicaraguan earthquake victims, would be another true hero.

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I think we can look at the definition of hero a bit more broadly.  Have them choose someone who has made an impact on their lives.  For instance, the first person in their families to go to college.

Steve Jobs is on everyone’s minds right now.  I think he had a big impact on how we use technology today.  He was certainly an innovator.  Not the traditional hero perhaps, but the kid with a Macbook, iPhone, iPad and IPod may think so!

 

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You could have the students research soldiers who have won the Congressional Medal of Honor -- there are many heroic stories there.  Just recently, a young soldier was given the medal and his humble attitude in regards to his brave actions made him even more a hero in many people's eyes.

Students could think about their more immediate environment and consider local heroes -- police and fire come to mind immediately, but what about the people who run local shelters, food pantries, or soup kitchens? What about teachers in their school? They could do interviews as part of their research.

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Sort of depends on who you think is obvious, right?  What about controversial political figures.  I'm thinking about Margaret Thatcher or Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush.  These are people who have been heroes to some but villains to others.  More conventionally, perhaps, what about the pilot who landed that airplane on the river in New York a couple years back, allowing all the passengers to survive?  What was his name?  Sullenberger, I think.  At least that would give you a couple things to think about -- does doing controversial things that you think right make you a hero?  Or does a one-off thing like the pilot did that required nerve but no particular moral courage make you a hero?

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