Examining New X-Men Pt. 7
by Travis Hedge Coke
From 2001 to 2004 Grant Morrison (The Invisibles, Batman and Robin) and team of pencilers, inkers, letterers, editors and colorists, including Phil Jimenez, Mike Marts, and Frank Quitely made a comic called New X-Men.
Revitalizing the X-Men as a politically savvy, fashion-forward superhero soap opera, New X-Men was published by Marvel Comics as the flagship of a line wide revival.
At the end of New X-Men, Emma Frost and Cyclops take over the school as co-heads. During the run, largely unacknowledged, Frost was already running the school while the headmaster, Charles Xavier, and the defacto head, Jean Grey, were traveling the world or otherwise occupied with outside work.
To consider education in New X-Men, we must look to education and to schools throughout X-Men comics. And, we have to take a holistic view of Grant Morrison’s New X-Men, itself. Both the Xavier educational system and the educational structure of the comic come bounded but mutable. The comic presents us with ideas, intimates films, movies, philosophies and approaches mostly in passing, bent to the narrative, flashing like a sign advertising the availability of vacancies.
In Imperial, the Xavier Institute does away with traditional class schedules and educational timetables.
In The Prime of Miss Emma Frost, Charles Xavier steps down as Headmaster are the Xavier Institute.
In Assault on Weapon Plus, Weapon XV, to be called Ultimaton at their public debut, engages in ritualised, professional wrestling-like physical maneuvers in attempts to learn about new individuals and their relation to them.
By the end of New X-Men, the Xavier Institute has grown to become a repository of human architectural and artistic accomplishments, which humans no longer want.
In that story, Here Comes Tomorrow, we see the fruition of Cassandra Nova’s re-education through the Xavier Institute, and her rise to headmistress one hundred fifty years from the present day.
Cassandra Nova, both the first villain presented in New X-Men and the first villain of Charles Xavier’s life, is reduced to a childlike state and enrolled in the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning for the majority of Grant Morrison’s run. Her re-education is an ongoing testament the power of the Xavier methods and their questionable ethical standing.
New X-Men is about a group of teachers, their students, rival schools, prize givings, homework, field trips.
The X-Men began, in 1963, as a comic about five superhero students attending a private school in Upstate New York. The X-Men has always been about a school, and about rival schools. Schools of thought. Schools of practice. Physical buildings housing educational institutions.
Charles Xavier’s school, even going back to when it was called Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, always had a unique curriculum and school ethic. Its main standing point was that it was more ethical, and safer, than the other available mutant schools.
In the comics of the 1960s, and comics referring back to that era, the rival school was Magneto’s Brotherhood, or Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, a conquest-minded, isolationist, supremacist cult. In Magneto’s Brotherhood we have a wide range of ages and maturity, most of them older than the original X-Men, but many, including the teenagers, were kept in check by humans paid to threaten or attack them, frightening them back into the arms and service of Magneto.
In the comics of the 1980s, Magneto did it turn as headmaster of the Xavier School. Emma Frost, her Massachusetts Academy and the Hellions were the counterpoint to the New Mutants, the fresh class of youth studying at the Xavier school for gifted youngsters.
In the 1990s, and before she was co-head of the second campus of the School for Gifted Youngsters, Emma Frost ran the Massachusetts Academy, her own private high school. The Massachusetts Academy was it a legitimate upper echelon private pre-collegiate school, while both of Xavier’s schools have been a combination of private high school, military academy, gifted education program, reform school, and front.
Unlike Magneto’s militia and Xavier’s ostensibly integrationist school, the Massachusetts Academy, with its mutant and human student body, practice is more, albeit classist, integration, excepting the Xavier school’s inclusivity of aliens and machine-based life.
For most of the existence of the Xavier schools, they have not been functional schools, as much as fronts, and when they have been schools, they have focused on one small class of students at one time, without graduation, and definitely without exit in mind.
That either the Xavier Institute or School for Gifted Youngsters was ever accredited comes down largely to psychic powers.
New X-Men was the first comic to approach the school as a multi-class educational platform with a student body approaching a normative population, and a consistent and full, though quite small faculty, including the main adult cast of New X-Men and the X-Men who featured concurrently in Uncanny X-Men, who also lived and worked on the campus were much of New X-Men is set.
Teaching for the Xavier Institute seems to require only what I will call the Tom Corsi qualification. Corsi, a retired police officer, teaches physical education for the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters and related schools, despite having no experiential, educational, or degree qualifications. Having been magically transformed into a stereotypical Hollywood Native American, Corsi is also magically permanently physically fit. He is not an active super villain. So, even though he experiments with redface costuming, he is on faculty and teaches children.
Beast and Emma Frost are both polymaths of a high capacity, skilled and educated across several scientific and arts fields, with Beast holding multiple terminal degrees and Frost only her Bachelors of Science in Education (and presumably an MA so she can have her license to practice therapy). This does lend some credence to the practice of not being hung up on the level of degrees, though both have achieved multiple.
Outside of New X-Men, Canadian superhero, Northstar, is recruited to teach economics and business, having successfully parlayed his sports success into a minor media empire.
In New X-Men, classes are rarely traditional or traditionally handled. Archangel, one of the main cast of concurrent Uncanny X-Men, takes a group to an alien spacecraft, for a term abroad, but the trip to the spaceship doubles as an experience in cooperation and group dynamics masquerading as a perfunctory flying exercise, as non-fliers need assistance to make it onboard.
Xorn, believed to have been imprisoned for fifty years, is assigned a small class of traumatized students with issues of self-doubt. It is not a formal education that is seen as needed, as he does not propose a rubric of formalized subjects and study, but takes them camping overnight in neighboring woods.
We will never know if Magneto-disguised-as-Xorn meant, “Special Class,” complimentary, or if he was trolling the X-Men while subtly disparaging the teens he would convert to Brotherhood members. It is likely that Magneto, himself, that Xorn was unsure.
Most of the Xavier education, in New X-Men, is survival skills and socialization, but much of that comes in the form of out of touch teachers and nearly nihilistic combat veterans who, “hope you survive the experience.” Specific subjects and study progress appears relegated student interest and individual students self-motivation. Since large stores of knowledge can be psychically embedded in a person’s mind within seconds, in this world, this may not be as dramatic a loss as it might seem in ours.
The orderly disorder of the Xavier Institute feels more in line with a conscious application of socialist politics and game theory ideas than with being at all concerned with placing in standardized state-mandated tests.
What Charles Xavier really tries to set up with his schools, are maybe small test utopias. The non-traditional schedules, rubric, laissez faire housing, and teacher/student dynamics point towards the Xavier Institute as a model society, predecessor to the post-New X-Men Utopia and Krakoa, to island nations founded by the X-Men.
When Xavier steps down as headmaster, it is in strong part because he feels his agenda of ethical non-violence may be less useful than other methods. But, looking at the Xavier Institute, and its predecessor, the School for Gifted Youngsters, the currents of militarism always run strong.
Not a day seems to go by, that students are not drilled in physical combat, combat maneuvers, strategy, or otherwise being trained to be X-Men.
Rank is, similarly, constantly reaffirmed. There are students and teachers, there are X-Men and everyone else.
In Teaching Children About Fractals, Wolverine gives his essential philosophy on dealing with a problem student: ” you contain the damage, you wait until they grow out of it, and you don’t act like a jerk.”
Cyclops, however, who will become co-headmaster at the end of New X-Men, and is also concerned with giving students a vote, when it comes to education and politics, suggests that, “Children need rules. They need role models and limits before they can rebel.”
Age, education, experience, and intelligence or not treated as the same for dependent on one another.
Wolverine is the eldest of the X-Men, but his education skews in particular directions and his lack of cohesive memory, most of his life’s memories having been stolen from him, Wolverine, ironically, does not have much more experience than some of his much younger comrades.
Wolverine is well-read, but ignorant of advanced science, even where it applies to himself or to military technology. We are conditioned both to prize, as intelligent and educated, both readers and scientists, but not in all the same ways.
Magneto is far more educated and experienced than Ernst or Beak, but Beak is a nicer person, a better person, and one you would trust to watch over children more.
Frost, Grey, Xavier and Beast have post-high school degrees, while Wolverine and Cyclops do not.
We do not need to know the class schedules or term course loads. It is arguably better that we do not have a clear picture, only gestures and ideas of the rubric and educational, the institutional, structures. Specificity would overtake the action soap that is the butter on bread of X-Men comics. It would also run over the most valuable aspects of New X-Men as our education.
There is a semi-famous line in New X-Men, describing Headmaster Charles Xavier as a billionaire, with at least three millionaires on his teaching staff. The site, in New X-Men, of the Xavier Institute, side of the original Xavier school for gifted youngsters, is it expensive Lee modified mansion and grounds inherited by Xavier from his wealthy family.
We, the audience, understand these levels of finance and financial security, and they help to explain how the school can continue to be run, the the wide variance in the economic stance of the student body. It is also to our benefit does sometimes temporarily forget the financial cost of the risks and chances Xavier Institute undertakes, so that, without anxiety over hour own economic status, we too, can take risks and chances with our own education, our own reaffirmation, and the reaffirmation in education of others in the scope of our largesse.
One of the most fascinating developments, to me, is when Charles Xavier steps down from being Headmaster of the school he founded, he does so for reasons that sound compassionate, reasonable, and mature, however he is a) suffering a recent concussion, b) leaving work to a woman who is already obviously exhausted and going through extreme personal issues, and c) not retiring from the position for the reasons he should be.
Xavier cites his doctrine of non-violence as perhaps a detriment to his students and school, in light of one young, straight, white boy – Quentin Quire – using his psychic powers to make other students alongside him.
Xavier does not acknowledge that he has dedicated his life to militarizing teenagers and making them feel dependent on him and his school, and that they owe him at his school a lifetime of service.
Xavier does not acknowledge the inaccuracy of calling his policies nonviolence.
Xavier does not acknowledge that his graduates appear to be incapable of functioning outside of his school.
Xavier does not reckon with his systematic and sustained abuse of privilege.
At no point, will Xavier look at his life and consider that as a straight, white American man, building political support with a very limited social circle, raised with inherited wealth, he might not have a great deal of comprehension of contemporary youth.
Unable to telepathically read Quentin Quire’s mind, Xavier misinterprets him almost consistently, from failing to understand his bigotry as bigotry watching Magneto murder him in a room full of X-Men and calling it being liberated from his cocoon.
Quire’s see-through mind repeatedly leaves Xavier ascribing his own feelings, his own concerns, personality, and expectations to a horny teenaged bigot who is, the entire time, high as a goddamn kite.
Consider how Xavier talks to his students about recreational drugs. Before, first, get in the floor to I’m much more comfortable with the subject Emma Frost, Xavier tells the students that kick, “May irreparably damaged the mutant x-gene,” something we see no evidence of and evidence to contradict that statement, before telling the students, “Arm yourselves with information. Please think before you act,” and delivering a sorites about black birds.
And, one of the first things students do when they leave that class, is to get high, and for a Black students to immediately mock, and to declare herself, “that black bird.”
Xavier’s speech is well-meant, but it is less than informative, does damage by sending unlikely, and is racially tone deaf.
Intentional or not this sequence of events has echoes throughout X-Men history another X-Men comics. Professor Charles Xavier has turned out an astonishing number of racist students, out of students and students-who-became-faculty who are exceptionally comfortable with racist words coming out of their mouth a liberal point or because they were upset.
New X-Men‘s most prominent character, traditional leader of the team, eventual mutant civil rights icon (and briefly, while dead, the mutant/Inhuman Gavrilo Princip), Cyclops, has shouted a two-word racial epithet starting with, “camel.” His high school classmate, Iceman, has been openly racist Asians and Native Americans. And, prize pupil, beloved by real-world fans everywhere, Kitty Pryde, has never not taken an opportunity, when written by Chris Claremont, to use real world and very intense bigoted language for Black people, Latinx, homosexuals, and Italians.
Point of fact, when Magneto was headmaster of the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters, he personally delivered Ms Pryde to a high school gymnasium holding a wake full of people she did not know, on behalf dead person she did not know, so that she could drop the n-word on them like she was a fourteen-year-old Lenny Bruce doing a bit.
For all the lofty goals, what Xavier seems most often to turn out, is entitlement.
A few years after New X-Men, in X-Men Legacy, Charles Xavier will blame Emma Frost’s ego and classism on her raising and wealth, which goes unquestioned.
Charles Xavier grew his inherited fortune, however, he was raised rich, and by the time of New X-Men, his personal financial holdings are nearly one thousand times Emma Frost’s.
Charles Xavier is not simply an affluent white American, he is a superhumanly-powerful billionaire with a private army.
EXAMINING NEW X-MEN PT. 7: EDUMACATION
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