Comic books. Love them or loathe them, they are here to nestle ubiquitously until the proverbial cows come home.

Yes, that bane of girlfriends, and indeed boyfriends, across the nation, and more importantly across the United States where geekdom doth command its own army, comic books provide an eclectic source of fascination, escapism, and, oddly, philosophy. No doubt the readers of said comics use such arguments to augment their case against spouses (assuming that they have any) in defending their alternative reading habits, but they do have a purpose.

The Dark Prince

Take Batman, for instance. Bruce Wayne by day, the Dark Prince of Gotham by night. A wealthy billionaire, whose parents were brutally taken before his innocent eyes by some murdering vagrant, chooses to spend his adult nights wrapped in Lycra tights, a bullet proof vest and a flowing cape. Now, while this may sound like a regular night out for the seditious residents of London's Soho, Gotham's very own Dark Knight adorns himself with an array of weapons and gadgets to fight the forces of injustice and to prey on those who choose to make other's lives miserable. He fights crime where he sees it and finds it, only to be branded a psychopath and vigilante. Gratitude, eh?

But his purpose in his fictional city of Gotham is clear: he is a hero. Not superhero, but an ordinary man using his intellect, skill, wisdom, infinite judgment and physical strength to overcome what he sees as the wrongs and excesses of society. He is trying to make a difference for good, where everybody else is trying to blame somebody. He takes the responsibility firmly on his shoulders, without trepidation or fear, and relentlessly, selflessly and, quite violently, continues his work for justice.

Deep down, we all secretly wish for a Batman. Not the camp Adam West, though his wildly entertaining pieces would undoubtedly lift the spirits of even the most downtrodden; no, the brooding menace that is the original Batman. The Batman who fights fire with fire. Somebody on "our" side, using evil strategies for good purposes. Admittedly, much as I admire the ethos and moral standing of the Batman, his methods could fall prey to accusations of questionable principality. Does his violent and outside-the-law approach lower him to his enemy, and does it undermine the notion of peace and non-violence? Possibly.

But then you do have to examine the nature of Gotham City. A seething cesspit of violence, corruption, inequality and downright immorality, he employs such extreme methods because he has a job to do. Perhaps when the forces of darkness no longer prevail, and Gotham's citizens and institutions have taken heed of Batman's attitude and things are ok, perhaps then, they can start to use less severe means. Maybe, just maybe"¦

Is it a Bird? Is it a "Plane?

And then, of course, you have a completely different kind of hero. This one, however, is a proper superhero. This one is somebody born with gifts unbeknownst to mankind and whose physical attributes are superior to anything in the known world. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I give to you Batman's partner in the DC Comics family, and protector of Metropolis: Superman.

The very mention of his name starts to hail in that legendary theme tune; the goose pimples are already appearing everywhere on your body; that massively powerful and athletic figure looms into focus; a force for justice has risen again, and all is well with the world. Or is it? Now, you are perfectly right in assuming that I have just seen the recent "Superman Returns", and am glowing blissfully in the pit of a fine movie-going experience. But let us briefly examine the great Man of Steel, for his approach is somewhat different to Le Knight.

First of all, his is not subterfuge or ethereal; his is righteous. Again, his is not fear-inducing nor terrifying; his is traditional justice. Criminals are not scared when they see Superman, because they know he will not murder them. Gotham's creeps however, fear that the unhinged Bat may take their lives in the process of his campaign. Superman will smile as he puts you behind bars; Batman will scowl as he beats you repeatedly. Both fight for the same thing; both have differing levels of success.


If you have read this far, and are tearing your hair out in condemnation, fear not, because the principle for FE is here. Our system, no matter how much we praise the good work being done, is in crisis. It is no secret to suggest that the qualifications today are vastly inflated, less meaningful, and, disturbingly, provide what is widely perceived as a lower standard of schooling than before.

Colleges are increasingly cash-strapped, while Principals rake in salaries in excess of £100,000. Worldwide, our skills are being trounced and our productivity flattened by competitors who have recognised trends in industry, adapted to them and ensured that their workforces have benefited from sufficient training. Ours, sadly, have pretty much admitted defeat and are now languishing with the scraps.

So, the question is, who do we need? Is our FE system a replica of Gotham city, or is it the slightly more prosperous and brighter Metropolis? Are we in need of a revolutionary saviour who takes no prisoners like Batman, or do we need the gentle yet powerful nature of Superman, using the systems in place to fight injustice? We look to our leaders again. The former Secretary of State for Education had in his hand the nations learning, and we find ourselves in the situation where industry after industry is collapsing, with cries for better skilled graduates.

Now, Alan Johnson MP has in his hand the nation's recovery. His appointment is too recent to comment on his strategy thus far, but what, genteel reader, do you think? One of the taglines in "Superman Returns" near the finale was: "Why the World Needs Superman." Well, FE needs a saviour. The only question is, which style of saviour? Ruthless menace with revolution in his eyes, or humble giant using established tools?

I know which one I"d pick. You also have a choice to make.

Vijay Pattni

Stay here for the monkey's final word in From the FE Trenches!


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The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

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