Alright, I feel as though this topic earns the esteemed “ I TOLD YOU SO” award. Golf claps. Why? Wait for it..we’ll get there. Be patient, you know you want to read all of the super important things I have to say.
Remember when you were a kid and you collected pogs and slammers, baseball cards (big league chew optional), and comic books? No? Umm, then you’re either old-er or you’re a liar because if you’re clearly nerdy enough to be reading blogs on the internet, you participated in the previous three nerdy things..or something of the alike (think marbles or jax or something). I’m just sayin’, sorry. But seriously, at least when I was a kid…that is what kids did. Now nobody really cared about the pogs and baseball cards because naturally…pogs were a fad (thank God..really, it was a stupid game people), and baseball cards will always be appreciated. However, I always got shit for the comic books…although reading the comics in the Sunday paper was always okay..bite me hypocrite.
Anyhow, I remember being asked (which is a disguised way of telling) why I didn’t read something of substance, something that had purpose; comic books much like television will rot your brain…apparently. What’s funny about this..paradoxical if you will, is that sitcoms turned comic such as The Simpsons is not only highly hilarious, but remarkably intelligent and well written. If you do not know this, it means you are stupid and wouldn’t get the references throughout the show anyhow. Sorry dude. My point? Glad you waited around. My point is that some comics are not simply junk. Some are incredibly smart, well written and can even be..wait for it…educational.
As W&W point out for us, ask a kid today what their favorite book is and it’s not going to be (small tear) Moby Dick, but more like Naruto or Watchmen. However, watch out…comics and graphic novels are gateway drugs, I mean books. Kids that read these things are more likely to go on to read things like Moby Dick. This is clearly a genre of literature we cannot ignore. Comics and graphics novels are not simply entertainment anymore, so we must embrace them as literature. Let us not forget about Maus or the new Persepolis, I’ve even seen Macbeth done as a graphic novel…I dare you to say something about any of these not being of literary quality or having no purpose or substance. Surprise! The comic book and GN are here and are becoming the new wave of kid interest (look everyone…the students are reading!), and are showing up in classrooms all over the place because of their relevance and accessibility (look everyone…the students are reading!)…not because they are worthless. Comics and graphic novels are becoming such a huge thang that there are an endless number of afterschool clubs and programs that focus on exactly these things. This is difficult to ignore people. Yeah that’s right, just like the thespians, chess players, and physics club nerds. While they may still remain a rite of passage of sorts, comics and GN’s can also be a very powerful learning tool that isn’t only limited to teaching literacy skills. Insert “I told you so” here. Golf claps.
Two of the biggest money words in education are accessibility and differentiation. Many times these go hand in hand. I’m not just trying to pay my tuition here folks, I’m saying that that Gardner guy was on to something; straight lecture rarely works anymore (did it ever?), so we’ve got to give our kids other options to be successful. Different strokes for different folks..err somethin’. Example: I taught an eight-day creative writing class to 6-8th graders, God help me. Their goal over the eight days was to keep the fucking around to a minimum, and to submit some sort of creative piece to be published within the class book. The possibilities were endless. I heard some nonsense once about variety being the spice of life..I like to think it’s espresso but whatever..to each their own. Nice pun huh? My students were allowed to draw, write, create, perform..whatever blew their bubble. I had more comic strips, graphic novels, artwork, and Manga, than I did short stories, poetry, plays, etc. However, I did end up with a nice collection of pieces, and I ended up with so many submissions because I left the options open (I think they call this creativity, or maybe we can call it an interdisciplinary learning experience), and didn’t make everyone write a damn haiku. The kids created what they wanted, not what I wanted-although the tricky part here is that this was EXACTLY what I was looking for. Yay. It’s fun to trick kids. They embraced what they were good at, were totally engaged and involved, and very serious about what they were working on as they had the choice and chance to showcase their skills, and were proud of their work.
Accessibility and differentiation. Money. Hey, lots of people think money=success so I’m riding that train.
I had many kids whom were into the whole Manga scene thank me for allowing them to create their own for credit, as apparently many of their teachers had banned “cartoon” drawing in class because it was not academic. Not academic? How so?? Comics have always helped kids read and write whether or not you want to admit it. They tell a story too. Ever picked up a “kid’s book?” What are those? Pictures??? Pictures with words??? Kinda similar if you ask me. Think of what people used to help tell stories back in the day, if you will. I’m thinking hieroglyphics here. Jeez, some of you people still only prefer books with pictures. This is art ladies and gents..last time I checked art was a required class in most schools, just like English or Reading. Not only is it art but it’s communicative. Comics, GN’s, etc. are a harmonious marriage between words and art…and I bet this is one that won’t end in divorce like the other 60%. Jealous much?
I wised up and got away from 6-8th graders and moved on to teaching 10th graders..wised up huh? Subjective. I kid; I heart all students of all ages. This spring they will have the opportunity to read Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis. This is not simply a GN-the book is filled with substance like the history of Iran, our involvement with Iran, and the role religion plays as a political entity. How educational…with pictures. It’s historical, political, sociological, religious, multicultural, humanistic and feminist literature all rolled into one…now that’s a buy one get one if I’ve ever seen one. In fact, graphic novels aren't that different from teaching traditional prose books unless you want to really focus on art, art styles, why things are drawn the way they are, paneling, etc. And..why the hell not? Is there not value in this? The answer is yes, yes there is. It’s called purpose. Again, it’s another book that can support a variety of academic disciplines. How nice, who doesn’t want to kill multiple birds with one big ass stone?
Relevant and accessible? Persepolis shows how the ordeals of teenagers throughout the world have common elements, while at the same time driving home the contrasts of a society that represses freedom of expression. Uhh I teach 15 and 16 year olds…enough said? Hope so. What about that other money word you ask…differentiation? During an interview the author, Marjane Satrapi says of the GN,"...unfortunately you know, most of the people, they consider animation much like comedies, as a genre. It's not a genre. It's a medium." It’s a medium of instruction, exchange, creativity, intervention, expression, communication, and a tons of other “ions” in which we as teachers can make ideas and concepts more accessible ($0.75) AND relevant ($0.75) to our students. That’s $1.50…I just bought a small dark roast to get me through 4th period. Marjane also states of her purpose as an author and of her intent, "I'm not a politician. I don't know how to solve the problems of the world. But as an artist, I have one duty: To ask questions." To ask questions. If you can get your students to do this (this is called critical thinking..i.e. the purpose of education) you have done your job and then some. Congratulations, inside the teachers’ lounge you will find a sheet cake with pink flowers and an incorrect spelling of your name on it..however, someone has drunk all the coffee..again.
Oh…and I told you so.