Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Comics in the Classroom

There's been lots of discussion recently about the use of comic books in the classroom. I myself remember being handed a slim, brightly colored booklet in Sexual Education that demonstrated, in emphatically expressed panels, just what a condom is (as well as describing a colorful array of venereal diseases).

A recent video on discussed using comic books to teach German kids about the Holocaust, a subject kids there say is very dryly presented in their textbooks. History experts argue that the medium cannot possibly present the history in the seriousness and candor it deserves.

"Given that Art Spiegelman's Maus won the 1992 Pulitzer prize, and is a, oddly enough, comic book about the Holocaust, I think that argument was settled 16 years ago," writes Neil Gaiman, author of the award-winning and groundbreaking Sandman series of comic books, on his blog recently.

"I think any argument that states that comics (or radio or film or a musical or the novel or insert your favourite medium here...) by its nature trivialises its subject matter is foolish, shortsighted, dim, lazy and wrong. You can say 'This is a bad comic.' You can't say 'This is bad because it's a comic.'"

Which reminds me of the Sex Ed comic book. . . . not exactly high literature, if you ask me. We spent more time giggling over the likelihood the two deformed main characters would get it on after class.

With all the wealth of literature being adapted into the graphic form--classics in literature, historical texts, even the Bible--the question is raised: do comics have a place in the classroom alongside more traditional methods of education? Do they truly get kids to read, or do they stunt their mental growth and destroy good reading habits?

Over at Open Education the subject is being discussed in depth, including a lovely interview with Chris Wilson, author and editor of the site The Graphic Classroom. I urge you to check it out.

And then an interesting one focusing on Manga, with several recommendations.


Vanessa Concannon said...

Great post. I think it's ridiculous when people make comments about comics being an inferior form...hell, I get annoyed when they put down video games. People have been using graphic forms to get their stories across since the dawn of time. Shouldn't the graphic novel or the serialized comic get a little more respect in the mainstream world?

Trish Doller said...

I agree. If a graphic novel or comic is trivializing the subject, that's one thing. But I've seen many graphic novels that are anything but "comic".

Catherine said...

I think the thing with comics is that many people assume that comic=for kids - dumbed down and of no real value. Of course, I'm assuming that these people have never looked beyond the Archie they last read when they were ten.

We studied When The Wind Blows when I was in High School, so I don't see why comics/graphic novels/whatever you want to call them can't be taught in the classroom.

althrasher said...

I think Catherine hit the real point on the money. People just assume something is "below" them without even considering it. I mean, these people should probably try and read something like Maus before they try to talk about what they don't know.

Great post!