When I was in the 7th grade we used to have D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything And Read) time. When my teacher found out that I was spending this time not only reading comic books but sharing them with my classmates she took me off to the side. I was then informed that we weren't allowed to read comic books for our designated reading time (apparently they weren't educational enough since they had pictures...) according to school policy. Seeing how I had learned how to read from comic books, had a better vocabulary than most of my classmates thanks to comics, and had a father who owned a local comic book store, I was pretty pissed off by this rule. Within the next few weeks, with the help of the same teacher, I had written a letter of protest to our school principal, circulated a petition to accompany the letter amongst both students and faculty and arranged for my Dad (alias: Jim) to give a talk to the school about comic books. Eventually my mini-crusade for truth and justice paid off - the school changed the policy and we were allowed to read comic books for D.E.A.R. time.
Since that time comic books have gained support in many schools and more and more teachers are beginning to appreciate their merits. However, the acceptance of comic books as educational tools and as a legitimate literary art form is still a movement in its infancy. I feel that using comic books in our public schools would improve the quality of education in America by encouraging reading and a deeper appreciation of art and literature.
In Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud states that, "Comics offers range and versatility with all the potential imagery of film and painting with the intimacy of the written word". I can't imagine a reason we wouldn't want such a thing to be a part of our education. There are many reasons why comic books would be beneficial to our educations system but I'll restrict myself to discussing four of them: comic books can aid in reading comprehension and an early enjoyment of reading for children, they can be useful as an educational tool, they can help in understanding foreign cultures and comics can be used as literature in the exploration of art.
In 1999, the National Institute for Literacy stated that 40% of American children had difficulty reading and/or learning how to read. Comic books can aid in reading comprehension. Take this example: dialectic critiques. If you've never encountered this phrase before you probably don't know what it means. Action Philosophers uses comic books to easily illustrate the concept:
Then there's the fact that many kids have a hard time reading because they don't enjoy it. If something is fun and you want to learn more to enjoy it it becomes easier to comprehend. For example, in 2005 Jeff Smith and other comic books creators visited some school children. USA Today's article about the event states that, "Librarians lavished the artists with kind words, saying their books were teaching kids... how to read and getting them excited about literature. In fact the artists heard that comics..., and graphic novels, were the only books for which circulation was up". This is a good example of the fact that comic books are already helping kids enjoy reading and learning.
Recently Chip sent us this fantastic news about Boom's Cover Girl.
Essentially Cover Girl is being used as a teaching aid in a college class. So now you have two good examples of comics being fun and educational - both for a younger and older crowd.
Comics can be great educational tools. Action Philosophers is again an excellent example (teaching history and philosophy through comics) but there are many more books out there. There's books like Edgar Allen Poo that pull quite a bit from Poe's actual life and work, there's books such as Fables that explore stories and myths from all over the world, books like the comic book version of Sun Tzu's Art of War... the list goes on.
Comics also provide insight into other cultures, something that is increasingly important as our society becomes more global. The best example here is Japanese comic books. Not only has manga had a huge impact on the American market, but Japanese culture has had an influence on American comics. One of my favorite Japanese comics is Inu-Yasha. I enjoyed it so much that I learned to read a small amount of Japanese, learned quite a bit about Japanese culture and took and Independent Study class in high school so I could learn more about the historical context of the book. I know I'm not the only manga fan to have had that reaction. One comic book that was influenced by Japanese culture was The Dream Hunters - Gaiman teamed up with Japanese artist, Yoshitaka Amano, to turn a Japanese myth into a Sandman story. These are just a few ways that comics could help to teach about foreign cultures.
As I've discussed previously, comic books can be literature and as such should be taught in our schools as such. While there are many examples of comics as literature my favorite is Gaiman's The Sandman. Gaiman uses Morpheus (and eventually Daniel) as the personification of dream to not only examine the human condition through myth, legend, poem and song, but also to represent the heroic struggle to change oneself over a great length of time. Gaiman punctuates these tales with amazing artists like Charles Vess, Michael Zulli and Dave McKean. You could spend years reading The Sandman and still not catch everything it has to offer - and it would be so much more interesting to discuss in class than books like Augustine's 'Confessions' or O'Conner's 'A Good Man is Hard to Find'. It's clear to me and many others that comic books can be literature and I think it's high time that they became accepted in our schools as such.
Comic books are fun, educational, cultural ice breakers and can be viewed as literature in conjunction with visual art. I really hope to see more and more comic books breaking into our classrooms. There is no doubt in my mind that comics could do wonders for getting kids and adults alike more involved in learning.