A Public Service Announcement! ;)

A Public Service Announcement! ;)

Friday, November 06, 2009

Fightin' Fallacies Again: Mythbusting with Bucky

It's been a while since I posted something on fighting' fallacies associated with comics in education, but I think it may be time to revisit the topic based on certain ideas, trends, and opinions I've noted over the last six months or so.

1. Talk about how graphic novels match up with local/national standards is moot because of the new CORE standards being developed by the National Governors Association and the CCSSO.

I have seen much hubbub about how the CORE standards being developed under the Obama administration are going to obliterate any and all other lists of standards available nationwide, and while the CORE documents will certainly influence state and organizational standards, I think it might be a bit of hyperbole (at least I hope it is) to suggest that states will drop years of work on crafting standards to adopt the CORE standards. Rather, what I think we'll see is that the CORE standards will be suggested as THE BARE MINIMUM, and states will be encouraged to adapt -- not adopt -- them to the standards documents they've already crafted.

As for standards like those for the English Language Arts that have been published by NCTE/IRA, I have it on good authority from a representative at NCTE that these standards are not being updated in response to the CORE standards, not yet anyway.

Several recent and upcoming publications deal with how comics and graphic novels can be used to meet state and national (NCTE/IRA) standards. Brian Kelley recently published a document relating to New Jersey's ELA standards. Michael Bitz's recent book and his upcoming book, as well as a couple of his articles, reveal how using comics as composition meet many of New York's state ELA standards. Katie Monnin will soon publish a book that deals explicitly with NCTE/IRA's standards for ELA. All of these are and will be valuable to teachers and will help make the case for comics' worth in America's school rooms.

I've also heard folks try to make a distinction between having standards and the phenomenon of standardization. The problem is in interpretation. Too often, once standards are set, they become the rationale for standardization of curriculum. This leads to stolid curricula that focus more on the standards than on best practices, and after time, this also forms a sort of indoctrination that state education leaders accept and then feed their teachers. The "cure" for this, of course, is trusting teachers to be intelligent enough to see any set of standards as a bare minimum rather than the "gold standard" and having leadership that finds ways to assist teachers in being critical thinkers and experts in their fields.

2. Graphic novel proponents seek to supplant traditional print-based literature with graphic novels.

I think I can speak for most of my colleagues who advocate for using graphic novels and comics in the classroom when I say we probably all support a supplemental or complimentary approach, one where graphic novels are integrated into the ELA classroom along with traditional-based print texts.

I get it from both ends, it seems. I've read criticism of my edited collection Building Literacy Connections with Graphic Novels that suggested I and my contributors wanted to replace canonical texts with graphic novels. This isn't the case -- not in every possibly exigency, anyway. On the other hand, folks wonder if I and my co-writers aren't suggesting that comics and graphic novels aren't good enough, strong enough, to stand alone and be taught on their own. I think folks need to give comics-in-literacy scholars and teachers the benefit of the doubt (and read their texts more deeply).

I think most of us seek a balanced approach, where comics are used in pre-existing curricula where they fit best and with students who they can best engage (read "all students" on one level or the other) and only replace a text when a teacher was already looking to do so before considering a sequential art narrative as the replacement.

I think most of us do feel that certain graphic novels are good enough to be taught in their own right. I just think most of us are knowledgeable enough as pedagogues to know that teaching any text in isolation is not the most effective means of teaching.

3. The argument has been won. There is no need to continue work that falls under the rubric of "graphic novel advocacy."

There are so many of us using comics in the classroom now, so many blogs, so many books coming out, so much attention from MLA and YALSA and the ALA and NCTE, etc., and so many articles on sequential art in the classroom that it may seem that everyone has gotten the message. Especially for those of us who live and work in progressive environments where all or most of the people we see everyday are the kinds who readily accept comics' place in the classroom, this is dangerous thinking. Your world may not be my world may not be the world of a teacher in rural Wyoming or even in Washington, D.C.

As someone who lives in Texas, as someone who has, since 2000, taught in the states of Tennessee, North Carolina, Mississippi, Virginia, and Texas, and as someone who travels the country talking with teachers about comics' use in secondary education, I can tell you that it is a Manhattan-sized assumption to think that everyone everywhere -- whether "everywhere" pertains to state, k-12 school, college of education or university English department -- is on the same page or at the same level of their development when it comes to graphica. Austin is not El Paso is not Houston is not San Diego or New York.

While I get as frustrated as anyone when newbies try to reinvent the wheel regarding comics terminology, use, and advocacy in the classroom, especially when they do this in print (and especially when that print doesn't cite previous writing that has established a groundwork), I accept that, nationally, we see a range of acceptance of the form, ranging from elective courses on GN's at the high school level and courses focusing on them at colleges like Stanford, MIT, and Yale, to fogies still afraid to accept the form as viable for their sixth graders and considering it a threat to literacy, intelligence, and quality living.

The battles are still being fought in k-12 and university departments near you, whether it seems that way or not. So, there's plenty of room for more advocacy work regarding the sequential art narrative, and any work that deals with it in a positive light, even if it is crafted by those who believe the good fight has been won, might be said to be advocacy literature anyway.

(*draft. I may revisit this for edits later)

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