Some thoughts about graphic novels in education

As a visual thinker, a lover of the printed word, and a passionate social activist, encountering this new genre had a profound impact on this author, and he began to seek out, read and acquire new titles, each more interesting than the previous. Like Maus or I was there (about the bombing of Hiroshima), some books are serious meditations on the horrors of the past century. Other books were humorous, such as Greenberg the vampire, found their way into my personal collection. Each year, the popularity of graphic novels increases, and authors explore innovative ways to tell their stories. Some are very personal memoirs, such as American born Chinese, others, like The pride of Baghdad are surreal narratives about current events, such as this story, based on a true event during the Iraq war when a pride of lions escaped the Baghdad zoo, and ran around the city until they were killed by American forces, told from the viewpoint of the lions. These books are engaging and informative, and allow the reader to stop and explore complex images in individual panels or contemplate interesting dialogue, thereby creating a very different kind of experience than a movie, or book.

It became apparent to me that one of the most important and unique attributes of graphic novels is that their point of view more than often describes intimate, human experiences (even lions in the Pride of Baghdad shares this sensibility). When school textbooks big describe historical events, they do so in a sterile, linear manner, often outside of how human beings have experienced these events. Movies can describe similar events, but in a manner that prevents the viewer from being able to stop and reflect on the story, events and characters. Additionally, because of the size, special effects, music and sound effects, the story become a spectacle, with oversized heroes, and villains, and often disconnected from the intimacy of human experience found in graphic novels. In the graphic novel, the reader can stop, reflect, and move around the story, returning to earlier parts to explore story elements that may have been missed.

It is interesting to consider one of the most salient points that Marshall McLuhan describes in his book, The medium is the message is the relationship between a story, the manner in which it is told, and the medium used to tell it. For example, listening to Orson Well’s 1940 radio play The War of the Worlds was a very different experience to listeners than that of reading the book, or watching the movie. Understanding the particular media used to tell a story, its unique qualities and strengths, the history of how the specific media has developed over time, make a richer, deeper experience for both the creators and the users. This is particularly true with the genre of graphic novels, a fairly recent addition to narrative genres. It is these attributes that make Maus, Persepolis, March, and other titles such powerful books, because the sheer scale of their subjects can be so overwhelming that the narratives of the individual people, who survived, are often lost to readers. Graphic novels are an intimate, personal media, making them an extremely persuasive media to convey difficult narratives that inform and affect modern readers. They are engaging, economical, easy to translate and distribute (real of virtual publication).

More to come.



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Some reflections on graduation

On Saturday, May 20th I completed an 8 year journey to complete my EdD, and walked with a whole bunch of classmates to receive our hoods. And there were even more students receiving their MAEDs. It was really cool and became very emotional day for me, and I am sure of my colleagues and peers. I felt that I was almost having an out-of-body experience, although that may because it took us 2 hours to travel up the PCH parking lot. I was totally happy to be wearing my Pepperdine royal blue robes. But I knew that I should have worn short pants and Berks or something. We were all like little personal sweat lodges- it was so bloody hot. But to look around me, and see the smiles of diversity, so joyful, of a feeling of completion of an academic walkabout. Perhaps I am over-dramatizing this, but my journey seemed to take me along a sometimes Job-ian path of opportunities masquerading as challenges. I had more of some of these opportunities then I would have liked, but I got to learn about broken collarbones, different hospitals. Huntington was really great for emergency,  UCLA was good for pneumonia (except for their cable TV that showcased the Alligator Channel), Kaiser for all kinds of other stuff (like the insertion of Bert and Ernie, my two stents).  There were parts of this journey that took me pretty close to the seas of despair and worry. Some of it was received from the news, some of it was the lack of steady work. But the love and support from family and friends prevented me from drowning and let me pursue this dream. I am truly grateful to all for all from a smile to a beer to a good word to a month and another. What a journey! Whew! One thing about this journey is that you really need persistence, and a sense of humor. Yep, definitely a sense of humor!

Three stages of dissertation: The elevator pitches. 
Stage 1– Using available technologies to develop innovative partnerships between schools and different arts institutions to provide year-round arts education in underserved and distant communities.
Stage 2– Using MOOCS as a platform for Number 1. Massive open online classes, built on the Community of Practice described by Lave and Wenger. Way cool. Imagine students anywhere and everywhere gaining to access to organized courses at LACMA, the Norton Simon, the Louvre, National Gallery, or theater schools, in year long programs. Parts as lecture and parts as interactive experience. There are models about, like the University of the People.
Stage 3, my dissertation– Using graphic novels and comics in schools to teach social justice and identity issues.

To be continued.
Graphic Novels and comics are really……

Posted in Comics, David Greenfield Dissertation, For all mankind, Graphic Novels, Innovation, Learning, MOOCs, Museums, Social Justice | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

March, the excellent graphic novel by and about John Lewis

I just finished the last book of the trilogy “March”, by and about John Lewis, and can say that I highly recommend it. It is a powerful and engaging book, with a compelling and true narrative, and B/W illustrations that draw the reader completely into it, making it a total binge read of all three books.

Book 3 is frighteningly relevant to events happening today- to so many hyphenated Americans, perpetrated by ugly white men.This is a series that should be required reading in all high schools and colleges. It is a compelling read that shows how far we came, as well as how far that we need to go. There are excerpts of several important speeches by Senator Lewis, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Mrs. Fannie Lou Hammer, Nelson Rockefeller, and even President Johnson.

This books shows the America that trump wants to return us to, and it ain’t pretty.

March in Wikipedia
Link to teacher’s guide to Book One
Link to NEA lesson plans

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We we came in peace for all mankind….

Over the past 3 days, I’ve been rewatching “The Dish“, a  little gem of an Australian movie about the first Apollo mission to the moon. It is a delightful, and quirky film of a “a somewhat fictionalised story of the Parkes Observatory’s role in relaying live television of man’s first steps on the Moon during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969.” (Wikipedia says it better than me). The words cam to mine are great cast, humorous, engaging and inspiring. Towards the end of the movie, footage of the actual moon landing is shown- with global audiences (actual footage and the actors), watching. Footage of the reactions of Walter Cronkite and other great journalists smiling and weeping with true awe, and emotion is shown.

We hear the astronauts read the words on the engraved plaque that remains on the moon.
We came in peace for all mankind
Then we hear Commander Eugene Cernan’s farewell, “As I take man’s last step from the surface, back home for some time to come – but we believe not too long into the future – I’d like to just (say) what I believe history will record. That America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow. And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus–Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind. Godspeed the crew of Apollo 17.”

Hearing those words, some 47 years later, is truly awe inspiring, and made my eyes water…. They mentioned that some 600 million people around the world watched it on live tv, describing it as one moment in time, in the history of the planet where all of humanity stopped and watched in awe.

With these feelings, I was suddenly thrust back to the moment, and I wondered, how in the hell did we slide from that moment to where we are now? How did we go from such great and wonderful world of change, and hope and wonder, visions of a better future, sending brave men in tin cans to see if we could do it. And we did. What happened? How did we end up with a bunch of ignorant, small minded, fearful and arrogant people with no vision, and no imagination (beyond the tip of their nose)? People who want to go back to a “simpler” time… Beyond the basic question, simpler for who and when? These people forget that all through time, humans have been developing and progressing, inventing and innovating, trying to improve the human condition. I think that it is really funny to think that people who want to return to “simpler” times could really go back, they would find people who would be happy to trade with them, to be given the opportunity to move to today. Humanity is past those stages, we can actually let go of a lot of our myths and create new ones, ones whose heroes are not warriors, but creators, healers, innovators. There are crazy ones on this planet, and there always have been. But, in reality, there are more of the latter, so why are we letting them run the show?

Posted in Eugene Cernan, For all mankind, Innovation, Learning, Moon, Moon Walk, Neil Armstrong, Science, Social Justice, The Dish | Leave a comment

The power of comics…

A picture is worth a thousand words, especially when it is Superman!

(I nabbed this from a Facebook posting)

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Learning and watching @ Stan Lee’s LA Comic Con (aka Comikaze)

The newly renamed Stan Lee’s LA Comic Con (aka Comikaze) at the LA Convention Center was a blast! All comics and graphic novels, people of all ages, genders, ethnicities, all having fun! It made me think of a comment about Star Trek that appeared in the movie “Trekkies 2”. One of the major fans said that the reason that she liked Star Trek because it was about a time and place where people accepted and respected each other. This is my experience at Comic Con, which makes it a perfect venue for moderating a panel about Comics in the Classroom.

Although I had scheduled two high school teachers who used comics, Peter Carlson and Johnny Parker II, Peter invited two really cool and knowledgeable colleagues- Rosie O. Knight, a delightful poet and writer from London, who taught comics to underserved kids over there, and Mom, from Ladybugs, the Los Angeles Women’s Comic Creator League, making a really interesting and dynamic panel.

The discussion was lively and interesting, driven by experience, passion (for comics) and the deep desire to make a difference to society. We talked about content titles, types of assignments, and learning objectives. But, there are comics and are more then just super heroes and talking animals, and many of the stories are about more than just super adventures. Following the tradition of great workd literature, we discussed how many titles and comics represent archetypes of literature, and metaphors for action and meaning. For example we talked about how the conflict between Magneto and Professor X represent the philosophical conflict between Malcolm X and Marten Luther King.

Another idea that we spoke about was how comics can introduce non-, or weak readers to all sorts of great literature in some very unusual ways, such as R. Crumb’s brilliant version of Genesis. Crumb used some excellent translations of the story to inspire and guide his book. Peter spoke about how this kind of book can shift the cognitive lead to feed the students’ imaginations instead of simply reading. One of the panelists added this books like these allow students to test the boundaries found in static interpretations of this story, as well as others in classic literature from a black and white understanding, to more of a gray, that allows students to interpret using their own imagination, experience and knowledge.

Towards the end of the session, one of the most important take-aways was brought up. That is that comics in the classroom are not only consumed and used, but are also made by students. Assignments are similar to those that are associated to full-text compositions that are given in literature, history or other purely text-based subjects. But comics are much more dynamic, and personal. They empower students of all levels to personalize their narratives, promote critical thinking associated with the cognitive development of text-image interpretation and understanding, and make the stories real. Students are often overwhelmed with the state of the world, feeling helpless about the possibility of change. They know that they do not have the superpowers of the characters that they read about. But, in making their own comics, sharing their own narratives that define who and what they are, they can shift that sense of being helpless to change the world, to being empowered by being able to serve and save their communities, helping to create a snowball effect.

To my colleagues on the panel- Thank you for participating and I hope that I did your astute comments justice, and look forward to future conversations.

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