Saturday, September 22, 2007

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

There's been some discussion among members of the comics community regarding a teacher who recently resigned after stirring up a great deal of controversy by giving a copy of a mature-readers comic book (Eightball #22 by Dan Clowes, for those who want specifics) to a high school freshman. Since I am a strong proponent of comics as an art form and I taught English in public high schools for more than a quarter-century, several people have asked me what I thought about this issue. Here are my thoughts:

teacher passing out an issue of Eightball to public school high school students is displaying such bad judgment that he/she doesn't belong in a classroom.

I taught for over a quarter century in a progressive system, and I am aware that it is incumbent on teachers to maintain a very stringent standard of acceptability in regards to any non-approved material (that is, anything not adopted as acceptable texts or supplements by the local school board and/or board of education's sanctioning authority). Teachers in public schools do not have the freedom to randomly select supplemental material, including material that might be objectionable to some or all of the community.

No parent should feel that the school system and/or a representative thereof is undermining a family's chosen values by imposing his own material that includes words, phrases, scenes, etc., that the parent doesn't condone.

Every school system I've dealt with has a system whereby teachers can request that supplemental materials be approved. Among other things, I supplemented Morte d'Arthur, Perceval, Idylls of the King, and other Arthurian material with Terry Gilliam's The Fisher King; since it was an R-rated film, I submitted it to the school board along with an abstract explaining why I felt it was beneficial for advanced-placement World Lit students, a purchased copy of the film, and a parent permission slip I would send home with all students prior to showing. I also prepared an alternative assignment of equal educational value for any student who did not watch the film because of personal or parental concerns. I did this with all supplemental texts or readings that I distributed to students, and never once had a problem. (Had a very good experience with Aliens and Beowulf in comparative studies, all with school and community support and enthusiastic student involvement.)

Once again, we have a case of someone with very poor judgment and a lack of respect for the divergent values of others choosing to distribute what he/she wishes to an inappropriate audience. This sort of judgment is disappointing enough when it comes from a comic shop owner; it's far more disturbing when it comes from a public school teacher, since it creates a community distrust/lack of confidence in the system as a whole--and the system has enough problems to overcome without teachers creating further roadblocks.

(I keep saying "public school" because I have never taught in a private school and have no idea if their procedures are the same or wholly different.)

Simple rule: you don't get to impose your values and standards on your students. That's why school boards have approved texts, etc. In a position of authority, he distributed inappropriate material to a student, thereby determining this was appropriate. He does not to be in a classroom as an educator.

Teachers are fully protected if they simply follow the policies and get any additions to the outside reading list vetted and approved; when they venture from that protection, though, the jeopardize their career and community good will towards teachers as well.

It's also a bad choice for outside reading because... well, because there's so little reading involved. You know how much I love comics as an art form... but I would no sooner let a student substitute a graphic novel for a novel on a reading list than I'd let him watch a film rather than read a book. As an addition, yes--as a substitution, no.

I have no problem with Eightball being in the school library, where students have the freedom of choice as to whether or not to check it out. A library purchase is reviewed and approved by appropriate personnel, so it has been "vetted" through appropriate channels. Even if it's in the library, though, no teacher should give it to a student; they could add it to a list of approved readings, so long as there are appropriate and less controversial choices for parents whose values would conflict with the contents of the book, but it's essential that the teacher must offer viable choices reflect a diversity of values any time non-approved texts and readings are utilized.

1 comment:

Ed said...

The mother of the daughter actually posts on the Beat.

Here is the link :

I concur with your viewpoint exactly.