EN/SANE World

Thursday, September 27, 2007

NCTE Calls it as it Sees it


This week's NCTE Inbox links to a follow-up article from the rag that broke the Guilford High School (Connecticut)/Eightball story in which a popular new teacher allowed a young female student to read the 22nd issue from Dan Clowes indy comic series Eightball.

NCTE placed it in a "Censorship" section of the weekly e-mail newsletter, and I was glad to see them do so. I probably wouldn't have offered the student Eightball #22, but no one is talking about what Mr. Fisher might have done right, i.e. offering the student a choice of reading materials (as some have reported he did) and telling the student up-front that the book she decided on had mature themes. And the whole idea that the book is being censored is an accurate one, but not much attention is being placed on that, either.

So, kudos to NCTE for calling it like they see it! The story was very poorly covered from the original source, so it was good to see an organization able to cut through the crap and get to one of the hearts of the matter concerning this bewildering beast of a happening!

The NCTE Inbox can be accessed by clicking here.

For more info on censorship and Sequential Art in Education, click here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

My E-mail to Guilford High School


Since the recent story about a Connecticut teacher resigning after parental complaints concerning his asking a student to read Daniel Clowes' Eightball #22 corresponds so well with one of the talks I'll be giving at this year's NCTE convention, I decided to offer my services to the high school where the action took place. Here's my letter to the principal at Guilford HS:


"Hello, I am James Bucky Carter. I recently edited a book entitled _Building Literacy Connections with Graphic Novels_. Published by the National Council of Teachers of English, the book offers suggestions on how to use graphic novels in the 6-12 classroom.I know you all recently had an event that may have some of your teachers resistant to using GN's in their classrooms. Indeed, at this year's NCTE in NYC, I will be leading a roundtable discussion on how to avoid the pitfalls and roadblocks associated with using graphic novels. I just wanted to bring that to your attention.

As a sort of preview, in my reaction to the Eightball incident on my blog, I list 2-3 suggestions for teachers who want to consider GN's but might now be afraid to. My blog is http://www.ensaneworld.blogspot.com/.Trolling the archives will also reveal many legitimate resources for using sequential art in the classroom.

Also, if you think your school community would like to hear me speak on the subject of graphic novels, I'm a member of NCTE's cosponsored speaker program.Best to you and your school (and to Mr. Fisher too) as you all seek a return to normal.

Sincerely,
James B. Carter"

So far, I've not had a response, but the New Haven Register has printed a follow-up story with more info on graphic novels and which also states that higher-level personnel have deemed the material inappropriate, so maybe the system is just trying to put it behind them. Still, I hope their remaining teachers aren't afraid to use sequential art in their classrooms now.....

I felt I should do something proactive about the situation, something that took the emphasis off the past and focused on the future and also tried to preserve a place for sequential art narratives in the classroom. It wasn't much, but at least I offered.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

To Be or Not to Be.. Behind the Eightball #22

The New Haven Register is reporting that a popular high school teacher has resigned his position after complaints stemming from the teacher assigning Daniel Clowes' Eightball #22 to a 9th grade female student.

Clowes' stories are known -- to those of us in the know on today's comics scene, anyway -- for their offbeat, insightful look at the sides of life that permeate our worlds but that we often fail to consider or brush off because of what they might illuminate about ourselves and our society. His work pays attention to the things we often don't want to admit about our cosy little towns and their inhabitants. A work like Ghost World or his Eightball series is a lot like Spoon River Anthology or Our Town, only in comics format.

But, as Stephen Cary has pointed out, it's one thing to write about nudity, rape, and other "unmentionables" that happen; it's another to see them depicted in a visual form. Americans seem to fear the visual. We want our drawings safe and cartoony. Anything else, we're suspicious of, it seems. Cary refers to this phenomenon as the "naked buns effect."

I have not read the issue that English teacher Nate Fisher asked the female adolescent to read. My general impression of the Eightball series is that it is probably best for older high school students and does contain Clowes-style quirkiness, meaning it does not shy away from topics of sexuality, perversion, etc. One blog poster on another site said that a respected school library magazine suggested it for 10th grade and higher. I'll have to check my own sources..

This November I will be leading a roundtable discussion at NCTE that will help teachers learn how to navigate their way through the pitfalls and bumpy roads that come with the territory of trying to integrate graphic novels into the classroom. Though I do not want to give too much away here, two bits of advice could help others who might want to use graphic novels in the classroom but are now more afraid to do so:

1. READ it! Don't take a review's word for it or a friend's. Read a graphic novel fully before you bring it into your classroom or assign it or even suggest it to a student. Everyone's community has different standards. Don't get caught without considering those in relation to every panel on every page.

2. Write a rationale for why you want the book in your classroom library, reading list, etc, that explains to administrators, students, and parents why the book is an essential part of your literate environment. Explain the "pedagogical worthiness" of the text in the rationale and be upfront about any issues that might cause some students or parents to blanch. Attach this rationale to the book's cover.

2b.Even better, write the rationale as a contract between student, parent, and teacher such that all parties agree that if the student wants to read the book, all parties are aware of the possible hot spots of the text. Signatures offer a great record, and this means a student who brings the book home to mom or dad is doing so with the explicit and teacher-directed mission of considering the book with his or her parents before the text is read.

Apparently Fisher is a new teacher, and a popular one,which makes it all the more tragic that he's ran into such resistance for what could have been an honest mistake. Since we lose so many new teachers within the first five years anyway, it might have been nice to see the administration at least try to back their new hire. An administration with spine.... Ah, to dream. Surely there are some out there....

I was also disappointed that someone found issue with Fisher asking the student "how did the book make you feel?" I twinged when I considered the possible ramifications: will the school over-react and restrict the use of all text-to-self connection questions?

And let's not get too out of sorts because the book in question is a graphic novel. Plenty of traditional print-based novels have caused folks to react or over-react as well.

I'm not sure if more info will come to light about this teacher or about this story in general. I feel for all involved and hope that there's no reason for me not to hope that Mr. Fisher can and will find employment as a teacher elsewhere.

At the very least, hopefully the two bits of advice above will help others from finding themselves behind the eightball when it comes to using graphic novels in their classrooms.