The graphic novel adaptation of William Ayers' classic To Teach
is an excellent addition to the growing body of texts integrating graphica with literacy and education. The text shows that comics can facilitate not only k-12 education, but teacher education as well.
The book does have it's disappointing moments. For one, Scott McCloud's style, concepts, and words are ripped off in the first few pages and McCloud's influence is extremely under-acknowledged as a source and resource for this text, though it is obvious to anyone who follows comics and literacy that works like Understanding Comics were very influential in choosing phrasing, panel layout, and even art style. At times I found myself saying, "Those gutters don't have to be empty space, Bill!" Using them for footnotes and references would have been a nice nod to works that influenced the original version and this graphic novel edition.
Secondly, Ayers comes off with a signature radical heavy-handedness, which can be off-putting to those who don't share all of his political views. For example, his conversation about white privilege is particularly underdeveloped and seems to lump all white people into one category without regard to socioeconomic status or other factors, a grave and frustrating error to my point of view, and the teachers he profiles as exemplars may constitute a granola-fest of lefties in the minds of some readers.
However, when it comes to stripping down Ayers' message down to its most important essence -- pedagogy should be "enlightening and liberating" and full of constructivist activities and mindsets that make all participants -- students, teachers, and other stakeholders -- active learners who come to the setting with gifts and strengths that should be acknowledged, celebrate,d and built upon -- the text hits a home run.
As a teacher educator, the best way I can endorse the book is to add it to my curriculum, which I will do ASAP. I often teach the main English Education methods class at my current institution, and I make a point to share the sociocultural and sociopolitical realities of teaching. I value students knowing, as best they can, exactly what they're getting into. I value this because it is my hope that students who know what to expect regarding the "nitty-gritty" will be more prepared to acknowledge it and survive it than those who go through programs where the difficulties of teaching are glossed over so graduation numbers stay high and colleges of education retain their status as cash cows.
It is my hope that my students will not be blindsided by all those little factors that add up to contribute to teacher burn-out and attrition rates that are staggering. Not being blindsided, I hope, will translate into handling the pressures of teaching better and longer.
In addition to texts like the ubiquitous Bridging English and Smagorinsky's excellent Teaching English By Design and Stern's Teaching English So I Matters, my students and I also read Wyatt and White's Making Your First Year a Success, which shares insights into how to handle the pressures you really can't know fully until they hit you.
I think To Teach can do an excellent job of reinforcing the constructivist and progressivist philosophies inherent in the "English teacher" texts and balance out the conservative nature of Making while also bolstering its penchant for exploring realities.
Ayers' cartoon avatar deals with pushy, dimwitted administrators caught up in the standards movement; he struggles to keep his classroom learning-friendly, and he finds himself constantly making value judgements that will define who he is as a teacher.
Seeing how Ayers balances his dead-on pedagogy with the demands of others will be of great value to future teachers, and To Teach, despite some aggravating flaws that might go unnoticed to those not familiar with precedent texts (making that weakness all the more egregious), is an invaluable text that should stand the test of time in graphic novel form as it has in its traditional printing.
Looking for more?: Katie Monnin recently interviewed Ayers about his book. Click here to read
Labels: Bill Ayers, Ryan Alexander-Tanner, To Teach