Over at Comics Alliance, Mercury pal Aaron Colter has a great interview with Bill Ayers—yes, that Bill Ayers, who has spent the bulk of his career working in education reform (the whole "declaring war on the government" thing was just a blip). Ayers is a special guest at the Stumptown Comics Fest this weekend, where he will present the graphic novel adaptation of his book To Teach: The Journey, in Comics along with his collaborator Ryan Alexander Tanner, a local comics instructor/artist.
CA: Why are comics important to education? Why are they important to politics?
BA: Teachers need to recognize that teaching has an aesthetic- they might be nudged to strive for beauty and something pleasing and lovely in their work-and that the opposite of aesthetic is anesthetic. Wake up! Get moving! Nourish the imaginative and the weird and the queer! Art urges voyages of discovery and surprise. The comics world, on the other hand, might give teaching a chance too-I hope one fine day a zillion artists and marginalized bodies will flock into classrooms to lend a hand.
Of course teachers should use comics across the curriculum, just as they might use film or poetry or painting. I can't imagine teaching the Middle East without Sacco, the holocaust without Spiegelman, gender without Bechdel. The value is simply that graphic novels are part of the wildly diverse, wacky, and rich gumbo of our culture. If you were teaching a history class today on the Holocaust in Europe, you would mobilize memoir (Ann Frank, Elie Weisel) essay (Hannah Arendt, Thodore Adorno), and film (Shoah, The Sorrow and the Pity) to help students get a deep and meaningful, nuanced and complex picture of the entire sweep of the times and events. To leave out Maus would be to banish a fresh and intimate work that adds immeasurably to our overall understanding of the Holocaust.
Similarly Dykes to Watch Out For [by Bechdel] is an essential text if you hope to understand the recent years in America. On and on and on: teachers integrate poetry and literature, art and science, film and painting into everything they teach. Why not comics? I teach a writing class on memoir, and I use Maus, Persepolis, Fun Home, and Epileptic along with Homage to Catalonia and Black Boy. Students respond variously, but I would be irresponsibly narrowing their horizons if I left out the comic books.
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