October 14, 2004

Something graphic . . .


“It may be a shocking dilution of academics — or an ingenious way to hook reluctant readers,” but, as Teresa Méndez says in a Christian Science Monitor report, in upstate New York, one ninth-grade English teacher is using “graphic novels” instead of books to try and lure students to literature, despite the stigma attributed to them in the past as “comic books.” Teacher Diane Roy believes that “For a certain type of student — particularly those who are visually oriented and bright but may lack the motivation or maturity to succeed in freshman English — the graphic novel can become a ‘bridge to other things,'” reports Méndez. So, after a problematic experience with Hamlet, she assigned Art Spiegelman‘s Maus. But, reports Méndez, “other educators . . . firmly believe this form of pop culture has no place in the classroom.” Famed New York University education professor Diane Ravitch says, “Once kids know how to read, there is no good reason to continue to use dumbed-down materials. They should be able to read poems, novels, essays, books that inform them, enlighten them, broaden their horizons.”

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.