Comic books in school? See Dick Read!

May 7, 2007

I suppose it was only a matter of time.


The Associated Press reported last week sometime that Maryland’s state superintendent of schools, Nancy Grasmick, is promoting the idea of having teachers use comic books to inspire students in elementary and middle schools to read.


The state has worked with Disney Publishing Worldwide and its educational division to develop a pilot project to put Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck into eight third-grade classrooms.


Apparently, Goofy won’t be available until late in 2009, when his second term in the White House ends.


Anyway, the Disney folks took Maryland’s reading standards (their wording, not mine) and created comics-based lesson plans “incorporating skills students needed to learn, such as how to understand plot and character.


The whole idea makes my Grumpy Old Fart side slap his hands to his head and cry out to the Gods of Literature.


Then the rest of me tells me to get a grip. Yes, every fuddy-duddy bone in my body creaks out in protest, but, after all, what were the kids reading – or NOT reading – already.


Do YOU remember what you were reading in elementary school? Yeah, me neither. But I was one of those bookworms who read everything I could get my hands on. I was also lucky in that I had a schoolteacher aunt with the bubbly nickname of Baba who was always giving me books to read, so the drivel supplied by the elementary schools has faded away.


Still, I remember the books about a couple of kids named Dick and Jane and their dog Spot. “See Spot run. Run, Spot, Run.”


What’s amazing is that ANYBODY came out of that kind of literature able to read at all. An awful lot of people came out of school, though, able to read, but never wanting to again. And no wonder. If all you teach kids is that what they’re going to be faced with is something totally sappy, the likelihood that they’re going to have any desire to read is going to be slim to none.


Comic books have a bad rap, some of it deserved, and I’m not sure talking mice and ducks is exactly the way to go, but I’m no educator. Heck who am I to talk? Like a lot of children, I had an “invisible friend” when I was a kid, apparently because the real kids in the neighborhood left a lot to be desired. Heck, my invisible friend even had a dog. Eventually my invisible friend faded away. I still miss the dog.


My point, which I nearly lost there, is that comics and graphic novels (longer and more complex works done in the comic book style,) would not really be out of place in schools. I would never suggest that they take the place of more serious reading, as in books that don’t give you a lot of pictures so you have to “see” everything in your mind.


For example, there’s Larry Gonick (, who’s series, “The Cartoon History of the Universe – from the Big Bang to Alexander the Great,” was a lot of fun to read and, in only about 100 pages, as I remember, gave a very general but accurate (according to the science of the time) picture of the workings of the universe. I still have a copy.




On his home page, Gonik writes “Welcome to the web site of the Overeducated Cartoonist! Since 1972, I’ve been creating comics that explain history, science, and other big subjects. Why such heavy stuff? Because I’ve made it my mission to bring people the information they need to make wise decisions about the future of the human community. I’m only trying to save the world here!”

The last thing I would want to suggest is to fill elementary and middle schools with “comix” to the exclusion of meatier stuff and claim that we are at last leaving no child behind. That would be the simplistic sort of solution to a complex problem, the didactic equivalent to the Reagan-era definition of ketchup as a vegetable.


With only a little trepidation, I’m going to say I don’t think the folks in Maryland are so very far off the mark. I don’t think the point of an education is to fill heads with information and have them stagger away, dripping data like a used teabag.


Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve always thought that the point was to give kids the tools for a life of discovery and inquiry. I really don’t care if the little curtain-climbers are seeing Spot run or pondering the musings of a talking rodent with three-fingered hands. If the kids comes away from the exchange with an idea that his world will grow through reading, then I’m all for it.


© 2007 Marsh Creek Media,


Gettysburg, Pa.


“Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.


3 Responses to “Comic books in school? See Dick Read!”

  1. Barbara Benton said

    I agree with you about graphic novels and comic books for teaching reading. Many young children relate to nothing else because all they’ve ever been exposed to is the fast-moving graphic images they’ve seen all their lives on television screens and game monitors. The educators in Maryland are not alone in their attempt to use such stuff as a bridge to meatier literature. We do that right here in Pennsylvania. Most other states do, too. At least, with comic books the pace slows down, and the kids learn to associate the words in the dialogue bubbles with the images. Gradually, the use of comics decreases, the kids move on to higher level picture books, then to unillustrated text in the form of young-adult novels. By the time they’re in middle school, we hope, they’re ready for the good stuff, which, hey, can include substantive graphic novels. All along, this type of literacy teaching is accompanied by higher and higher levels of writing skills, as well as listening and speaking. That’s the theory, anyway. Such is the teaching of “language arts,” nowadays. Quite different from when you and I were little whipsnates!

  2. Jeff said

    My only comment is this: Did your invisible friend’s invisible dog have an invisible fence?

  3. burger2go said

    no, but you had to watch where you walked….

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