For this installment of Kids Comics Go to Class we’re looking at Comics in Education, a website run by Gene Luen Yang. That’s right. Gene-Boxers & Saints–American Born Chinese-Yang. The site and the webcomic featured on it were his final project proposal for his Masters of Education degree at California State University.
The history section covers the advent of the comic book in 1933 and continues to the present day, with a generous helping of specific statistics to illustrate the shifting demographics of the audience during that course of time. With 95% of all 8-14 year old’s, and 65% of 15-18 year old’s consuming comic books by the 1940s, studies were initiated to examine the medium as an educational aid. Experts were divided as to whether or not it was a valid learning tool; whether it expanded or deteriorated students’ vocabulary; whether it helped or hurt their attention spans.
Much like in today’s debate over whether or not tablets accelerate or impede children’s developmental progress, some educators were concerned that comics were a “stumbling block to literacy… [that they]impeded reading comprehension, imagination, and caused eyestrain.”
Eventually the notorious psychiatrist Dr. Fredric Wertham determined that comic books were a root cause of juvenile delinquency, an idea best memorialized with his work The Seduction of the Innocent, which I suspect is a hilarious read. With the dissemination of Wertham’s ideas, educational approaches to comic books were brought to a halt, and no educator neared it for over twenty years.
Teachers began to experiment with comic books again in the early 1970s, but it was a cautious flirtation. The format was still widely disregarded, but it was small potatoes compared to the new specter distracting the worrywarts: television. Over the next few decades the industry became more accepted and broke into the mainstream, leading to renewed widespread interest in engaging students with comics.
The Strengths section gives in depth arguments about the positive aspects of comics in the classroom. It covers the motivating, visual learning, intermediary, and pop culture factors of their usage. Yang’s explanation is smooth and engaging.
An added bonus is that the site comes packed with resources for online and printed educational resources, along with the fun webcomic Factoring With Mr. Yang. It brought me back plenty of painful memories of math class. Maybe math wouldn’t have been so hard for me if they’d taught us with comic books.