Friday, March 25, 2011

To Teach: The Journey, In Comics

A companion piece to the memoir To Teach: The Journey of a Teacher, this graphic novel portrays a very student-centered view of education and offers insight into setting up an interactive, supportive, and relevant classroom. Starting with kindergarten students, the point here is to use real world situations for learning experiences as well as to honor students' backgrounds and knowledge. Along the way, there is commentary about standardized tests, what's important in a curriculum, and the roles of teachers in creating pedagogy. The clean, expressive art lighten up what could be seen as a didactic tone.

To Teach was written by Bill Ayers, an activist, distinguished professor, and Senior University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He has had a long career writing about social justice and promoting democracy through education. Before he got into education, he was involved with the radical Weather Underground Organization that claimed responsibility for a dozen bombings between 1970 and 1974. This association recently came to the fore as a lightning rod for criticism toward Barack Obama, who had received a $200 campaign donation from Ayers.

The art, a combination of cartoon and realism, was provided by Ryan Alexander-Tanner, an art teacher from Brooklyn. He is a past winner of a Xeric Grant for his comics work, and this was his first graphic novel. Alexander-Tanner talks about his work in this interview at The Daily Cross Hatch and this one at the Graphic Novel Reporter. He and Ayers speak about their work here in this video from The Carnegie Foundation as well as this interview at SMITH Magazine.

This graphic novel version of To Teach has been mostly well reviewed. Angela Leeper praised this book, writing that "this new version of To Teach will continue to inspire teachers for generations to come." Jessica Restaino called it "a restless, eager, anxious work, one that points menacingly at the big picture while it also celebrates the “smallest” triumphs, one student and one teacher at a time." Kerri Arsenault offers a contrary opinion, that "the book suffers from an overabundance of words and lack of constructive illustrations, and the incontrovertible rhetoric makes the book feel pedantic, rather than salient, obfuscating its original intent." This book clearly elicits strong responses to its message.

An excerpt, video preview, reviews, and additional information can be found here from the book's publisher Teachers College Press.

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