Opinion: Comics Belong In the Classroom


Ben Franklin’s iconic “Join, or Die” cartoon.

Eitan Shere

Historically, comics have been greatly underrepresented in the American classroom. Many teachers fail to regard them as “literature” as they would the works of John Steinbeck or Ernest Hemingway. However, this is simply an ignorant notion. Comics have consistently been a crucial element of American culture, dating back to the Revolutionary War. Political cartoons encouraged the public to fight for America’s independence. Benjamin Franklin, one of our Founding Fathers, was an editorial cartoonist. His highly-regarded Pennsylvania Gazette cartoon of the divided snake, featured the words “Join or Die.” This was in reference to the ongoing French and Indian War. It implied that the colonies needed to unite with Great Britain to win the war against the French and Indians. This cartoon developed into a symbol of colonial freedom. If comics can help win wars, why can’t they be taught in high school classrooms?

Harper Lee, the author of the American Classic, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” was a devoted fan of Berkeley Breathed’s legendary comic strip, “Bloom County.” She exchanged many letters with Breathed, who had largely based the setting of his strip on the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama. As a matter of fact, when Breathed concluded his strip, Harper Lee sent him a letter imploring for the return of Bloom County, along with its protagonist, Opus. “Please don’t shut down Opus,” it read. “Can’t you at least give him a reprieve? Opus is simply the best comic strip there is and depriving him of life is murder – a hard word to describe an obliteration of your creation. But Opus is real.” This inspired Breathed to bring back Opus after thirty years. Clearly, traditional American literature and comics are deeply interwoven.

The days of students concealing comic books inside hardcover textbooks must come to an end. Comics have been proven to be profoundly effective in teaching, especially to students who have difficulty with concentration. They paint imaginative pictures that bring characters and settings to life. Instead of lengthy and repetitive essays, the use of comics could bring enthusiasm to uninspired students. No longer shall teachers shy away from the unfamiliar medium, and no longer shall they label it “child’s play.” Children are the future. The American schooling system owes them this.   

Eitan Shere is a student reporter, columnist, and creator of the comic strip series, “Terrence”, available to view on wbspectrum.com.