How comics can be used to inspire and educate at the same time.
Those seeking to create a better world must engage in self-reflection and explore the narratives that guide our lives. As we recently learned from Robin Grille, the time and place where our brains are most susceptible to influence is during youth. Positive and conscious effort put towards the healthy education of children’s developing minds is perhaps one of the best things we can do to create a better future. In an age where technology and media is everywhere, many education models are often boring for students. They want to engage, they want learning to be entertaining, colorful, interactive and some educators are embracing these growing possibilities to enhance education with all sorts of media, including comic books.
Teaching through story is universal across cultures since the beginning of time. Indigenous people sat around the fire through the winter learning stories and oral histories. Sacred texts like The Bhagavad Gita teach moral lessons through parable. Folk music around the world bring wisdom through ballads about love, war, and loss. Today we obsess about heroes and villains through movies, television, novels, and comics.
I wrote a piece called Comics Instead of Textbooks a few years back when I first learned that schools in South Africa were having great success teaching about the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela through comic books. In it I write:
A few years back I read an inspiring book by Valerie Kirschenbaum called Goodbye Gutenberg: How a Bronx Teacher Defied 500 Years of Traditions and Launched an Astonishing Renaissance. Valerie’s students had the worst reading scores in her district, so she began making the text more visually pleasing for her students. Changing the colors and font of text, enlarging important words, using forward and reverse italics and incorporating design flow into the reading assignments. Her students reading scores rose to the top of the district in no time!
Since that time the field of transmedia, which is the technique of telling a single story or story experience across multiple platforms and formats using current digital technologies, has continued to erupt across the planet. There are endless opportunities to use this technology consciously to shape a new narrative that includes social justice, environmental stewardship, and cross-cultural respect. Graphic artist, Charlie LaGreca is one individual who is leading the charge.
In a recent project in collaboration with the CUNY Center for Urban Environmental Reform (CUER) and the Environmental Protection Agency, a comic book was created called Mayah’s Lot. Written by LaGreca and Rebecca Bratspies this story is about a young girl who plants a garden in a vacant city lot but then learns that they want to use the lot for storing toxic waste. The story follows her on her journey of organizing people to become active in protecting their community. It teaches students the importance of getting involved, and the process of making positive change in their neighborhood. In true transmedia style, the comic book is accompanied with lesson plans for a range of grade levels that work with Core Curriculum and a video (animated by Norman Dillon) which is suitable for classroom adoption. You can download the comic here.
I had the pleasure of working on a similar project with famed illustrators, Bret Blevins and native artist Ryan Huna Smith that teaches the importance of following your dreams and honoring the interconnectedness of all life in nature. The story, called Giggle Bubble Dreams also encourages children to add color to other peoples dreams thus fostering a sense of cooperation and creative expression. Indian Super Hero, Frybread Man, shares historical wisdom about the origin of frybread, the deep cultural resilience of indigenous people in North America, and the importance of eating healthy food.
Stories and creative media are not just for children, but conscious attention should be directed at developing stories that positively influence their psychological and emotional development. What kinds of stories are you drawn to, and what does that say about your own deeply held belief systems? Together we can support each other to develop new stories and dream of a better future for all. The next step is to take action for the things we truly believe are possible and manifest them. We have never had access to so many tools and technology to create a better world, let’s do it!