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Education Matters: Comic-Con Special Edition’s education panels shine

CCA panelists
CCA panelists (l-r): Josh Charat-Collins (12), Mohana Enugurthi (12), Ariana Lashgari (11), Omid Fouladpouri (11), Riley Sullivan (South Carolina School of Art and Design ’24), Michaela Chang (USC ’25)

(Marsha Sutton)

The special part about Comic-Con Special Edition, held Nov. 26-28 at the San Diego Convention Center, was the ability to move around without the usual crush of humanity present at regular Comic-Cons.

Marsha Sutton
(Courtesy)

There were still plenty of costumed attendees, and the exhibit floor was full of comic-themed merchandise. But walking around the cavernous hallways without the hoards of people jamming every corridor was a pleasure.

Even though attendance was capped, panels presenting education-related issues were in abundance.

The panel on Comics in the Classroom focused on the power comic books and graphic novels can have on students struggling with reading, unenthusiastic readers, and those whose first language is not English.

“Accessibility” in a word, said one panelist. The visual narrative adds to the words and can engage students on a different level, he said, with illustrations often easier to convey information.

“Comics are more effective than anything I’ve ever used in the classroom. I could go on and on about what they can teach.”

Popular graphic novels used in the classroom, said the panelists – most of whom were local high school teachers and members of San Diego County’s educator book club – were “Maus” and “March.”

Written by American cartoonist Art Spiegelman, “Maus” portrays Jews as mice and German Nazis as cats, to teach historical lessons about the Holocaust. “Maus” is centered around Spiegelman’s interviews with his father, a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor.

“March” is a trilogy of graphic novels inspired and written by Congress member and civic rights icon John Lewis who died last year. Lewis and his co-authors detail Lewis’s struggle in the 1960s for equal rights for Black Americans, his relationship with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the often violent reactions marchers encountered in their fight for social justice.

For more information on the educator book club, see www.sdcoe.net/comics.

Local connection

Nearly all the comic books and graphic novels mentioned by educators were created by well-known artists and writers.

Yet one graphic novel, unique in its creation, was written and illustrated by local students at Canyon Crest Academy in the San Dieguito Union High School District.

“Jasper and the Spirit Skies” is an international collaboration between CCA and a sister school in Panama, and focuses on environmental stewardship and conservation.

In the Spirit Skies panel, CCA social sciences and history teacher Timothy Stiven explained the origin and inspiration for the novel and described how students enrolled in the school’s Envision Conservatory for the Humanities, an after-school program, worked for several years on the project to its completion last June.

The novel tells the story of Jasper who has magically turned into a hummingbird and needs to find a way to save his friends and family who have been punished by Mother Nature for environmental carelessness.

Important lessons certainly. But perhaps equally important is that high school students created the book from nothing but an idea and turned the project into a fully formed graphic novel.

“It shows you can put projects like these in young hands,” said former CCA student Riley Sullivan. “It also shows you can commit and be part of a team.”

Collaboration with fellow students was a key ingredient of the project’s success, said the talented artist who now attends the South Carolina School of Art and Design.

Volume 1 of “Jasper and the Spirit Skies” (www.spiritskies.org) was published in June by Reflections Publishing which publishes student-written books or books that focus on student issues.

Volume 2 is now underway, and the relationship between CCA and the International School of Panama continues.

Plans for Volume 3 (of a four-part series) will connect CCA students with students in Portland, Oregon.

The topic resonated with attendees, as evidenced by the fact that all 60 copies of the book sold out at the Spirit Skies booth on the exhibit floor.

The graphic novel can be purchased through Amazon and costs $10. All proceeds are funneled back into CCA’s Envision program.

Legal geeks

On the lighter side, a packed room listened to four judges and lawyers discuss theoretically problematic situations from a legal perspective in classic holiday characters, songs and movies.

Given the destructive nature of climate change, can Frosty the Snowman sue for damages? [depends]

Can the girl in the song get a hippopotamus for Christmas? [no because of the Endangered Species Act and age limitations]

In the movie “A Christmas Story,” is the school liable when a boy gets his tongue stuck on a freezing flagpole? [yes because adults should have been monitoring the playground better]. Is the leg lamp obscene? [no]. Should the BB gun have been regulated? [answer is complicated by varying state laws].

Is Santa trespassing on Christmas Eve? [no because he was invited by personal letters and the offerings of milk and cookies].

If he sees you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake, is Santa guilty of unlawful surveillance and invasion of privacy? [no – see previous answer].

Can Rudolph sue Santa for nasal discrimination? [no because one can’t sue for a physical characteristic like eye color or size of one’s nose].

Are Santa’s elves paid minimum wage? And are their working conditions safe? [how would we know?].

The panel was filled with laughter. See thelegalgeeks.com for more fun scenarios.

Serious issues

Many panels touched on the ways in which comics can broach serious subjects, including: spiritual themes, Latina equity, social trauma, service to others, cultural appreciation vs. cultural appropriation, STEM in the classroom, geeks in education, Muslims in comics, and the science of Star Wars which was hosted by the Fleet Science Center and featured panelists who discussed how the fantasy epic continues to inspire scientists.

Opinion columnist and education writer Marsha Sutton can be reached at suttonmarsha@gmail.com.


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