Looking to Re-Think How I Teach Composition, Part 2 – Specific Course Design


The use of graphic novels in the classroom, particularly the English, Literature, and Writing classroom, is an ongoing and developing trend, particularly at the college/university level.

This is not without pushback, however, there is “good” or relevant pushback and there is just “poor” pushback.

A good, recent example of “poor” pushback emerged recently from Crafton Hills College in California. Apparently, and “According to the Redlands Daily Facts newspaper, Tara Shultz and her parents object to Persepolis, Fun Home, Y: The Last ManVol. 1, and The Sandman Vol. 2: The Doll’s House as “pornography” and “garbage” (Williams). What is odd about this is that there argument is not a strong one as tall. In fact, when one takes into account the professor of the classes response, this becomes a bit clearer. Bartlett responded to an email via the Redlands Daily Facts and provided his reasoning:

“I chose several highly acclaimed, award-winning graphic novels in my English 250 course not because they are purportedly racy but because each speaks to the struggles of the human condition. As Faulkner states, ‘The only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself.’ The same may be said about reading literature. The characters in the chosen graphic novels are all struggling with issues of morality, self discovery, heartbreak, etc. The course in question has also been supported by the faculty, administration and approved by the board.” (Williams)

When one considers Shultz’s response to Bartlett’s, it appears that something does not match up here. Williams article points out that Shultz’s side and reasoning, noting that she

…is working towards an Associate of Arts in English at the public community college, signed up for English 250: Fiction because it fulfills one part of her degree requirements. She was apparently aware that the specific focus of the class was graphic novels, but she told the newspaper that “I expected Batman and Robin, not pornography.” Shultz says that Associate Professor Ryan Bartlett, who has taught the course for three terms without any other complaints, failed to adequately warn students about the books’ content. Her father Greg Shultz said that “if they (had) put a disclaimer on this, we wouldn’t have taken the course.” Tara Shultz agreed, saying that Bartlett “should have stood up the first day of class and warned us.” (Williams)

However, this is not the whole story. Not only may some, including myself, find her statement “I expected Batman and Robin, not pornography” a profound display of ignorance, but apparently, her real aim was a “blow off” class. Consider this information to help clarify:

Of course, Shultz and her parents did have complete information about which books would be covered in the class–the school requires instructors (p. 20) to distribute a detailed syllabus on the first day of the term–and ample time to withdraw with no effect on her grade. Fourteen other courses offered at Crafton Hills fulfill the same degree requirement as English 250. The college’s online calendar shows that the Spring semester began on January 12, and the last date to drop a course with no grade penalty was January 30. Shultz apparently brought up her objections to four out of ten books covered in the class after that date, when her only options were to complete the assigned work or withdraw with a 0. (Williams)

So, what about this, what is the point? Well, the point is that Shultz demonstrated a poor ability to argue. If she wanted to convince me or anyone (truly) that those graphic novels in the course were “pornography” or “trash” she should have perhaps made a more informed, nuance, and critically thought out approach. So, I want my students to do something better. I want them to make better arguments. So, this is where I make my move.

I want to have my students approach this and make an argument for/against the inclusion of graphic novels in the classroom. Are they pornography or trash? Are they literature? I want to let them make a case and argue it in an “informed, nuance, and critically thought out” manner.

To this end I am attempting to build up a potential “reading” list of sorts to help guide students to a wide selection of graphic novels, with synopsis and disclaimers, to help them engage with the material with guidance.

My attempt is to implement this in a composition 2 classroom in order to facilitate real, critical and argumentative debate on the topic.

Works Cited

Williams, Maren. “College Student Wants Four Graphic Novels ‘Eradicated from the System.”

CBLDF.org. Comic Book League Defense Fund. 13 June 2015. Web. 30 June 2015.

4 thoughts on “Looking to Re-Think How I Teach Composition, Part 2 – Specific Course Design

  1. I thought about this for a while, and I do wonder, especially coming from a self-confessed English major, as Shultz claims to be, how she would respond to The Canterbury Tales or its ilk. Just a thought.

    Besides that, the two graphic novels that I always turn to are Craig Thompson’s “Blankets” and Joe Kelly’s “I Kill Giants.”

    Blankets is the coming home and coming-of-age story of the author, told over 500+ black and white pages, and is heart-wrenching and warming at the same time. It discusses how hard it can be to not fit in, the struggles of one who has been sexually abused as a child, and the way we as humans come to find our comfort and our happiness, regardless of what challenges face us.

    I Kill Giants tells the story of a girl who can’t face the slow death of her own mother. In her mind, her mother’s death is a giant that lurks in the sea nearby, and she uses her mad D&D skills, along with a magic warhammer, to fight it. It is one of the most touching graphic novels or novels I have ever read in my life.

    As a fellow teacher, I do think that graphic novels have a place in the classroom. They tell stories that text alone can’t always manage, or can’t manage well, and many of them are stories that not only deserve to be told, but need to be exposed to the flesh and heart of humanity.

  2. I took a post-modern American Lit class in community college. I couldn’t stand post-modernism for most of the class. The teacher assigned Maus II, and my feelings completely changed towards the movement. I struggled with Ginsberg, Junot Diaz annoyed me, and I felt betrayed by Tim O’Brien. However, Maus was able to translate the feelings many of the other authors were trying to express, and packaged them in a way I could understand. I’ve been obsessed with graphic novels ever since.

  3. Pingback: Application Approach 1.0 | A Rhetorical Quest For Identity

  4. Pingback: Teaching the Graphic Novel, an Approach for Comp II Classroom, Part 1 | Pedagogical Perspectives

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