Monday, February 12, 2007

Where Does This Bridge (Argument) Take Us?

We're beginning to discuss graphic novels in class. One of the topics that always comes up when I discuss them with a group of educators echoes some discussions of adolescent literature: "Well, it's fine for kids who won't read anything. Maybe it will get them reading. But kids who read well need something more challenging." There are also really fine books that explain how to use adolescent literature as a complement or a bridge to classic literature. I see the same arguments given for using graphic novels in class. "I would never give them to kids who read anyway, but maybe they would be a good bridge to classic texts for the others."

This bridge argument, while offering one benefit, troubles me. Besides the implicit attitude toward students that such an argument reveals, I wonder when a book (or other text) gets to stand on its own? Is the bridge argument a kind of deficit thinking about text? Why are we willing to get The Kite Runner on the district's approved book list but not Persepolis? Or, if we do put Persepolis on the list, do we treat it the same way in class? If not, why not? I guess the big question is what texts get the higher status in our selection and teaching and why? This isn't a new question, but new-ish media such as graphic novels seem to make us ask it all over again.


Ben Bleckley said...

I see this as tying in a great deal with the whole concept of canonical (is that a word?) literature. As I have understood it, what makes literature "classic" and a worthy member of the canon is that it has a timeless quality, that the themes will always be relevant. If that is the case, what's the difference between Night by Elie Wiesel and Maus I and II by Art Spiegelman (besides the fact that one is more clearly YA Lit than the other)? Can we argue that form hinders a message - especially if we teach with multiple intelligence theory in mind? A student with more visual /spatial knowledge than linguistic knowledge is not less capable of understanding the themes in Night. They just might need to see it through a different lens. Or, to put it another way, if we encourage the visually gifted student to struggle through Night because we think they will gain something from the experience, shouldn't we encourage the linguistically gifted student to struggle through Maus or Persepolis for the same reason? Or are we blinded by our own linguistic preference?

So my point is, why does the canon even matter? If a book relates the timeless themes we look want our students to "get," why not add it to the district reading list? (Why even have a district reading list, for that matter . . .)

A.M. Strzyz said...

I think that the bridging argument is representative of the bridge people are making in their thoughts. Some would argue that there is little to no literary value in these pieces - this was something I heard more in the past. Now, I am noticing people discussing how they might be beneficial when used in conjunction with an accepted text or for student who need more encouragement. My thought (hope) is that as more research is done on the topic, and more teachers find the value in using graphic novels as their own genre (not as a link to a genre) the opinions will sway to more people "crossing the bridge". I'm sure it will take time, but the discussion is occuring, and I find that to be promising. I, personally, would love to see this genre embraced in schools and have the funding to purchase a class set or sets for literature circles. I would enjoy this addition as I look more and more into adding visual reading lessons into my classroom.

Gwen said...

When I think about the idea of bridging, I think about it in terms of getting students or any learner to make connections from one concept to another. In terms of teaching a language arts class, I see using the idea of bridging to encourage students to make connections to their own lives, materials they have read (novels, poems, short stories, text books and/or what ever else they may have read), anything they may have seen movies/news, or any other influence they have had. I think that sometimes you would use one type or genre to create a bridge to another, but I have often wondered why certain genres, pieces, authors, and eras seem to be considered more worthy of teaching than others. One of the things that I have been pondering recently is why so many of the written pieces that are most frequently taught to secondary school student are boring and dated. This of, course is my personal opinion, but I have to wonder why, when we want student to want to read, why we force them to read stories that are not interesting and hard for them to relate to.