You must have heard, by now, about the high school teacher forced to resign after assigning Eightball #22 to a freshman. If you haven’t read about this fiasco, Heidi covers it pretty well over at The Beat.
The case concerns me on quite a few levels, not the least of which are that I am (a) a high school teacher, (b) heavily involved in a “comics in the classroom” movement, and (c) of the mind that Eightball #22, reformatted in hardcover as Ice Haven is not only Dan Clowes’s most accomplished work, but it’s by far one of the best graphic novels of the past decade. So my initial reaction to a dude losing his job (and possibly his career) over it is: yeesh!
But here’s something that concerns me: the teacher assigned it to a 9th grade girl, independently of the rest of the class. Eightball #22 is a masterpiece, but it’s a strange choice to give to a freshman, and a strange choice to give to a single student as a make-up assignment for missed summer reading. The work is a sophisticated tapestry of shifting narrative perspectives and graphic styles. It’s as much about comic book history as it is about the characters or the town represented in the story. It’s not an ideal entry into the world of graphic narrative for someone who is unfamiliar with the techniques of the medium.
I think it’s too “adult” for that grade level, but not because of the supposed sexual content, but because of the narrative fanciness. It’s most salient virtue is its style, and stylistic analysis is not what freshmen are known for. So it seems like a weird choice in that regard.
Yet I could see myself, in my younger and more clueless days, possibly recommending Ice Haven to a 9th grader who I thought was interested in the medium. Hell, I actually have an Eightball promotional poster hanging on the wall of my classroom (it’s the one featuring Clowes’s “Death Ray” character, from the cover of issue #23). So although I have never actually given out a copy of Eightball to a student, I might have made that choice once upon a time. I might have been the guy pressured into resigning.
But I’m not sure I understand why he resigned. I’m sure he had excellent reasons, but I can’t imagine that I would resign if I were in that position, because I don’t assign a damn thing to my students unless I know exactly why I’m doing so. If I assigned Eightball #22, which, in theory, could have happened, then I would have plenty of reasons for it, most of which having to do with the national standards for English Language Arts. If I didn’t have a good reason for assigning it, then I would not assign it! I don’t know why, exactly, this teacher assigned the comic, but he resigned abruptly, so that automatically makes him seem like he’s afraid of any further investigation. It then makes the whole situation seem more creepy, and that begins to corrupt the whole situation. If this case draws national media attention, and it may have (or it may soon), then for the whole country, we’ll end up with a really bad equation: “comics=perversion,” or more specifically, maybe, “comics in the classroom=lock your doors and hide your daughters.”
It’s just a bad situation for everyone involved.
Yet here’s something else I can’t help but consider: What are these parents protecting their kids from by labeling Eightball as “pornography”? Do they live in the same world I live in? Because let me tell you something about my world: In my ten years of teaching, this is the FIRST YEAR that I don’t have a 9th grade student who is either pregnant or a mother. That’s right. Every other year, I’ve had at least one (if not more) 13 or 14 year-old student who was already a parent (or a mom to be) in my class. In a world like that, it’s dangerously naive to think that Eightball #22 is a corrupting influence. That isn’t to say that kids shouldn’t be protected. That isn’t to say that we shouldn’t help to prolong innocence as long as we can. But in the world I live it, Eightball #22 isn’t the problem.