Apr 4, 2018
I never meant to be so political. At the beginning of the school year, I found myself bored with the same old curriculum in my English class. I wanted to change one of my books. I love the books I teach, but I also know that I tend toward works I refer to as “bummer plays.” I’m talking about teaching “A Doll’s House,” “A Raisin in the Sun,” “The Tragedy of Julius Caesar,” “Death of a Salesman,” and “A Streetcar Named Desire.” I hear that good teachers tend to change things up. Also, I’ve really been itching to teach a graphic novel.
In September, I decided to order a set of John Lewis’s autobiographical graphic novel, “March.” When would I teach it? I certainly knew that I couldn’t do it in February. With Black History Month, I knew that it would be an uphill battle trying to get the Cincinnati Library to get 40-some copies of a fairly recent graphic novel dealing with the civil rights movement. Being the cleverest person I know, I thought that I would teach “March” in the month of March. That gave me a chuckle. Little did I know that I would start teaching a graphic novel about protest rights in the same week as the national school walk out.
But it was perfect. Lewis’ three-book set focuses on three major battles in the civil rights movement: the lunch-counter sit-ins of 1959 and 1960, the 1961 freedom rides in the southern states, and the 1965 march on Selma. Lewis was thrust into a leadership role, championing the nonviolent protests while being abused at every turn. The books are heartbreaking and the visuals are often devastating. And they mostly did their job.
When I assigned Book One, one of my students, a girl who had never read a graphic novel, read the entire first book that night. She couldn’t put it down and asked to read ahead for Books Two and Three. Delighted, I handed them to her and she beamed.