Pictures are worth a thousand words and for years instructors have used political cartoons to highlight American sentiments at home and abroad. Today they are just as important and provide an avenue for encouraging critical thinking. Recently my students were fascinated to learn that Dr. Seuss drew cartoons during World War II. Dr. Seuss Goes to War was a highlight of class one day and the Library of Congress digital exhibit provided plenty of options for discussion. Excitement spread throughout the classroom as they recognized the stylized cartoon characters. This easy link between their childhood favorites and history encouraged everyone to participate. They all loved Dr. Seuss and learned to read using his books. They commented on his positive messages: Horton Heard the Who and saves them, the Lorax teaches about climate change, and the Grinch grew a heart. Which made the next cartoon hard to swallow and though provoking.
Dr. Seuss published a cartoon on October 1, 1941 that was isolationist. The caption clearly stated American children came first. They mattered, and others did not. After this eye-opening cartoon, class discussion became more serious. Their beloved author had let them down. This activity helped introduce political cartoons within historical context and highlighted the changing tide of public opinion. At the end of the discussion, Dr. Seuss was still a wonderful author but with more depth.
Cartoons launch discussions. They bridge time, historical events and the politics surrounding them. And the best part is they are easily accessible. The Library of Congress has a variety of exhibits on cartoons including Dr. Seuss Goes to War, Witness and Response: September 11 Accusations and Brown vs. the Board of Education at 50. Each has searchable databases and is easy to use. The National Archives has produced two free eBooks on understanding and teaching with cartoons. American and the World and Representing Congress are filled with cartoons and provide instructors with analysis and discussion questions and historical background.
The Association of American Editorial Cartoons provides a wonderful reference for instructors. Their website allows you to view todays cartoons and provides lesson plans. Each week they design a lesson based on current events. They provide the cartoon and discussion questions. These are thought provoking and challenging. This week’s assignment is to caption the cartoon below. We encourage you to take the challenge and post your caption. How do you incorporate cartoons in the classroom.
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