SchoolArts Magazine

MAY 2018

SchoolArts is a national art education magazine committed to promoting excellence, advocacy, and professional support for educators in the visual arts since 1901.

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I t was a touchy subject. Students, parents, teachers, and the adminis- tration all had strong feelings about the election. That, of course, is why it seemed like an important subject to address in school. I approached the headmaster for permission. With a few adjustments, he approved my plan to teach political cartooning to our seventh-grade art students. That was nine years ago. Barack Obama and John McCain were campaigning for the United States presidency. Seems like a simpler time, doesn't it? But my students were dra- matically invested in the 2008 presi- dential election. When I presented them with the opportunity to draw cartoons about it, they cheered. Getting Started As they brainstormed ideas, though, I learned my first lesson from this proj- ect: Middle-schoolers have almost no idea what's happening in the world. Despite their passionate opinions, my students only knew four verifiable facts about the candidates: Obama was young and black; McCain was old and white. I discovered that this project would not be about drawing or even joke writing. It would be about reading, thinking, and scrutinizing those thoughts. My seventh-graders and I have revisited this project with every presi- dential campaign. During the prima- ries, I introduce political cartooning near the end of the school year. On an election year, it is the first assign- ment that we do together. The fin- ished cartoons usually go up a week or two before Election Day. Their dis- play always causes a buzz in school. Political Cartooning Skills The cartooning process helps my students refine their thoughts about politics. I am careful not to inject my own opinions if I can. Instead, I ask my students how and where they came up with their ideas. Many students arrive to class with bizarre information. I can't imagine the game of telephone, for example, that made one student say, "Bernie Sanders (a Jewish candidate) wants to kill Jews." So, the first skill that I teach is fact- checking. And, when facts are hard to verify, source checking. Can my stu- dents recognize bias in the news that they are receiving? Do their parents, their friends, or they themselves have biases of their own? Analyzing News To illustrate bias this year, I took my students on a tour of Allsides.com. This news site collects articles from around the web and sorts them into three columns: News from the Left, News from the Center, and News from the Right. It is fascinating how a turn of phrase can flip the same news event from one side to another. "Many political cartoonists cre- ate cartoons that defend one side or another," I explain to students. I show them examples. "But the best cartoonists point out ridiculousness wherever they see it." Worksheets I provide my students with a worksheet to help them conceive their cartoons. Their artwork must be drawn from current events. So, at the top of the Talking Rama Hughes The best cartoonists point out ridiculousness wherever the see it. POLITICS M I D D L E S C H O O L Political cartoon by Mendel Feigelstock. 30 MAY 2018 SchoolArts

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