Comic Books, the Common Core Standards, and the Literary Age

I was sitting in a boardroom-type meeting a few years ago, daydreaming about everything else in the world I could be doing, when I first heard about the Common Core Standards. The word "standards" caused me to come out of my happy place long enough to roll my eyes.

Are you serious?, I thought. Just what we need. More standards!  

After the meeting, I immediately forgot (code: purposefully gave myself amnesia) about these new "Common Core Standards." Leaving the meeting my thoughts settled down and trailed off with: Seriously? SERIOUSLY? Whatever . . . ."

In the last year, however, I have thought much, much more about them. A detail that I just now remember hearing as I rolled my eyes during that boardroom meeting was, "Don't worry too much about these new Common Core Standards. They won't hit us for a year or so, and they may not even move forward. It's probably just a flash in the pan idea or fad term being thrown around due to the election."

The Common Standards are not a flash in the pan idea. They are not a fad. They are the future, and I was absolutely wrong to roll my eyes at them.  

Actually, they are the best educational reform to date. Reform focused on the reality of reading and writing in the vast 21st century literacy-learning climate, the Common Core Standards embrace what many literacy scholars refer to as the greatest communication revolution of all time. Second to the invention of the printing press, but first in terms of its magnitude and impact, we are currently living and teaching during a time in history when reading and writing is constantly shifting and expanding - defining and redefining itself - as a result of new technologies and new advancements. Guided by technologies that embrace reading and writing from screen-like environments our current communication calls on us to redefine reading and writing and teach a shared literacy stage. Print-text literacies now share the stage with Image Literacies.    

In essence, when teachers go to write their new Common Core Standards lesson plans, and are asked to cite the specific Common Core Standard they are addressing, they can take their pick. Every single one of the new Common Core Standards uses the terms "texts," and in doing so, opens the door for teachers to define texts as any 21st century literacy. In the comic book and graphic novel world this means: Texts = Comics and Graphic Novels.

As an advocate of comic books and graphic novels in K - 12 educational classroom settings, the Common Core Standards are the best news like-minded educators have ever received. Emerging from the depths of America's murky-and-mysteriously-misunderstood fascination with Dr. Fredric Wertham's 1954 publication of Seduction of the Innocent those of us who understand the literary value and classroom potential of comic books and graphic novels can allow ourselves to feel a bit validated. After almost sixty year’s of defending comic books against Dr. Wertham's claim that they caused juvenile delinquency we now have national standards that foster encouraging them not only as valuable "texts" for young readers, but also advise us to embrace them in our classrooms. A recent article by Dr. Carol Tilley further hammered what I hope is the last nail in Wertham's research coffin when she published her scholarship and findings of the first academic and and educational review of Dr. Wertham's papers and research documents. Jumping to conclusions, sometimes even connecting dots that seemed not to be anywhere near each other, Dr. Tilley exposes the faulty conclusions about comics causing juvenile delinquency (http://ow.ly/iZeLJ). As I read her findings I thought to myself in a popular comic book, film, and television character voice.

As Yoda may say, "Deceived, the American people have been." 
Supported by thorough and new academic discoveries and the present implementation of the Common Core Standards comic books and graphic novels have entered a new era. Once censored away from the classroom by the United States Congress comic books deserve a new term for their new era.  We've had the Golden Age, the Silver Age, and more. Today, however, we may be growing into a term comic books and graphic novels have deserved for a longtime: "The Literary Age." 

Katie Monnin, PhD, is an assistant professor of literacy at the University of North Florida and author of Teaching Graphic Novels: Practical Strategies for the Secondary ELA Classroom (2010) from Maupin House. To learn more about Teaching Graphic Novels or Katie Monnin, please go to this link: http://www.maupinhouse.com/monnin.php.