Christopher Swope was GOVERNING's executive editor.E-mail: email@example.com
Nancy S. Grasmick, Maryland's superintendent of schools, has fond memories of reading comic books as a child. She liked Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse, and especially enjoyed Archie. "I'd share comics with my friends," she says, "and they'd share theirs with me, which was wonderful because it was focused on reading."
Now, Grasmick has become a leading proponent for putting comic books in classrooms. Starting this fall, Maryland schools will have the option of teaching Spider-Man along with Tom Sawyer in grades three and up. The plan already is getting a try-out in a few counties, while a task force of educators decides which comics fit well with the state curriculum.
Critics say the idea is wild enough to make even the Incredible Hulk blush. But Grasmick hopes comics will engage reluctant readers-- especially boys, who read at much lower rates than girls. As with literature, comics can expand a child's vocabulary and be analyzed for character and plot development.
And not all comic titles have to do with superheroes. Maryland is considering teaching Art Spiegelman's graphic novel "Maus," a Pulitzer Prize-winning story about the Holocaust. "There's a certain legitimacy to comics that has not been acknowledged," Grasmick says.
Maryland's comic curriculum will be voluntary, so any school district can opt not to use it. And Grasmick stresses that no school is doing away with traditional children's books. "We're not just handing out comic books," she notes, "we're developing thoughtful lessons to go along with it."