Head of the Class: The Collected Kappan Cartoons for Educators

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Treat yourself and your colleagues to a healthy dose of laughter. A compilation of the best cartoons ever published in Phi Delta Kappan, this book offers school administrators, teachers, staff, and parents witty glimpses of life in education. Enjoy the lighthearted commentary, from the wisdom of sage school personnel and parents to astute observations by students.

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1 It Takes a Village

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Schools and whole districts often are characterized as education villages. The adult inhabitants—from the superintendent or the principal to the guidance counselors, teachers, and parents—are, in theory, focused on rearing and teaching children and young adults of the village. Of course, most schools, even the bright, shiny new ones, also can be like very old villages: prone to arcane traditions and occasionally fraught with bad juju. Village streets were once goat paths, so they wind and twist. And it’s common to encounter obstacles—usually the inhabitants themselves, the young, the old, and the in-between. Especially the in-betweens.

Ora na azu nwa.” That’s the Nigerian Igbo culture’s way of saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Hillary Rodham Clinton used the phrase as the title of her 1996 book. The media took it from African proverb to American catchphrase faster than a New York minute. Soon it was much parodied, satirized, and sometimes downright maligned. Still, satire aside, there is a kernel of truth in the saying, though as the cartoonists in this chapter often point out, no village is without a resident idiot or two.

 

2 Teach the Child, Not the Subject

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It has always been the mantra of progressive education: “Teach the child, not the subject.” It harkens to the theories of well-known progressives, such as John Dewey, Jean Piaget, and Lev Vygotsky, and a whole crop of more recent constructivists. Distilled to its essence, it means reversing the traditional teacher-centered understanding of the learning process and putting students at the center of the process. Well, that’s good in theory and sometimes in practice. But, the traditionalist asks, isn’t it a bit like putting Curious George in charge of the zoo?

There’s an old joke about a mother who wakes up her son: “Time to get up! Time to go to school!”

The son whines, “But, Mom, I don’t want to go to school. It’s a jungle, and all the kids make fun of me.”

To which the mother responds, “I’m sorry, son. You have to go. You’re the principal.”

Kappan cartoonists often have poked fun at the trials and tribulations of teachers and administrators who are trying their best in trying times—times when “managing” classrooms and corridors looks more like wrangling wild animals. Off to the zoo …

 

3 Teach the Subject, Not the Child

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It’s only fair to let the traditionalists have their say. School is about content—the three Rs and a few other letters of the alphabet. After all, we’ve come a long way since schoolteachers were expected to “sweep the floor daily, scrub the floor with soap and water once a week, and start a fire in the stove by 7:00 a.m. so that the classroom will be warm by 8:00,” as was the case in 1915. Honestly, it was common for teachers’ contracts to contain such provisions.

Over the years, schools have become more complicated, more regimented. Welcome to the six-period day, for example. Our school cartoons in this chapter touch some familiar bases:

• First Period: Art

• Second Period: Math

• Third Period: Science

• Fourth Period: Language Arts

• Fifth Period: History and Geography

• Sixth Period: Research and Study Skills

The only subject missing is computer science, but then, kids learn that in their cradle these days. Take the first-grader whose teacher said, “Billy, spell cat.” The eager youngster responded, “C- A-T, enter.”

 

4 A Hunger for Knowledge

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Regular Kappan readers may remember two previous hunger-related cartoon collections: My Homework Ate My Dog and its sequel, My Homework Ate My Dog Again. In this take on the hunger theme, our cartoonists look at various aspects, from school lunches to those familiar “hungry for knowledge” breaks from academe: recess and field trips.

Speaking of school lunches, many of us remember the cafeterias of earlier times, when hair-netted lunch ladies of a certain age served up hot meals, and a cute grin could bag you an extra cookie. That recalls a story making the rounds about two little chums in the lunch line at a parochial school. When they came to a pyramid of bright red apples, they noticed a sign: “Take just one … God is watching!” Later along the serving line, they spied a mound of cookies. One little fellow elbowed the other and said, “Look! We can take as many cookies as we want. God’s watching the apples.”

These days, you can buy a prepackaged lunch from a franchise restaurant, snacks from vending machines, and a lunch lady action figure on the Internet. But before you do, check out the cartoons in this chapter.

 

5 Making the Grade

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The cartoons in this chapter highlight the travails of students making it through school, with special attention to report cards (listen for the groan), homework (louder groan), and graduation (woohoo!).

Readers of education history—or those who have simply lived long enough—will be quick to note that there’s not a lot of difference between today’s report cards and those that students carried home a century ago. It’s been said that if Thomas Edison came back from the grave, he wouldn’t recognize anything except the report card—and his report cards were no great shakes. Young Edison’s teachers considered him “addled,” and so his formal education was cut short, almost before it had begun. Yet little Thomas became a voracious reader, set up his first laboratory at age ten, and at twelve established a lab in an empty freight car on the Grand Trunk Railway. He also began printing a weekly newspaper, the Grand Trunk Herald.

This topic brings to mind a story about a little girl who asked, “Daddy, can you write in the dark?”

 

6 Plugged In

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Remember that Sixties slogan: “Turn on, tune in, drop out”? Decades later, it has new meaning when applied to today’s technologically plugged-in kids.

Today’s Facebooked, YouTubed, Twittered, video-gamed, and texted generation plugs in whatever device is handy—a computer, a GameCube, a music player, a cell phone—turns it on, tunes it in, and drops out of the mundane world and into a universe that even Alice in Wonderland would find hard to imagine.

Are you or your students too plugged in? Consider these indicators: Do all your friends have @ signs in their names? Does your dog have its own homepage? Do you believe that you can safely send text messages while driving? Think about it.

The cartoons in this chapter are for those comfortable with new technology as well as those who, at some point, have plugged the power strip cord into the power strip itself and wondered why the computer wouldn’t turn on.

“If your cell phone has 500 minutes, and you use one of them during this math class, how long will you be in detention?”

 

7 The Teachers’ Lounge

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Ah, the teachers’ lounge—that haven, that refuge from the maddening crowd. Look closely. You can tell a veteran teacher from a newcomer; the veteran always checks the seat of the chair before sitting down. The veteran teacher is the one who volunteers for hall duty on days when faculty meetings are scheduled, but also the one who instinctively—and without conscious awareness—picks up litter while walking down the hallway.

A true teacher knows that students can teach them many things, such as how much patience the teacher has. Sometimes it’s the questions students come up with that send the caffeine-deprived teacher scurrying for the teachers’ lounge the moment the dismissal bell rings. Questions such as:

“If you’re in a spaceship going the speed of light, what happens when you turn on the headlights?”

“What do you plant to grow seedless grapes?”

“Why doesn’t glue stick to the inside of the glue bottle?”

As might be expected in our electronic age, a number of virtual teachers’ lounges have cropped up on the Internet. They provide “places” in the ether where teachers can share ideas, find answers, and blog about issues. Many, in fact, are sponsored by local school districts. But all of them have one glaring deficiency in common: you can’t get coffee in a virtual teachers’ lounge.

 

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