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To Teach: the journey, in comics by William Ayers

September 10, 2010


William Ayers became a national name during the 2008 presidential campaign, where it was revealed he taught Barack Obama how to build bombs. Young Obama was just eight years old when he went on missions with the Weather Underground Organization, a revolutionary group hellbent on destroying Freedom.

While Ayers was never convicted of any crime, his name is forever synonymous with violent radicals. As a Chicago resident (and Obama campaign donor), his decades-old activities became linked with our current President. So?

I picked up To Teach: a journey, in comics after reading about it on boingboing. Of course I’d heard Ayers’ name before, but mostly as a pejorative. I knew I’d never get around to reading the extended cut of this book, the non-graphic To Teach: A Journey. Although I teach, I’m not one for other teachers’ memoirs. There’s just too many damn books in this world for me to catch up with. But the journey, in comics, looked brief enough to sneak in while reading something else. Plus, as its title indicates, it is illustrated. And fittingly whimsically, at that. This book shows the wonder of young children (and Ayers!) learning; it is fitting the illustrations are sparkling and vibrant.

The journey, in comics, was a quick little read, but that’s not to say it lacks substance. It reminds you that students are people. It reminds you to consider where they are a coming from. It has many heartwarming moments, and many “Hey, Bill, way to eff the system!” moments. If you find yourself dissatisfied with the bureaucracy of the educational system, you’ll find yourself agreeing with the message in the book. If you aren’t satisfied with public education because you believe it needs teacher pay based on standardized test results, screw you. And definitely don’t read this book.

So how do you apply all of the lofty nuggets in this book? I don’t know. (If you’re looking for that answer in a book, I suppose you’ll have to read longer works, complete with chapters of footnotes, to figure that out.) But I really enjoyed this book, for it was brief yet substantive and heartfelt. It reminded me why I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. (Even though I’ve had my moments—and year-long job—of doubts, I think back to various “letters to myself” where I wrote I wanted to be a teacher [or graphic designer, or newscaster, but that’s beside the point. Teaching has been consistent!].) It’s because of things like this (44):

I want to build spaces where each person is visible to me and to everyone else—and, most importantly, to themselves. Students should sense their own unique power and potential. In this classroom, each is known and understood, recognized and valued…

I want to build spaces where the insistently social nature of learning is honored, where knowledge and power are shared and not hoarded. Knowledge, like love, is something you can give away without losing a thing.

If you teach, have taught, or consider doing so, I recommend you read this. It reminds me that I’m on a life-long journey as a teacher, and it is okay for me to be questioning my path. Complacency doesn’t work in this profession. If you think it does, you shouldn’t teach.


P.S. Dhalgren is still up next; I just read the last chapter of this lil’ book after reading it on-and-off for a few weeks.

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