Following is the full transcript of cartoonist Gene Luen Yang’s TED Talk: Comics Belong in the Classroom.
Listen to the MP3 Audio: Comics belong in the classroom by Gene Luen Yang at TED Talk
When I was in the fifth grade, I bought an issue of “DC Comics Presents #57” off of a spinner rack at my local bookstore, and that comic book changed my life. The combination of words and pictures did something inside my head that had never been done before, and I immediately fell in love with the medium of comics.
I became a voracious comic book reader, but I never brought them to school. Instinctively, I knew that comic books didn’t belong in the classroom. My parents definitely were not fans, and I was certain that my teachers wouldn’t be either. After all, they never used them to teach, comic books and graphic novels were never allowed during silent sustained reading, and they were never sold at our annual book fair. Even so, I kept reading comics, and I even started making them.
Eventually I became a published cartoonist, writing and drawing comic books for a living. I also became a high school teacher. This is where I taught: Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, California. I taught a little bit of math and a little bit of art, but mostly computer science, and I was there for 17 years.
When I was a brand new teacher, I tried bringing comic books into my classroom. I remember telling my students on the first day of every class that I was also a cartoonist. It wasn’t so much that I was planning to teach them with comics, it was more that I was hoping comics would make them think that I was cool. I was wrong. This was the ’90s, so comic books didn’t have the cultural cachet that they do today. My students didn’t think I was cool. They thought I was kind of a dork.