Heading Off the Disaster Capitalism Curriculum
This interview was conducted by Doré Ripley, a lecturer at Cal State East Bay and an adjunct professor at Diablo Valley College. She specializes in intensive writing. You can visit her on the web at www.RipleyOnline.com. See her previous interview with Adam Bessie here.
In the first two installments of the comic journalism feature at Truth-out.org, The Disaster Capitalism Curriculum, written by Adam Bessie and drawn by Dan Archer, readers learned that American education critics want to encourage G.E.R.M. (Global Education Reform Movement) as a way to privatize schools rather than better educate school children in an effort to corporatize teachers and students.
Adam Bessie, professor at Diablo Valley College, has studied the American education issue and points out that “inner city schools face serious problems, due to the effects of poverty. Disaster Capitalism Curriculum comics journalism shows that corporate style reforms - of testing, school closures, and privatization—may have amplified these problems, rather than alleviate them. Thus, this comic is pointing out that our schools are troubled—just not in the way that the media typically presents the issue.
“Our goal is to complicate; in short, to show that the issue is far more nuanced and complex than the corporate media (and even public media) suggests. While it's tempting to fall into the ‘failing schools,’ ‘evil unions,’ ‘bad teachers’ narrative we hear repeated ad nauseum, these clichés create a caricature of this issue that is gravely misleading. At the same time, we want to clarify, to help guide folks through this complexity, to see understand better an alternative way of looking at the problem of schooling in America - poverty, crowded classes, lack of social services, over-testing—and an alternative way we can move forward to improve our schools for all by improving these services.”
The first installment, The Disaster Capitalism Curriculum: The High Price of Education Reform, outlines the GERM approach at the same time it explains that our schoolchildren are achieving more in spite of the current “Race to the Top” that still relies on high-stakes testing and closes (or takes over) schools that don’t succeed—a position accepted by ideologues on both the left and right of the political spectrum (http://truth-out.org/art/item/9391-the-disaster-capitalism-curriculum-the-high-price-of-education-reform-episode-i).
The second installment, Murky Waters: The Education Debate in New Orleans, focused on schools in the post-Katrina city as it moves toward a voucher-driven private-education system (http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/10061-the-disaster-capitalism-curriculum-the-high-price-of-education-reform-episode-2).
But, as the authors point out, there is another way.
In the last installment, Adam Bessie and Dan Archer examine one of the world’s finest school systems in The Finnish Alternative: Reclaiming Public Education From Corporate Reform to examine how the European nation succeeds in educating their children (http://truth-out.org/news/item/10801-the-finnish-alternative-reclaiming-public-education-from-corporate-reform).
GraphicNovelReporter wanted to follow up on this comics journalism report and caught up with Dan Archer, the comic creator, of Disaster Capitalism Curriculum after its final installment.
How was your three-part series on American education received?
Reader response has been great, and it's spread across social media nicely too. We've had a great deal of support from across the board: from educators on the frontlines to relieved parents whose kids are now finally taking an interest in the subject. Because of the analytics embedded within the interactive elements of the pages, we've been able to track audience behavior patterns, and are delighted to see pages getting over 10,000 views. On the other hand, our main goal was to use the comic as a way of opening up the debate, regardless of the medium in which it was presented, so it was gratifying to see the healthy discussion it's provoked in the Truthout comments section. We're also currently fundraising to cover the cost of a print run for the comic, to make hard copies available so that it can serve as an educator resource in the classroom. To pre-order your copy or donate to the fund, visit: http://bit.ly/edrefcomicorder.
How did the graphic nature of Disaster Capitalism Curriculum add to your reporting on this timely subject?
Comics in a journalistic context are ideally suited to creating a visual and personal connection between a reader and a subject while simultaneously protecting their identity—allowing us to interview people who would not want their image or voice broadcast for fear of repercussions. This was helpful as a starting point for the piece, when we interviewed our anonymous teacher from the D.C. public school system in the first episode. Graphics also allowed us to play with visual metaphor—like showing the front and back of a charter school in the second episode, or the complexity of the financial backing being offered to charter schools by private foundations through the visual analogy of an iceberg.
The interactivity of Disaster Capitalism is a great way to delve deeper into a subject—if the reader so chooses. What made you decide to make the article interactive?
Interactivity is something I've experimented with for some time in my work, for two main reasons. Firstly, because I believe the visual nature of comics allows us to embed/annotate information within images far more effectively, and in a way that is less distracting to a reader than a hypertext tag. Popup windows aren't a world away from comics’ panels, and I believe there's less confusion in a reader's mind to make the leap from one to the other in the middle of a visual piece. Secondly, interactivity is a step towards dispelling the idea that comics journalism isn't as reliant on facts, quotes and source materials as traditional text journalism. As Bessie and I put the story together, it was not only clear from the outset that there was a wealth of substantiating information to include, but also that there was no other way we'd be able to cram so much storytelling into a mere four pages per episode!
In relationship to the report on U.S. education, what is the most important thing you hope readers take away from your piece?
I hope that readers make their own informed decisions about the choices available to them, and aren't swayed by the hyperbole of mainstream media like Waiting for Superman. Clearly the system is not currently working, so neither Bessie or I are suggesting that reform in itself is a bad idea—only the idea of that reform being monopolized by corporate interest (and, by association, the profit margin) should be inherently questioned.
Comics usually make people laugh, but you are trying to present serious information in Disaster Capitalism Curriculum. How has non-fiction comics made it easier to present serious material through the comic medium?
Comics journalism is tarred with both the "hey, so your work is funny?" and "so, you write about superheroes?" brush in equal measure. As the myriad of articles out there will tell (to the point that it sounds like a scratched record, "comics aren't just for kids." Serious chronicling of real events has existed in pictorial form since time immemorial, but somehow it's only been in the last 20 years since Maus, then Persepolis, Fun Home, Joe Sacco, et al. started winning much-earned acclaim—that the publishing industry and wider world has sat up and taken interest.
What were you surprised to learn about the subject matter or collaboration experience?
I think Bessie was surprised how long the process behind each page is! Though condensing so many ideas and approaches into our four-page slot was tricky at first, we soon hit our stride and were able to interview independently, share notes and work on scripts in tandem. Google docs was key to this sort of simultaneous collaboration, since I don't think we were ever in the same room during the entire project.
Are you happy with the way your comics journalism project turned out? Is there anything you would change?
Yes, though I would always prefer for stories like this one to be longer. Finding the right number of pages for a story to be able to breathe and not feel too crammed with information versus finding a number of pages that an editor can afford to pay for is always a challenge. We would have liked to find an outlet for the print version, but few places are willing to give four pages—let alone 12 to comics. Kudos to Truthout for supporting long-form comics journalism—one of the few places to consistently publish this sort of material online.
Where can readers expect to see more comics journalism?
They can sign up for monthly comics via the Archcomix newsletter (http://bit.ly/archsignup) or visit www.archcomix.com directly. Cartoon Movement also has a broad selection of up and coming comics journalism talent: www.cartoonmovement.com/comic.
What is your next comics journalism piece?
My next piece (currently housed at www.graphicvoices.com) focuses on human trafficking in Nepal and India, where I will be moving to at the end of October to begin reporting. My goal is to chronicle the production of a graphic novel on the situation out there online, so that readers will be able to see my work as it happens, as well as gain a unique insight into this beautiful part of the world so badly beset by one of the worst criminal pandemics imaginable. I'll also be giving workshops out there to empower those who take part to tell their own stories in comics form. I'm launching a Kickstarter fund to help cover expenses, so check back to Archcomix.com or sign up for the newsletter above for updates.
In the last panel of Disaster Capitalism Curriculum Bessie and Archer state, “The cure for G.E.R.M. is not to be found in Finland, but rather in a return to America—to genuine equality, democracy and creativity in the public space as the driving forces in reforming education and our society.” In this time of polemic politics, it seems we could all agree on genuine equality and democracy to help drive our nation forward towards compassion while celebrating our diverse backgrounds and opinions at school and in the public sphere.
Link to the final installment: The Finnish Alternative: Reclaiming Public Education From Corporate Reform is located at: http://truth-out.org/news/item/10801-the-finnish-alternative-reclaiming-public-education-from-corporate-reform