September 22, 2007
Nick Mullins on the Guilford Incident
By Nick Mullins
So I'm a comics artist as well as a parent and a teacher. I used to teach high school English, and even taught frosh as Nate Fisher
did. I don't know enough about what actually happened besides reading the articles you've linked to, but I thought I'd offer a teacher and parent perspective.
Frosh (grade 9) are just kids. If we read a story in my class that had the word "balls" in it -- even if it was about baseball -- the students would giggle. So most 14-year-olds wouldn't know how to take real references to masturbation and sex. Sophomores are completely different (notice that the Library Journal
recommendation says Eightball #22
is suitable for 10th graders). In that one year a lot of maturing happens. Even then, I would only loan a book to one of my students if I knew that student really well. And in most cases, I would just suggest a book, not actually put it in their hands. From what it sounds like, Fisher had only known this student for three weeks. That's nowhere near enough time to really connect to her as a person and judge her maturity. Also, as a male teacher you have to realize that some parents are going to be uncomfortable if you show any special attention to their daughters. It's just the culture we live in. So in both these ways I think Fisher showed poor judgment. But that means he should have been lectured by the principal and maybe set up with a mentor from within the English department; it doesn't mean he should have lost his job. Teachers, especially new ones, make mistakes. Learning from your mistakes is what makes you a better teacher, just like in any job. I'm disgusted with the school that they didn't give Fisher more support. But so many schools live in fear of parents suing that they'll do anything to avoid it, even abandon one of their own teachers.
Also, pedagogically speaking, if a student misses an assignment, then the student has to make up that
assignment. You don't provide an optional assignment. If the girl was supposed to read a certain book over the Summer, then she should read that
book. Also, most English departments have a list of recommended books for each grade level. If what she read was optional, Fisher should have just handed her the list, not chosen something of his own. Books you suggest to students should be supplemental, not in lieu of what is designated by the curriculum.
I agree with the New York writer
that the father sounds like a blowhard, but all this clamor over the word pornography has obscured the problem. The reason the father doesn't think that this issue is over is that his daughter is being teased at school. This is no longer about the book, but about his daughter's safety. So while most of us disagree with the father's actions, we should keep in mind that he is desperately trying to keep his daughter safe. Though I believe his own actions are what have lead to the situation his daughter is inâ€¦
Oh, and Eric Reynolds' response
is good, but he's wrong about the fact that no sex is depicted in Eightball
#22. We see Rocky raping a woman (p.20). The woman isn't shown, besides the top of her buttocks, and no genitals are shown, but it's still a panel in which sex is happening. Also, we see Charles imagining Carmichael and Paula having sex on page 9. It's laughable, but there's a penis and attempted insertion there. And if you consider masturbation a sex act, then the panel in which Violet fears her step-father is peeping on her shows a sex act (p.8). Still, it's ludicrous to call this comic pornography. But pictures are more immediate than words. If Eightball
#22 had been a novel, I doubt the father would have noticed a thing. I read Lord of the Flies
with my sophomores and there's a scene where Jack almost has anal sex with a pig that the boys are killing and the description in the scene is very sexual. But it was words and most students didn't get it. Yet, if it had been drawn it would have been very obvious to them.
Unfortunately, any rational debate of this matter is impossible since this whole thing has been so sensationalized. I can only imagine what Dan Clowes is thinking right now. Ironically, I remember an interview in which he referred to his work as "pornography." I doubt he'll do that again.
posted 1:30 am PST
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