Magazine article Multicultural Education

Critical Encounters in a Middle School English Language Arts Classroom: Using Graphic Novels to Teach Critical Thinking & Reading for Peace Education

Magazine article Multicultural Education

Critical Encounters in a Middle School English Language Arts Classroom: Using Graphic Novels to Teach Critical Thinking & Reading for Peace Education

Article excerpt


Peace is not an absence of war, it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice.

-Baruch Spinoza, Dutch philosopher

Critical thinking and reading are absolutely essential skills for young people to acquire in order to equip them for today's increasingly complex world, yet teachers rarely focus on these topics in any systematic or extended way. A thinking person must synthesize, question, interpret, and analyze what s/he hears and reads. The need to teach these essential skills meshes well with the acknowledgment that Language Arts classes need to include more than basic literacy skills, as traditionally defined; they need to include academic skills and content as well as expose students to sociopolitical issues.

Benesch (1993) states that critical thinking, including higher level cognitive skills, is "a process of questioning the status quo and of challenging existing knowledge and the social orientation to transform learning and society...those who think critically focus on social inequities and probe the disparities between democratic principles and undemocratic realities" (p. 545).

Critical thinking is embedded in a critical approach to literacy. Luke (2003) argues that a critical approach to literacy is about "engaging with texts and discourses as a means of bridging time and space, critically understanding and altering the connections between the local and the global, moving between cultures and communities, and developing transnational understandings and collaborations" (p. 22). That is, a global perspective on critical literacy focuses on social inequality/injustice and the ramifications of how action in one part of the world resonates around the globe.

The peace education movement is one manifestation of these ideas. Teaching peace and social justice has clear connections to teaching critical thinking and reading. Peace education means educating students to question what they are told and not to assume, for example, that those with power necessarily have the best interests of others in mind. It also means teaching students to understand complex problems of the world and to find ways to address these problems.

For example, Wenden (1995) points out that "research shows how language works through discourse to communicate and reproduce ideologies that support the use of war as a legitimate option for resolving national conflicts as well as inegalitarian and discriminatory social institutions and practices" (p. 211). Students who are educated to understand this are people who can promote peace in the world. What happens in the classroom in this regard has an effect on what happens in the world, not only specifically relating to "war and peace," but also more generally to peace in the sense of social justice and equity.

Graphic novels, which tell real and fictional stories using a combination of words and images, are often sophisticated, and involve intriguing topics. There has been an increasing interest in teaching with graphic novels to promote literacy as one alternative to traditional literacy pedagogy (e.g., Gorman, 2003; Schwarz, 2002). A pedagogy of multiliteracies using graphic novels can enhance reading engagement and achievement, reinforcing students' senses of their identities as readers who are learners and thinkers (Guthrie, 2004).

However, there is scant mention in pedagogical literature of how such multimodal texts can be used for fostering students' critical thinking and reading skills for peace education. This article provides a case study of why and how middle school English Language Arts (ELA) teachers can teach critical reading and thinking in ways which promote education for peace and social justice. I particularly focus on the use of graphic novels to teach aspects of these concepts.

A Rationale for Integrating Peace Education in the ELA Curriculum

In developing an integrative theory of peace education, Danesh (2006) observes that even today "most peoples of the world live with conflict-oriented worldviews, whether ethically, religiously, or environmentally based" (p. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.