Teaching Tolerance – using cartoons

Teaching Tolerance , this month, is illustrating the power of cartoons to inform and provide opportunities for serious discusssion about issues such as immigration:

Editorial Cartoons: A Historical Example of Immigration Debates

Activities will help students:

  • understand how a cartoon uses irony and caricature to make a political statement
  • understand a cartoon in its historical context
  • connect past and present debates about immigration

Introduction

Editorial cartoons comment on current political topics. Some topics—like immigration—that are part of today’s political debates have also been part of political debates in the past. This cartoon is an example. This cartoon was published in the March 9, 1882 issue of Puck, the Chinese Exclusion Act became law in May of 1882, so this cartoon was part of the legislative debate then. The Chinese Exclusion Act banned immigration from China; it was the culmination of decades of discrimination against Chinese immigrants, many of whom had come to work in the United States. It was not repealed until World War II, when China was a U.S. ally. (You can read more about the Chinese Exclusion Act here, and the text of the Act here.)

The Cartoon

Puck, a magazine of political commentary and humor, published this cartoon. Because the cartoon is from the past, it looks a bit different from the cartoons you see today. Working with a group, make sure you understand what is going on in the cartoon. What activity is going on in the picture? What do the two captions—1st caption: The Anti-Chinese Wall; 2nd caption: The American Wall Goes Up as the Chinese Original Comes Down—tell you about what is going on? Who is doing the activity? What can you tell about them? How can you tell?

F. Graetz

The artist is F. Graetz. Public domain.

For useful background details about this cartoon, click here.

The Cartoon’s Strategies

Now look at the strategies that make the cartoon “work.”

1. Irony

Remember that irony refers to a situation in which something happens that is the opposite of what was expected. What is ironic about the people in the cartoon doing what they’re doing?

2. Caricature

Caricature is another strategy that cartoonists use to make their points. Caricatures often grossly exaggerate certain features of people or specific stereotypical group features. Caricature makes the people recognizable to readers; it can also make people laugh. You may have seen prominent individuals drawn as caricatures. For example, the size of Barack Obama’s ears is exaggerated in some cartoons, as is the size of Sarah Palin’s hair. Whole groups can be drawn as caricatures, too. For example, law enforcement officers are often shown as extremely beefy and aggressive.

This cartoon uses caricatures to represent specific groups of people. What groups do the caricatures in this cartoon represent? Why do you think the cartoonist used them? How else might he have conveyed the same information? Do you think he made good use of caricature or do you not like it? Why?

Conclusion

What point was the cartoonist making about Chinese immigration?

Follow-Up

Research the Chinese Exclusion Act and the current arguments about immigration to the United States. Make a graphic organizer (a Venn diagram or a T chart, for example) comparing the immigration debates during the two time periods, and use it as the basis for a compare-and-contrast essay.

and another example….

Editorial Cartoons: Poverty/Environmental Justice

People who are poor don’t have access to the kinds of resources—good jobs, high-quality education and health care, for example—that people with more money have. One thing they do have access to, unfortunately, is a disproportionate share of environmental problems. You can see why: People who can afford to, live in places far away from oil wells, factories and toxic waste dumps. People with less money more often live near those environmentally undesirable—and often dangerous—places.

Objectives

Activities will help students:

  • analyze the visual composition of an editorial cartoon
  • understand how a cartoon uses satire to make a political statement
  • interpret images and text in an editorial cartoon

Introduction

People who are poor don’t have access to the kinds of resources—good jobs, high-quality education and health care, for example—that people with more money have. One thing they do have access to, unfortunately, is a disproportionate share of environmental problems. You can see why: People who can afford to, live in places far away from oil wells, factories and toxic waste dumps. People with less money more often live near those environmentally undesirable—and often dangerous—places.

The term environmental justice refers to efforts to correct this inequality. As a class, agree on a definition of the term “environmental justice.”  Write it here.

Now examine the editorial cartoon below, which addresses the connections between poverty and damage to the natural environment.

Steve Greenberg

Steve Greenberg—VC Reporter, Ventura. Calif. Reprinted with Permission. Teachers may purchase individual cartoons for other lesson plans at PoliticalCartoons.com

The Cartoon’s Strategies

1. Visual Composition

Visual composition refers to the way the objects are situated in a cartoon (or photo or painting). Complete the chart to compare the visual elements of the cartoon that refer to rich and poor. You may first want to define “rich” and “poor.”

Look over the information in your chart. What does the visual composition of the cartoon tell you about the relationship between poverty and pollution?

2. Satire

Now take what you’ve observed about the visual elements of the cartoon and think about another strategy the cartoonist uses: satire. Cartoonists use satire to exaggerate something. Sometimes it’s an action, other times an event or situation. Exaggeration makes it look ridiculous, and so exposes something troubling that the cartoonist is criticizing or wants to change.

Imagine, for example, that you think you have to take too many standardized tests, and you want to make an editorial cartoon that says so. You might show a student looking at her fall schedule and seeing these courses listed: Test-Taking in Math; Test-Taking in English; Test-taking in Social Studies. By suggesting that the student’s classes are all geared to preparing her for the test, the cartoon would be saying that school is more about preparing for the tests that about learning.

How does the cartoonist Steve Greenberg use satire in the cartoon? What does the satire expose? What point does the cartoon make?

It is worth asking students to collect their own examples of cartoons (even better if they can create their own cartoons) and to set up activities for exploring issues through cartoons.

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