Comic Books as an Unschooling Resource

By , April 4, 2011

Documenting Aly’s unschooling education has been an ongoing process, but we allowed certain aspects of it to wait until she began applying to colleges. At the time, I thought that one of her favorite sources for history and math sciences would require an aggressive stance to justify to academics. This is because the sources are comic books.

When the time came to document the source, and defend it, I began researching. The results surprised me.

The source we used is cartoonist Larry Gonick’s works (ask your local independent bookstore) particularly his History series: Cartoon History of the Universe Parts I-III, Cartoon History of the Modern World Parts I-II, and Cartoon History of the United States. We also used his Cartoon Guide to Chemistry; we have his Cartoon Guide to Statistics, but she hasn’t read it yet.

Some of Larry Gonick's History Series

Larry Gonick’s History of the Universe collections (Photo: Mark Zeiger).

Friends introduced me to Gonick’s work in college. When the individual comic issues began being compiled in collections, I bought them. I enjoyed them for many years before Aly opened one and began reading.

The histories are quite comprehensive, describing key events in world history in a highly irreverent fashion. I appreciated them for their entertainment value. I failed to realize their teaching potential until Aly began referring to less well-known historical events in family conversations, naming names, citing dates, explaining their impact on current events. Through her enjoyment of the comics, Aly had cultivated a mnemonic process that helps her recall the information she learned.

When I began documenting this learning, I prepared to make my strongest case for her use of comic books as educational material. However, once I started searching, I quickly learned that my efforts would be unnecessary. You see, I’d found a list.

The list catalogs the colleges and universities that use Larry Gonick’s comic books in the classroom. That list is pretty impressive! It includes, Yale, Harvard, Dartmouth, Rutgers, Cornell, and Duke, among many others.

Larry Gonick’s works have always had a place on our Home Reference Library shelves. They’ve gained a bit more pride of place since we’ve learned their status as text books in Ivy League universities!

Gonick has co-authored guides on many topics with experts in the field. He even has one on sex education, which I made sure appeared on Aly’s shelf about the time she became a teenager.

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