- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 3, 2007

BALTIMORE (AP) — Can Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck comic books of the 1950s speak to today’s youth?

Maryland Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, herself a former fan of the Archie series, thinks they can. Yesterday, she encouraged elementary and middle school teachers throughout the state to use comics in the classroom as a way of inspiring students to read.

She also reassured parents and teachers that the push is not a move to dumb-down the state’s reading curriculum.

“Reading is such an important activity for all children, and using comic-book-related lessons offers teachers an important new tool to draw students into the world of words,” Mrs. Grasmick said. “This project enhances other work that goes on in the reading class. Comic books and graphic novels cannot replace other forms of literature, but they can be an entry point for some reluctant readers.”

The state worked last year with Disney Publishing Worldwide, and its educational division, to develop a pilot project to put Mickey and Donald in eight third-grade classrooms. Disney took Maryland’s reading standards and created comics-based lesson plans, incorporating skills students needed to learn, such as how to understand plot and character.

The children loved it.

Students at Clarksville Elementary in Howard County, for example, said they particularly enjoyed creating their own comic books.

“I liked thinking of the characters, like how they would act,” said Natalie Ryan, 9.

Most of the participating teachers liked the program, too, said Susan Sonnenschein, a psychology professor at the University of Maryland at Baltimore County, who helped evaluate the program. Researchers found that 80 percent of the teachers would like to continue using comic books in some form. Educators are reviewing more up-to-date comics and graphic novels for content.

Critics, though, see a worrisome trend, given a generation raised on the restless pace of television, movies and video games.

“I don’t think that is where I want my 9- or 10-year-old child spending their time in school,” said Timothy Shanahan, president of the International Reading Association. “It might be a choice of reading 1,000 words versus 300 words,” he said. “You don’t want it to replace more substantial reading.”

Supporters understood that concern.

“But why is it either/or?” Miss Sonnenschein asked.

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