Totem Middle School students create political cartoons

MARYSVILLE — Students at Totem Middle School have gotten a new perspective on both historic and current events, thanks to eighth-grade teacher Andrea Gannon assigning them with creating their own political cartoons.

"Since September, we've been looking at examples of primary sources and documents, and asking what the authors' purposes and points of view were," Gannon said. "We've analyzed the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, Civil War letters and mementos, and various treaties. As we moved into Washington state history, we spent time looking at David Horsey's political cartoons for the Seattle P-I, to separate out the nugget of truth from the details of how the subjects are treated."

Gannon's students had already gone over political cartoons from the Civil War to study propaganda, as the students inferred whether each cartoonist was an abolitionist or a supporter of slavery by their portrayals of the subject. A Southern response to the Emancipation Proclamation was also studied to build critical thinking skills about media spin. From there, Gannon let her students loose to draw their own cartoons about local and state issues, either from recent news or from the past eras they've covered in class.

"A lot of kids have drawn cartoons about going-out-of-business sales and the garbage strike," Gannon said. "Seattle-related topics like bad weather, Nirvana and 'Twilight' have also been popular. Because our school was in the news, some kids did cartoons about our principal leaving. Looking back, one cartoon was about how the reservations in the state have shrunk over time. They all did a great job, and it was interesting to see what resonated with them."

Maribel Delgado, 13, noted that drawing cartoons about the subjects she'd studied allowed her to express how she saw those events, while Daniel Aguilar, 14, admitted that it was more fun to draw about those topics than to write about them.

"When you can show your ideas like that, it gives you better insights into them," Aguilar said. "I got a lot more information about these events that I didn't know."

Miguel Mathis, 14, chose a visually striking method of portraying the white settlers' original relocation of Native Americans onto reservations.

"I showed the settler saying, 'We're going to put you on the reservation,' and the Native American not understanding what he was saying, but looking at the settler's gun and nodding his head," Mathis said.

"You can see these kids' personalities through their work," Gannon said. "They're a diverse bunch who don't always get the kudos they deserve, and writing alone doesn't always allow them to shine."

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