Teaching with comic strips: Laugh, then get serious.


   “Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps; for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are, and what they ought to be.” William Hazlitt

   In addition, “Thomas Aquinas said that man is the animal that laughs,” he pointed out. “If we lose that ability, we lose our humanity. So it stands to reason that humor should be a part of our teaching process as well.” (Courtney Campbell, Oregon State University).
  In my Introduction to Ethics: Theory and Application, I begin each class with a cartoon, primarily from Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson whose comic strip ruled the thoughts and hearts of comic strip lovers of 1980s.  Ah, but how does one catch the attention of this wireless generation and “the gamers,”  especially when in class,  we drink from the well of perennial, philosophical wisdom? Learning about philosophers can be a recipe for disaster.

  In my most recent class this fall semester, we began with Calvin (a mischievous lad and constantly testing the limits – almost on the brink of unethical behavior) sitting at what might be called a lemonade stand – the sign reads, “A swift kick in the butt – $1.00.”  Hobbes(his stuffed animal, imaginary friend, and conscience) comes walking along, he asks, “How’s is business?” Calvin retorts, “Terrible!” Next scene, “That is hard to believe,” says Hobbes while Calvin agrees, “I can’t understand it.”  Final scene: Calvin looks at Hobbes and exclaims, “Everybody I know needs what I am selling.”      

  As a class, we smile and even chuckle a bit – there is nothing better than ethical truth serum.  We all need to wake up and smell the coffee.  Ethicists would call this a Metanoia= a change of heart; an Awakening;  a Realization; and/or  a Transformation. How will I live my life differently? What kind of difference can I make?  Gandhi said it so well, “I must become the change I want to see in the world.”

  In keeping with the theme of transformation, we then segwayed into viewing the video by Tim McGraw – “To Live Like you were dying” – the reflection of a man who was diagnosed with cancer at age 40; followed by any sharing of one’s transformation in his or her life. 

 Then we moved into a scene from “Walker – Texas Ranger”–the story of  9 year old diagnosed with AIDS whom Walker had befriended (the boy’s mother was a sex slave in a meth house, and the boy was found locked in a closet among his own feces). The boy knows he is dying and nevertheless, he chooses to speak to grade school kids about the myths of AIDS.  Near the end of his life, the boy says to Walker, “It is not when you die, but how you live.”

 Next, we viewed Sunday Morning – CBS – September 17, 2017 – a segment about Madonna – adopting 6 African children, building a hospital – shares her transforming experience at age 59. What is your transforming experience?  We are in the process of becoming, and ethically who are you becoming?

  I then called the class’ attention to the St. Norbert College “Transformative Experience” series over the course of the school year- 2017-18.  The first presentation was on September 21, 2017 entitled, “Who Will I become? Self-Discovery Through Transformation,” by L.A. Paul, PH.D., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

  Finally, I shared a slice from my own life as I think it was appropriate for me to do so,  for education is not just of the head, but of the heart as well.  On December 23, 2016 I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and I shared with my class my Metanoia – transformation- change of heart.

   Here is one of my favorite quotes relative to this topic:

“First, I was dying to finish high school and start college. And then I was dying to finish college and start working. And then I was dying to marry and have children. And when I was dying for my children to grow old enough for school so I could return to work. And then I was dying to retire. And now, I am dying….and suddenly I realized I forgot to live.”  (anonymous)

Thus, I hope you discerned the threads of Transformation – Metanoia – Change of Heart weave their way through the ethical tapestry of Introduction to Ethics: Theory and Application.



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