Word from the Cartoonist

Absurdities and Realities of Specical Education The University of Vermont Center for Digital Initiatives Collection


A Word from the Author

Absurdities and Realities of Special Education: The University of Vermont Center for Digital Initiatives Collection is a complete set of all of the cartoons I have created with the invaluable assistance of my friend, artist Kevin Ruelle. This includes a total of 335 cartoons from four previously published books and searchable CD that went "out of print" in 2019 and a few newer cartoons.  If you have seen any of the earlier books you may already know how this collaboration between Kevin and me works. I create the original ideas, text, and sketches for each cartoon. But since my drawing abilities have been stalled ever since I was in third-grade (that was in 1963), Kevin redraws my sketches. Then we edit them together until they closely reflect the ideas represented in my original sketches.

The cartoons in the first three books all were originally in black and white. That was a conscious decision, both for aesthetic and practical reasons. We wanted the cartoons to be easily copied on to overhead transparencies for display in classes, workshops, and other learning environments (utilizing the leading, now long gone, technology of the 1990s). The origins of colorizing the cartoons began on a Summer 2001 trip to the United Kingdom where I had the good fortune to meet many parents, professionals and advocates who were working to improve education for all children. Some of them were part of a group called Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE). They requested permission to use one of my cartoons on the cover of their magazine. What I didn't realize until the magazine arrived in the mail, was that they had taken one of my black and white cartoons and colorized it. As much as I didn't want other folks changing the work Kevin and I did, I had to admit that it was quite nice to see the cartoon in color. It spurred us to act—so thanks to my colleagues associated with ALLFIE who prompted us to colorize. In this complete digital collection, we have included a total of 335 different digital images; including the 315 different cartoons from the four earlier books, 12 cartoons that were on the CD only, and eight that were not included in any of the previously published books or CD.

As the author of several more traditional articles in professional journals and books, I have been pleasantly amazed by the power of cartoons to inform, encourage dialogue, spur action to improve education, and reduce stress by helping people smile. I have been equally intrigued by how different people respond to different cartoons. Everyone seems to have different favorites depending on their own experiences and sense of humor.

Cartoons from the early books have found their way on to the pages of many newsletters disseminated by schools, parent groups, disability advocacy organizations, and professional associations. They have appeared in books, manuals, and journals; a few were even published in a law journal. The cartoons have been used extensively as projected slides or within learning activities in college classes, at conferences, in workshops, and at other meetings. Parents have told me they have framed cartoons that closely reflected their own experiences and hung them in their homes or offices. Other parents have used them in meetings with professionals to help get their points across. They have been given as gifts to people who "get it" and handed out as door prizes. The Vermont Coalition for Disability Rights used them as part of "Disability Awareness Day" at the Vermont legislature.  The cartoons can be used in innumerable creative ways.

Knowing that some of you will not have seen the previous books from which these cartoons were taken, I decided to repeat some of what I wrote before to ensure that readers have a clear understanding of my underlying thoughts and values in developing these cartoons. First, I value humor and think it is vital to our health, well-being, and creativity. Humor can also be a powerful learning tool. I wanted to address some of the serious issues of special and general education by poking fun at what we, the people in the field, do. I have been challenged by the concern that some people might be offended by content that may hit a little too close to home. I have decided to take the chance that people in our field have a sufficient sense of humor to reflect on the satirical aspects of these cartoons, see the humor in them, and use them to promote better schooling.   Friends and colleagues have warned me that my cartoons could be misused to promote practices that are antithetical to what I have worked for my entire professional career. Just so there is no misunderstanding about what these cartoons stand for, I have listed here some of my beliefs related to the cartoon content:

•    Individuals with disabilities are still woefully undervalued in our society.
•    We waste too many of our resources testing, sorting, and labeling people, usually so we can justify serving, separating, or excluding them.
•    Inclusive education is desirable. Our efforts should be geared toward finding ways to make it work effectively for increasing numbers of students. Students with disabilities should have opportunities to lead full and even enviable lives.
•    Collaborative teamwork is an important element of quality education.
•    Families are the cornerstone of ongoing educational planning.
•    Establishing a partnership between families and school personnel is vital to quality education.
•    Competent general educators can effectively teach students with disabilities when provided with appropriate supports.
•    Special educators and related service providers (e.g., physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, school psychologists) can, and do, make important contributions for many students with special educational needs.
•    All school personnel need to work under conditions that allow them to provide appropriate education for their students (e.g., adequate staff development and ongoing professional development, supportive supervision, reasonable caseload sizes).
•    At the heart of quality education is the relationship among the members of the educational community, the quality of the curriculum, and the integrity of the instruction. We must attend to all three components if we hope to assist students in experiencing valued life outcomes.

So, as you read the cartoons, keep in mind that they are meant to encourage better educational practices by highlighting various absurdities and realities of some of our current practices. It is somewhat disconcerting to me that too many of my cartoons remain relevant more than 20 years after they were first created. This tells me out progress has been too slow. I hope the cartoons stimulate you to think about things differently and that you find creative ways to use them in your own efforts to improve education for children and youth.  I also hope that some of these cartoons make you smile and laugh, because we sure can use more of that in education.