Political Cartoons Help Students Unpack the Issues

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An illustration of a hand drawing the White House

Should students talk politics at school? “Yes,” says Brad Lakritz, an 8th grade social studies teacher at James Denman Middle School in San Francisco, “now more than ever.” But debating the issues doesn’t have to mean just gloom and doom. We can also bring humor to the conversation. Lakritz often turns to political cartoons to help students make sense of current events.

Now Lakritz’s students and others can create and share their own political cartoons as part of our newest youth media challenge: Political Cartooning With Mark Fiore.

“People cannot shy away from politics in America anymore. Teaching political cartoons as a way of summarizing a story makes it easy to digest and understand key issues from one side or another. Lakritz said. “Students feel pride in having their voice and perspective seen. Students learn about the perspectives of their classmates, the greater society, and the world.”

KQED’s Political Cartooning youth media challenge invites students to create one-panel political cartoons on any issue, local or national. Cartoons can be hand-drawn or created using digital tools, but they must be original work. (No memes.) 

A political cartoon illustrating the hypocrisy of those who are against abortion and women's reproductive rights using "my body, my choice" language to protest mask wearing.
A political cartoon by student Annika G. from James Denman Middle School

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Drawing (pun intended!) on art and humor, political cartoons are a more inclusive way to start conversations about tough issues, according to Mark Fiore, KQED’s Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist. 

“If you just write an opinionated sentence that says, "I think this and this is why," people tend to put up their walls or shut down,” Fiore said. “If you bring them in with humor or a clever drawing, they let their guard down and are more receptive to your message or the story you're trying to tell.” 

Students like the chance to share their views creatively and explore an issue that matters to them. Lisa Ernst’s 6th grade students at Alice Fong Yu (K-8) School in San Francisco embraced their political cartoon project, even during remote learning.

“The students loved the lessons and were totally engaged,” Ernst said. “For some students, their voice is through art, and what better way to do this, then share it through a political cartoon.”

Political Cartooning With Mark Fiore will open for submissions in mid-February. Sign up to be notified when submissions are open and preview the curriculum to start planning.

Want hands-on support for this project? Come to our workshop with Mark Fiore on March 10! Register here.