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Value of Cartoons for Educational Purposes

Editorial or political cartoons express opinions on public issues and officials. They are readily accessible, appearing in every major newspaper in the world (and in many local and regional papers, as well) and appeal to all levels of readers. The people who draw these cartoons possess a special art skill which often incorporates caricatures, symbolism, satire, and a well-rounded understanding of the issues about which they draw.

Editorial cartoons teach students to identify issues, analyze symbols, acknowledge the need for background knowledge, recognize stereotypes and caricatures, think critically, and appreciate the role of irony and humor.

Richard Ostrom of California State University, Chico, writes, “Student presenters report that it is a fun challenge to ‘decipher’ the elements of a cartoon . . . because the process is so intellectually satisfying (like solving a puzzle).” He cites the following uses for cartoons in the classroom [From “An Active Learning Strategy for Using Cartoons . . . .” posted at]:

  • As a pretest to assess how knowledgeable about the subject matter of the course the students already are.
  • As part of a short context-setting presentation to “set the stage” for a section of the course.
  • At the end of a section of the course to assess whether students can apply a general concept to the specific example presented by the cartoon.
  • As a stimulus for a whole call discussion or small group discussion of an issue or event.
  • As part of a review session for an exam.
  • As a quiz or exam question.

“In fact, most young people get their news from political cartoons. Every state in the United States has middle and high school students interpret an editorial cartoon as part of state-mandated testing. Teachers who must ‘teach to the test’ include political cartoons in their classes. Students learn their current events through political cartoons and, ironically, most of the students see newspaper editorial cartoons on the Internet rather than on paper." [Daryl Cagle, "Of Cartoonists and Cockroaches," syndicated colum appearing in the Pekin Daily Times, November 1, 2005]

“Cartooning is an irreverent form of expression, and one particularly suited to scoffing at the high and the mighty. If the prime role of a free press is to serve as critic of government, cartooning is often the cutting edge of that criticism.”

“The Cartoon by Herb Block” posted at

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