Teaching Inference With Political Cartoons

http___www.teachingushistoryI really enjoy the variety in my caseload, from getting an 18 month old to talk to working with an 8th grader with language learning disabilities. It’s kind of fun at the end of the day to sit in an adult chair and talk about the Cuban missile crisis or the Vietnam War and it’s implications, after a day with Playdoh. I use the student’s curriculum for social studies as well as science to teach inferential thinking as she is required to know the “why?” behind certain political decisions throughout history and how these decisions have influenced people as a result.

I noticed that one of the areas that she did poorly on her social studies tests was interpreting political cartoons. She even told me that was hard for her. So we searched the internet and found some great sites with cartoons and their explanations regarding the Vietnam War.

This site has “Vietnam War: Sacrifices and Outcomes” containing 6 political cartoons followed by 4-8 questions helping the student get at the meaning of the cartoon. First we examined the cartoon and talked about it in the literal sense. In one cartoon, Uncle Sam is in a boat fishing outside the rings of a whirlpool whose outer ring says “Vietnam” and as it gets closer to the middle, “Still Deeper Involvement in Asia”. We talked about a whirlpool and what happens as you get closer to the middle and then moved to the facts about involvement in the war and what is inferred by this cartoon? The 4 questions following the cartoon, help the student get at the meaning and ultimately give their opinion on the issue:

1.  What do you see in this picture?

2.  Describe the demeanor of the man in the boat- does he look concerned that he’s approaching the whirlpool?

3.  Once you get pulled into a whirlpool you can’t get out.  Why could “deeper involvement in Asia” be considered a whirlpool?

4.  Knowing that it would be difficult for America to leave Vietnam once they were “sucked in,” should we have entered this conflict?

Another excellent site, teachinghistory.org, “Analyzing Attitudes on the Vietnam War Through Political Cartoons, also shows several cartoons with a thorough explanation of the political events behind the cartoon.

Taking a little time to show how to examine a political cartoon and interpret it, gave my student a new confidence in taking her tests.

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