There has been an interesting, testy confrontation at a school district in Texas about a recent cartoon by Arizona Daily Star Cartoonist David Fitzsimmons.
The cartoon depicts white oppressors over the years, ranging from a slave trader to a member of the Klu Klux Klan, kneeling on the neck of a Black man, who is saying, “I can’t breathe.” The final drawing shows the infamous image of a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on George Floyd’s neck.
My syndicate, Cagle Cartoons, distributes Fitzsimmons’ cartoons to over half of America’s daily, paid-circulation newspapers. That includes the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, not far from the Wylie Independent School District. A teacher posted the cartoon on the school’s web site as part of an assignment for 8th grade students.
Testy police were quick to denounce the cartoon. In a letter to the school district, National Fraternal Order of Police Vice President Joe Gamaldi demanded an apology from the district for posting the “abhorrent and disturbing” cartoon.
“We are willing to sit down with anyone and have a fact-based conversation about our profession, but divisiveness like your teachers showed does nothing to move that conversation forward,” Gamaldi wrote.
The thin-skinned school district responded by removing the assignment and issuing an apology.
The apology isn’t enough for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has called for the teacher to be fired and for the Texas Education Agency to investigate.
“This cartoon was my response to the cold-blooded murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police officer, Fitzsimmons responded, pointing out it “diagrams the historic roots of our systemic racism.”
“I’m impressed the National Fraternal Order of Police is directing its fury at an illustration revealing how our present horrors are mere echoes of our cruel past,” Fitzsimmons added. “Perhaps it requires too much moral courage, or honest clear-eyed reflection, for the National Fraternal Order of Police to funnel their fury at the few racist police officers who disgrace their oath and their badges by disproportionately murdering African Americans.”
The interpretation of an editorial cartoon is part of state mandated AP History testing in 8th and 11th grade throughout America. Some of Fitzsimmons’ biggest clients are the test preparation organizations, like Pearson Education, that license his editorial cartoons for these tests.
It’s the role of 8th grade teachers to both prepare students for these tests and to prepare them to evaluate controversies in the news by exposing them to different points of view about the issues of the day. There’s no better way to do that than through editorial cartoons. Fitzsimmons’ cartoons are widely used in middle and high school curriculums, not only in the U.S., but around the world. He is among the most republished editorial cartoonists in the country, and this cartoon in particular was widely reprinted in newspapers.
Cartoons about issues that don’t evoke passionate views on both sides of an issue don’t provide valuable lessons. The school district is teaching the wrong lesson by removing Fitzsimmon’s cartoon and apologizing.
I give the teacher who used this cartoon as a teaching tool an “A” for her assignment. The timid school district, the National Fraternal Order of Police, and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott get an “F”.
Daryl Cagle is an editorial cartoonist and columnist; see his work at DarylCagle.com.Daryl runs the CagleCartoons.com newspaper syndicate distributing editorial cartoons to more than half of America’s daily, paid-circulation newspapers, including the paper you are reading now.Comments to Daryl may be sent to [email protected]