Using Labor Images to Arouse Inquiry into Issues of Social Justice
Thomas Misco and Gavin Pond
Labor history is an important social studies topic often neglected in both textbooks and classrooms. We argue for the importance of including labor history in social studies and for the unique value of editorial cartoons as an educational resource to meet the challenge of making labor history relevant and engaging to students. Editorial cartoons are a unique form of visual rhetoric. To understand the meanings contemporary readers would have made from the cartoons, students need to engage both visual and written symbols that were current at the time of publication. These efforts help develop essential historical thinking skills by bridging semiotic gaps that impede meaningful understandings of history. A critical analysis of labor-related editorial cartoons not only helps students understand labor history, but also develops the skill of analyzing visual rhetoric, an invaluable tool for civic life in an information society saturated with images designed to persuade. Additionally, political cartoons that illustrate issues of exploitation, marginalization, and oppression provide unique and engaging points of entry for classroom discussions about issues of social justice, particularly as it relates to labor. To aid practicing social studies teachers, this article includes specific pedagogical approaches, resources, and examples of labor-related editorial cartoons that social studies teachers can introduce into their classrooms.
Key Words: social studies, labor history, editorial cartoons, images, visual rhetoric, instructional strategies, historical thinking