With more than a decade's worth of experience as both a local teacher and editorial cartoonist, Ron Hill has a unique, insider's perspective of the educational system. In his new book, Edutoons, Hill showcases a large collection of his editorial cartoons commenting on and critiquing the educational system, both locally and nationally. Although originally published in six local newspapers over an eight-year period, the book's themes are often universal for students, teachers and parents all over the country, and just as relevant to today's public dialogue.
"The book could be subtitled 'A Pictorial History of Modern Teaching,'" says Alliance High School English teacher Chris Shillig, who taught a graphic novel class with Hill. "While the cartoons focus on situations specific to schools in Northeast Ohio (where Ron lives), they also have a universality that transcends any one district. A levy is a levy is a levy, and every taxpayer has been faced with supporting one. Ditto the questions and dubious ethics surrounding today's standardized testing culture, the proliferation of technology into students' lives, and the tough decisions about when to build and when to close schools."
An award-winning editorial cartoonist, Hill's career began as a commercial artist in advertising and illustration after receiving an associate's degree in visual communication from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh in 1983. Hill began working as a professional editorial cartoonist in 1999, and started teaching at Alliance High School in 2002, where he taught an interactive media class in the school's career-tech department for 13 years until retiring last spring. Additionally, he is president of the Northern Ohio Illustrators Society, as well as a member of the National Cartoonists Society and the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists.
"Since I was a teacher at Alliance High School starting in 2002, and 'retired' in 2015, I had a unique perspective on what I saw as the monetization of public education as a taxpayer, parent and school teacher," Hill explains. "This informed my opinion cartoons on such issues as standardized testing, scores used to penalize good districts and teachers, school safety, school funding and other issues that drastically changed public education in this 21st century."
Edutoons compiles editorial cartoons published in six regional newspapers between 2008 and 2015: The Chagrin Valley Times, The Solon Times, The Geauga Times Courier, The North Ridgeville Press, The (Avon) Press, and West Life.
"The cartoons in this book form a running commentary on the steady politicization of our children's education at the hands of lobbyists, testing companies and elected officials," Hill elaborates. "Hopefully, this book will make you want to cheer, scream and yell, and, most importantly, think about America's future. What we are really teaching our children — or not teaching them?"
In Edutoons, Hill also asks, "Who pays for education and how? How much? Can schools really function as havens from societal ills, or is our education system doomed to reflect and even amplify them? Can schools test students fairly at the same time that educators question the validity of the systems?"
Edutoons is self-published through Act3, an illustration and design media company that Hill co-founded after his retirement. The book is 136 pages and retails for $14.95.
"I arranged the cartoons into four chapters, and present them in chronological order," says Hill. "I further added commentary and research to give the cartoons context, and also to tie the overall narrative of this tumultuous time in Ohio's education policy. Though these cartoons were written to address specific issues in the community I was publishing in, I believe these are issues that parents and educators grapple with across the country.
"The cartoons collected in this book may seem repetitive. They are. The challenge of writing cartoons that are funny (I prefer the word sarcastic) and make people think about the same problems in a new way is hard.
"Also, the topics themselves are repetitive. When Ohio's systems for funding public education relies mostly on each community's property tax assessment (which has been ruled a number of times to be unconstitutional by Ohio's Supreme Court), you end up with unequal educational opportunities between one community and another. So, to expect students — and school districts — with access to vastly different resources to uniformly score 'excellent' is ludicrous. And yet this is what is unrealistically expected of today's teachers. Someone has to keep saying these things; many do. I will keep trying to find new ways to draw the same things differently. I am glad I have a forum and the freedom to continue doing so."
Edutoons is the first in a series of planned editorial cartoon collections, gathered by important themes from Hill's library of thousands of cartoons.
As a special bonus, Hill drew original cartoons based on true stories from his own educational experience inside select copies of Edutoons and dropped them off for sale at the offices of the Chagrin Valley Times in Chagrin Falls. Hill was inspired by John "Derf" Backderf, who dropped off copies of his various graphic novels to his favorite bookstore, Mac's Backs-Books on Coventry, last year.
You can see Hill from 2 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, July 2, as he takes part in the Author Alley at Loganberry Books, during the 10th annual Larchmere Arts Fest.
Edutoons is available through Amazon, Ingram/Spark, Baker & Taylor, select independent bookstores and Act3creative.com.