From the Archives: Cartoonists deliver timely commentary on teaching

January 16, 2018
Maggie Shane, ATA Archivist
Leading up to its official 100th anniversary in June 2018, the Alberta Teachers’ Association is celebrating its history through a number of initiatives, one of which is this column. Curated by archivist Maggie Shane and appearing in each issue of the ATA News this year, this column will feature significant moments and individuals in the Association’s history as well as interesting artifacts or documents from the Association’s archives.

Words and pictures are yin and yang. Married, they produce a progeny more interesting than either parent.
— Dr. Seuss

For decades, the ATA News and ATA Magazine have been enriched by the keen observations of talented cartoon artists. In the long, storied history of politically and socially informed commentary, cartoons have captured, chronicled and commented on the events and Zeitgeist of the age.

The cartoonist is a provocateur, diarist and critic in the best tradition of serving up food for thought. The classroom and the teaching profession have proved no less fertile ground for astute cartoonists than politics as they draw upon a common experience. After all, the vast majority of us have been students, and a lucky few have returned to schools as teachers. Over the years, the cartoons have been affectionate, ironic, hilarious, sardonic, savage or philosophical, but they have always been topical and timely.

Cartoonists work within a wide range of topics and within an even wider latitude. Teachers’ struggles for better working conditions (and learning conditions), improved wages, reasonable class sizes and unfunded pension resolutions have been the raw material for the cartoonists’ art. Classroom experiences and the glorious diversity and hilarity of the messy business of teaching have also proven to be a potent source of inspiration and content.

The ATA archives hold the published versions of all the cartoons that have appeared in the magazine and newspaper, but also the artists’ hand-drawn and inked originals. Jim Simpson’s Ms. Magister was a staple of the ATA Magazine in the 1980s. Other contributions by the likes of Chaput, Glasbergen, Bacall and O’Malley encouraged us to think, smile and engage with the issues surrounding public education in Alberta.

Archives staff treasure these original drawings and often return to them whenever we are looking to promote understanding of the issues of the day. To choose an absolute favourite is impossible; nevertheless, the cartoon reproduced below by Chaput (first appearing in the ATA News on Jan. 16, 1989) comes close.