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Comic-book junkies may no longer have to slip a copy of The Adventures of Archie behind the cover of their social studies text if they want to read one in school. Comics are now being promoted as a legitimate part of the curriculum-- and by none other than that lofty arbiter of culture, the Smithsonian Institution.

The Smithsonian is making available a curriculum guide, Comics in the Classroom, which is designed to help elementary, secondary, and college teachers turn the appeal of comics into "an educational advantage in the classroom.'' The guide has been developed in conjunction with a traveling exhibition, "Great American Comics: 100 Years of Cartoon Art,'' which is touring a number of American cities until 1992.

The teachers' guide was prepared for the Smithsonian exhibit by "comicologist'' M. Thomas Inge, a humanities professor at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va., and author of books on the importance of comics in American culture. Inge says he regularly receives calls from teachers asking how to incorporate comic books and comic strips into their lessons.

And Speaking of Comic Books...

Brace yourselves, teachers. Your literature assignments are in jeopardy. First Publishing, the Chicago comic-book firm that brought your students Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, plans to revive the Classics Illustrated of yesteryear, the comics that got so many of the older generation through high school English.

Rick Obadiah, the company's president, says the new Classics will be better than ever. "We'll take the gist of a story, put the characters into the proper setting, and try to make the whole thing as vibrant and exciting as possible,'' he told The Boston Globe. "If we can get someone to read our Great Expectations, and say, 'Wow! I want to know more about this guy Dickens!' then our job is done.''

Along with the work of "this guy Dickens,'' First Publishing will release three other titles this month: Through the Looking Glass, Moby Dick, and a selection of Edgar Allan Poe's poems.

To be sure that the comic books are true to their unabridged namesakes, Obadiah will keep a close watch on his adapters. His instructions admonish them to: "Begin by reading the original book. Do so even if you've seen the movie, if you've recently read it for the 30th time, if you did your doctoral dissertation on it....Resist the urge to edit or tamper. Please, no 'Folks know me as Ishaeml.'''

In Search of What?

Every journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step--in this case, a step backward. Moments before the North Carolina state superintendent opened the first meeting of a special task force on high school education, red-faced organizers hastily tore down an overhanging banner that read "Excellance [sic] In Secondary Education.''

The panel, which includes a former U.S. Congressman, a former university president, business leaders, and educators, was created to devise strategies for raising the state's SAT scores, which are the lowest in the nation.

Glenn Cleaver, a spokesman for the state department of public instruction, apologized for the spelling error. "We're sorry it happened,'' he said. "But we can understand that it's awfully difficult to see mistakes in words when the letters are that large.''

Chalk Bard

Most custodians are responsible for washing blackboards. In Monroe County, Ind., custodian Dale Schreiber is known for marking them up. For years, in the quiet of the night, Schreiber wrote mysterious, rhymed messages on the blackboards of Binford Elementary School. Often, Schreiber left his poetry in code. Students would decode it and leave it for him to find after school.

Last March, Binford's students lost their personal poet laureate to retirement. But now they can read his work in published form. Halloweenness, a collection of his studentinspired poems, was published in October by Matchbooks, a small press in Unionville, Ind. The humorous book was a local best seller. Schreiber's second book is due out this month.

Don't Call Us In The Morning

The way things have been going for education in Utah is enough to give one a headache.

When the Legislature used a budget surplus to reduce taxes by $38 million instead of earmarking it for schools, infuriated teachers from four districts staged spontaneous walkouts. During the previous three years, school operating funds had increased on average by only 1 percent annually, causing the state's average teacher salary to fall from 26th to 40th in the nation. Utah spends less per pupil than any other state.

How did Utah Gov. Norman Bangerter respond to the protests? He told teachers, "Take two aspirin and go back to work.''

Teachers chose to ignore the Governor's prescription. Instead, they staged a statewide walkout.

And rather than take the aspirin themselves, they decided to collect it for the Governor. At a mass rally in Salt Lake City, teachers brought enough of the stuff to fill six cartons.

But those well-mannered teachers from Utah never quite followed through on their mischievous plan. According to a union official, the boxes are still sitting in the office of the Utah Education Association. Sending the aspirin might be "hitting below the belt,'' the official said. "It would be a negative message.''

Next Step, Finger Painting

Parents and teachers can now help upwardly mobile toddlers get a head start on their cocktail-party conversation skills. A new handbook, Mommy, It's a Renoir!, brings the world of art appreciation to children ages 3 to 12 through games played with postcard reproductions of famous works. The postcards come in four sets, from easy to advanced.

"The earlier this exposure [to art] occurs, the more likely that genuine taste will become truly a part of a person's nature,'' the book notes.

According to a spokesperson for Parent Child Press, which publishes the postcard reproductions and the handbook, "quite a few'' school systems--including Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee--are using them.

Things Could Be Worse

Your teaching contract may not be all you would like, but it probably looks pretty good compared with what teachers at a southern school had to sign, circa 1920. It's provisions included:

I promise to take a vital interest in all phases of Sunday school work, donating of my time, service and money without stint for the uplift and benefit of the community.

I promise not to go out with any young men except insofar as it may be necessary to stimulate Sunday school work.

I promise not to fall in love, to become engaged, or secretly married.

I promise to sleep at least eight hours a night, [and] to eat carefully...in order that I may be better able to render efficient care to my pupils.

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