Six reasons ‘Homecoming’ is among the best Spider-Man movies 

Note: I hate spoilers. Hate them. I believe dunderheads who carelessly throw movie, television, and book spoilers around on social media are worse than the worst super villain. So, I believe I have been sufficiently vague enough here to avoid spider spoilers for “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” But my advice? See the movie first before reading further, and then check back to see how right…or wrong…I really am.

Seriously. What are you waiting for? 

Last week in a fit of spider-geekdom I kicked off my viewing of “Spider-Man: Homecoming” with my official list of my favorite Spidey movies.  

The only question? Where would “Homecoming,” co-produced by Marvel Studios and Columbia Pictures and distributed by Sony Pictures, end up in my rankings? 

The answer? Right at the top with the 2004 classic “Spider-Man 2.” Yes, it’s that good, for six reasons: 

A New Direction, but… 

No Peter Parker origin story here. Been there. Enjoyed that. Time for something new, and “Homecoming” delivers.  

A diverse-and-talented supporting cast, a focus on the technology of Tony Stark’s Spidey suit, and a real “high school feel” distinguish “Homecoming” from any other Spider-Man story to date. 

Are there changes? Yes, but the tweaks to the Spider-Man legend feel authentic and necessary, not forced. 

The story is fresh. It’s fun. And that’s a good thing. 

Homage to the Classics

Despite the new direction, though, there is a danger in superhero storytelling in senselessly straying too far from classic roots. Consider the 2015 “Fantastic Four” movie if you doubt me here. 

Fortunately, the brilliance in “Homecoming” lies in how well writers and producers weave classic Spider-Man elements into a script that’s so thoroughly new. 

Classic Spidey characters? Check. Classic Spidey villains? Check. Teenage drama (because Spider-Man is, after all, a kid)? Check.  

These elements are still here. In fact, they help “Homecoming” feel more like a true Spider-Man story than anything we’ve seen since “Spider-Man 2” – a true “homecoming” for the character in every sense of the word. 

True Spider-Man enthusiasts will appreciate the many nods to classic Spidey stories and characters throughout “Homecoming.” It’s filled with just enough sly winks and Easter eggs to pay homage to a classic character in a new world. 

That’s clever storytelling. 

A Stark Contrast

We get just enough of Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony Stark and Iron Man. Not a mere cameo appearance. Not too much. Just right. 

Downey, Jr.’s “Captain America: Civil War” chemistry with Tom Holland is just as fun here, but even more compelling because Tony Stark’s mentorship of an eager Peter Parker gives us insight into Stark’s constantly evolving character within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The brashness remains, but there’s something more, too – a selflessness and a recognition that with great power comes great responsibility. 

The fact that Peter Parker is learning this life lesson from Tony Stark instead of his Uncle Ben is both a brilliant twist on a classic Spidey story and an indication of just how much Stark has evolved from his introduction in “Iron Man” in 2008. 

It’s a stark contrast from the Tony we met nine years ago. “Homecoming” is more than a Peter Parker story. It’s a Tony Stark story, too, one that will likely spin right into next year’s “Avengers: Infinity War.” 

Michael Keaton’s Villainy

It’s no secret I love movie villains. Trust me – Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes (the Vulture) ranks right up there with Alfred Molina’s Dr. Otto Octavius in “Spider-Man 2” as one of the best Spidey villains ever. 

In fact, Keaton’s Vulture is both sinister and sympathetic, a complexity that makes him one of the best MCU villains, too, because despite the technology that defines his character, he’s so often so human in this story. We’ve missed this complexity in MCU villains, but Keaton delivers it here.

It’s Keaton’s ability to find the humanity within the sinister Vulture that makes him so scary, so perfect for “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” 

Tom Holland IS Spider-Man

Tobey Maguire was great. Despite the scripts, Andrew Garfield was better. But, in “Homecoming,” Tom Holland delivers the best live-action performance of Spider-Man ever. 

Holland is everything Peter Parker must be: uncertain but eager, nerdy but fun, clumsy but heroic. And it’s Peter Parker’s heroism in spite of his Spidey-suit where Holland really shines.  

Spider-Man is supposed to be the most human of heroes in spite of his gifts. No actor has more exemplified this trait and better personified the character than Tom Holland does. And, it doesn’t hurt that Holland has brilliant chemistry with every other actor in the movie.  

Smaller Piece to a Larger Story

Finally, I suspect that the legacy of “Spider-Man: Homecoming” will only grow as we move closer to and even beyond “Avengers: Infinity War.” 

All previous Spider-Man movies built the Spidey-verse, but “Homecoming” is a part of something larger – an entire universe of superheroes. Without being specific (spoilers, after all), there’s more going on beyond just a really fun, creative Spider-Man story.  

How this story – this piece — fits into the larger MCU puzzle remains to be seen, but the Spider-Man we meet here will continue to evolve in and beyond upcoming movies. For that reason “Spider-Man: Homecoming” will eventually be seen as a homecoming for a classic character poised to be an essential part of a constantly expanding Marvel universe.  

That alone makes it’s among the most significant Spider-Man movies ever.  


Spider-Nerd ranks Spidey movies with ‘Homecoming’ only moments away

I’m moments away from a highlight of my summer – my viewing of “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”

Yes, I am posting this from the theater. Opening previews be damned. 

There’s something incredible about losing yourself in the world of a story, and movies are, at their core, stories. The comic book nerd and storyteller in me hopes that Spidey’s latest adventure will be among his best.  

In the meantime, to prepare for “Homecoming,” I spent the last week re-watching the five previous Spider-Man movies. Essential research, after all.  I didn’t include the incredibly entertaining “Captain America: Civil War” in that batch, since it is primarily a Cap/Avengers movie, but let’s face it – Tom Holland’s Spider-Man debut and his scenes with Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony Stark were highlights of the movie.

Where will Holland’s Spider-Man and “Homecoming” rank in the Spidey-verse of movies? I’m guessing among the best, but before finding out, here’s my unofficial comic nerd rating of the last five Spider-Man movies, in reverse order, of course: 

5. “Spider-Man 3” (2007) 

An unsympathetic Peter Parker controlled by a symbiote, a Topher Grace miscast as Venom, and a plot that barely brings all the pieces together make this my least favorite. Great Spider-Man/Sandman action sequences and an interesting-if-overshadowed villain performance by Thomas Haden Church as the Sandman are highlights, though. 

4. “The Amazing Spider-Man” (2012) 

Spot-on chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone as Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy, Martin Sheen and Sally Field as Ben and May Parker, and an interesting mystery twist on Peter’s Spider-Man origin story all work well here, but where is the lighthearted Spider-Man we all know and love?  

3. “Spider-Man” (2002) 

How can you not love one of the best superhero origin stories of all time? Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man and Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson deliver here, and so does Willem Defoe’s Norman Osborn, one of the best super villain portrayals ever. This movie sets up the Spider-Man trilogy perfectly. I’ve watched this movie so many times. It’s cliché to say, but the story and the movie withstand the test of time. 

2. “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” (2014) 

Many won’t agree with placing this above “Spider-Man,” but I love it slightly more in my heart because Andrew Garfield IS Peter Parker/Spider-Man in this movie. Despite the film’s flaws, Garfield delivers the best Spidey performance to date in this movie (we’ll see if that’s still the case after “Homecoming”). True Spider-Man historians know how this story plays out before the movie even begins, but the Garfield/Emma Stone chemistry and strong writing deliver an homage to the Peter Parker-Gwen Stacy romance, and the movie’s final battle scene and conclusion are powerful.  

1. “Spider-Man 2” (2004) 

The best. My favorite. This is, above all else, a Peter Parker story. The second movie both honors the 2002 original and brilliantly sets up the third installment. It not only features the most satisfying conclusion in all of the movies, but includes brilliant emotional and action scenes (look for Spider-Man saving the city from a runaway train) and the best Spidey villain portrayal of all – Alfred Molina’s Dr. Otto Octavius, a bad guy we both sympathize with and fear (those mechanical arms are just creepy). This is, in my opinion, the best Spider-Man story. 

So, where will “Spider-Man: Homecoming” rank on my list?  

I’m about to find out. 

Comic books and the fixes that shape our lives 

Hi. My name is Jim, and I’m a comic book nerd.

My childhood was an odd blend of library books, Matchbox cars, and comic books. It was the colorful battles of good versus evil in the pages of comic books that most captured my attention and imagination. 

Every nerd had a dealer, a place with colorful circular racks of comics that revealed new adventures with every squeaky turn.

My dealer of choice was aptly named County Drugs, an old-time corner pharmacy in Gateway Plaza in Jeffersonville that specialized in convenience and service. They knew me. I knew them. They had my titles. I could always get my monthly fix. 

It helped that County Drugs was in the same shopping center as another Lang family fix, Mario’s Pizza. My sister and I knew that a trip to Mario’s meant more than just pizza and sandwiches.  

For Suzanne, Mario’s provided the magical gift of jukebox music, a chance to dance freely around the restaurant to the tunes of Billy Joel and, I kid you not, Anne Murray, while awaiting our food. 

For me, though, Mario’s provided the perfect opportunity to sneak down to County Drugs to snatch up the latest Batman or Uncanny X-Men.

These are the moments that provide hints of who we will be. My sister’s future as an actress, theatre arts teacher, and arts lover began with her childhood dance recitals at Mario’s.

And my lifelong fascination with great storytelling began with Batman’s battles with the Joker, and the X-Men’s struggles with humanity. My monthly comic book fix shaped my love for reading and writing and led me to a high school journalism classroom, where my students’ reporting and storytelling about real people and events shape lives, too.

And now, while I still devour the heroic adventures of Batman and the X-Men like the true comic book nerd that I am, I’m just as hooked by the stories my student journalists report, write, and publish. In a world where truth often seems as incredible as a comic book story, the stories of teen journalists are as essential — as heroic — as the wildest superhero exploits. 

Too often we view our childhood “fixes” merely as distant memories, glimpses of our past selves long forgotten. In truth, though, these fixes – our habits, routines, and simple moments – impact who we are in unthinkable, unpredictable ways. They shape our lives.

They shape our stories. 

They help us shape others’ stories, too. 

From a Teacher: Next New Albany-Floyd County superintendent should possess these five qualities 

With the official news that New Albany-Floyd County Schools’ superintendent Bruce Hibbard is leaving NAFCS for Franklin Township Community Schools, our local school corporation is faced with finding the next instructional leader to lead our community’s schools.

It’s an important decision that comes at a critical time for our schools and community. I’d encourage our school board members and the powers-that-be to spend a lot of time speaking to local educators and community members to determine our expectations and needs.  

Transparency throughout the entire process is essential. So is the need to select a steady, trustworthy leader with a history of uniting people in developing and implementing a shared vision for our students. 

To that end, as a NAFCS teacher, there are five leadership traits that I believe our next superintendent must exhibit to be effective. I would encourage our school board members and administrators to consider these above all else. 

Two qualifiers before I begin my list: 

First, none of my suggestions are meant as criticisms of Dr. Hibbard or any specific practices. Dr. Hibbard has been a consistent supporter of Floyd Central Journalism, encouraging student journalists to attend school board meetings and always inviting them to cover NAFCS events. I appreciate his support for scholastic journalism and of our program – he obviously valued my student journalists and their publications. I am thankful for that and wish him success in his new job and community. 

Secondly, I am speaking for no one but myself here. These are simply my thoughts as a teacher and community member, and my opinions are no more or less important than anyone else’s views. It is my hope, though, that the expertise and opinions of our teachers and support staff and personnel be listened to and valued in this process.  

With that said, in my opinion, our next superintendent should be a leader who embraces the following five leadership roles: 

Collaborative Leader 

A consistent, proven track record of building consensus among teachers, administrators, students, parents, and community members is the most important quality to look for.  

Our best ideas for achieving and sustaining success in our schools are right here in this community and in our schools. Above all else, the next superintendent must have an extensive record of uniting and engaging teachers, administrators, support personnel, parents, students, and community in developing and implementing policies.

Sound educational programs begin in our classrooms, schools, homes, and neighborhoods, not in an office or boardroom in the administration building. Our next superintendent should reach out, connect, and collaborate. 

Good Listener 

This essential collaboration begins with a leader who listens. 

In Southern Indiana, we value visible, accessible leaders. Our next superintendent must do more than simply show up for events or join organizations, though. He or she must engage and listen. Obviously, not every suggestion or new idea can be implemented. But, our teachers, support personnel, and community members must feel our viewpoints and ideas are valued. 

Reject the urge to simply snatch, grab, and implement the new educational “trend of the moment.” Instead, listen to the ideas being shared and piloted in our local classrooms by our teachers, those who strive to develop their craft each day. Help us build our next ideas from our classrooms up and out to our colleagues, as well as to other schools and communities. This begins by listening – by knowing what we are doing in our classrooms, departments, and schools. 

Just as important – listen to the needs and expectations of parents, community leaders, and business owners. While educators should always make curricular and instructional decisions for our classrooms and schools, an engaged community helps us do this.  

The best educational leaders are so often not those who always speak, but who listen to those they work with and serve. We need a superintendent who listens. 

Effective Communicator 

The complexity of decisions made daily in school corporations is astounding. It takes a skilled communicator to explain the importance of these decisions to an often-skeptical public. This is especially important when a school corporation renovates its schools, as we are doing now.

Parents and community members need to understand how decisions affect their lives and the education of their children. Additionally, in the day of growing intrusion into local schools from state agencies and legislatures, superintendents have to explain new and sometimes illogical state laws and directives to the community as well.

Community members, parents, even teachers need to understand the growing complexities of Indiana public education. We will need a school leader who can understand those complexities and explain how they impact lives on a personal level.

Evaluator and Questioner

We have initiated many changes in our local schools in the last few years. Some have been innovative and positive. Others, not so much. Some should be retained, while others changed or abandoned. This is true in any school corporation.

It’s time to carefully examine which new programs and initiatives work, and which do not, especially in terms of cost analysis, time demands on educators, and overall educational benefit for the maximum number of students. In particular, I’d like to see more analysis and discussion of the significant amount of student testing and on effective use of teacher time.

Regardless of the issues, though, our school corporation needs to reject a “change for change’s sake” mentality that seems to grip too many modern educational institutions. “Why?” is the most important question we can ask when developing sound policies and procedures. We need a leader who helps us ask this question more often.

Public School Advocate

I’ll end with this.

Our next superintendent must be an instructional leader with a variety of experiences in and a love for public schools.

Our local public schools are treasures. This is especially true of NAFCS schools. In an era of competition and choice, I want to teach with and work with a public school educator and advocate, someone who consistently and proudly champions the public schools in our community and the many fine people who work in them.

As a teacher I need to know with certainty that my superintendent is on my team, that he or she believes in me.

Select a leader who is a proud public school educator.

One Final Note

Again, these are simply my views as a teacher. These are only one teacher’s views as to what we should look for next, not a critique of any quality we may or may not have lacked in the past.

For another viewpoint, click here to read the News and Tribune’s views.

Finally, for those who are interested, the New Albany-Floyd County School Board has scheduled a special meeting to address the superintendent search at 6:30 p.m. tonight (Friday, June 16) at Scribner Middle School. The meeting is open to the public.  

My summertime battle with the blinking cursor and the blank screen

There’s nothing that taunts as viciously as a blinking cursor.

There’s nothing that intimidates quite like a blank screen. 

This will be the summer I conquer both. 

Summer affords teachers a fresh start. New opportunities beyond our classrooms. Most often we pursue these adventures to strengthen our skills as educators. Sometimes, though, these pursuits must be more personal. 

This summer, mine is.  

This summer, my goal is simply to write. From 9 to noon most days I will be here – staring down this blinking cursor and filling this blank screen with my thoughts, memories, ideas, and questions.  

This will be the summer that I welcome the challenge of writing instead of fearing it. I will embrace the endless possibilities, unlimited choices, constant scrutiny of words and phrases, and even the twinge of self doubt. 

I will use that cursor to construct my thoughts and fill that blank screen with the observations and ideas that mean the most to me. 

In her wonderful book Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott observes that writers must care, that “a writer always tries, I think, to be a part of the solution, to understand a little about life and to pass this on.” This summer is a personal journey for me for many reasons. But as I write, I hope to show that I care, too.

I hope to learn to use my cursor and blank screen to understand a little more about life and to be a part of the solution. 

Yes, I’m Making Resolutions for 2017

But, let’s call them goals.

Why? I have no idea. There just seems to be something more permanent — more meaningful — when I make a list of goals. 

When I write my thoughts down. 

And as 2016 ended and 2017 began, I realized I want to make some personal commitments. 

So, in 2017, I will…

1. Write more.

I’ve found recently that I have a lot more to say, especially as it pertains to education issues. 

In November voters took us down a dangerous path in regards to the future of our public schools in “electing” Donald Trump and a supermajority in Indiana. Never in my lifetime have we been closer to abandoning our public schools than we are right now, both in Indiana and nationwide.

Make no mistake about it — if we fail to stop the corporate education “reform” train supported by those we have just elected, our democracy will suffer. And make no mistake about it, that is the intent of these corporate education reformers and their lackeys — to damage our democracy. They control our state and federal government, and their interest is anything but what’s best for children, or the future of our country.

So, I’m going to write about that. And speak out about that. A lot. And while I’m sure I’ll write about other issues, too –politics, reflections of a teacher, literacy, books, comic books (of course!), and just the weird thoughts that float through my mind — the corporate education “reform” con and the necessity of strong public schools to our community, state, and nation will be what I write about the most. 

My goal — write and post at least two entries here each week.

I hope you’ll join me, follow my blog, and read and comment, even if you do not agree with all of my views. I seek discourse. I value all opinions.

But, I believe strongly in the coming months and years that we must speak out to protect the values and institutions that are so essential to our democracy. I plan to do that here. 

2. Read more.

Let’s be honest – this is on my list every year. 

My goals — read at least 50 books and 50 comic book trades this year. 

3. Travel more.

I need to venture outside of Southern Indiana and beyond the comfort of my own couch.

So, my goal: Take three trips to states I haven’t traveled to in 2017, including a long trip in June or July. 

And yes, I am open to suggestions.

4. Practice my faith more.

When faith becomes passive, we stop growing in our faith. God has blessed me beyond description, but I desire a steadier, more consistent relationship, too.

My goal: Develop and participate in a regular study of scripture in 2017. 

So, that’s my 2017 summed up in four (somewhat) concise goals. 

I’m excited to see what this year has in store. As always, I am blessed with the world’s best family and friends, so my true goal is to experience all that 2017 has to offer with them.

What I Learned in 2016

Everyone seems to be counting down the final minutes of 2016, desperate to escape the clutches of this year before it’s too late.

I agree, I guess. I’m ready to move on. I’m ready to embrace the fresh hope and possibilities of a new year.

But even in a year when so many seemingly lost so much, there are lessons. And despite the disappointments of 2016, for me, these lessons made this a special year.

This year on Election Day,  I learned that reason and facts sometimes aren’t always enough to overcome ignorance, and that in a democracy, fear can be used by artful politicians to manipulate voters to abandon American values like truth, empathy, charity, and hope that we cherish the most.

I learned too, though, that sometimes the most patriotic stance we can take if we truly love our nation is one of peaceful, persistent resistance.

I learned that despite the best efforts of educators and teachers, many Hoosier voters either do not understand education policy, or simply do not value teachers or believe in our community schools. If they did, they never would have voted so overwhelmingly for state and national leaders whose policies for our schools and our children are so misguided and so consistently wrong.

I learned, too, that in 2017, teachers, educators, and our advocates must find new ways to reach out to and talk with these voters about our schools, our jobs, and our children.

We must engage with these voters because we truly are at a turning point; if we fail to convince voters to stop the corporate education “reform” train destroying our schools, removing local control from our communities, overtesting our children, and driving our best teachers out of the classrooms, then one of the bedrocks of democracy, our public schools, will disappear.

I learned that technology in the classroom changes the learning dynamic but does not improve student learning or engagement. Technology is just a tool — nothing more, nothing less.

I learned, despite the disappointments and frustrations of 2016, that when our family, friends, and faith are at the center of our lives, life’s challenges don’t seem so overwhelming, and life’s special moments become that much more special.

I learned to work less and goof off and laugh more.

I learned to shoot more selfies and photos, to preserve the special moments and memories.

I learned I want to write more.

I learned that former students can be my greatest teachers. I learned to let them inspire me. I learned to be a better person because of their example.

I learned pets are family, too.

I learned I like people more than I thought I did.

I learned patience.

I learned that the people in our lives can make us better people, but that we have an obligation to be the best versions of ourselves for them, too.

These lessons made me better. They made 2016 worth it in more ways that I can ever count. They’re the lessons that taught me that 2017 will be special, too.

So, bring it on. And, Happy New Year!

Ten reasons I’m so thankful 

God has blessed me more than I deserve. Sometimes in life it’s important to just stop to say, “Thanks.”

In a time when it’s far too easy to dwell on the negative and all that divides us, it’s important, too, that we count our blessings. 

Here are mine in no particular order. My challenge to you? Take a few minutes today to count yours, too. Share them and post them. Make someone’s day better.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

I am thankful because I have…

1. …an enduring faith in God that sustains me through dark times and reminds me to be a light to others instead of dwelling on myself.

2. …a father who guides me, a mother who inspires me, and a sister and brother-in-law who support and listen to me.

3. …former students who make me proud because they make the world better. Some are like family, and they know who they are.

4. …current students who make me laugh and who teach me every day. It’s the greatest honor of my life.

5. …teaching colleagues at Floyd Central and in other local schools who amaze me daily with their talent, compassion, empathy, and integrity.

6. …my journalism “family,” a band of hilariously funny and incredible teaching colleagues from all corners of the state who remind me I’m a part of something special in Indiana scholastic journalism.

7. …my health and sanity (although sometimes that second part is debatable)

8. …books. Lots and lots of books.

9. …comic books and superhero TV shows and movies…because we all need an escape, and because Batman can solve any problem.

10. …the freedom and the passion to speak out and write about what I believe in, because with all of its flaws, the United States is still an exceptional country.

Presidential endorsements offer the best kind of learning for students

Floyd Central journalists engage in Election 2016

One of the many blessings of teaching high school journalism is that student journalists develop and practice essential skills that prepare them for the real world and teach them how to preserve and protect our democracy.

This year’s contentious presidential election has provided Floyd Central High School journalists the chance to do just that on their opinion pages in the form of a presidential endorsement.

This morning in their fourth issue of the year, members of the Floyd Central Bagpiper staff endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton for president.

Now, I’m sure that decision will be met with a variety of reactions from readers. If this election has taught us anything, it’s that Americans have deeply-held opinions about Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.

But, it’s also revealed that far too many voters on all sides of the political aisle have fundamental misunderstandings about the role of journalists and media in a democratic society.

As an educator and a journalism educator, I think it is important that those who question the decision to endorse set aside their partisan feelings toward specific candidates and their biases about the media, because the process of endorsing a candidate is one of the best learning activities for any high school student.

Candidate endorsements in the media are an extension of our democracy and offer opportunities for teen journalists to experience the First Amendment and civic journalism in action.

First, some background on how the Bagpiper editorial board arrived at its decision —

The board is comprised of the editor-in-chief, managing editor, graphics editor, photo editor, and editors from each section. This group of journalists, led and managed by the editor-in-chief, meets monthly to discuss and form a consensus opinion for the Bagpiper editorial, usually connected to a news story elsewhere in each issue.

This month the editorial board met twice. As their adviser, their editorial opinion is not mine — I do not attend most meetings other than as their adviser, and this month I attended none.

Let’s be clear — the editorial is the consensus opinion of the student leaders based on their reporting, research, and discussion.

As their adviser, I offered some guidance as they debated candidates. My suggestions included:

  • I didn’t care who they endorsed, as long as they came to a consensus and researched each candidate;
  • I suggested also publishing additional columns on unendorsed candidates to offer a variety of perspectives, and they did;
  • I encouraged an online opinion poll on the Bagpiper website at published several days prior to the release of the editorial to give readers a chance to vote and become involved in the process;
  • I reminded my students they could encourage reader feedback in the form of letters to the editor to encourage discourse and alternate opinions from readers.

From there, the editorial board met and came to a consensus decision to endorse Clinton.

My editor-in-chief wrote multiple drafts of the editorial, checking with his peers on the board regularly throughout the process to ensure he captured their collective opinion accurately. Special attention was given to ensure each editor agreed with the editorial stance; in fact, each editorial board member literally signed off on the final draft.

The result?

Three days (so far) of Floyd Central students and readers visiting our website to vote, register their opinion, and even discuss their views in the comment section. Civic discourse and involvement at its best.

Just as importantly, though, have been the debates, discussions, and compromises that have resulted from high school journalists who care enough about the democratic process to take a stand and offer leadership.

This is what real learning looks like in a democracy founded on differing views and dissent. We must remember this, especially in our most challenging times.

Because that’s what opinion pages in high school newspapers are for — to offer perspectives and encourage discussion. To give students a chance to lead. To research and compromise. To learn how to support and defend their opinions. To learn how to take a stand. To encourage discussion and real debate. To take ownership of their learning and pride in their publications.

As my students were working on this issue, I showed them a story about a Colorado Springs community in an uproar because a local high school newspaper endorsed Clinton. Some in the Colorado Springs community were outraged that high school students would actually — gasp! — use their critical thinking skills to research and then form and publish an opinion piece designed to create some discussion around who the next leader of our nation should be.

Those who condemn such outstanding learning opportunities for high school students should be ashamed. They seek not to educate, but to stifle discourse, critical thinking, and learning.

They’re not interested in learning. They’re interested in control.

Real schools offer the chance for their students to discuss, debate, lead, produce, and make decisions.

Real schools grant the freedom to exercise their First Amendment rights.

I’m proud that Floyd Central High School has always been one of those schools.

And in the coming days, as we inch (thankfully) toward the end of this seemingly endless election cycle, I’m sure members of the Bagpiper staff will hear a variety of opinions on their editorial, columns, and election coverage.

I’m sure, too, that some of these reactions will be positive, and others negative. That’s part of the learning process, too. The same First Amendment that protects their right to editorialize also protects those who disagree.

I’m hopeful, though, that regardless of the feedback they receive that it is as insightful as the opinion pieces they published today.

Because we don’t have to agree.

But this election reminds us, too, of the effects of uncivil discourse and hateful rhetoric on our democracy.

This is why I’m so very proud of the Floyd Central Bagpiper staff today. They’ve taken a stand. They’ve offered different perspectives. They’ve encouraged discussion and debate over difficult, complex issues.

They’ve practiced good journalism.

They’ve proven they’re good stewards of our democracy.

And this kind of valuable learning would have taken place regardless of who they chose to endorse.

What I learned in 2015

by Jim Lang

For a variety of reasons, I walked away from this blog and from my writing in October, 2014. The reasons do not matter now. 

But the reasons I am writing again do, at least to me.

As 2015 fades, I realize that perhaps no year has taught me more about myself. I learned many lessons this year.

I learned to better appreciate the many special people in my life. Some have taught me more about myself. Others have strengthened my own faith in God. A few have impacted my life more than I can ever say.

I learned that God is real, that His guidance and presence in the most challenging circumstances and in the darkest hours can sustain me if I ask. And this year, I asked a lot.

I learned that I see God the most in the people He places in my life. I learn about Him through them.

I learned that when I reach out to help, often I am the person who needs and receives the most help.

I learned the most from my truly good friends, some of whom I love like family.

I learned that a job is just that — a job. It neither defines who I am nor shapes who I should be. 

I learned that those who judge others are more flawed and less perfect than those who make mistakes.

I learned that sometimes the best gift I can give myself is a road trip.

I learned that I can be independent, yet still rely on and learn from others.

I learned that real strength is asking for help.

I learned that technology does not enhance real teaching or learning.

I learned to say “no” more often because it’s often the healthiest choice.

I learned to be more patient.

I learned that superheroes are as cool now as they were when I was 10.

I learned that nothing beats a good book.

I learned that eventually, I have just have to write about it.

I learned a lot in 2015. I hope to learn just as much in 2016.

And, I hope to write more about it, too.

To those who blessed my life this year — family, friends, colleagues, and students — thank you for your love, support, and presence in my life.

Best wishes for a wonderful new year!