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.

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!

It’s time to discuss ‘equity’ instead of ‘accountability’

There’s no word that a political candidate could utter in regards to education that causes me to turn into a raving lunatic faster than “accountability.”

Our teachers and schools have been clubbed over our heads with the “accountability bat” by legislators and school board candidates for 10 years in Indiana.

Frankly, I’m tired of hearing it.

“Accountability” has been the guiding factor in every single policy decision made in Indiana education in that time, and these policies have only weakened our schools.

The lie that our schools and teachers must be “more accountable” has led to a climate of number crunching, standardization, and educational jargon and endless acronyms that now control our schools and stifle far too much critical thinking and creativity.

“Accountability” has led to an era of fewer educational options for our children. How many Indiana schools have lost their arts programs, electives, and even libraries in this era of tight budgets that are often so strained because our state spends so much money on standardized tests?

Yes, we have replaced the joy of books and music in our schools with the art of filling in a bubble with a Number 2 pencil.

All because we now worship data, most of which is used to prove what we usually already know anyway.

Our public schools have become “accountability factories” in America’s desperate race to prove that every fact, standard, and nugget of knowledge can be fully measured at any given moment.

Educational historian Diane Ravitch says it best in the documentary “Rise Above the Mark,” which reveals the truth about what’s happening in Indiana schools right now.

Ravitch says, “What the standardized test does, over time, is that it rewards conformity, it rewards the people who can pick the right bubble…it punishes divergent thinking, it punishes creativity, it punishes originality. If you think about what that’s going to do to this country over the long haul…we are raising a generation of children who have been taught that there’s only one right answer.”

That’s the true irony of the “accountability movement” in education. The very policies designed to ensure teachers and schools are “accountable” — standardized tests, overly complicated teacher evaluation models, letter-grade labels for high achieving and low performing schools — actually prevent the most essential kind of learning.

Because the truth is that the most valuable kind of learning so often simply cannot be measured.

Certainly, no one would argue against the notion that our schools or teachers should be accountable to ensuring that students are learning.

But far too often legislative and school board candidates use the idea of “accountability” as a convenient catch phrase — it sounds impressive.

However, “accountability” has far too often been used as a weapon against schools by those who are often the least accountable themselves.

So, until we are ready to talk seriously about parental accountability to their children, our legislators’ accountability to their communities, corporate and business accountability to ethics and the truth, and even students’ accountability to themselves, then we need to stop overusing and misusing this concept as a basis to manage our schools and monitor our teachers.

We have seen over 10 years of “accountability” in Indiana education policy.

Those policies have failed. Those who have voted for and supported those policies in the legislature have failed.

It’s time replace “accountability” with “equity.”

Hoosier legislators are anything but conservative when it comes to education

Imagine if you woke up tomorrow morning to the news that President Obama created a new federal education agency with tax dollars to accompany our current Department of Education.

Let’s give this shiny new hypothetical agency an official name so that it actually sounds different from the Department of Education.

Hmmm. How about the Center for Education and Career Innovation, or CECI?

Let’s, too, grant this new agency a budget almost equal to the Department of Education. In fact, let’s pay several of the top people at CECI as much — in fact, more than — current Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Oh, and here’s one more tidbit. Let’s assume that the president created the CECI at taxpayer expense by executive order.

That’s right. No legislative debate in Congress. No public debate. Instead, a brand spanking new federal agency created simply by the stroke of a pen.

Imagine the reaction of small government conservatives everywhere, including here in Indiana.

Why, images of bulging eyes, frothing mouths, and anguished screams of “Socialist!” and “Big government!” would fill our television screens on the nightly news. Surely these outraged proponents of limited government would call upon our Indiana legislators in D.C. to condemn such a move.

And, imagine the righteous fury that would erupt if our U.S. senators and congressmen then remained silent in the face of this big government creation of the CECI.

That’s right. No sound bites on CNN. No press conferences or even press releases. Instead, complete silence.

Now stop imagining and consider this — the scenario I just described actually happened. Only, it was Indiana governor Mike Pence, not Barack Obama, who created the CECI by executive order with no legislative or public debate.

And it was our Indiana state legislators, many of them Republicans now seeking re-election, who remained curiously silent in the face of the creation of an agency at taxpayer expense that serves no real purpose.

Further, for some odd reason, it’s Indiana conservatives who also have remained oddly quiet in the face of their governor’s big government move and their legislators’ utter hypocrisy.

Where is the justifiable concern over the creation of a government agency by executive order? Where are the questions about the disturbing lack of legislative or public debate over the creation of the CECI?

For that matter, where was the concern over Common Core standards when Republicans like Mitch Daniels and Tony Bennett and the GOP-controlled State Board of Education — not Barack Obama — brought those standards to Indiana?

And, where is the concern over the fact that, despite incumbents’ claims to the contrary, Indiana school corporations now operate under less local control than ever before?

My point here is simple. When it comes to Indiana education policy, our “conservative” state government is anything but conservative.

From the hefty price tag of more standardized testing, to overly complicated teacher and school evaluation systems, to unnecessary restrictions on how teachers can bargain contracts, to a state-sponsored voucher program that costs Indiana $16 million, to Common Core and legislators’ silence over the governor’s new CECI, one fact emerges — the myth of a conservative state legislature in Indiana is just that — a myth.

We voters have been inundated with quite a few slick campaign cards in our mailboxes over the last few weeks. Some of them play a bit loose with the facts. Some even include scary images of President Obama in an attempt to link a certain local state legislative race to our president.

As we voters head to the polls this week, we would be well served to remember which legislators stood silently by as Mike Pence created his CECI by executive order with no legislative or public debate, and ask ourselves who the real conservatives are, and who really supports big government.

The answer may surprise you.

Imagine that.

Teachers: It’s time to speak to local voters

Two weeks.

We have two weeks until Election Day 2014.

We usually view mid-term or “off year” elections with some apathy, but Indiana teachers know that this year’s election is crucial to our livelihoods, our profession, our school children, and our schools.

We must send a bold, clear message to our governor, legislature, and State Board of Education: Stop!

We are in the midst of one destructive idea after another in regards to Indiana education policy. Our public schools and the profession we love have radically changed in the last five years. We know it. We feel it. And we know that we cannot continue down the same path.

One trusted colleague of mine with almost 40 years of experience as a teacher recently made this observation — she has never seen teachers as upset, as burdened, or as fed up as we are right now.

Another Indiana educator, a fifth-grade teacher who has chosen early retirement and whose story is shared in the documentary Rise Above the Mark, says this:

“I still love what I do, and I loved it up until the end, but I feel like the legislators have beaten us down, and I hope that some way we find a way to fight our way back up to the top.”

Later in the documentary, she adds, “They’ve taken education, the profession that I love, and turned me into a number.”

This is the truth of what is happening in Indiana schools all over the state thanks in part to our current legislature. I won’t rehash the litany of bad ideas here — feel free to explore past posts on this site for more details — but I will say this:

Our mailboxes been inundated with a glossy litany of half-truths and lies from legislators all around the state claiming to have preserved local control of our schools in the last few years.

Teachers know the truth. Teachers know that is simply not true.

Indiana public schools suffer from less local control and more excessive intrusion from our state legislature than ever before.

When it comes to education policy, this current legislature is full of fake conservatives who shackle innovation, stifle creativity, and intrude endlessly into our local schools.

Our daily lives as teachers are burdened with the evidence of less local control — from excessive standardized testing, to the ludicrous flip-flop of standards (Yes, we’ll adopt Common Core. No, wait, no we won’t!), to the fact that the state has changed our evaluation system, to restrictions on how we bargain our contracts, to the reduction in the worth of our advanced and master’s degrees — the list of excessive intrusion into our schools and classrooms from our current state legislature is long and tedious.

So, please know this, voters — any current legislator who claims to have worked tirelessly for the cause of local control of Hoosier schools while supporting and voting for corporate education “reform” scams is either deceitful or delusional.

Or both.

And that is why I am calling on all teachers to talk with voters here. Now. Because we teachers must speak up now.

We must tell voters the truth about how our profession and our schools have changed.

We must tell voters that while we love our profession, our schools, and our students, we will no longer silently tolerate the constant assault of bad legislation that has radically altered our public schools.

We must ask voters to stand with us to restore local control, common sense, and research-based decision making to our schools.

And locally, we must make the case with voters to vote for three outstanding educators and experts — Kevin Sue Bailey, Heidi Sellers, and Chuck Freiberger.

I challenge every teacher to find a way to work with or on behalf of at least one of these pro-education candidates.

Teachers, do not be silent. Do not be passive. There simply is not time.

This is not about political parties or ideology. This is about telling voters the truth about how our current legislature has hurt our schools.

Tell the truth about our schools.

We have two weeks.