A Fond Farewell to Leonard Nimoy: A Friend from My Childhood

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Rest in Peace, Leonard Nimoy! Few things make me feel as old as the passing of an actor who was so much a part of my childhood–my teen years and beyond! We have lost an extremely talented, very good man.

Spock’s famous quotes go well beyond his iconic “Live long and prosper” and his raised eyebrowed “Fascinating . . .” You might recall his “Change is the essential process of all existence” or “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one” or “Insufficient facts always invite danger” or “Without followers, evil cannot spread.”

Yes, I certainly am fully cognizant that in just the past year alone, a number of people have passed away who have likely had a far greater impact on our world; yet with Leonard Nimoy’s passing, a part of my childhood goes with him, and I am confident that many share that feeling.

From William Shatner: “”I loved him like a brother. We will all miss his humor, his talent, and his capacity to love” and from George Takei ”

The word extraordinary is often overused, but I think it’s really appropriate for Leonard. He was an extraordinarily talented man, but he was also a very decent human being. His talent embraced directing as well as acting and photography. He was a very sensitive man. And we feel his passing very much. He had been ill for a long, long time, and we miss him very much.”

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In his role as Spock, Leonard Nimoy once said, “You have been, and always shall be, my friend.” I turn this very phrase back on this larger-than-life yet all-too-human man whom I viewed only on a television and movie screen. May your kind and gentle spirit not only speed to the heavens, but may it also imbue each one of us every day!

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In Praise of Teachers: A Letter for Teachers, Parents, Students, and the Community

 

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In Praise of Teachers:  A Letter for Teachers, Parents, Students, and the Community

 

Teachers Appreciation Week gives us all a chance to look back at the extraordinary teachers who have impacted us throughout our childhood and throughout both our lives and those of our children.  For those of us in the field of education, we also have the chance to remember teachers with whom we have worked.  I have been fortunate enough to have worked closely with over 400 teachers in 40 years of education as a Massachusetts teacher and principal.  Through my work, I feel that I have learned a great deal about teachers and the incredible responsibilities that are part of the profession.  Of course, to paraphrase Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s  in The Little Prince,there are things we see and know with our eyes, and others–sometimes even more important–that we see and know with our hearts.    I have observed and admired teachers all my life, and I write this letter to each and every one of you–to every teacher I have had the pleasure of knowing.  I invite you all, and all your colleagues, your students far and wide, and the greater community of parents and townspeople  to read along or listen in.

 

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Dear Teachers,

 

I have seen you as each new year begins in late August, frantically running from WalMart to Kmart to Target to Staples to the Dollar Store—spending hundreds of dollars of your own money to purchase motivational posters, extra crayons and glue, marbled composition books, stickers that say “Awesome Work” or “I’m Proud of You.”  I have seen you spend the full week before school begins putting up backings for bulletin boards, re-stocking your classroom libraries, and putting together folders for Day One.  I have watched you as you try to map out once more your whole year, and vowing that this year you will be the best teacher that your children have ever had—the best teacher that you can be.  I was with you—in spirit—all those nights in August when you couldn’t sleep because you were so excited—and more-than-a-bit nervous, as well—because of all those new kids that you were about to greet in just a couple of weeks.  Even after you finished that Master’s or CAGS degree—piling on still more college bills–even after spending  5 or 6 weeks in summer taking courses to continually learn new skills for teaching students—still you worried how you could be possibly be prepared for the multitude of students about to enter your classes—students with such a wide range of skills and talents and with an equally large range of backgrounds and personalities—as well as family, personal, and academic problems.  Still you approached that first day with eyes filled with hope and hearts filled with compassion—with dreams of helping each and every student to learn, to achieve, to grow—to reach for the stars and to ultimately achieve his or her dream.

 

I have seen you work so very hard—day in and day out–as teachers.  I watch you literally run around the room in pursuit of that ever-elusive goal—helping every single student to understand and master a skill on which you are focusing that day or that week.  You kneel down beside little kindergarten desks to check the formation of their letters; you bend over middle school desks to check a student’s map of the United States; you run back and forth to the whiteboard to demonstrate the correct way to calculate the volume of water in a container.  You run from the SmartBoard to the children’s workstations, from their computers to their reading circles.  You are up and down and up and down and up and down, and you are constantly in a whirlwind of motion–and by the end of the day, you just KNOW that you have run a 10 kilometer/6.2 mile road race (if not a warrior run or a half-marathon) because your legs and your back and your shoulders are absolutely killing you.

 

And that doesn’t even begin to touch on how emotionally drained you are.  You have made about one thousand judgments and decisions every hour.  “Does Linda or Jason really understand this concept?”  “Should I give another example?”  “Should I ignore that child who is whispering?”  “Should I correct him or her?”  “Should I try some proximity control?”  “Should I praise that student for her answer?”  “What should I say—‘good job’ or ‘nice work’ or ‘great answer’?”  “Should I explain WHY  it’s a great answer?”  “Should I give the kids a break now—or wait 5 minutes?”  “Should I make that little joke now to liven up the class a bit, or will that break everyone’s train of thought?”  “Should I call on Jennifer now—or Taylor—or Alex–or Javier—or Aliyah—or Noah—or Desiree—or Tyrone?”  “Should I allow Susan to get a drink now—or Joshua to run to the bathroom now—or Mark to go to his locker to retrieve his homework—or Kadence to call her mom to bring in the money for the field trip?”  “Should I correct Sophia’s poor grammar in her excellent answer to my question about the story we just read, or should I just compliment her for thinking creatively and expressing herself so clearly?”  You are constantly scanning the rows or the groups of tables for students who look confused or uncertain or excited or bored—and you are constantly reacting to each of those students.

 

I have been there with you and felt your heart skip a beat when that light comes on in a child’s eyes and he says, ”Mrs. Johnson, I get it!  NOW I get it!”  I have felt your heart swell to twice its size when you read a sophomore’s essay in which he writes, “One day I will hold my Mom’s hand and tell her that she has always been my hero because she has sacrificed so much to keep our family together.”  And I have been there, as well, when a child’s suffering becomes your suffering.  I have seen your pain  as a child confides in you that he just doesn’t have any friends—or that the kids on the bus call him names.  I have seen the tears stain your cheeks when a child explains to you that her dad is not coming home anymore.  I have felt your chest and throat tighten up when you see a child come in with bruises, both seen and unseen.  I know how you grieve when a child loses a friend or family member to an accident or to drug or alcohol abuse.   And all those times when a child struggles to understand but the understanding will not readily come, no matter how hard he or she tries—those times, too, cause your heart to ache, and make you even more determined to find a way to reach that child.  And I know how many times those children and their problems keep you up late at night—wondering if and how you can help, and praying that you can find a way.

 

And I know about the long, long hours that you put in before and after school.  I know how often you get up at 5:00 in the morning to put the finishing touches on your lesson plans for that day or that week.  I know how regularly you spend 2 to 3 to 4 to 5 hours a night or sometimes even more on schoolwork.  You get home from school, help the kids with their homework, prepare dinner, clean up, and then spend until 10 or 11 o’clock correcting papers and getting ready for the next day.  Over the course of a week you correct hundreds of spelling, grammar, math, geography, history, science quizzes.  In a year, those hundreds become 5 to 10 THOUSAND quizzes and tests.  In a career, that amounts to maybe 250-500 THOUSAND quizzes and tests—that you painstakingly design, prepare, and correct.  You collect the data gathered from those tests and analyze it, deciding what you need to re-teach, and to whom, and in what manner.  And then there are the writing assignments—the paragraphs, the compositions, the journals, the lab reports, the essays, the book reports, the research papers.  You know that teaching is a seven-day a week job because you spend so many hours on Saturday and Sunday reading and commenting on hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of papers.  “Why does Gatsby confide in Nick?” — “Explain how an airplane flies” —  “What can you do to help our environment?” —  “Consider the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government in explaining the balance of powers” —  “What character changes most in this book, and explain how he or she changes” —  “Solve this algebra problem and explain each step as you do it” —  “Explain impressionism and Monet’s style” — “What is meant by good sportsmanship?”  —“What is a Shakespearean Hero?” — “How is haiku formed?” — “What does Robert Frost mean in the last line of the poem?” — “How can you make good choices?”  I have noticed that often the majority of your February or April vacation (sometimes both) is taken up with correction and grading of these kinds of papers.  And then there are the seemingly never-ending progress reports and report cards—totaling and averaging hundreds (perhaps thousands) of grades, and writing or typing comments on report cards.  How many late nights and occasional all-nighters you have had to endure in order to meet progress report or report card deadlines!

 

I know about the moments of self-doubt too—times when you wonder if you are really making a difference, times when you wonder if you can possibly correct one more spelling quiz, times when a student moves out of the district AGAIN—just as you were beginning to finally get through to her.  There are the times you wonder if anyone notices how hard you are working, how much you care, how creative your lessons are, or how many extra things you are doing for kids.  I am well aware of all those extra things you do as, well—the poetry club, math club, drama club, computer club, chorus, student council that you advise.  You organize geography bees or spelling bees or math competitions.  You coach students after school to prepare them for the MCAS testing.  I have been there too as you coached football or wrestling or softball or cheerleading or basketball.   Many of you reach into the community or beyond to bring science or art or music programs to our schools for enrichment.  And those field trips to Davis Farm, the Red Apple Farm, the Science Museum, Theater at the Mount, the Museum of Fine Arts . . . I realize how hard it is to organize those trips for your classroom or for the entire school—and yet you do it—voluntarily—every year!    I have stood in awe as I saw you organize and conduct and chaperone a school trip to Nature’s Classroom or Canada or Washington, D.C.  The fundraising activities, the meetings with administration, parents, and kids—unbelievable—but you did it all!  And how about all those school activities that you helped out with?  Those field days, school dances, talent shows, author teas, game nights, toy bingo events, school plays,  lip-sync competitions, spirit days?  And then there are those programs for peer mediation, training active bystanders, and organizing friendship groups.

 

But even with all the extra activities, you save your most incredible effort for the classroom:  the classroom, where you try your very hardest every single day to reach every single student.   You prepare lesson plans using backward design.  You  consistently use state frameworks and address learning standards.  You remind yourself of what Rick Lavoie said—that “Fair does not mean treating every child the same; that fair means giving each and every child what he or she really needs to be successful.”  So you teach not just to the middle of the class, but to every child.  You sometimes group students by interest or ability or randomly.  You set up learning stations.  You constantly monitor how students are doing—if they are understanding.  You ask questions and try to make sure that you are asking students to use their higher order thinking skills.  You use the District Curriculum Accommodation Plan (DCAP) and knowledge gleaned through scores of workshops to address differences in learning styles and abilities.  You are familiar with and constantly review IEP’s and 504 plans and DCAP’s to ensure that you are meeting the many and varied needs of all students.  You develop ISSP (Individual student success plans), as well, whenever needed.  You put into practice differentiated instruction and gear your efforts to address multiple intelligences of students.  You administer DIBELS and Fountas and Pinnell tests, MCAS tests or PARCC tests and use the results of testing to plan and modify your instruction.  You request Child Study Team meetings when children have special problems, and you use the recommendations from those meetings to modify and improve your instruction and create successful outcomes.  You try your hardest to motivate your students to learn—you challenge them, you reward them.  You send home positive notes in agendas or on special cards or stationery.  You call home whenever you can to help parents to become partners in their child’s education.  You discuss triumphs, and challenges, and problems—and you work cooperatively and helpfully and positively with parents.

 

And more than anything, you let children see how much you care—because you DO care about each one of them—more than you can ever say.  You show it by how hard you work, by the words you use with children and parents.  You show it by the thoroughness and creativity of your plans.  You show it by how well you teach—how much attention you pay to each child and to the goal of having each child really master the material.  You show it by all the extra things you do, the special things– the smiles, the warmth, dedication and commitment.

 

And I am there, with you, as well, when you receive those very personal special rewards at the end of the year—children who leave your class with strengthened skills in reading, math, science, social studies, art, music, phys. ed. and more—as well as higher levels of confidence.  You have taught them to carefully consider their options before making choices.  You have taught them to put themselves into the shoes of another before making judgments.  You have taught them to treat others the way they would hope to be treated.  You have taught them to care about others—their neighbors, their classmates, their peer in other states or countries.

 

And so, my fellow teachers–those who served long before, and those who serve still–I want to tell you all on this day and on every day–that you will always have my profound gratitude, my unending thanks for all of your extremely hard work, your caring, your dedication, and your commitment to your students and to your position.  Yours is the job from which all others flow–the job from which dreams– and careers– and lives are made.  As Astronaut Christa Mcauliffe observed, you do indeed “touch the future”—and we are all the better for your tremendous efforts in doing so.

 

Sincerely and warmly

Mitchell R. Grosky

Former Athol-Royalston (Massachusetts) Teacher and Principal

Current ARRSD School Committee Member

 

 

 

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The 2014 Boston Marathon –Remembering Sean Collier, Martin Richard, Lingzi Lu, and Krystle Campbell

As the 2014 Boston Marathon begins in Hopkinton, Our Four Heroes Watch From Above.

As the 2014 Boston Marathon begins in Hopkinton, Our Four Heroes Watch From Above.

In Tribute . . . As I watch the Boston Marathon, I like to think that somehow, somewhere, and in some way, the spirits of Officer Sean Collier, Martin Richard, Lingzi Lu, and Krystle Campbell are looking down on the start of the race–knowing that they are remembered lovingly by family, friends, runners, and “Bostonians” from every state and country, and proud that we all carry on–standing strong together–determined to defeat hatred and violence and equally committed to build a better world for all! God bless each of these brave souls and their families and also all those who were injured in the bombing. We will always remember and honor you!

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In Memory of President John F. Kennedy

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I was there–in Texas–no, not in Dallas, but in Austin, the next stop on President Kennedy’s trip through Texas. I was 12 years old then, and I not only deeply respected John Fitzgerald Kennedy as our nation’s President, but I truly believed that I loved him, as well, as a young, vibrant leader who would lead us into both the outer reaches of space as well as into a new prosperity in America. In my young, idealistic innocent mind and heart, he would almost singlehandedly lead us into a more kind, more just nation and world. The poverty of which I was just becoming aware would be no more. The prejudice and racism which I saw when I stared at the separate water fountains and restrooms at the pro wrestling (rasslin’) matches I attended monthly would dissipate and then vanish altogether–vestiges of another time and place as the new age of Camelot convinced so many of us that there really was a shining city and fleeting wisps of glory to come.

I was in seventh grade then—in junior high, and we were so excited, so absolutely thrilled to be getting out of school early to go to the parade in downtown Austin–the parade in which our President would smile that broad smile of his and offer us all a friendly, energetic wave–the parade which was–tragically–never to be. My brother Geoff–one year my junior (and my best friend, as well)–was the first to sense that something was amiss. As Austin was the capital city of Texas, Geoff was privileged to have Governor John Connally’s son in his sixth grade class, and when young Mark Connally was called suddenly and urgently from class, there was a sense that something was definitely wrong.

Hearing the news, I was stunned—we ALL were stunned and shocked and grief-stricken–beyond my ability to describe it. Dismissed early, we all went home to watch the tragedy unfold on the national news—black and white TV–but burned into our consciousness–believe me–in living color.

I remember the depth of emotion I felt in the days to come–the overwhelming sadness and despair–as we watched the assassin himself killed and then the funeral procession for the President, the salute by John-John, and then shared sad, bitter tears in the realization that not only was President Kennedy gone, but that somehow, things would never be the same again.

As a twelve-year-old who loved to write, my grief flowed from an aching heart just as surely and continuously as the ink in the cartridge pens we used in that day. I wrote the following words:

THE DEATH OF PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY
by Mitchell R. Grosky

Our leader has departed–
His heart, his soul gone too.
His memory will long remain
in everything we do.

Our lives, our dreams were shattered
on this outrageous day.
Our eyes are filled with tears;
Our President’s passed away.

He tried so hard for freedom–
for rights for one and all.
He tried to keep us happy;
How could this great man fall?

He tried to make our country
greater than ever before.
He tried to do all this.
Yet hatred sealed the door.

It was a beautiful morning–
More beautiful than ever before.
No one knew or had any idea
of what Fate held in store.

Suddenly three shots rang out,
and hit him in the head.
A short time afterwards,
our President was dead.

It must have been a madman
to do a thing like this!
His aim was sharp and careful;
His bullet did not miss.

An unforgivable act
was carried out this day.
The world is deep in sorrow;
our President’s passed away.

I remember the poem word for word, as my beloved mother had me repeat it verbatim so many times over the years for our relatives and her friends. As a retired English teacher, I look back at it with mixed feelings–the forced rhyme and curious, childlike wording all too evident to someone who spent his life focusing on the power and beauty of the written word.

Yet, as I recite the words once more–as I–and all of us–acknowledge the passing of 50 years since our President’s death, my eyes once again fill with the tears of a future that was never to be–of a President who though imperfect in many ways–still made us believe in ourselves and in a better America and a better world.

I think that I was raised to believe that we all must do our parts to make the world a better place, but–looking back–maybe it was this particular time in my life–this oh-so-sad time–that forced me to finally look in the mirror and to face a solemn truth. Perhaps that was the time that I first saw and accepted that it was OUR job–MY job and that of my three brothers and one sister–and all my friends who were growing all-too-quickly toward adulthood…..that it was our job to do something good and kind and decent–maybe even noble with our lives. The world should be a better place because one has lived–that’s the way one person said it.

That was the lesson I learned from one of the saddest days in my life–that we can–and we MUST–make a difference.

Don’t let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment that was known
As Camelot.

Whether Camelot was real,
or just was an illusion,
I can tell you that it was real
in the mind of this 12-year-old boy.
And so…
So many years later,
I thank President Kennedy for leaving that lesson–
that message to me
and to so many others throughout the world.

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President Obama Expertly Balances the Threat of Force With the Wisdom of Diplomacy

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Having watched carefully the President’s speech on Syria this evening, I want to say–unequivocally–that I was not only very impressed with the President’s clear and compassionate explanation of his thinking on the Syria crisis, but am even more impressed by what he has managed to accomplished with his very skillful use of the credible threat of military force combined with behind-the-scenes attempts at diplomacy.

Most intelligent analysts that I have listened to in the past hour or so have agreed (a few reluctantly) that if we had been told a year ago, that Syria and Russia–because of the credible threat of a military strike ordered by President Obama–would have agreed 1. to admit that they DO have chemical weapons; 2, that they would agree (finally) to the chemical weapons treaty that they have long refused to sign; and 3. that they would be willing to hammer out an agreement to give up those weapons to the supervision of Russia, the U.N. and other countries—-IF we were told that that all of that would happen within a year, then we would have considered it a MIRACLE. 

Those who know say to make no mistake: it is ONLY because of Obama’s threat of force that there may be a diplomatic solution to this problem. It seems to me that the President is putting into action here the thoughtful diplomacy that he talked about when he first ran—and is combining it with the strong military he has always said is important. 

Unfortunately, this President can NOT win with SOME of you. Some said he should use force, but apparently he didn’t do it quickly enough. Some said that he should not use force; he should go to Congress. When he did that, some said that he was weak; he should have just decided on his own. Some said that he should not use force; he should use diplomacy. When he sent Sec. Kerry to talk diplomatically and when he spoke to Putin in Europe (where most experts figure he told Putin clearly that we were ready to use force) and when we now have a possible diplomatic solution–many say that it is not Obama we should thank and that Putin and Assad will not follow through on any commitments. 

Yet isn’t that the risk of any treaty or agreement? Should we, then, never undertake a treaty for fear a country may violate it—-or should we take steps as Reagan AND Obama have said to (trust, but) VERIFY???? In my mind, this is a great thing that this administration has accomplished–not with force–but with the threat of force and the skill of diplomacy in answer to Assad’s atrocious violation of international law in using chemical weapon to murder 1000 adults and over 400 children. Please, for once–give credit where credit is due. If this were Reagan or Clinton or Kennedy, Teddy (Speak softly but carry a big stick) Roosevelt or even Eisenhower who accomplished all of this, people would be acclaiming their genius. Be fair.

What frustrates me is that people can still be so negative–even insulting–toward our President when he accomplished all that I mentioned above (in Paragraph one–points 1, 2, and 3) with only the THREAT of military force—with no lives lost—not even one? To many people, that is an historical accomplishment. Most prominent Republicans even believe that he was RIGHT to go to Congress and to give them a chance to debate—which they have done! Sorry, what he has done in the past 3 weeks—with the help of Sec. Kerry—is what future historians will say was brilliant–and courageous—just as they now say about Kennedy in the Cuban Missile Crisis. 

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Chris Matthews’ Well-Intentioned Apology

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This photo is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Well, Chris Matthews is getting attacked and pilloried all over the Twitter Universe today because he apologized on behalf of all white people for all the abuses that blacks have had to endure. His final remark in an interview in which his two very accomplished guests spoke about their bad experiences (prejudice, discrimination profiling, etc.) many years ago as young black men was the following:

“We have to continue this conversation, gentlemen, privately and on television….I mean, a lot of people out there — I will just tell you one thing. And I’m speaking now for all white people, but especially who have had to tried to change the last 50 or 60 years. And a lot of them have really tried to change….And I’m sorry for this stuff. That’s all I’m saying.”

NOTE:   Please see the link below for the entire transcript of his interview with Val Nicholas, vice president and creative director at NBC News, and former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele.

My view, though a bit nuanced in some respects, is a dissenting one. Sure, I think it was presumptuous and inappropriate for Chris Matthews to say he was speaking for all white people. He went too far; he should have just apologized (if he felt it necessary to do so) for himself. He could have added (if he wished) that there are many other white people who feel as he does. That would be an accurate statement.

Speaking for myself, I know that our treatment of black Americans is one of the stains on our history–as is our treatment of native Americans (still called Indians by some Americans). Slavery and the later Jim Crow laws were an abomination–as are the vestiges of slavery–the civil rights struggles, subtle and blatant discrimination, prejudice, and profiling. I wish with all my heart that it had never happened–that it were not happening STILL today. I wish that it were NOT true that far too many black children are born into poverty, and that others who are born into better circumstances still experience racism–as children, teenagers, and even as successful adults in all walks of life. Yet, unfortunately, it IS true–prejudice still exists and for the black child and adult, it is often ubiquitous. It exists at every level of society.

Is EVERYONE prejudiced? Of course not! I know that I and so many–so very many–of my friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances strongly believe in—and PRACTICE–judging people NOT by their color (or their religion or their ethnic origin) but by the content of their character. As a teacher and a principal, I taught this fairness, respect, and kindness day in and day out–as did my colleagues—as do so many of you as parents. Still, I feel terrible about what black families have had to endure in the past–and what many continue to endure. For me, the apology works, I would have offered it myself–and have done so previously. The key is that Mr. Matthews (despite what I feel were the best of intentions) should have focused on himself and his own feelings and apology, and should not have tried to speak for others.

I can’t conclude without noting, however, that apologies should NOT be our main focus at this point. The overarching issue is what can we DO–and what are we GOING to do–in order to ensure equal opportunity and equal treatment for all Americans–regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity. Let us try to spend more time, thought, and energy in discussing THESE questions, and not pile on Chris Matthews for an earnest, albeit unwise, apology.

http://newsbusters.org/blogs/joe-newby/2013/07/19/speaking-all-white-people-chris-matthews-apologizes-black-americans-somet

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A Better Rolling Stone Cover

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This week saw the release of the Rolling Stone’s Magazine cover with the article about the alleged terrorist.  The cover has created outrage across Massachusetts and many in other parts of the country, as well. My question:  Why not a Rolling Stones Cover featuring the HEROES of the Boston Marathon?   The magazine could still have an article (if they wanted one) on how the young man became a monster on the INSIDE of the magazine. If anything, they could put a picture of the alleged bomber into a small insert on the cover, alluding to an article within.  I tried to show what, in my opinion,  the cover could look like if the editors were more concerned about the feelings of the 300 plus victims and the people of Boston– if they were more concerned with glorifying the HEROES of that day, rather than the alleged terrorist. I want to note that I have just finished the article and I found it to be insightful and valuable in understanding how this young man became an (alleged) murderous bomber, though I found the portrayal to be a bit overly-sympathetic.  My point is not that they should not have written the article–only that their choice for the cover was a poor one.  What do you think?

 

Note:   Thanks to John Tlumacki, David L. Ryan, Darren Mccollester, and Bill Greene for the photos of the heroes–which I combined into a collage.

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