A Change In Public Education That Must Occur

I started my teaching career in the year 2000. This happened to also be around the time that No Child Left Behind was implemented. Generally speaking, No Child Left Behind said that every child would be prepared to enter college. Schools would be held more accountable. Students would be held more accountable. Academics would become more rigorous. Thus, every student would be academically fortified to flourish in college.

Now, that sounds wonderful on paper, but as with most things, there were unforeseen consequences. (At least, I hope the consequences were unforeseen and not actually premeditated.) Furthermore, from my own experiences in high school, I knew brilliant people who simply did not want to go to college. I also knew people who were very capable at life with no interest in college for many different reasons–primarily the debt they would accumulate. Even as a young novice teacher I knew that No Child Left Behind seemed to lack perspective because not everyone wants to go to college.

Here we are, twenty years later, and I’m witnessing the unintended effects of No Child Left Behind. In the interest of keeping this short, I’ll summarize by saying that if our students don’t play school very well, they are being left behind in a completely different way.

Imagine that you don’t particularly like English, math, history, or science. Now imagine that day after day, you have to sit through those classes for four straight years scraping by with Ds and Cs. You’ve been told college is the only option. You sign up for a local community college, and after struggling to pass your first year, you give up on post-secondary education.

Now what?

What do you do?

What skills do you have?

What sustaining opportunities exist for you?

I’ve seen this happen time and again and it breaks my heart.

The unintended consequence of No Child Left Behind is that, in an effort to meet all the rigorous requirements set forth by various bureaucratic entities, we lost a lot of classes that didn’t fall under the “core curriculum” category.  Most of these classes involved working with the hands. I’m not going to run through them all, but a few that immediately spring to mind are shop class, art, music, and automotive. These were all sacrificed in order to devote more time and teachers to the college-bound material.

I can think of dozens of students who would have thrived in classes where they got to utilize those skills related to working with their hands. And it’s true that some schools still have industrial arts and vocational classes, but I think in most cases they are not offered to just any general student. There’s a selection process involved due to limited space.

Remember that class you were super excited to attend because it addressed your specific interests? Maybe it was British literature, or physics, or chemistry. What if you didn’t like any of those subjects? What if, throughout your entire high school tenure, you didn’t take a single class that interested you? What if you never had the opportunity to discover you like the culinary arts, or fire safety, or automotive technology, or carpentry, or plumbing?

I absolutely believe that every American citizen needs a baseline understanding of the core curricula. Math, English, science, history–these are important things, for sure. However, why do we force a student who has no interest in college to sit through four years of English or math? Why not require two years of English, and then allow that student to take vocational classes related to a field they’d like to enter? They could also use that time to serve as apprentices or interns, get on-the-job training, and graduate from high school with real leads connecting them to a full-time job.

Of course, the great irony is that many of those in the trades are faring better than those with college degrees in today’s world because of scarcity. A plumber can charge whatever he or she wants because toilets have to work and not many people know how to fix them (myself included).

You’re the taxpayer. You know what your kids need. At the risk of sounding controversial, I maintain that most of the bureaucrats and politicians at the highest levels making the decisions influencing public schools neither attended public schools themselves nor send their own children to public schools. They are dictating the outcome of your child’s life with little to no vested interest in the welfare of your child.

How do you get vocational classes that are widely available to all students back into the public schools? I honestly don’t know. It probably starts with contacting your local representative or school administrator.

But a student exited to go to school in order to learn about things tied to the vocations that will have a positive impact on his or her professional life? I think it’s time for that change to occur.

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What the NBA G League Means For Businesses and Colleges

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The NBA’s G League is kind of a like a minor league for the NBA. Players in the G League are considered professionals, and they are paid. However, something very interesting has happened over the last several weeks. Top college prospects are electing to enter the G League rather than going to college for a year before entering the NBA draft.

Up until now, it was common for elite high school  basketball players to go to a top-tier basketball school for one year. In doing so, they raised their own stock and gained a national spotlight, but they also made a lot of other people very, very rich while not being allowed to legally earn a cent for themselves.

Jalen Green, who is largely considered to be the best of the best among high school seniors, is reported to earn $500,000 his first year in the G League. After that first year, he’ll be allowed to enter the NBA draft for, presumably, quite a bit more.

You probably have an opinion about the basketball angle of all this, but that’s not really what I want to talk to you about. No, I want to talk about why kids bother going to college at all.

Now, obviously, college is the only path for many professions–teachers, doctors, lawyers, etc.

However, quite a few of us land jobs that have virtually nothing to do with our degrees–it’s just the fact that we have a degree that allow us to obtain a job.

According to The Street, who got their information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American makes an annual income of around $48,672. The average annual college tuition is somewhere around $15,000. Keep in mind, that’s just the tuition. If you need room and board, that’s another $10,000. In other words, an average American can expect to pay somewhere around $100,000 total for an average public university’s undergraduate degree.

I teach at a local high school, and the idea of paying $100,000 for college is a crippling one, especially if a student has no idea what they want to do with their lives. Most of my students just want to live comfortably. Most want to earn a decent living. Taking on $100,000 worth of debt, plus interest, to earn somewhere around $50,000 a year doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to them.

If given the choice, I think most would opt for the Jalen Green route. Go right into the work force with the opportunity to earn lots more while learning valuable skills.

Frankly, I’m surprised corporations don’t offer their own in-house universities. Almost all of the large corporations have some kind of a learning and development department, and almost all of them offer ongoing training for certificates and advancements. Imagine if a corporation hired an eighteen-year-old at an entry-level position, then offered free courses specific to that corporation’s field of interest that the new employee could take at their own pace. After so many hours, the employee would have the equivalent of a college degree, and they could then use that degree to go find other jobs in the same field (if they chose to do so). Consequently, I’m guessing most would stay with the corporation that groomed them.

I’m going to be honest with you–I paid for a lot of classes at college that had no bearing on my career as a teacher nor did they particularly interest me. (Geology comes immediately to mind. My apologies to all of the geologists out there.)

I personally believe in the power of education. I also appreciate that college is intended for the student to receive a well-rounded education on a variety of topics. I know that education is the path to greater success and ultimately provides an easier life for nearly everyone. However, I also admit that college has become far too expensive for the average American, and that college is not particularly appealing to the average American because much of it seems unnecessary.

Education and college should not have to be one and the same when it comes to a high school graduate’s earning potential.

So why aren’t corporations following the NBA’s model? Why aren’t they creating their own “G League?” And if they do, what will be the colleges’ response?

 

We Love Brave Kids Art Club

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My friend, Jude Landry, recently made me aware of a YouTube channel called Brave Kids Art Club. We tried it out today, and as you can see from the pictures above, it was a huge hit!

Brad Woodard is a professional illustrator, and in these 15 to 20 minute videos he walks kids through a step-by-step process for drawing all kinds of different animals. We started with the video focusing upon an elephant. However, we see he’s already done videos for a wolf, a llama, a sea otter, a crab, a tiger, an owl–it goes on and on. Furthermore, it appears that he’s uploading these lessons daily.

Though we’ve only done one video so far, what I like best about Woodard is that he’s very friendly, fun to listen to, concise, and deliberate. Even though he’s taking the kids through a drawing line by line, he doesn’t waste a single second. While his tone is light and fun, he clearly knows what he’s saying and where he wants to go with the drawing. I also appreciate that he’s teaching the kids to draw all kinds of different animals in a manner that isn’t tied to any kind of copyrighted material or style.

My kids are 11 and 8, and they had no trouble following along. Like I said, there’s no downtime with these short videos, so the kids are busy keeping up the entire time. My kids love art, but our schedules are also very full with their remote learning and our working remotely. This video series fits our currently lifestyle perfectly.

Thanks to Brad Woodard for providing these lessons, and thanks to Jude Landry for bringing Brave Kids Art Club to my attention!

You can visit Brave Kids Art Club at YouTube by clicking here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCGpVxd8Y5ge2UYmvt7ketEQ/videos

Working Hard, Or Hardly Working? My Answer Is … Yes?

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The other day someone asked me if I’m working more or less than I did before the COVID-19 outbreak. I thought about it for a few moments, and I found that I could only logically answer “less.”

As a teacher, I spent about eight and a half hours at work every day before the pandemic. That doesn’t include any assessing, lesson planning, or prep work I did at home.

Now, with my wife working in the house as well, and two children under twelve years of age trying to learn remotely, I cannot honestly say I’m working eight and a half hours every day at my job.

I can’t.

It’s impossible.

There are far too many interruptions, distractions, and general necessities that come with a family spending all day together, every day.

However, even though I’m working less hours, I honestly feel like I’m working harder than ever before.

There is no routine now–not like there is when I’m at work during an average school day. As a result, I do a little work, we make lunch. I do a little work, I go outside and watch my kids as they play. I do a little work, we help our kids with their lessons. I do a little work, we make dinner. Do you see the pattern? The pattern is that there is no pattern. As hard as we try to establish a routine, it’s impossible due to the nature of our jobs and the circumstances.

Ultimately, there is no work “shut-off.” I’m thinking about work all the time. I’m at least reading–if not answering–emails at all hours of the day. It used to be that when I walked out of my place of work at the end of the day, that was it–the end of the work day. That mindset no longer exists.

I’m thankful that I work for a very humane district. They are stressing the importance of both physical and mental health, not just for the students, but for the employees as well. They have made it very clear to put health before work, which I greatly appreciate. However, teachers are self-motivated people who thrive on routine-oriented, multifaceted tasks. We like spinning a thousand plates at once, but we also like clearly established patterns.

I’m sure you’re probably in a similar circumstance–we all are. This is hard. It’s hard on kids, it’s hard on adults, it’s hard on everyone.

One Month Later …

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I took this picture of my classroom on March 16th, which was a Monday. I didn’t have any students that day–they had already been told to stay home due to the COVID-19 outbreak. I spent the day in an empty classroom. It became obvious that we would not be back for a while, so as I walked out of the room at the end of the work day, it dawned on me to take a picture and commemorate the moment. I suspected we wouldn’t be back for several weeks.

I literally took this picture before I closed my classroom door, and, as of today, that was one month ago.

One month.

I have to admit, that’s pretty surreal.

While I’m fortunate enough to still be in contact with my students via technology, it’s very, very odd not to share the classroom space with them any longer. I spent roughly eight and a half hours a day in this room every weekday. I spent more waking hours in this room throughout the week than I did in my own home.

When a teacher leaves for the summer, the mind is mentally prepared to step away for some much needed restoration. However, I don’t think any of us were ready for the emotional ramifications of this unexpected quarantine. We didn’t get to say goodbye to our students. Most of us didn’t realize the significance of the moment when we said goodbye to our coworkers. Furthermore, I’m not sure any of us were ready to partially relinquish our professional identities on March 16th.

We’re still working. We’re still in contact with our students. We’re still encouraging learning. None of it feels the same, though. My identity as a teacher relied on having students physically in front of me. I liked making them laugh and seeing them smile. It was important to me to make a positive impact on a daily basis, no matter how small.

I miss my classroom space, but I miss having that space filled by my students even more.

One month … and counting.

 

 

 

Picard – A Few Thoughts

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While I admit that I am first and foremost a Star Wars guy, I would be lying if I said I didn’t love Star Trek: The Next Generation. I remember watching quite a bit of TNG while in high school late at night when there was nothing else on. All of the characters were great, but no one can deny that Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard is what made that show so accessible to the mainstream audience.

When I heard that Patrick Stewart planned to return to the character in a new series written by my favorite author, Michael Chabon, I got very, very excited. But, then I read that the series would be exclusive to the streaming service called CBS All Access. Because this was not a free service, and because I’m already paying for Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+, I refused to spend money on yet another service basically just for one show.

However, last week something wonderful happened. CBS All Access offered a free 30 day trial. 30 days? Even I could get a ten episode series watched in 30 days! I signed up immediately through an Amazon Prime Video/CBS All Access channel.

Last night I finished Picard, and, in my opinion … it wasn’t great.

This could be a case of me just not being Trekkie enough, but I found most of the episodes slow, uneventful, and full of far too much exposition.

Granted, our primary actor is currently 79 years old, so he’s not going to be quite as active as he once was, but that’s no excuse for the show using all of the other actors to explain things, talk about what happened in the past, and describe scientific processes. There’s an old writing adage: “show, don’t tell.” In a visual medium, you would expect this to be especially true. Picard is a lot of characters standing around talking to each other.

However, there are many, many positives. The special effects are incredible–this is Star Trek in all its glory. There are also many satisfying cameos for Star Trek fans of all stripes. The acting, overall, is very well done, too. The plot is thoughtful, complex, and could have been captivating if the creators had bad been more successful with the pacing per episode. Finally, the tenth episode was mesmerizing because it was fast and full of action, utilized interesting battles, executed quick dialogue, and simply had a certain “attitude” that the other episodes lacked. And, of course, Patrick Steward is legendary. Even at 79, he is a force to be reckoned with–his vigor at such an age is astonishing.

Unfortunately, I can’t say I recommend Picard to the casual fan. It simply moved at too slow of a pace to keep my attention attention.

 

Are You an Average American? You Should Read Andrew Yang’s The War On Normal People – A Book Review

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If you’re anything like me, when you first heard Andrew Yang’s idea to give every American citizen $1,000 a month, you probably scoffed. In fact, I’m so cynical that I bypassed any kind of reactionary positive response at all. My immediate thought was, “Where’s this money going to come from?”

However, after hearing Yang on the radio, I grew interested. He sounded intelligent, informed, involved, and interconnected with the general American society. I wanted to know more, so I picked up his 2018 book The War On Normal People.

To say this book altered my outlook regarding American’s future is an understatement. It served as a wake-up call, to be sure. The next five to ten years are not going to be kind to the average American. Automation and AI are going to severely transform the labor industry. Those without college educations are likely to suffer the most. The average American does not have a college education–this is, statistically speaking, normal.

Yang spends two-thirds of the book detailing the struggles of the current normal American. He uses legitimate statistics to make his point about how little money the average American actually has, how volatile the average American’s job is (such as retail, customer service, transportation, administrative support, and food service), and how much financial aid our country already provides. The truth is, the first part of this book literally kept me up at night. It’s horrifying.

The last third of the book is, as you would expect, a pitch for the presidency. However, he’s not wrong about anything he says in the first part of the book. Whether we like it or not, AI and automation are going to change everything. If you’re in the factory industry, it already has.

During his bid for office, though, he actually does make a compelling argument in regards to what he calls a Universal Basic Income. (That’s the $1,000 a month idea.) He makes a point to mention that Thomas Paine, Martin Luther King, Jr., Richard Nixon, Stephen Hawking, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bernie Sanders have all entertained a variation of the idea. He breaks down how it could work, how it could help the average American, and how it could stimulate local economies.

The fact is, to me, Andrew Yang seems the most invested in society of any of the current presidential runners. He understands the real America. He’s been to our decaying cities. He’s talked with the hopeless, the forlorn, and the disenfranchised. He understands our need to work, our need to provide, and our need to feel useful.

Furthermore, he has two young children himself. (One of those children happens to be autistic.) He’s married. He’s a first generation American. He’s only 45 years old. This is a man who cares deeply about America, his family, your family, and the economical conditions in which those families will live.

I’m not saying you have to vote for Andrew Yang, but I think you should at least read his book. It will probably hit closer to home than you ever expected. It did for me.

 

 

Carnival Row – A Review

Carnival Row is a series now available to stream on Amazon. It’s a fascinating concept that, for the most part, kept me totally enthralled.

The idea is that a major city known as the Burgue has taken in war refugees from ravaged lands that are home to such fanciful creatures as fairies, centaurs, and fauns. However, the humans in the Burgue don’t accept these creatures in need and will only tolerate them as servants, laborers, or prostitutes. Furthermore, they must know their place and live on Carnival Row, away from civilized society.

Sensing a real-world correlation?

Orlando Bloom plays a police investigator trying to solve a series of grisly murders. Cara Delevinge plays a fairy newly arrived in the Burgue. Their paths cross, and we soon learn that they have a complicated past with one another.

Carnival Row explores their mutual history, but it also ventures deeply into political intrigue, social justice, interpersonal complexities, and, at its heart, the mysterious murders.

The show looks beautiful. Each episode feels like a miniature movie, and the site of fauns and fairies mixed in with humans did not strike me as jarring at all. In fact, for the most part, the practical effects and make-up are seamless. There are moments of CGI that I would say look very good overall–much like you would see in a film. However, when the CGI is bad, it’s very bad. For example, I don’t think they ever really depicted the fairies in flight all that well.

Everything in the Burgue is grimy, time-worn, and appears to have existed for centuries. In other words, this world feels fully realized. Perhaps too realized, in fact. There are small, passing comments that makes the viewer understand that this world has so much more to offer than just what is being shown. This is brilliant in regards to guaranteeing the show’s longevity, but frustrating to those of us who want to know everything about the world this very instant.

For example, they have churches and effigies devoted to “The Martyr.” This is a figure who looks an awfully lot like Jesus Christ. However, instead of hanging from a cross, The Martyr is depicted as being hung by the neck with his hands bound. This religious icon is not explained at all. It’s just there to whet our appetite for more story.

As you can see, with Carnival Row, you are quite literally coming in right in the middle of things, and you can’t trust your own conception of reality to inform your interpretation of this world.

Shall we talk about the acting? Orlando Bloom is wonderful. Truthfully, I’m not sure I’ve ever liked him as much as I do in Carnival Row. His character is the strong, silent type, yet Bloom conveys quite a bit of emotion through his eyes. I found myself very much invested in his surprisingly complicated backstory.

Cara Delevinge, unfortunately, did not quite win me over so handily. Starring opposite Bloom, Delevinge plays her character rather flatly. I did not connect with her whatsoever. To be fair, I found her character underwritten. Her character is certainly strong and capable, but just not that interesting. We’ll see if that changes over time.

Thankfully, many of the supporting actors are fantastic. Tamzin Merchant’s initially unlikable Imogen is quite an evolution to behold. David Gyasi simmers with restraint yet steals every scene even as he has horns glued to his head.  Karla Crome’s charisma leaps off the screen what few scenes she’s in. Honestly, I could go on and on. These may not be famous names, but these are extremely talented actors.

Be warned, Carnival Row is  little bit of a slow burn. I particularly groaned at a bad special effect in the first ten minutes and almost turned it off, but it got better and better and better with each episode. In all seriousness, the final episode had me on the edge of my seat.

Interestingly enough, Carnival Row also seems to be saying something. Though it takes place in an gritty, alternate reality, I think you’ll find many of its themes both timely and resonant.

As you can probably tell, I recommend you give Carnival Row a try.  Let me know what you think of it.

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The Primary Reason I Love Once Upon a Time In Hollywood So Much (Warning: Major Spoilers)

I saw Once Upon a Time In Hollywood last Thursday night, and I loved it. In fact, I love it more today than I did last Thursday. Now, I love it for lots of different reasons. Brad Pitt is at his ultimate level of charm, Leonardo DiCaprio puts on perhaps his best performance ever, Margot Robbie makes Sharon Tate incredibly likable, and Quentin Tarantino delivers a magnificent story, script, and production. Really, I don’t see how it can get much better than Once Upon a Time In Hollywood.

But, even with all of that being said, none of those are the primary reason I love Once Upon a Time In Hollywood. The real reason I love the movie so much pretty much spoils the entire thing, so I’d like to offer a warning: If you want to see the movie and haven’t yet, please stop reading now. If there’s any chance you might see the movie … stop reading now. You want to be totally fresh for Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, trust me.

Spoilers coming in …

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The film goes to great lengths to intermittently depict Sharon Tate as an affable, kind, identifiable person with little snippets of her simply enjoying life in Hollywood. Tarantino also weaves Charles Manson’s cult in and out of the main story line. However, neither of these two things comprise the majority of the movie. Most of the film is about Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Rick Dalton, trying to work his way back to the top of Hollywood stardom.

As one would expect, though, Manson plays a role. At one point, Manson himself visits the home that Tate shares with Roman Polanski. It’s a harmless scene, yet it fills the viewers with dread because, while none of us know exactly what this film is even about, we all understand it will culminate with Tate’s grisly murder. Furthermore, DiCaprio’s character is neighbors with Tate and Polanski, which makes us believe he will somehow bear witness to the awful slaughter. Manson’s cult continues to contaminate the movie throughout as Brad Pitt’s character eventually befriends one of Manson’s followers. However, it’s not long until Booth realizes his new friend’s friends are up to no good and leaves her behind, but the threat they pose is clearly established.

In other words, the entire movie functions as something of a countdown. No matter what occurs, no matter how much the movie seems to be about Rick Dalton’s quest to renew his fame, we all know it’s really about the impending death of Sharon Tate.

But here’s what I failed to realize before seeing the movie. It’s not called Once Upon a Time In Hollywood because it’s a history lesson. It’s called Once Upon a Time In Hollywood because it’s a fairy tale. And what good is a fairy tale without a happy ending?

Tarantino is not known for happy endings, but Once Upon a Time In Hollywood is about as happy of an ending as you will get from the man.

In this fairy tale, or alternate universe, or revised history, or whatever you want to call it, Manson’s goons decide to kill Rick Dalton before they kill Sharon Tate. When they enter Dalton’s home, though, they encounter Cliff Booth. Cliff is about as tough as they come, and he literally beats them to death. I won’t go into too much detail, but trust me when I say it’s pretty gory.

Consequently, once the audience realizes that Cliff is going to win this battle, the scene, as violent as it is, becomes almost a celebration. The audience begins to understand that the Manson monsters will never make it to Sharon Tate’s home–Sharon will survive!

In this world we currently live in, where it seems like the bad guys are winning at every turn, it proves incredibly cathartic to watch the would-be killers suffer poetic justice.

The last shot of the film, a moment featuring a concerned, amenable Sharon Tate inviting Rick Dalton into her home, left me almost giddy. The movie ends implying that Cliff and Rick’s friendship will never end, Sharon Tate will go on to live a wonderful life, and Rick’s career might just get a jumpstart from Roman Polanski himself.

Even though the putrid odor of burned flesh probably still lingered in the air, in  a Tarantino fairy tale, this is the happiest of endings.

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A Close Call

~The car crossed the center line and headed right for me.  There was nothing I could do but wait and see what happened next.~

I had a close call this morning.  If you live in the Bloomington-Normal area, you’re probably familiar with Linden Street.  It isn’t especially busy, and it’s a straight shot for me to work.  I’ve taken it everyday for pretty much sixteen years.  Most of it is a basic two-lane road, but it widens out to four lanes in the Illinois State University area.

This morning, I’m driving along, listening to WGLT (89.1 FM) like I always do.  Some cars were heading towards me from the opposite direction, but this isn’t an unusual occurrence.  All of a sudden, I noticed one of the oncoming cars start to cross the center line.  Time slowed down as I watched it creep more and more over that line.  Before I knew it, it was three-fourths in my lane and showing no signs of correcting course.  The car crossed the center line and headed right for me.  There was nothing I could do but wait and see what happened next.  I hit my horn, hard, and got over to the edge of my lane as far as I could while applying my brakes.  I continued pressing my horn.  For a moment, I considered jumping the curb.  At the last second, I saw the driver’s head whip up and then they veered back into their lane.  I continued pushing my horn long after they were past me.

I got lucky.

In that moment, I realized that my morning could have gone very differently.  While neither of us were going fast enough to likely cause any serious injury, you never know.  It absolutely would have been a practical head-on collision, though.  My car would have been seriously damaged.  I would have been very late for work.  I could have been hurt–maybe seriously.

My imagination works overtime, one of the perks of being a writer, so naturally my mind raced with all of the possibilities.  I soon felt the adrenaline flowing through my body.  I made myself calm down, told myself all’s well that ends well, but, even ten hours later, it still leaves me a little rattled.

It shook me up because there was literally nothing I could do but wait.  I honked.  I slowed way down, almost to a stop.  Beyond that … nothing.  Powerless.  Accidents can happen that randomly, that quickly, that drastically.

Of course, it wouldn’t have been an accident.  The other driver was clearly looking down at their phone.  The collision would have been due to negligence, recklessness, and very likely a healthy amount of ignorance.

Oh, the other driver?  I’m sure you’re assuming a teenager drove the errant vehicle, but that would be incorrect.  I saw a head full of short, white hair.  I don’t know if it was a man or a woman, but it was certainly an older person.

Please, please, please, whether your are old or young, man or woman, please stay off of your phones while driving. car accident

(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s Dr. Nekros e-book series HERE)