The Regretful Reason I Love Chick-Fil-A

When Chick-Fil-A first came to Bloomington-Normal, people were, shall we say, enthusiastic.  I lived in North Carolina for two years almost twenty years ago, where Chick-Fil-A abound.  I ate it a few times during my tenure in the south, but didn’t find it particularly special.  I mean, chicken is chicken, right?

So, if we’re being honest, I didn’t understand the Central Illinois fervor.  People were literally counting down the days until it opened.  And once it finally unlocked its doors to the public, oh boy, the lines were legendary.

In fact, to this day, if it’s anywhere close to mealtime, you’re going to see their drive-thrus (yes, they have two lanes) crammed with cars.

Apparently, the BLO-NO passion for Chick-Fil-A has not weakened.

And even though I am among the Chick-Fil-A faithful now, it’s not because of the food.  I still maintain that chicken is chicken.

Whenever we decide to do fast food, I’m the first to suggest Chick-Fil-A for an entirely different reason — a regrettable reason.

The first time we went to Chick-Fil-A here in town (which was long after everyone else paid it a visit), I was astounded.

They were so nice.

They were polite, courteous, warm, engaged, gracious, and just … nice!

The whole experience satisfied me in a way I had not expected.  Was I really so starved for good customer service?

We’ve been back three or four times since, and every time we are treated the same way.  Clearly, exceptional manners are part of their business model.  I have no idea if they hire only those who are predisposed to affability or if they have to train their employees to be considerate, but it totally works on me.

I don’t go to Chick-Fil-A for the food, I go for the experience.

Isn’t that sort of sad?  Is our general customer service so poor that we are surprised when workers present themselves professionally with a smile?  Honestly, I never paid it much attention at other places, particularly fast food places, because I know the employees aren’t making much, don’t have the opportunity for a tip, and probably don’t have a ton of job satisfaction.  But then Chick-Fil-A came along and blew my whole paradigm.

What’s it say that Chick-Fil-A rose above the fast food competition by encouraging their employees to be nice?

By the way, if you want to argue with me that their manners are fake, that they aren’t being sincerely nice, that they are just trying to keep their jobs, that’s fine.  I’ll take fake nice over authentic grumpy with my (waffle) fries any day of the week.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

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Ready To See a New Doctor?

If you’re not a fan of Doctor Who, I get it.  I totally get it.  The only reason I started watching Doctor Who a few years ago is because I knew nothing about it and I felt like such ignorance really diminished my geek cred.  Seriously.  I had no idea what the word “TARDIS” even meant.

At first, truthfully, I considered the show idiotic.  I began with the Ninth Doctor, as my nerdy friends told me to do.  The plots were, for the most part, campy, the special effects were silly, and the characters were ludicrous.

But then a strange thing happened.  I slowly but surely fell in love with it all.  I embraced the goofiness, the hyperbole, and the entire zany mythology.  I finally recognized the brilliance of it just as thousands of others had during the last fifty years.

My point is, if you’ve ever been curious about the Doctor (never call the actual character Doctor Who), there’s no better time to jump on board than tomorrow, October 7th.

For the fist time since the character’s arrival in 1962, a woman will play the Doctor.

If you’re unaware of the premise, and I promise not to bog you down too much in the details, the Doctor is an alien who can travel through time and space.  The Doctor is usually a champion for life, justice, and mercy.  Because of the character’s species, the Doctor never dies, but instead regenerates into a new body.  Therefore, even though at least fourteen people have played the Doctor (yes, nerds, I’m counting John Hurt’s War Doctor), the character has theoretically been the same consciousness.

But tomorrow, Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor will change everything … and I can’t wait.

Sure, since it’s return to television in 2005, Doctor Who has tried to keep things fresh.  I can’t say I ever got bored watching the series!  David Tennant played a lovable hero, Matt Smith a charismatic mad man, and Peter Capaldi a cranky favorite uncle, but no one will completely alter the character’s trajectory like Jodie Whittaker by virtue of her gender alone.

As a writer, I would love this opportunity!  This new Doctor can do something the character hasn’t been able to do since 1962 — convey a female perspective on the ensuing adventures.  There are virtually limitless storytelling openings now.

As a fan, I’m equally excited.  I love all of the actors who played the Doctor, but with Whittaker I know every episode to come is going to be unlike any other.

My desire is that they don’t have Whittaker playing a man in a woman’s body — I sincerely hope she plays the Doctor as an actual woman and everything that transformation encapsulates.

Best of all?  For the first time, I’m planning to let my ten and six-year-old daughters watch Doctor Who with me.  Though the show is all in good fun, I worried in the past that the aliens and monsters might give them nightmares.  This is a historic evolution to the character, though, and I want them to take part in it from Day One.  I love the fact that my daughters now have a Doctor of their own, a Jedi of their own, and super heroes of their own.  They get to take joy in the very same concepts that have delighted me during my life, but in a way that speaks uniquely to them.

So like I said, if you’ve ever been curious about the Doctor, tomorrow is the time to make an appointment.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Is Our School System Better Than Sliced Bread?

I’ve taught high school English since the year 2000.  During that time, we’ve seen the advent of smartphones, automated cars, even artificially intelligent grocery stores.  Our technology has grown exponentially in just eighteen years, and I don’t see that trend slowing down.

Consider the following advancements that happened within the last 100 years: the Internet, space travel, computers, video game consoles, compact discs, printers, cassette tapes, television, microwave ovens, bagless vacuum cleaners, and even sliced bread.

Yes, sliced bread did not exist in an automated, widespread manner until 1928.

Now I’d like to share with you the year most agree our modern system of schooling arrived: 1837.  There are those who will argue against that particular year, but most will agree children have been sitting in desks for regimented amounts of time listening to teachers for well over one hundred years — the way we still do it to this very day.

Please allow me to point out that I am in no way, shape, or form trying to destroy our school system.  I enjoy my profession and it’s provided a wonderful life for my family and me.  I played school well as a student, and I continue to do so as a teacher.  Obviously, I like school.

However, when I look at the world around me, and then when I look at the way our modern school system functions … the two don’t match up very well with one another.  That’s just my observation.

I don’t need to remind you how school works because it’s pretty much the same as when you were a kid.

And it’s pretty much the same as when your parents were kids.

And it’s pretty much the same as when their parents were kids.

Obviously, schools are not keeping up with the times.

But here’s the thing: I don’t have the answer.  I barely have any suggestions.  I have no idea how we would even go about changing our school system.  It’s so ingrained in our society that I think it’s hard for us to consider an alternate method.

I realize a popular argument against what I’m saying is that students need to learn how to sit and listen.  They need to get used to people telling them what to do.  They need to know how to follow instructions.  Well, yes, okay, those are skills we all need to have at our disposal, but do they really need thirteen years of it, day after day, week after week, year after year?  Let me tell you, they have it mastered by sixth grade, and then they start to realize they’ve got six more years of the same, and most of them decide they’re in store for a miserable existence until graduation.  Some react to this realization by acting out, checking out, faking us out, or just plain getting out.

Let me tell you, we have GREAT teachers. I guarantee you we are trying our hardest to create engaging lessons.  The truth is, though, that I’m not sure we’re all wired to sit and do one thing for fifty straight minutes any more.

And before you say it, let me stop you.  When I say “do one thing,” I mean that from a student’s perspective.  I try to vary the activities as much as I can within fifty minutes, but to the student, an English class is an English class no matter what the various activities are within that block of time.

I’m told that people who work in business are often allowed to get up when they want, use the bathroom when they want, chat with coworkers when they want, and chip away at the project of the moment little by little as they see fit as long as they meet their deadline.  This is a generalization, of course, but from my conversations, it seems to be the gist of how things go.

Why shouldn’t our schools reflect this same environment?

Ah, again, I can guess the counterargument.  High school students can’t be allowed to wander around!  They can’t be trusted to independently do their work!  They can’t be allowed to just talk whenever they feel like it!

Under our current system, that’s true.  In the modern era, just like the last one hundred years, the teacher is the authoritative figure, the taskmaster, the issuer of grades, and the the ultimate assessor.  As a result, many students must enter a subservient relationship with the teacher.  Some teachers inflate this relationship more than others, but it’s there nonetheless by merit of the system.

I’m not sure our model is the best way to engage high school students in this day and age.  During the last several years, my students seem to thrive when they are allowed a lot of freedom, the chance to choose certain aspects of a lesson, and the opportunity to actually do something.  Trust me, kids still like to work with their hands, they enjoy making things, and they find happiness in creating a product.

Don’t we all?

Keep in mind, I’m in no way suggesting that we do away with school.  I don’t want a future where students all sit at home on a screen learning through modules or virtual reality.  There are many benefits to school beyond academic achievement.  The skills they learn through social interaction are vital to their success as an adult.  Kids need to be around other kids.

Again, I don’t have the answer to this issue.  It would take an absolute restructuring of our model at every level.  But I’m invested in trying.  I want to create a system more suited to our modern society.

I know we can be better than sliced bread.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Why I’m Passing On Venom

Last April, I posted the following comic panel …

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As you can tell, the first Venom trailer did not impress me.  I’m sure you’ll find this surprising because I’m something of a fan of that genre.  If it’s a comic book movie, I’m pretty much guaranteed to watch it.

But something about Venom just turned me off from the start.

Trust me when I say no one suffered more surprise by this than me.  I love Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, and Jenny Slate.  I haven’t personally seen Riz Ahmed’s breakout role in The Night Of, but I hear he’s phenomenal.  Even Woody Harrelson is in this thing!

With all of the high-quality actors involved, I felt certain Venom would be unlike any other “comic book” movie.  The pre-release photographs looked amazing.  The promotional posters were super cool.

And then I saw the trailer.

Yikes.

Nothing — and I mean nothing — about that trailer spoke to me.  Nothing looked original.  Nothing looked engaging.  Tom Hardy’s weird accent just sounded silly.  Venom, while undeniably awesome in appearance, also looked like more of the same CGI that has plagued comic book movies during the last fifteen years.  (I’m talking to you Doomsday, Juggernaut, Ares, Steppenwolf, and Abomination.)

You want to know what aspect of the trailer sealed my disdain for Venom?  The “venom” appendages that would pop out and help Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy’s human character).  They were beating up guys, grabbing errant motorcycles, and doing all kinds of crazy actions.  This is all fine.  But the visual of the arms flying out of Brock’s sides and then retracting without ripping his clothing or jostling them in any way just struck me as … unbelievable.

Yes, I know how ridiculous that sounds.

I normally have no trouble suspending my disbelief, but those “venom” bursts just bugged me to no end.  There may very well be an explanation provided by the movie makers or comic books for this phenomenon, but I’m certain that explanation won’t help me get past the literal visual.  It took me totally out of the moment and seemed unnecessarily fake when compared to all of the texture on Venom’s CGI body.

While I’m at it, I think they made a mistake in touting Venom as an “anti-hero” movie.  With movies like Logan and Deadpool, the term “anti-hero” has gotten a bit stale.  Those two movies had great concepts that made them both quite unique when compared to other comic book movies, but it seems that Venom doesn’t utilize any such distinctiveness.

Personally, I think they should have gone after a straight “horror” vibe.  In my opinion, Venom can’t be the hero, anti- or otherwise.  He needs to be the monster, the one we fear, the thing that keeps us up at night.

I’d also like to acknowledge that this movie probably isn’t made for me.  I’ve got Secret Wars #8, the issue when Spider-Man got the black orb that provided his new costume.  I’m also fortunate enough to have Amazing Spider-Man #300, Venom’s first appearance.  I bought these when I was a kid — I had no idea Venom would become a pop culture icon.  I just really liked Spider-Man!  This movie version of Venom doesn’t seem to be my Venom.

Several teenagers have told me that they cannot wait to see Venom.  Apparently, from what they’ve shared with me, it looks to closely follow the Venom origin story from the Spider-Man cartoon.  I haven’t seen this cartoon series, which may explain why the trailer didn’t connect with me.  Furthermore, the studio has clearly stated that they realize Venom is extremely popular with teenagers and that they aimed the movie at those fans.  This is totally fine, just unexpected.

I say it’s unexpected because it never occurred to me that Tom Hardy would make anything less than a movie that reflected his personal sensibilities.  Making a movie specifically for teenagers doesn’t seem like his style, but who’s to say?

Maybe I’m wrong about this whole thing.  I’ve been wrong about many things in my life.  It’s entirely plausible that  Venom could be an incredible movie that will blow people away.  Judging from early reviews, though, this doesn’t seem to be the case.

Either way, I’ll never know.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

The Edutainer

There’s a term that has come into vogue lately that I find a little troubling–“The Edutainer.”

If you’re unfamiliar with this word, it’s combining “educator” with “entertainer.”  The idea is that a teacher performs daily for their classes in such a way that the students are entertained.

Not just engaged, but actually entertained as though they were watching a show.

Yes, on the surface that sounds wonderful, but I think most of us realize that there are very few people from any walk of life who can perform daily for eight hours a day in such a way that children/teenagers are both learning and laughing nonstop.

Furthermore, I think it’s very unfair to make teachers feel as though they are somehow less effective if they are not constantly entertaining their students.

I’ve been teaching long enough to know that certain “buzzwords” come and go.  Usually these buzzwords are developed by a person or company looking to make a buck.  I’ve heard of professional development, workshops, and even college courses pushing “edutainment.”

Now, if we’re being honest, I’ve been told that I’m an “edutainer.”  I’ve never quite figured out if that’s meant as a compliment or an accusation, by the way.  However, I know myself well enough to realize that my “edutainment” is just part of my personality.  When I’m in front of a group of kids, I get silly.  I can’t help it.  I like to keep things light.  I like to joke around.  I like to make people smile.

This is fine for me, but I would never dream of forcing other people to adopt this methodology if it’s not part of their personality.  At the end of the day, teachers must teach in a manner that makes them comfortable.  Obviously, no matter what, lessons must be engaging, but to ask a teacher to put on a “show” is not really fair, especially if that’s not a component of their persona.  I’ve personally had some really funny teachers in my life, but I’ve also had very serious teachers as well.  I learned a great deal from both because–most importantly–they were effective teachers.  Let’s not lose sight of what were really trying to achieve.  First and foremost, our students should be learning.

It is worth noting, however, that teachers can still incorporate “edutainment” in their classroom even if they are not specifically the “edutainer.”  There are plenty of educational websites and learning programs that deliver fun, entertaining content to supplement a teacher’s lessons.  I would encourage teachers to look into those things because I also believe the days of asking students to listen to lecture while taking notes is over.  Our students are accustomed to bouncing from one thing to the next, and I would venture that the teachers operate like that in their personal lives as well.  There’s an old saying that teachers should switch up their activities during a lesson every fifteen minutes.  “Edutainment” programs would be one helpful way to achieve this.

At the end of the day, I would encourage teachers to accept who they are as people.  If a teacher is not an “edutainer,” that’s totally okay.  No teacher should ever feel less effective if they are not comfortable with a style that contradicts their persona.  As long as students are treated respectfully, with kindness, and provided consistently engaging lessons, I think the kids will be just fine.

Clown, Crazy, Happy, Funny, Cartoon

(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s latest book HERE!)

Last Chance To Thank Your Child’s Teacher

If you’ll indulge me …

My wife is the absolute best.  She goes so far above and beyond in thanking our children’s teachers during “Teacher Appreciation Week” — it’s amazing.  Classroom teachers, librarians, administrators, office support staff, coaches, Girl Scout troop leaders, Sunday school teachers — everyone gets a little token of appreciation.  Furthermore, she develops a cute theme to go along with the gift.  This year everyone got an Amazon gift card decorated as though it was a special delivery by our girls.  I asked her to count up how many gift cards she doled out.  I wasn’t upset, just curious.  The number?  About twenty-two (at last count).

By the way … my wife is a teacher.

She gets it.

She understands the emotional stamina, the intrinsic motivation, and the sheer patience necessary to be a teacher.  She knows that by the end of the year, every teacher needs a little show of appreciation.

By the way, I’m a teacher, too.

I teach about 130 students a day.  I received not one “thank-you” from a student’s family during “Teacher Appreciation Week.”

I get it.

Hey, I’m busy, too.  I won’t pretend that I’d have taken over thanking my daughters’ teachers if my wife decided to take the year off.  I forgot it was “Teacher Appreciation Week” during the actual week — and I am a teacher!  Trust me, if you haven’t thanked your child’s teacher, you’re not alone.  I’m personally just as guilty.

The point of this is to tell you that it’s not too late.

Yesterday, several of my creative writing students went out of their way to tell me how much the class meant to them.  Today, two students came up to shake my hand and tell me “thanks.”  It meant the world to me.

Listen, I don’t entirely fall into the “I’d teach for free I love it so much!” category, but I also recognize that teachers make more money than a lot of people, have more vacation time than a lot of people, and enjoy more benefits than a lot of people.  But I’m here to tell you, folks — it’s a demanding job.  Not physically, but emotionally?  You bet.  Mentally?  Absolutely.  There’s no down time when you have a room full of children or teenagers.  There’s no mentally checking out.  Teachers are constantly monitoring and assessing.

You know how “busy” it can get when your child has friends over?  Imagine a room full of that.  Imagine coaxing them along through the power of personality.  Imagine talking, thinking, managing, and assessing all at the same time while also trying to be interesting enough to capture thirty children’s interest.  Let me tell you — it’s tough.  I’m sure you can imagine.

So, here’s what I propose — thank your child’s teachers.  Right now.  Send a little email.  Even if you you weren’t all that impressed with them, drop them a little note at least letting them know you appreciate their efforts.  If you thought your child had a great year, by all means, tell them as much!  It doesn’t have to be in-depth.  Just a note.

Trust me, it will make a huge difference to the teacher.  What a wonderful way to say goodbye, right?

Thanks for indulging me.

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Stop “LeBroning”

Let’s get two things out of the way …

  • I am a Bulls fan
  • I do not follow LeBron James on Twitter

That being said, mocking LeBron James because of his leg cramps needs to just stop.  The primary reason it needs to stop is because it’s indicative of a very ugly society, one I (obviously) cannot abide.  We crave celebrity, we demand perfection from athletes, we build people up to demi-god status, and then it seems we cannot wait to tear them down at the first opportunity.  Were it simple criticism, that would be fine.  But it’s not.  Oftentimes, it’s personal, degrading, and downright mean.

If you must be unhappy with LeBron James’ leg cramps, then focus instead on the fact that the arena’s air conditioning went out, creating ninety-plus degree temperatures.  Blame LeBron and his training staff for perhaps not recognizing the signs and hydrating him enough throughout the game.  (It should be noted, however, that they had him take seven anti-cramping pills during the game.)

I contest that his leg cramps are simply one of those things that happens to athletes  It cannot be helped.  LeBron James has a history of leg cramps dating all the way back to high school.  I challenge you to find a better conditioned athlete in the NBA.  This is not a matter of being soft or weak-willed.  As any athlete will tell you, when the body seizes, nothing can help but time and rest.

So why are people so eager to tear this man down?

Is it “The Decision?”  Okay, that was a bad moment, a stupid moment, a moment we all wish never happened.  But please take a few things into account.  LeBron did not act alone in that. ESPN was more than happy to turn it into a circus, and then, ironically, led the charge in criticizing LeBron for the move.  Also, LeBron has been king of the hill since the age of eighteen.  He has not needed to answer to anyone.  This is a man who has successfully navigated professional sports, the business world, and society’s infatuation with “celebrity” with no more than a high school diploma.  Haven’t we all made bad decisions in our mid-twenties?  Don’t we all have that one moment we wish we could take back.  Furthermore, can many claim to come out of such calamity wiser and more mature as has LeBron James?

To be honest, I happen to believe LeBron is highly intelligent.  His missteps have been few. By and large, he walks that fine line of celebrity without crossing over.  By all accounts he is a wonderful teammate, a caring father, a charitable citizen, and a decent human being.

Think of all the young people who achieved his level of fame and fortune and did not crash and burn.  Think of all the other young people who allowed their career to die, who became more invested in their celebrity than their craft, who drowned from various vices.

Yet, here’s LeBron James.  A multiple MVP.  An Olympic champion.  An NBA champion.  A man who has not relented in his quest to win, who has improved upon his physique and skill set with each passing year.  In LeBron James we have a sports icon in the making.

Are people mad the way James, Wade, and Bosh came together?  Get over it.  That’s the way it is in the NBA.  LeBron found that out during his tenure in Cleveland.  Rose is discovering it in Chicago.  Nobody hated Pierce, Garnett, and Allen for forming a triumvirate, and they did it before LeBron.  Couldn’t it be argued that Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman were a similar situation?  It takes three any more.  Need I mention that Duncan has Parker and Ginobili as his running mates?

To be honest, we have two admirable NBA franchises vying for the trophy this year, two teams that do things the right way.  Everything I just said about James I could also say about Tim Duncan on most accounts.  I want the Heat to win because I love teams that stick together and continue winning, players who take less money to keep something special rolling.  But the Spurs fall into that same category, so for me, this is a win-win situation.  (Of course, I would be happier were the Bulls in contention, but alas …)

I sound like a LeBron James apologist, but I’m not.  I do believe in defending people treated unfairly.  LeBron James gives every indication of playing his ass off all the time.  He clearly wants to win.  He seems like a guy trying to behave and give back to family, friends, and the community.  I wish we could all say the same, including me.

So stop with the Lebroning.  The man had unrelenting leg cramps.