Archives for category: Goodness

Stephen Owens is an evangelical Christian who has thought deeply about the importance of public schools in our society. He has a Ph.D. In education policy from the University of Georgia and is Director of Education at the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. His blog is called “Common Grace, Common Schools.”

Let’s begin my argument for public schooling by making the familiar strange. There are aspects of public schooling that you do not see in any other facet of American life that need to be evaluated to better understand the institution’s value. Our familiarity with them takes away their novelty, but they are unique nonetheless. I think of us like a child who has Kelly Clarkson as an aunt. Just because she thinks of the singer as “Aunt Kelly” doesn’t mean we all have aunts who can sing like an angel.

Not only are parts of American public schooling unique, but reflect central tenets of the Christian faith. I want to explore three of them in the next few posts: inclusion, equity and accountability.

To put it concisely: I believe in the American cultural and political environment the public school is best situated to offer the highest quality service for all and, most specifically, the poor. I believe this is known, in my faith tradition, as common grace.

Now when I say the “poor” I’m not just talking about those who have more needs than resources, but a more generalized group of people that, for one reason or another, have structural obstacles to academic success. Students with disabilities and children who speak a language other than English at home are two perfect examples. Further, I don’t mean to imply that the state of a family’s bank account should be conflated with a child’s worth. Being “poor” in this sense cannot mean a person has less intrinsic value. The poor in this blog instead denotes a looser title for those children for which a neutral bystander might say, “good for them!” if the child were to perform a task common to the ruling class such as graduating from college.

I believe public schools are most valuable as a tool to lessen human suffering on the poor–one of the primary, and possibly only, ends of good governance—but that is not to say that its benefits end with this group. In fact, with few exceptions, I’m convinced that public schools are a service that have shown to support allpeople groups in our country. Foundational to this belief is the fact that public schools are required to provide services to every single child that arrives.

Inclusion. Public schools (in their current state) are for everyone. The road to the schools I attended in the 90s is paved with hard-fought legal protections for children that the majority culture would rather not teach. Throughout American history school leaders had to be forced to educate women, immigrants, Black people, students with disabilities and undocumented students via government compulsion. Each of these groups had to wait for laws to be changed to gain the advantages that white, rich, Protestant males shared since before our country was founded. This is not ancient history. My mom was a junior in high school when disabled kids got the right to a public education (1975). Undocumented children were guaranteed the same right two years before I was born (1982).

Inclusion, at least by this definition, has required blood, sweat and tears. It would be foolish to assume that inclusion is natural. In fact, inclusion is so unnatural to the way we consider schooling that its inverse remains a feature of excellence in the public mind. Consider elite schools’ relationship to exclusion: the ability to reject applicants based on test scores or income signals quality in a way that other schools could never replicate with performance alone. Post-secondary education is our best example here. Rejection rates for the Ivy Leagues not only “prove” their superiority but create it. For how could Harvard do poorly as a school if they’re allowed to choose to only educate the top seven percent of all those that apply?

It is only the common, or public, school which is left to teach all who enter her doors and, once inside, compelled to provide basic opportunities to each by threat of legal action. Inclusion, since it has been won, can be demanded.

Here I need to be explicit: inclusion is a good thing. Too often advocates for public schools treat inclusion as a burden to bear—“we can’t turn away students like private schools…”—instead of their greatest strength. Inclusion at some level acknowledges dignity in every person; Christians ought to be familiar with the concept via imago dei (the image of God). Early in Genesis the reader learns that God created humans in His image, bearing His likeness. Theologians have explained this concept differentiates humans from any other created thing by our spiritual/moral/missional similarity to the Creator. There is nothing that can remove this distinction, so every person you and I have ever met “looks” like God in some form. I’m convinced that this concept should be celebrated as the starting place for who is allowed where.

Now consider: where else is this the case? Think about your daily life, what physical spaces are compelled to not only accept everyone, but to give them foundational services? The other day a family came into a coffee shop where I was working and just sat. I will admit to being surprised. They didn’t buy anything, just sat on a couch near me while the kids looked at their iPads. I’m so used to private spaces that I did not think those people belonged until they bought something. This belief did not come out of thin air, many of the places that we imagine as public are only available if we have money, genius, status or some other item to trade. Outside of government programs (public parks, public transit, etc.) it’s hard to imagine a comparable institution to public schools besides hospitals. While I believe there are several similarities between schools and hospitals (nurses and teachers have long seen commonalities between how they are treated, for example), two major differences are apparent: 1) hospitals don’t exist in many rural communities and 2) no one has gone into debt because of the services provided by public schools.

I am, as I hope I’ve made clear up to this point, big on inclusion. But what are the public schools forced to include all children to? What occurs in the inner circle that has for generations been open only to the few? The generally-accepted answer to this question, and more broadly the question of “what is the purpose of education” usually falls into two categories–socialization and skill acquisition. When I describe the need for public schools to include all people it is with the latter purpose in mind. Poor children have been historically kept from learning the skills that are needed to earn living wages. A strong school system can help ensure higher wages, better health outcomes and decreased likelihood of entering the criminal justice system. On the path to living wages (and therefore less human suffering) there are few hurdles higher than failing to graduate high school and college.

The need for public education, and the majority-culture’s attempt to restrict it to the few, has a long history in our country. Tunis Campbell, the father of public education in Georgia, recognized a strong education as necessary to support formerly-enslaved people in post-Civil War Georgia. Without the ability to read, Campbell knew that freed men would continue to be subject to, among other racist practices, predatory labor contracts. Rev. Campbell spent the years following Sherman’s march setting up schools for freed people and is as responsible as any person for the state constitution’s inclusion of a right to public education for all children. He believed education sat alongside land ownership, a just court system and community service as necessary keys to a good life for Black Georgians.

Bringing it back to the present, I will put socialization to the side for now and will describe how the very nature of common schools supports poor families more than their richer neighbors. There are many facets of public schooling which we take for granted but that are frankly unbelievable. Every morning a transit system crawls cities, towns and rural counties to pick up any child that arrives to the stop on time and take them to their school. This service is provided at no additional cost to the child’s family whether they live one mile from the building or 30. In a country that tends to require the ownership and maintenance of a personal-transport vessel as the price for admission to society, the school bus itself is a marvel. It’s far from the only one. Health care, multiple meals and career guidance are all things that richer families can pay for but are often out of reach for the poor. In the public school each (via school health clinics, free food and school counseling) are provided part and parcel to poor public school children. If any one of these services were not already a part of schooling in America, it is impossible to imagine them being created and, more importantly, paid for with public funds. It is services like these that do not neatly fit into a definition of schooling but have become a pivotal safety net for struggling families in our nation. To ignore the role of public schools as welfare is convenient but unhelpful.

To ignore the role of public schools as welfare is convenient but unhelpful.

I’d go as far as to say that the true measure of a school is their support for the poor. The brutal truth of schooling in the U.S. is that parental income is strongly predictive of educational outcomes. While we like to imagine a true meritocracy, the real difference is whether your parents have enough money to provide 1) security (food and housing), 2) accountability, 3) targeted support and 4) social capital. So, any time I come across the “conventional wisdom” of the superiority of private schools it sounds like someone bragging that Georgia beat Vanderbilt in football. Duh: Kirby and…whomever is coaching Vandy… are dealing with two qualitatively different pools of players. If we’re really going to provide the measure of a school, look to the services provided to those that the Bible refers to as “the least of these.”

When you compare the test performance of wealthy Americans to other nations it’s clear we are on par with, or outperforming, every other country in the world. What makes our system “mediocre” is our treatment of poor children. Generations of white supremacist policies have ensured that wealth is concentrated in white families. So, the limitations of our public school system cannot be separated from our nation’s original sin. The good news is that income does not have to equal destiny. Research has shown that investment in public schools can and does level the playing field, but the investments have to go to the schools and/or children that need them the most. Another word for this is equity. I will write about equity in the next post.


Historian Heather Cox Richardson reflects on the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday. We now look on him as a hero, but during his lifetime, he was treated shamefully by many whites, and militant African-Americans scorned him as well, preferring the angry approach of Stokely Carmichael and Malcolm X. Dr. King was principled and fearless. He faced death daily, and he never back down. It is usually forgotten that he was assassinated in Memphis while there to support striking sanitation workers, who were trying to organize a union. He knew that unions offered the best protection for working people. White conservatives who fraudulently praise him now, claiming that racism is a thing of the past and should not be taught or discussed (so that everyone can be judged by “the content of their character, not the color of their skin”), oppose everything he fought and died for.

You hear sometimes that, now that we know the sordid details of the lives of some of our leading figures, America has no heroes left.

When I was writing a book about the Wounded Knee Massacre, where heroism was pretty thin on the ground, I gave that a lot of thought. And I came to believe that heroism is neither being perfect, nor doing something spectacular. In fact, it’s just the opposite: it’s regular, flawed human beings, choosing to put others before themselves, even at great cost, even if no one will ever know, even as they realize the walls might be closing in around them.

It means sitting down the night before D-Day and writing a letter praising the troops and taking all the blame for the next day’s failure upon yourself, in case things went wrong, as General Dwight D. Eisenhower did.

It means writing in your diary that you “still believe that people are really good at heart,” even while you are hiding in an attic from the men who are soon going to kill you, as Anne Frank did.

It means signing your name to the bottom of the Declaration of Independence in bold print, even though you know you are signing your own death warrant should the British capture you, as John Hancock did.

It means defending your people’s right to practice a religion you don’t share, even though you know you are becoming a dangerously visible target, as Sitting Bull did.

Sometimes it just means sitting down, even when you are told to stand up, as Rosa Parks did.

None of those people woke up one morning and said to themselves that they were about to do something heroic. It’s just that, when they had to, they did what was right.

On April 3, 1968, the night before the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated by a white supremacist, he gave a speech in support of sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee. Since 1966, King had tried to broaden the Civil Rights Movement for racial equality into a larger movement for economic justice. He joined the sanitation workers in Memphis, who were on strike after years of bad pay and such dangerous conditions that two men had been crushed to death in garbage compactors.

After his friend Ralph Abernathy introduced him to the crowd, King had something to say about heroes: “As I listened to Ralph Abernathy and his eloquent and generous introduction and then thought about myself, I wondered who he was talking about.”

Dr. King told the audience that, if God had let him choose any era in which to live, he would have chosen the one in which he had landed. “Now, that’s a strange statement to make,” King went on, “because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around…. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars.” Dr. King said that he felt blessed to live in an era when people had finally woken up and were working together for freedom and economic justice.

He knew he was in danger as he worked for a racially and economically just America. “I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter…because I’ve been to the mountaintop…. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life…. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!”

People are wrong to say that we have no heroes left.

Just as they have always been, they are all around us, choosing to do the right thing, no matter what.

Wishing you all a day of peace for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 2023.


Dr. King’s final speech:

Texas Governor Greg Abbott took pride in sending three bus loads of Venezuelan immigrants from Texas to Washington, D.C. on Christmas Eve. They were sent to the home of Vice-President Harris, where they arrived in bitter cold weather without proper clothing. Men, women, and children.

Is this the spirit of Christmas? Was there no room at the inn in Texas? What was the message of Jesus? What kind of a Christian is Governor Abbott and his buddy Florida Governor Ron DeSantis? Where in the New Testament does it say you should treat the hungry and homeless with contempt and use them as political pawns?

NPR reported:

Several busloads of migrants were dropped off at the Washington, D.C., residence of Vice President Kamala Harris on Christmas Eveapparently the latest in an escalating battle between state officials and the Biden administration over the country’s immigration policy.

A total of three busloads of migrants arrived at the Naval Observatory, where Harris lives, on Saturday evening. The Migrant Solidarity Mutual Aid Network, a local grassroots organization, met the migrants, who were inadequately dressed for the freezing temperature, according to the station.

Earlier this year, some state governors began sending buses of migrants to the nation’s capital, after the Biden administration attempted to lift a pandemic-era policy that let the U.S. deny entry to immigrants.

At least one governor from these states, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, said his state is purposefully busing migrants to sanctuary cities, where law enforcement are discouraged from deporting immigrants.

Amy Fischer, an organizer with the Migrant Solidarity Mutual Aid Network, told NPR’s All Things Considered on Sunday that Abbott’s actions were “rooted in racism and xenophobia.”

“At the end of the day, everybody who arrived here last night was able to get free transportation, on a charter bus, that got them closer to their final destination,” she said.

Fortunately there are people in the sanctuary cities who are feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and caring for the stranger.

In Abbott’s Texas and DeSantis’ Florida, Christian values have been warped into talking points for rightwing frauds.


I read this obituary in the Boston Globe, and I found myself wishing that more of us could be like Sabina. By her measure, most of us fall short. But let us honor the incredible example she set. She defines the term “force of nature.”

During two decades as an activist, Sabina Carlson Robillard became a significant leader in humanitarian relief efforts as she insisted that the voices of those being assisted should always be the most prominent in every discussion.

“While you’re listening to me, there are 1.5 million conversations happening on the ground, and I’m here to ask you all how we’re listening to them,” she said at a 2010 conference in Boston about her work in Haiti earlier that year after an earthquake killed more than 200,000 people.

She had turned 22 several weeks before that speech and was a seasoned activist. Years earlier in middle school, she began participating in protests and “was already thinking deeply about people who were suffering throughout the world,” said her father, Ken Carlson.

After being diagnosed with clear cell sarcoma four years ago while she was pregnant, Ms. Robillard, who lived in Cambridge, stayed busier than most of her healthiest colleagues.

She worked as a consultant and an operations officer with humanitarian nonprofits, and helped raise her daughter and stepdaughter while being treated for cancer. Ms. Robillard even texted her academic adviser from her Massachusetts General Hospital room the day before she died on Nov. 16, at age 34, to schedule a meeting a few days later with her Tufts doctoral advisory committee.

“In an unassuming way, she changed the course of how lots of money and people engaged in Haiti,” said her friend Jess Laporte of Waterbury, Vt., a Haitian-American climate and racial justice activist who works with nonprofits.

She worked as a consultant and an operations officer with humanitarian nonprofits, and helped raise her daughter and stepdaughter while being treated for cancer. Ms. Robillard even texted her academic adviser from her Massachusetts General Hospital room the day before she died on Nov. 16, at age 34, to schedule a meeting a few days later with her Tufts doctoral advisory committee.

“In an unassuming way, she changed the course of how lots of money and people engaged in Haiti,” said her friend Jess Laporte of Waterbury, Vt., a Haitian-American climate and racial justice activist who works with nonprofits.

Dan Maxwell, a Tufts University professor who was Ms. Robillard’s academic adviser, first met her when she was a Tufts sophomore.

“She was already well known as a force of nature on campus when she was 18 or 19 years old,” he said.

And though more recently she was a doctoral student, he said, “she was also like a colleague, and in many ways a leader the rest of us followed.”

Ms. Robillard was the lead author for a 2021 report, prepared with Teddy Atim and Maxwell, which called on international relief organizations to adopt a “localization” approach — letting local groups and individuals participate in planning and administration, rather than excluding them, as so often was done in the past.

In October, the US Agency for International Development issued a draft “Policy for Localization of Humanitarian Assistance” that cited the Tufts report and drew upon its findings.

“I was certainly happy to see her live long enough to see that kind of high-level validation of her work,” said Maxwell, who added that Ms. Robillard was defined by her sense of certainty in the field and in her writing.

“She had a North Star,” he said. “She knew where she was going, she knew what was right. While she didn’t force people to agree with her, she could be pretty insistent about what was right and what was wrong.”

The correct approach, she often said, was to listen instead of impose an outsider’s view.

After the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, “what I saw firsthand was how much Haitians wanted to have their voices heard in the response,” Ms. Robillard wrote for the website of CDA Collaborative Learning Projects, an international nonprofit based in Cambridge for which she worked.

Early on, Ms. Robillard channeled her determination into helping others.

“Sabina was always defined by a tremendous sense of empathy,” her father said. “Her empathy was her sixth sense. She always thought of others before herself, even when she was a very, very young child.”

She also was a multi-instrument musician, an accomplished slam poet, and a leader of Amnesty International and gay-straight alliance groups while in high school.

Initially intending to study creative writing at Tufts, Ms. Robillard was soon involved with humanitarian work, spending months away from the university in 2009 to work as an intern with refugees in South Sudan.

She graduated the following year with a bachelor’s degree in community health and peace and justice studies, and subsequently received a master’s in applied community change and peace building. Tufts later honored Ms. Robillard for her humanitarian work.

For the past dozen years, she worked for nonprofits and aid groups including the International Organization for Migration. She was part of the IOM’s response to the Ebola outbreak in Guinea several years ago, and its response to a cholera outbreak in Haiti.

Fluency in French and Haitian Creole made her particularly effective in Haiti, where she had lived in Cite Soleil, a crowded, impoverished part of the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area. And she used her language skills to elevate the voices of those who lived in Haiti.

A presentation at her memorial service featured her quote: “Why isn’t localized humanitarian aid focused on letting communities determine and lead the work in building their own future?”

Among those she met in Haiti was Louino Robillard, a community leader known as Robi, whom she married in Port-au-Prince in December 2012, and with whom she collaborated.

With marriage came additional roles as stepmother to his daughter, Dayana Robillard, and parent to the couple’s 4-year-old daughter, Anacaona.

Discoloration under Ms. Robillard’s left eye, initially thought to be benign, appeared in 2017. While she was pregnant the following year, tests showed it was a malignant tumor, and the cancer later spread to her lungs.

Continuing to work for four years, even during her final full day alive, “Sabina wrote Ana e-mails over the last four years — 356 e-mails, knowing she wasn’t going to be around,” her mother said.

In addition to her parents, husband, stepdaughter, and daughter, all of Cambridge, and her brother, Ms. Robillard leaves her maternal grandmother, Luba Lepidus of Somerville.

Ms. Robillard’s husband will bring her ashes to Pak Nan Ginen, a park and reforestation project they cofounded in Saint-Raphael, Haiti, where he plans to build a memorial. Because Haiti is severely deforested, “she wished to use her ashes as soil to plant trees,” he said.

Chef Jose Andres created an organization called World Central Kitchen that goes wherever there is hunger and feeds people. Their mission right now is to serve food and deliver water to the people on the front lines in Ukraine.

I give regularly and will give again.

Here is the letter I recently received from WCK.

Since the invasion of Ukraine began, WCK teams have provided more than 180 million meals to people in need. However, families still need our support as they head into what will likely be the toughest winter of their lives. By fueling our work, you’re helping us bring hope and comfort to communities across Ukraine—and now, a generous WCK donor is matching all gifts up to $10 million made now through December 31 for Ukraine. Make a donation today to double your impact. HELP US CONTINUE OUR EFFORTS IN UKRAINE

Ground report from José in Kherson

On November 11, after eight long months of occupation, the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson was liberated. Having arrived as soon as we were permitted to enter Kherson, WCK local teams were greeted with hugs and tears of joy while delivering food kits. Several days later, José arrived in Ukraine, keeping his promise of returning to Kherson once it was liberated. Below, José shares a ground report from his trip, detailing the growth of our response since WCK first arrived in the newly liberated city.

Yes, WCK has been able to previously support some local restaurants cooking for neighbors in Kherson and safely delivered food kits to frontline communities in the region…we even delivered a generator and fixed the broken water supply for five nearby villages. But no matter how much we wanted to do more, we were unable to reach so many families who were possibly going hungry because of Russia’s brutal occupation. In Kherson, residents lived without basic necessities, cut off from the rest of Ukraine…so many feared for their lives for eight long months. So when Ukraine’s troops entered Kherson on November 11, our WCK team knew we had to be there immediately next to the people, as soon as it was safe to do so.

When I arrived in Kherson on November 16, our WCK team had been delivering food aid each day, working on how we could increase our support every time we returned to the city. What I saw when I first got to Kherson… people celebrating, children were walking the streets with Ukrainian flags, it was a moment I will never be able to describe. But reality sets in as the day goes on and night falls, and people go home without electricity, food, or water. It’s still dangerous too…earlier in the morning a mine left behind exploded inside the train station. Thankfully no one was hurt. During our distribution we also heard shelling as the frontline is not too far away.

Still, when we were doing our food distribution, people remained calm and didn’t mind standing in the rain. I went around and spoke to families who told me they did not have much food at home. This is how WCK meets the needs. We work with the community and everyday we learn and get better.

We travel neighborhood by neighborhood, delivering thousands of food kits to families.

Now we’ve been delivering and have been talking to the people, we’re growing our distributions across different neighborhoods to make sure we reach as many families as we can. For residents with gas and able to cook at home, we’re providing 30lb food kits filled with the majority of Ukrainian products. We are also bringing thousands of plates cooked from our WCK Food Truck in Mykolaiv.

WCK’s Food Truck in Mykolaiv has the capacity to cook up to 5,000 meals. Once the food is prepared, we package it for delivery.

It’s been amazing to see how fast our WCK teams in Ukraine have been able to scale and adapt to the challenges of every situation. With safety systems in place, the Relief Team is moving quickly so people are not gathering or staying outdoors for a long time. Delivery has also been difficult because access to Kherson is still limited, roads are destroyed, and rain has made things very muddy, but WCK keeps going no matter what!

Bringing aid to Kherson is challenging—roads are damaged and rain is causing mud.

There is also no water in Kherson and many people are collecting it directly from the Dnipro river. Filling nine large, 5,000 liter barrels, we delivered and installed water distribution sites throughout the city for residents to drink and cook with. In the next few days, we will install more water sites. WCK now has water distribution sites set up across the city, and we’ll keep expanding.

During my trip I also witnessed a special moment in Ukrainian history—the restoration of trains to and from Kherson. As Ukraine continues to fight for freedom and liberty they are sending a powerful message to the world that they can overcome anything. These are trains of hope, connecting Ukraine again.

Throughout our response, WCK has worked closely with our friends at Ukrainian Railways to transport critical supplies across the country, so we were very proud to stand alongside them during this amazing accomplishment. I rode on the first train to Kherson from Mykolaiv with nearly 200 other people. Some were returning home, some were going to see their relatives, but there were also people who simply decided to be there on this beautiful day. And for WCK, we brought along thousands of food kits with us!

Before I left Ukraine, I took another trainfrom Kherson to Kyiv where I was honored to meet with President Zelenskyy. He presented me with the Order of Merit honor, something that I humbly accepted not for me, but in recognition of the thousands of Ukrainian Food Fighters I get to work with every single day. It is these people who are the heroes behind WCK’s efforts…the people who make the impossible, possible and have been working tirelessly for months under uncertain circumstances to get food to communities in need.

It is why we have been in Ukraine since the very beginning. We know we cannot solve every problem, but the very least WCK can do is make sure that food and water is not another issue people living under attack have to be worried about. We promised the people of Ukraine that as cities become liberated we would be there.


So in Kherson, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with WCK teams as they got food and water so fast to families in need, was one of the proudest moments of my life. It is because of WCK Food Fighters and supporters around the world that we are the only large-scale food aid in the city. Together, we will all help Kherson, and other regions around Ukraine, get through the long, hard winter. Thank you for your support and for continuing to believe in our mission.

José AndrésDOUBLE YOUR IMPACT BY DONATING TO WCK TODAYCopyright © 2022 World Central Kitchen, All rights reserved.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Today is a time to reflect what we are grateful for.

What are you grateful for?

I am grateful for life. Last year, I had open heart surgery, and for the first five days after surgery, my life hung in the balance. Yet here I am, reading, writing, thinking, alive.

I am grateful for my dear family: My wife, Mary. My children, my grandchildren. I am blessed to be with and near people I love who love me.

I am grateful to live in America. Despite all the challenges our country faces, it’s still a wonderful place to live, where communities come together in bad times, and strangers act to help others.

I am grateful to live in a country where I can speak and write what I wish without fear of punishment.

I am grateful for the rise of a young generation whose idealism and vision will change our country for the better.

I am grateful for the dear friends at the Network for Public Education, whose advocacy and passion on behalf of democracy, public schools, their teachers and their teachers inspires me every day.

I am grateful for the educators who put students first, who work tirelessly for one of the nation’s most important and vital institutions.

I am grateful for the readers of this blog, many of whom have become good friends, without our having met in person. I am grateful too for what I learn every day from you.

If you have read this far, I want you to know that I don’t intend to post much this weekend. Maybe nothing at all.

I want to extend my sincere regrets for the trauma you have been through this past week. I hope emerged safely and with minimal damage to your homes. I have a brother in South Florida, who missed the worst of it, and a sister in North Florida who luckily had a long-planned trip to California to see a new grandson.

It’s not much consolation, but at times like this you have to be grateful to have gotten through this ordeal. Things can be replaced, not lives.

People across the country are watching and wishing only the best for you. When disaster strikes, we come together as neighbors and friends to extend a helping hand. This spirit of friendship, compassion, and good will should always be with us.

Politics divides us. Tragedy brings us together, and we remember the better angels of our nature.

Dr. Michael Hynes is the Superintendent of Schools in Port Washington, Long Island, New York.

He writes:

My daughter Sadie has taught me more in her 9 years of life than I have learned in my past 52 years of existence. My wife Erin and I had no idea that our daughter had Down Syndrome when she was born. Sadie had to stay in the newborn intensive care unit for a few weeks and we met some of the most compassionate and amazing professionals in the world. Unfortunately, we also met others who were much better off keeping their thoughts to themselves.

I remember a doctor at the hospital telling me he was “sorry” after Sadie was born. On another occasion, a family member shared with my wife and I that “Mongoloids can be nice people.” She didn’t mean to upset us; it was her mental model about Down Syndrome. Initially, as parents we were surprised with the multitude of closed-minded comments we came across. As Sadie grew and we brought her to restaurants, stores or in public, people would stare at her longer than one should.

I’m sharing this with you not to complain; but doing so because we began to learn how the world can perceive others without knowing anything about them whatsoever, except through the lenses of their biases and assumptions. Little did they know our little Sadie has the best sense of humor and can read on grade level like here peers. She enjoys music and hanging out with her best friends like all children do. As parents, we began to advocate for more programs in her school and for the school districts we served in.

I probably should have started off this reflection by sharing both Erin and I are school Superintendent’s. She is an Assist Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction and I have served as a Superintendent of Schools for the past 11 years. Here are the lessons we learned from our personal lives that now transcend to our professional ones.

  1. You never know what others are going through. I have a much deeper respect for parents who have children with autism, Down Syndrome, ADHD, OHI, etc. They have incredible stories to share, and we need to support them as much as their children.
  2. Never place limits on your child or students. Don’t accept what professionals say at face value all the time. If Erin and I listened to what some professionals believed Sadie would never be able to do, her life would be so much more unfulfilled. She is flourishing.
  3. In the education system I have served in for over 25 years, we need to remove the word “special education”. This word places a label on a child that never leaves them and carries a negative connotation with it. Yes, the children are “special”, but they are certainly not less than “typical children”. By the way I loath that phrase as well.
  4. Inclusion is important. Integration however is critical. It’s great to be included but to be fully integrated is where the secret sauce is. Separating and segregating children is not the answer. Teach them to become independent and watch them soar!

Sadie is now in 4th grade. She continues to surprise people with her intelligence, humor and at times stubbornness. We are so fortunate to have her in our lives. There are other “Sadie’s” in every school in America. Are we as school leaders doing everything in our power to make our school system more inclusive and integrated? That’s for you to answer and my hope is that you strive to make that a reality. Every child will benefit from it.

As anyone who has been reading Peter Greene’s posts over the years knows, Peter and his wife have young twins. They just turned five —and it seems like only yesterday that they were born!

Peter signed them up to receive free books from Dolly Parton’s program. Anyone is eligible, between the ages of born and five. The boys, known as Peter’s “board of directors,” have aged out of the book program.

The National Education Association named Dolly its Friend of Education for 2022, and when you read about her program, you will see why.

Currently over 700,000 children are signed up to receive a free book every month.

The quality of the books is great. Over the years we have received classics, newer books, books featuring every sort of family, every sort of kid. They are filled with wonder, kindness, beauty, excitement. This is one of the best examples of thoughtful, useful, not-trying-to-take-over-a-government function philanthropy you’ll find…

None of the rich amateurs who want to change the face of education are doing anything of this value on this scale–both intensely personal and yet broadly across the globe. I mean, imagine if Bill Gates had said, “I want to give every child a book” instead of “I want to give every child a test.”

And if there is a tiny human in your life, and they aren’t signed up, go to the program website and see if it’s operating in your neighborhood, and if so, then sign up that child.

What a fabulous, generous, powerful program. God bless Dolly Parton. We are going to miss here at this house.

The Boston Globe reported the story of a group of strangers banding together to save the life of a man who slipped and fell on a treacherous hiking trail. This is a counterpoint to the many daily stories of apathy, cruelty, indifference, and evil.

It was a casual remark exchanged among hikers on Mount Monadnock’s White Dot Trail last Thursday: “Isn’t this a beautiful day to be alive?”

But the words stuck with Gary Cohen.

Just a short while later, the 63-year-old Boston man would slip and fall on his descent from the mountain’s summit, taking a treacherous slide headfirst into a boulder. Dazed and bloodied, Cohen soon found himself on a stretcher, being carried down the steep and rugged trail by a ragtag group of volunteers and park rangers.

And all he could think about was that he was lucky to be alive.

In southwest New Hampshire, Mount Monadnock is said to be one of the most frequently climbed mountains in the world, drawing tens of thousands of hikers each year to its 3,165 foot summit. But as the fraught rescue of Cohen last week makes clear, even a well-trodden day hike can turn dangerous.

The conditions on Monadnock could not have been more pristine on the afternoon of June 30, a cool breeze offering a reprieve from the bright sun and the skies were so clear at the summit that the Boston skyline 75 miles away was etched on the horizon.

Cohen, a retired tech entrepreneur and dedicated user of the AllTrails app, had back surgery several years ago and was gradually increasing the distance and elevation of his outings. He was nothing if not prepared, carrying, as always, a first aid kit and GPS tracking device.

The group that came together to rescue hiker Gary Cohen.

The group that came together to rescue hiker Gary Cohen.MAULLY SHAH

Monadnock was new to him but was well within his capabilities.

Still, Cohen could not have anticipated what would happen to him once he made the summitand then headed back down. Just 15 minutes into his descent, he lost his footing on a slope, got spun around, and fell headfirst, his skull thudding into the rocks 10 to 20 feet below.

The blood began flowing instantly.

Cohen’s first bit of luck was that his fall was witnessed by 17-year-old Neil Bennett. The teenager was on the mountain with his girlfriend and his mother, Maully Shah, a pediatric cardiologist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Shah was snapping photos of the pair when Bennett saw the hiker go down.

“He immediately started yelling, ‘Help me, help me,’ so I knew he was pretty badly hurt,” Bennett said.

Shah, 56, and her son take a trip to the region annually, and together they have climbed Monadnock for a decade now, since Bennett was just a boy.

For all that experience, Bennett said, “I’ve never seen anything like that on Mount Monadnock before.”

Once Shah heard the cries for help and her son’s shouts, she rushed to Cohen, who was splayed on the ground, blood streaming from his head and splattered on the surrounding rocks. He was unable to move his neck and told Shah he feared potential paralysis.

Once she checked Cohen’s breathing and determined he was fully conscious, Shah was confident he was not in imminent danger. She cleaned and bandaged the “good-sized gash” at the back of his head. To keep Cohen’s neck stable, they fashioned shirts into a makeshift cervical collar.

The group who helped rescue Gary Cohen smiled on Mount Monadnock and Cohen gave a thumbs up.

The group who helped rescue Gary Cohen smiled on Mount Monadnock and Cohen gave a thumbs up.MAULLY SHAH

By that time, two others hikers who also work in the medical field had joined in to help: Amanda Herd Wilson, a physician assistant, and Alicia Lipton Lheureux, a psychiatric nurse. With a 911 call placed, they awaited the arrival of park rangers, who assisted in the rescue effort along with conservation officers from the New Hampshire Fish and Game Departmentand search-and-rescue volunteers.

With two rangers on the scene, the small group loaded Cohen onto a collapsible stretcher by sliding a thin thermal blanket underneath him and gently lifting him up. Then they began an hours-long journey over exposed rock ledges and thick mixed woods. The destination: a helicopter landing zone on the mountain, where a Dartmouth-Hitchcock Advanced Response Team was to meet them to transport Cohen to Elliot Hospital in Manchester for treatment.

“It was a treacherous descent,” Shah said, recalling the balancing act of everyone trying to keep their footing while also checking on Cohen. The sun beat down on their backs and their drinking water was quickly depleting.

For much of the trek, the group only numbered about eight people, including the two rangers — a far cry from the 18 or so volunteers rangers say would be ideal for such a rescue. More hikers along the trail eventually offered to help, and about halfway down, they were met by additional rescue staff. Others included a college student from Northeastern University and a father with his young kids in tow.

Despite his evident pain, Cohen remained upbeat and brave throughout — often asking how the team was holding up, Shah said. He later credited the mother-son duo and all the others as being “angels among us.”


After nearly two decades as a physician, Shah is familiar with “sort of high-drama situations,” but the makeshift “trauma center in the mountain” was hardly comparable to a hospital setting. Their efforts were punctuated by moments of humor and camaraderie, with people quietly taking over more strenuous tasks like lifting when it was apparent another was struggling with the weight.

“The sort of trail magic that happens where strangers came together in a very critical situation,” Shah said. “This was not assigned to us. We just happened to be there. It actually got in the way of everyone’s day, but everyone went home probably with the best feeling in their heart because they helped a human being.”

About 15 minutes after the band of hikers made it to the landing zone, the helicopter touched down. Bennett said the moment Cohen was lifted into the aircraft and flown to safety is one he will remember “for the rest of my life.”