Sam Wilson Captain America #10 and Congressman John Lewis.

Writer – Nick Spencer. Artist: Angel Unzueta.

OK – this is my first attempt at writing a review of a comic – a comics journalist, if you will.  Please forgive me if I don’t follow the traditional conventions as such – but I have been loving the political commentary going on in this comic, and just had to write about it.   I was absolutely floored by making a direct connection from history to comic book.  Maybe I’m crazy.  Maybe you don’t see it. But I want to open my Civil Rights lessons with this comic book and see if my students can make the same connections.  PLEASE – respond – let me know what you think.  Am I just blinded by my hero worship of Mr. Lewis?  Hit me up at @historycomics or

My own personal superhero is Congressman John Lewis – both in his role during the Civil Rights Movement and current leadership in Congress today.  I am teaching my 11th graders the graphic novel based on his life, March (this is a must read book) for the first time in the 2016-17 school-year. As such, I read the book based on his life, Walking with the Wind, and just finished it yesterday.  Since this eye-opening book was fresh in my mind, I could not help but make a direct connection to the Sam Wilson story that came out on 6/29/16.  I have never been one to tell students what a song or poem means – I always want them to make their own interpretations, but this is my view…

Page 3

The white people being interviewed comment that “Captain America is supposed to represent ALL of us… He has a radical, highly partisan an frankly ANTI-AMERICAN agenda. It’s time we took a stand against the political correctness that now permeates the Avengers.”  – this is an obvious allusion to the still ongoing heated debate over having a “black” Captain America.  It also ties into having a black Spider-Man, female Thor, Gay Iceman, etc —  but especially with the idea of Captain America.  What does Captain America represent?  What should he (she?) look like?  This is a hot topic right now as American demographics and white males (like me) will become the minority and what that might mean for this country.

Page 4 – there is now a new police force – AmeriCops (based on AmeriCorps?) – the “most powerful private law enforcement body ever assembled.”  Is this talking about the militarization of American police forces, #BlackLivesMatter, Ferguson, etc?

Page 5 – “…accusations of profiling, harassment, and excessive force coming with increasing volume from leaders in many MINORITY communities” — ok, now the parallel is unavoidable in current American events.

So far, this is all about what is going on in the USA today — what is the connection to John Lewis and the Civil Rights movement?  Here we go… beginning on page 10 — African-American heroes (leaders) have met in a Philadelphia church to grieve the death of one of their own – James Rhodes (War Machine).  I am suggestion that Rhodes stands in for Martin Luther King, Jr – to some degree.  Rhodes was accepted by the white community and society  – he was incorporated into the superhero community, his race not an issue – a go-between the two communities.

Pages 11 and 12 – we see major African-American heroes seated together — I can see some arguing the lack of diversity on these two pages.  This is ignoring so many superhero organizations consisting of all Caucasian (and male) superhero groups – I have no issue here.  I begin to wonder who is represented from the Civil Rights movement at this point – especially, who is Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Toure)? Maybe he is not here yet…  At the time of MLK’s death, there were already cracks showing within the Civil Rights movement – perhaps each superhero could represent a different section of the movement – this would be a fascinating discussion in the classroom.

Page 14 – Rhodes was described as having died in battle, after looking out for a teammate.  Loose connection – but MLK was assassinated after looking out for sanitation workers… ok – maybe a little too loose of a connection…  BUT – Luke Cage stated that this is how Rhodes would have wanted to die — I can see the connection to MLK here.

Page 16 – Sam Wilson is trying to figure out who will speak at the funeral — the other heroes are surprised as they all believe that Sam Wilson is the obvious choice.  I can see this as being John Lewis – always the reluctant hero and leader, but history pushed him to the forefront during so many events.

Page 18 – Sam is reminded that he is a Black Man AND Captain America. “Nobody ever notices history when it’s happening, but let me tell you — that is not A thing, that is THE thing.”  “A lot of kids in South Philly, they got to look up in the sky and see Jim (Rhodes) and say that could be them someday… but at least they still have you…and now you need to make sure that’s enough”  Although I see John Lewis on the same level (and more) as King, many Americans still have not been exposed to this man’s awesome legacy. Mr. Lewis has always seemed conflicted and unsure as to his role in the movement (it is large) and this helps me to make the connection between Captain American and him.  Also, this surprise of history being thrust on Sam Wilson, really speaks to Mr. Lewis’ idea of the “Spirit of History” as expressed often in Walking with the Wind.

Page 19 – scene of the church and so many people crowded outside for the funeral mass.  This is when the light bulb really went off for me.

Page 20 – the faces of the people in the church.  The image of Sam Wilson at the podium.  These are the images that were in my mind when reading Walking with the Wind. I very much see John Lewis as the stoic Sam Wilson giving the sermon.

Pages 21-22 – Rhodes is described as a soldier who was always focused on the mission – “do good, help others, make the world a safer, better place.”  “He didn’t want us focused on him — he wanted us focused on that… he did inspire us. I know he inspired me.  When it was my turn to fill some big shoes, I could call back to Rhodey’s (MLK) example and say, yeah, maybe I could do that, too… and he continues to inspire us”

Page 24 – “to never give up on the mission (of nonviolence) and to hold close to your friends, no matter what might be trying to tear you apart (differing factions within the Civil Rights movement), to show whoever comes next the way forward, to show them what being a hero really means.”

Page 25 – the burial at Arlington Cemetery – is this a connection to the burial of Bobby Kennedy? Lewis and SNCC did not go to pay homage to JFK when he was buried – but Lewis did pay homage to both men after the assassination of Bobby.

Page 26 – The AmeriCops are seen on the streets – several African-American youths are seen to be questioning the role of the police.  They seem to believe that something needs to be done to fight back – (enough of nonviolence)

Page 28 – A new character is introduced stating that “we’re” about to make a stand (African-Americans) – and that RAGE has their backs.  Does he represent Black Militants/Nationalism…?

Again – I don’t mean to make light of such a heavy topic — but this comic really made an impression on me as I prepare to teach my students about the Civil Rights movement – both historically and today.  What do you think?

I say this all the time – not bad for “just” a comic book, huh?

I apologize for the poorly scanned images – the best I could do right now — the comic was just released on 6/29 – go and buy a copy at your local comic book store.

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Best Worst Year Ever

Devastated.  Terrified.  Lost.  Disbelief.  Alone.  Depressed. 

After being a teacher for 15 years and a department chair for 8, I finally experienced THAT year.  Above are the words that described my feelings on one particular day following an event at my “job” (I had never really considered being a teacher a job before – it was always a calling).  For the first time in more than two decades, I questioned who I was and what I was doing with my life – I began to wonder if being a teacher was truly for me – if I was any good at my “job”.  To top it off, I was teaching a new AP course (AP Economics) through which I was struggling.  On top of all the other balls I had to juggle (including writing new curriculum), I found myself getting up at 3:30 in the morning to lesson plan and to try to grasp these economic topics.  Before this class would come in every day, I would break out in a cold sweat, hoping that I could answer any questions that they had for me.  I am the father of three children and we struggle through many stressful issues of which I don’t want to get into here – but my home life can be chaotic and not always a place for me to find peace.  Thankfully, I have a strong and loving wife who is my best friend – as she is also a teacher, I do find support from her.  Following all of these issues, I decided to resign my position as department chair and found myself completely lost.  I still loved being a teacher and being with my students, I loved being a department chair, but I was shaken to my core, both as a professional and as a human being.  I will not write about the particulars of this event, just know that it was challenging, to say the least.

Luckily, a few years ago, a staff developer had thought enough about what I did as a teacher to recommend me getting out on social media – blogging, Twitter, etc.  Me on social media?  That’s what THOSE teachers do – the ones who want to show off, the Millennials (selfie anyone?), the ones who were all fluff and no substance.  I just couldn’t imagine myself putting ideas about comic books on social media for people to see – besides, no would be interested in what I had to say anyway.  Obviously, I love using comic books in my classroom, but, at this point two or three years ago, I only spoke about them in class a few times.  But then a member of my department strongly suggested, alongside this staff developer, that I share what I do as well and I respected his opinion.  I began to tweet and blog – I found many supportive teachers who were fellow nerds like myself – I even managed to bring a few over to my way of thinking.  Certainly, my Tweeps helped me to share my passion during my worst year and gave me inspiration as well. However, this was not enough to quell the devastating events of this school-year.  Thank you, AJ Juliani (an amazing educator himself – @ajjuliani) for being that staff developer that truly believes in the power of sharing as it makes everyone better.

As I continued to struggle through my AP class, writing curriculum, and finding my role, a miracle (and I do think she is a miracle) happened and this worst of years became the most wonderful experience of my professional career as a teacher.  Vicky Pasquantonio (@vicpasquantonio) came into my life as an editor at PBS Newshour who just happened to read my blog.  She contacted me and asked me to write an article to be posted on PBS’ Teachers Lounge (a wonderful resource for teachers) about how I used comic books to academically and personally connect with students.  I was absolutely taken aback – someone wanted ME to write about using comic books in MY classroom?  Vicky is one of the warmest and supportive people I have ever “met” (I would love to meet her in person one day – she has a huge bear hug coming her way) as she gave me constant feedback during the process.  I loved our conversations over Twitter and email as she began to help me find my way in education once again.  As I wrote the article, I began to look at my classroom and experiences in a new light – I did some amazing things in my classroom.  I began to find my pride again and allowed myself to see what great students I had in front of me and they gave me a lot of support as well.  My wife, an English teacher (who will most likely check this article to ensure proper usage of the Oxford comma), help me write, rewrite, and rewrite the article many nights after we put the kids to bed.  We shared many of our experiences of teaching and our conversations became more and more positive as we chose to focus on all the great things that happened in our classrooms.  Once I hit that send button to Vicky (a moment I will never forget), I was nervous and excited.  Unfortunately for me, I didn’t realize how long things could take from writing to publishing – I just assumed it would be published that very night!  It took awhile, but Vicky stayed in touch with me and offered much encouragement on the article and other things that I had been tweeting about.  Then, in a meeting at work, I received a call on my cell phone.  When I checked it later, it was Vicky with the most excited voice leaving me a message that the article had been published!  She then texted me and gave me even more information.  I think Vicky was almost as excited as I was – she truly believed in what I did in my classroom and was genuinely happy for me.  She is truly a dedicated, hard-working, and genuine person – much like I would expect from such a giving organization like PBS.  She if life-changing and wants teachers, who often do not have a voice, to have a large platform from which to share their experiences.  (

All of a sudden, my cell phone began to light up with “likes” and retweets as people around the world began to share my article and what I was doing in my classroom.  My life changed in that moment – I felt empowered, encouraged, and respected.  I cried.  I took my family out for dinner.  I shared my article with my children and I could see the pride that they and my wife had for me.  I cried again.  I honestly went from the worst year to the best year in the space of a few hours.

When I shared the article with my students, they were floored and so happy for me.  They were so excited that what we were doing together in the classroom found a large audience – they were as much a part of the journey as anyone else.  Then, students began to write comments on the article – I was absolutely stunned at their kindness and amazing words.  We talked about the article and how people can make a difference in the world by sharing their passions.  We honestly bonded as we all found that we “mattered” and could make an impact on the world around us.  Students had received texts during my class (earning them a teacher look) from their parents who were also excited about the article.  they wanted their kids to know that this article was out there about their teacher – and about them.  All this from comics.

I received support from other teachers and principals as word spread about the article – even clapping for me at a faculty meeting.  The school put my article up on their website and many community members liked and shared the article.  I was able to share this with my mom (we lost my Dad to ALS several years ago), and she was both proud and a bit surprised (for comics?).

In the weeks after Vicky published my article, I was also interviewed for Geekadelphia and made their Geek of the Week (this really made my principal laugh! – in a kind and supportive way!!!!).  (  Then Vicky and PBS also published an article for teacher appreciation week ( – asking why teachers became teachers.  This allowed me to share my thoughts about my Dad and his powerful impact on my life – it also allowed me to share an awesome picture that a student took of me as Superman.  Forgive me quoting my comments here, but I still find them powerful.  No one had really ever asked me before why I wanted to become a teacher.  I always knew that my father had a hand in it (he knew so much about history), but seeing it in print really solidified it for me.  Once that article was posted, I cried.  I mean I really cried.  Luckily, I was on prep in my classroom and alone.  I was able to let out so much grief that I had been holding onto after seeing what my father went through and needing to take care of my family.  I hadn’t really had the chance to grieve – he died during the first week of school – I didn’t even take a day off of school because I knew, as do all teachers, how important the first week of school is to everyone.  Seeing these words, my own words, allowed me to let out so much.  I again found so much more inspiration to teach when I realized that my Dad lived on through me in my classroom.  Below is the quote:

“My hard-working Philly cop Dad and I never were able to connect through the usual topics of sports or music. However, he always captivated me with his stories about Hannibal, the Civil War or World War II. His way of telling stories – both hysterical and somber – made me want to share these same experiences with others. I went into teaching in order to make my father proud of me but also to share who he was with future generations. Although we lost my dad to ALS, I know that I share a piece of him each and every day when I make my students laugh and when I see their faces light up during fascinating stories.”

Vicky again sent me some awesome messages and told me how heart felt and meaningful my words were to her.  The teachers who post at PBS are not just seen as some faceless person submitting an article and then moving on.  I truly feel a part of the family as I continue to have contact with Vicky through Twitter and email.

Following all of this, Dutch Godshalk, editor for Montgomery Media, came to interview me in my classroom and published an article on me in the local newspaper and online.  ( I was laughing so hard when it came out — I made the front page in my Superman pose!  My poor wife had to go into the store to buy multiple copies (I won’t divulge how many I made her buy) and the owner asked her why she was buying so many.  when she pointed to the picture on the front page, he smiled and said – oh, you’re married to Superman!  (Did I mention how awesome my wife is?)  My kids were thrilled to see their father on the front of the newspaper and could not wait to take it to school to show their teachers.  Dutch really took a lot of time to discuss my classroom experiences and he also showed genuine interest.  Dutch and Vicky have shown me that words really can change the world when you care enough to be invested in the topic at hand.

I then decided to put in an application to present at WizardWorld’s Philadelphia comic con (my family goes every year.  Again, my wife is awesome!)  on comics in education.  The person in charge of programming took a look at my articles and gave me immediate approval.  I just presented on June 4th – my wife and kids were there in the front row to see me speak, all alone, to a room full of people.  After I presented for my hour, many of the people stayed to ask me questions, to ask if they could email me for suggestions and inspiration.  Some just came up to shake my hand and tell me what a great presentation I had given.  This was all while the Back to the Future reunion was going on, so I must have done something right!  Hearing my wife and kids telling me how proud they were of me gave me some of the best feelings of my life.  It really was the most terrifying thing I have ever done – again, I was one of those quiet teachers who thought that those who shared what they did were just being boastful.  I had no idea if anyone would even show up.  I am proud of myself (this is a new feeling for me) for doing this and know that I could not have done it without all of the support of those around me.  My students came into class and excitedly asked me how my presentation went.  I walked them through some of it, shared some pictures, and also told them that I shared specific work that they had completed – they found this to be awesome.  Some laughed at seeing me in a TMNT costume – but in a good way – it’s always good to show students your human side.

What’s next?  I was invited to present on a panel at the San Diego International Comic Con in July.  When I texted my wife during work, her only response was – go for it (did I tell you she’s awesome?).  We rearranged our summer plans, cut back on spending, and are now in the middle of planning a bucket-list adventure that had never even entered my mind before all of this happened just over two months ago.

I have also applied to present my lessons to a social studies conference in Harrisburg – this will be a whole new audience, so I am nervous.  This was because Anthony Gabriele (@mrgabriele), a curriculum supervisor, cared enough to reach out to me via email and suggest that I present at the conference.

Now I have people thanking me for giving them inspiration for classroom ideas from around the world.  I have students who tell me how much they love being in my class and the passion I bring to the lessons.  Just two years ago, I questioned using comics in the classroom – I was too A-type and by the book.  I questioned myself (I still do).  But now?  I am a better teacher and I love going to work each and everyday.  I am so thankful to the people who helped me in this crazy journey and to my students who have shown me so much love and support.

My only regret is not realizing the power of sharing with others earlier in my career.  I have found so much inspiration from fellow teachers on Twitter and Facebook – and also from authors and artists.  Share your passion!  Shout it out loud!  We live in a world where teaching is not always respected and where we focus so much on testing – let the world know what you do.  It is not boatful or selfish — it is only selfish if you keep your great ideas to yourself.

Next year, I will go back to being my more quiet self – my exposure has been bordering on obnoxious.  But I will enter the next part of my career with a newfound confidence and excitement.

I am so grateful to be surrounded by such support – family, friends, neighbors, teachers, administrators, parents, and, yes, students.

Thank you, AJ.  Thank you, Vicky.  Thank you, Dutch.  Thank you, Anthony.  And to my wife and best friend – thank you with all the love in my being.