Friday, January 22, 2021

Lifting Up vs Leaving Out


 

Starting off with the good news: the Howard County Board of Education voted last night to approve Black Lives Matter at School Week for this year. If you wrote a letter in support, it looks as though you were heard, at least by the members who voted in favor. I’m disappointed that this was not a unanimous vote, with one member voting no and one abstaining. 

These votes send a terrible message to our Black students, staff, and families in the community: we had a chance to lift up and educate, and we didn’t take it. Frankly I can’t think of anything more damning that could be said of someone on the Board of Education.

Moving on.

Yesterday Governor Larry Hogan had a press conference about resuming in-person school instruction in which he said things that weren’t true and appeared to mandate things he doesn’t by law have the authority to mandate. You can tell who the audience was for this event by who was happy afterwards: privileged white people. People not unlike Mr. Hogan himself. This appears to be a trend with him. He is the Governor for “people like me.” His policies benefit what he sees when he looks in the mirror.

Who gets left out? Teachers, school staff, poor students and their families, Black and Brown students and their families. All are equally his constituents but his words and actions show he is not governing for them.

I’m beginning to think that the Governor has some long-lasting bad feelings from his school days. His profound disrespect for teachers is alarming. When plans to put teachers back in classrooms were at odds with the preparation needed to make it happen, and it became clear that teachers would not be able to be vaccinated in time, Hogan quipped:

If they're not going to be back in the classroom, we probably shouldn't be wasting the vaccine on them.

No one should have to prove their usefulness to Governor Hogan in order to get a vaccine. That’s just outrageous.

And then yesterday he stood at the podium and announced that it made no difference in his plans for Maryland schools whether employees had been vaccinated or not. Don’t even take that into account, he seemed to be saying. 

Maryland may be “open for business” but the door on basic human decency appears to be closed.

When the Governor of the State of Maryland stands at his podium he, like the Howard County Board of Education, has an opportunity to lift up and educate. It should be his responsibility to tell the truth about our state’s challenges and show through his words and actions his respect for educators who he should see as partners and not adversaries. To see him choose, time after time, to comfort the comfortable and allow for affliction to fall on the already afflicted is profoundly damning.

Public service should not be for those who look to serve only people like themselves. 



Thursday, January 21, 2021

Using Power to Disempower


I have never met the new Republican appointee to the Maryland delegation. I don’t even need to do a search of Reid Novotny to know his name has never appeared on the blog. Today he makes a grand though dubious entrance as he strives to strip away the right to cast votes from Student Members of the Board across the State of Maryland. 

Mr. Novotny, who was not elected by the voters but rather hand-selected by members of his party, wants to delegitimize and disempower student leaders who were duly elected by their peers. In fact, current Howard County SMOB Zach Koung received 4,732 more votes then Reid Novotny did. 

And they say education issues aren’t political. 

The basis of his proposed legislation is that student members must be prevented from casting what is being referred to as “deciding” votes. This, in turn, is predicated on the misunderstanding/falsehood that it was specifically the HoCoSMOB’s vote which prevented a return to in person learning. That’s not how the HoCoBOE voting rules work, but the concept is being perpetuated by those who wish to strip any meaningful power from the SMOB position. It suits their narrative.

So House Bill HR 1189 is based on inaccurate information about Maryland State Law as it pertains to student representation on Boards of Education throughout the state. I don’t pretend to know Mr. Novotny, but, if I were going up against some of the smartest, most able students in the state of Maryland,  I would have done my homework first. 

Beyond that, what it all boils down to is that the proposed legislation seeks to take away voting rights for SMOBs in any case where their vote might make a difference. And why does anyone choose to enter public service? To make a difference. 

Now, the 2021 session of the Maryland General Assembly is already underway, and it stands to reason that Novotny’s proposed legislation (House Bill HR 1789) is coming along far too late in the game to make any headway. Nevertheless I feel that a bit of extra effort to oppose this wrong-headed proposal is merited. 

If you have a moment, write your state elected officials. It can be as simple as letting them know that:

1. You support current MD State Laws empowering SMOBs to vote, and
2. You oppose House Bill HR 1789.

You can also reach out to House Majority Leader Delegate Eric.Luedtke@house.state.md.us and the Ways and Means committee that will be considering this bill: AA_WAM@mlis.state.md.us .

For a Twitter thread describing the situation in more detail, see @CarlaG2507 beginning here.

Sorry to be asking you to send emails twice in one week, but it seems that local education issues are going to be keeping us on our toes for the foreseeable future.


Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The Big Day


 

When your goal is to write seven days a week, you will have many days to fill where nothing in particular is going on, punctuated by the occasional days of great national import. Frankly the nondescript days are easier. On days like today everyone will be writing. There will be ample opportunity for comparison. Some really good writers come out for the big days. I try not to take that into account, but...

Today is a big day. 

The events of the day are national but will affect all of us here locally. So I’ll indulge myself in a few words.

Today our country will install a duly-elected President who brings to the office the most important value we need if we are to save our troubled Democracy. President-elect Biden thinks and acts from a core belief that humans should foster goodness in themselves and others, and, when there is goodness to be shared, it should be. No holding back, no keeping supplies in reserve. No doubting whether the needy are deserving.   

The president who departs today does not seem to be oriented in a way that acknowledges good or evil. His words and actions have focused on the desirability of material goods and acts of power. It matters very much who has control of them, who gets the power.

The difference between these two men and between those who support them makes all the difference in the world. One results in an attitude of believing in our fellow citizens, the other sows anger and distrust. I sincerely believe that our country, well, even any civilized society, cannot survive a sustained culture of the latter. 

We must have the capacity to want good for others as well as ourselves. We need leaders who put that goodness into policy decisions. We need laws that establish a commitment to basic human decency and caring as key components of how our country works. National or local, the goal must be the same.

Most of all, we need to challenge at every turn the notion that goodness is scarce and must be hoarded to assure its proper use. It is, in fact, that very notion which limits and chokes goodness down to nothing but a commodity to be bought and sold. The last four years are proof of that. It is ugly and it has been deeply damaging to our country.

Today is a big day. There will be a thousand think pieces and millions of tweets and Facebook posts. We will observe the day’s events and our nation and the world will move into tomorrow. It’s important to remember that this day didn’t happen by chance. Biden’s election is the direct result of millions of people who organized and worked and donated and stood in line to vote because of their commitment to creating better government.

Goodness matters: without it the world crumbles. Believe it. Act on it. Share generously. Nothing you do today and in all the days going forward will have more impact on the world around you.

May this day be safe, and joyful, and a truly good beginning for us all.

  


 



Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Everyone Needs It

 


Yesterday was the official national observance of the birthday of the late civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior. Many took part in service activities to honor his memory. Some watched films and programs about his work. Some read from his speeches and other writings. Social media timelines were filled with Dr. King’s words of protest, equality, empowerment, and challenge. Frequently quoted:

The time is always right to do what is right.

Meanwhile, in Howard County, I learned that there’s been a flurry of letters to the Board of Education urging them to vote against observing this year’s Black Lives Matter at School Week

Head. Desk.

The events of the last year have shown how hungry our young people are to investigate issues of racial justice. Now is not the right time to suppress that voice.

This year will be the third Black Lives Matter at School Week. I wrote about it for the first time in this piece:

A Crucial Nutrient , February 2019

Our schools have long been deficient in telling the stories of non-white cultures, and our systems have been deficient in treating non-white students with the same respect as whites. Black Lives Matter at School Week is a taste of what we need to do to enrich our classrooms with the knowledge and learning activities that have been missing from our schools. Everyone needs it. 

Participation in Black Lives Matter at School Week is a choice that the Howard County School System has made for the last two years which is consistent with policies it already has in place to foster diversity, equity, and inclusion, and to elevate student voice. There are a variety of activities and lesson plans, created by educators, available from the national parent organization. Schools choose the ones that work for them. 

It’s that simple.

From 2019:

As a parent and a teacher, I feel it is my responsibility to look at what we are teaching our children and think about how it could be better. Is there anything important that’s missing? Are there good things that should be increased? Are there less than useful things we should reduce or eliminate? It is in that same way that we need to look at the long years of inequity in our schools and strive to make improvements, not only for the purpose of boosting Black students, but also to help make all our students aware of a complete and accurate history of our nation and how we all fit into it.

Those words feel just as relevant today as they did when I wrote them. This is not the time to go back on our resolve to be a more truthful and just school environment.

The dates for this year’s event are February 1st - February 7th. The Board of Education will vote on whether the school system will participate this week: January 21st. If you have a moment, please send the Board members an email in support of Black Lives Matter at School Week. It doesn’t need to be fancy. Just state your support for the school system to participate.

  • Black Lives Matter at School Week 
  • February 1st - 7th
  • The goal of Black Lives Matter at School is to spark an ongoing movement of critical reflection and honest conversation in school communities for people of all ages to engage with issues of racial justice.
  • Elevates student voice; fosters diversity, equity, and inclusion
Send your emails ASAP to: BOE@hcpss.org and student_member@hcpss.org .







Monday, January 18, 2021

More Work



Suddenly I saw multiple police cars ahead on the left. At first glance it looked as though they were fanning out across the road. Were they shutting down the access to my exit? Was there an accident up ahead? I saw an officer out of his car, waving traffic over to the left. I slowed down and moved over as I pulled to a stop.

Was there some kind of manhunt happening? An escaped convict? Kidnapping? So many thoughts swirled through my head in those first moments. I saw the police officer walk towards my car and I suddenly thought, “Oh! Mask!” and hastily grabbed and put mine on.

“Good afternoon ma’am, you’ve been pulled over for speeding.” 

My brain moved directly into mortification. Of course. 

Exit 94 off Route 70. Labeled as the Security Boulevard Park & Ride. I think of it as the odd stub-end of a road that gets us to Grandma’s house. It feels long and windy and curvy and, while the goal is to move drivers from 65 miles per hour down to acceptable speeds once you enter local traffic, that’s generally not what people do. It’s very easy to speed there. I used to be religious about observing the posted limits but over time I’ve let peer pressure wear me down.

“May I have your driver’s license and registration, please?” 

His voice was calm and polite. Pleasant without being fawning. I pulled out my license and then realized in horror my dilemma.

“Oh, no. It’s expired because of COVID.”

“That’s all right, ma’am. Don’t worry about that,” he reassured me. “Your registration?”

I reached over to open the glove compartment and pulled it out.

“Okay, thank you ma’am. Now I’ll be right back. You just sit tight.”

I sat.

And I thought. 

I thought about how respectful, and calm, and unthreatening this police officer was. I thought about how the color of my skin was affording me a privilege not afforded to Black drivers under the same circumstances. Not once in this entire exchange had I worried for my safety. It didn’t matter where my hands were resting on the steering wheel. It didn’t matter how I reached for the car registration in the glove compartment. 

I was not going to be threatened or harassed. My car was not going to be searched on some predetermined pretext. I was not going to be arrested for supposed resistance or defiance. I was not going to die.

I was being treated like a respected human being who was making a mistake. Yes, you were speeding and that’s in violation of the law. No, that does not make you a hardened criminal whose life is now in danger.

The officer returned to my car with my license, registration, and a paper printout. 

“I’m just issuing you a warning. There’s no points on your license. Drive safely, now.”

And I said thank you, and put on my indicator to re-enter traffic.

For the rest of the day the encounter weighed heavily on me. How clearly my whiteness influenced my treatment in that routine traffic stop. Why does our society allow such glaring disparity of treatment based on race? We see it in the big picture of how law enforcement responded to Black Lives Matter protests in DC as opposed to the January 6th insurrection attacks in the same city.

We see it every time a “routine traffic stop” ends up with the driver dead. The driver is black. The police officer is very rarely charged. Even if there is body camera footage it will be interpreted in a way that denies responsibility.

I felt some fear at being pulled over yesterday. But my experience was absolutely nothing compared to what Black drivers go through. Every day there are so many extra rules I don’t have to follow, so many extra fears I don’t have to fear. If we keep allowing this to happen and do not actively work to change it, are we complicit in the injustice meted out upon others?

Today as our nation observes the birthday of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I will be looking at his life and words through the lens of my experience yesterday. It doesn’t feel good. I don’t feel like celebrating. I feel like I have a whole lot more work to do.


Sunday, January 17, 2021

Change in Menu, Change in Venue



If you see the words “Bridges to Housing Stability” and think “chili” then that’s certainly to the credit of the good folks at this area non-profit anti-homelessness organization which has been raising funds with a local network of chili cook off events as they spread awareness of their mission:

  • Prevention – helping households that are at-risk to stay in their homes or move to more affordable housing  
  • Re-housing – helping homeless households who are ready to do so, to move into permanent housing, often without entering shelter
  • Temporary Housing – providing housing to homeless families while they work on their goal of achieving permanent housing

But today I’m here to talk to you about pizza and other tasty Italian treats because Bridges is having a restaurant night with Coal Fire in Ellicott City/Shipley’s Grant. (Want a peek at their menu?)

This is good news for me because my family is not so fond of chili (aside from me) but they are big fans of the sort of menu items on offer at Coal Fire. And that means I won’t have to do much persuading to get them on board with supporting this event.



Here’s what you need to know: Monday, January 25th you can support Bridges to Housing Stability by ordering take-out from Coal Fire. On their event page you will find everything you need to know, plus a flyer you’ll either print out or show from your device. Bridges to Housing Stability will get 20 per cent of the proceeds on carry-out orders from 11:30 am - 9 pm but you will need to show the flyer to make that happen. 

It’s only 6:20 am and I’m already getting hungry.

Bridges to Housing Stability has been doing good work in our community for quite some time now. I notice that the first time they come up on this blog is in 2012, when they were the designated charity for the Columbia Home Tour. Since then they’ve popped up six more times. Not a surprise when lack of affordable housing is an ongoing issue in Howard County.

When you add to that the economic burden of the pandemic on already economically stressed residents, you see that the need right now is clearly greater than it has ever been. Many of us are immediately motivated to participate in initiatives linked with getting food to our hungry neighbors. Efforts to keep families in stable housing are equally important. Eviction and subsequent homelessness set up a destructive cycle that can be almost impossible to overcome.

You can help the folks at Bridges do what they’re best at: solving homelessness with housing. And you can enjoy a pizza or a salad or whatever calls your name on the Coal Fire menu.

Mark your calendar for a January 25th. Tell your family to look at the menu and be ready to order. And here’s some interesting information from the Bridges website to discuss over dinner:







Saturday, January 16, 2021

Kids Won’t Be Fooled


 

I wonder if applications are down this year.

Apply for Student Member of the Board of Education by February 4, 2021

I keep seeing this item posted and shared on social media and every time I feel myself recoiling. What student in their right mind would want anything to do with this position after what has been unleashed on this year’s SMOB, Zach Koung? Is it possible that, lawsuits aside, angry parents may manage to kill interest in the SMOB position purely through their own bad behavior?

I have already started to wonder: what if we had a SMOB but no one applied?

Our students are not stupid. They see what’s happening. And I’m pretty sure that at least some who might have considered a run for this (once-respected) office are now shaking their heads and looking for more rewarding challenges. 

Now I haven’t done any research on this yet. It’s possible that my theory is completely incorrect. But, humor me for a moment. Think about what this year’s treatment of the Student Member of the Board is saying to our students. To many it will say: it’s not worth it. And they could be forgiven for walking away with that impression because of the overwhelming amount of vitriol available online maintaining that students deserve no meaningful input on decisions pertaining to their own education.

Some students may take the lesson that the SMOB’s role should be to show up, look nice, and take notes. Be safe, keep your head down. Pose for pictures looking like an upstanding citizen. Just be grateful to be in the room. Know your place. I don’t know how many high school students you know, but I’m pretty sure that is not an appealing job description for most. Be seen and not heard. Offend no one. 

The SMOB position in particular has attracted highly motivated, well-informed, and deeply involved young people who have been activists within their own school communities in one way or another. If you read the statements submitted by former SMOBS in support of the position, it’s clear that Zach Koung is a part of a continuing line of student leaders willing to take on big challenges in order to represent Howard County students.

To be sure, not every SMOB thinks alike or pursues the same issues. But it is the willingness to “get in there” and wrestle with the issues that connects them. Don’t we, as a community, want to foster that kind of leadership? Isn’t that a worthy investment in the future? If we render the Student Member of the Board position essentially toothless then the students themselves will have no reason to value it. We might as well hand out stickers for being nice. 

By the time you are in middle school and high school you know how meaningless a gesture that is. Kids won’t be fooled. 

Now, we all know a few exceptional young people who, when presented with a situation like this, become more determined and ramp up their responses to obstacles in their way. Perhaps we have a few out there right now. 

I sure hope so.