Friday, September 4, 2015

Choices and Strengths

Your tax dollars at work in the Howard County Schools: Admin who "dress code" young women as they get off the bus in the morning. Admin who stand and stare at dance classes because one student dares to wear a tank top and a bra strap is showing. Admin who stand at the door of the cafeteria ready to "dress code" female students as they come in to lunch.

These are choices.

When these school personnel choose to police the clothing of young women whose well-being they have been entrusted with, they are making choices. When a bra strap or a curve, or an inch of flesh is paramount, something else must fall by the wayside.

You are what you choose.

By choosing to be "enforcers" they are not choosing:

  • Leadership mentoring
  • Healthy respect and boundaries between male and female students
  • Self-esteem
  • Listening and connecting
  • Relationship building

Doug Miller wrote a piece in this week's Columbia Flier/Howard County Times. It's not up online yet, so go and get a paper copy. It's on page 33. In "School dress code enforcers find they are under scrutiny", Miller states:

Enforcement of such policies disproportionately targets girls and transfers to them the responsibility for boys' self-control and the learning that depends on it.

HCPSS has touted its move to a strengths-based learning environment in the past year. They've paid thousands of dollars to Gallup on instruments for measuring and interpreting strengths. Paying highly-trained professionals to police bra straps is not even remotely a good use of their strengths.

And, more importantly, it sends a message which is all about undermining the strengths of the students. Girls are nothing more than offensive bodies. Boys are weak and must be protected from their own feelings. It is preferable to waste a girl's instructional time so that a boy's instructional time is not "endangered".

Rebecca Amani-Dove, quoted in the article, maintains that:

Nobody is interested in being the clothing police.

Perhaps we should station some of these people in Central Office and give them free rein over adult clothing. Daily.

I think Ms. Amani-Dove really believes what she is saying. I imagine that she, herself, would not want to be the clothing police. But what she says is very wrong. We have people in the school system who have made it their job to obsess over the clothing choices of female students. It needs to stop.

While they choose to focus on dress code violations, they are not choosing to do what they have been hired to do: use their own strengths positively to engage students in developing their own strengths.

Are we truly going to be "all about the strengths" in Howard County? If so, we've got some work to do.






Thursday, September 3, 2015

A Just-Us League?

I've written before about my love of quirky Twitter accounts. Everyone knows I'm an official fan of Colonel Gateway. And recently Baltimore's Mr. Trash Wheel caught my eye. But wait, folks, there's more.

Along with Mr. Trash Wheel, there's Mr. Trash Snake. And once I started looking, the names kept on coming. You can also follow Aberdeen Blimp, McKeldin Fountain, and Man Woman Statue. They call themselves the Twitter Inanimates. (Not Col Gateway, of course. He's exceptionally animate.)

Not to be outdone, Columbia appears to have entered the fray with an account called Ms. Frizz. Look familiar?

It's amazing how a pair of googly eyes make The People Tree look like Oscar the Grouch. I don't know much about this account other than it feels upbeat and, well, sassy. Take a look for yourself.


Recently these two tweets caught my eye:

Wonder if all the local Twitter inanimates/public art could band together and create our own brand.Like the Avengers, or the Justice League.

Am I just repeating myself here? I mean, we could be like the Disney Princesses! We could have our own movie and action figures!

Great. Now The Inanimates want a league of their own. What's next? Political candidates?



Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Woeful Wednesday

No post today. Waiting for a prescription to come through to fight back against the third yellow jacket sting. Miserable. And a migraine, too, because--why not?

Tomorrow will be a better day. It has to be.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Where the Action Is

Sometimes the best use of this blog is to point an arrow at a discussion that is happening someplace else. I'd like to do that today. Bill Woodcock of The 53 is delving into the most recent article in the Columbia Flier about affordable housing. Here is your reading material for the day, should you chose to accept it:

  • "New plan for affordable housing in Columbia moves forward"--Amanda Yeager, Columbia Flier
  • "The Affordable Housing Deal: Good for Downtown, Bad for Columbia?"--Bill Woodcock, The 53
  • "Affordable Housing Oasis?" Bill Woodcock, The 53 (With cameo appearances by Ian Kennedy and Bill Santos)

There's a lot to consider here: dollars or doorknobs, downtown or around town. It will give you an idea of the issues at play here and who the players are. Just for fun, the most recent piece I've written about affordable housing.

If you are an overachiever I suggest reading Tom Coale's two back-to-back pieces on the same issue on HoCoRising.


If you want live, local, and late-breaking news from me today, this is it: third yellow jacket sting last night. Wondering how long it will take for this colony to die off, and being mightily annoyed that we are providing them with affordable housing. And how long can I stay on steroids before I am disqualified from playing professional sports?





Monday, August 31, 2015


I attended back to school night on Thursday at my daughter's high school. I sat nervously in the auditorium with the other ninth grade parents, wondering what the experience would be like. I thought of how old my mother was when I began high school. I tried to imagine sitting there in the auditorium with her as a peer, chatting about having our youngest begin high school. Everything felt very new.

The ninth grade team leader began her presentation. I began to notice something unusual. Her talk did not include any educational buzzwords. There was no grit, no rigor, no testing, no data, no ed-reform talking points.

It was thrilling.

The team leader talked about what high school is like, what ninth graders are like, and what we, as parents, can do to support our kids as they evolve from children to young adults. She was clear that over-helping prevents students from learning independence and self-reliance. It was a good message to hear.

After being dismissed from the ninth grade parent meeting, I traveled from class to class meeting my daughter's teachers. After a few of the brief presentations, I began to cross my fingers--would I get through the entire evening without any educational propaganda whatsoever? Was it possible?

It was. The teachers talked about their course of study, over-arching goals, basic expectations. They answered general questions. I felt their enthusiasm for their subject matter, their love of teaching and enjoyment of the high school age group they teach. It was clear that they were there because they chose to be there.

By the end of the evening I was almost in tears. With gratitude. What a joy it was to be in a school that was about teaching and learning, the development of students as human beings, about supporting the relationships between teacher and student, parent and student. I wonder if this is what back to school night was like, when my mother came--about actual learning.

Of course,when my mother came there were no Power Point Presentations, no discussion of Bring Your Own Device, and no description of how Canvas is going to work. But, technology aside, the core message is pretty consistent:

  • They are your kids, and our students
  • Let them grow
  • Let them learn how to fail and recover
  • Support learning
  • Be involved
  • Work with the school
  • Communicate
  • Don't ever stop loving them.

I'd have to give this back to school night visit at River Hill High School a five-star rating. It far excelled my expectations for official school events. And it gave me hope that all is not lost in the world of education.


Sunday, August 30, 2015

Remarkable and Unique

Honoring the memory of the brilliant Oliver Sacks today by running the post from last August.


What Henry Knows

Today I'm going to talk about Henry. Henry has been on my mind a lot lately.

What? You don't remember Henry? Really?

That's okay. Some days Henry doesn't remember Henry, either.

This is Henry. His story is just one part of a documentary entitled "Alive Inside" created by Dan Cohen and his nonprofit organization Music and Memory. The film also features Oliver Sacks, author of Musicophilia, and Professor of Neurology at NYU.

"Alive Inside" follows the Music and Memory project, which worked with Alzheimer's patients and found music to be "a powerful tool for connecting elders to the people around them and restoring a sense of self."* In the video clip, Oliver Sacks says,

"The philosopher Kant once called music the quickening art, and Henry is being quickened--brought to life."

Science Friday featured the Music and Memory project and the documentary "Alive Inside" on their August 1st program. They interviewed both Dan Cohen and Oliver Sacks. The quotes from Oliver Sacks are taken directly from that broadcast.

In responding to Henry's experience with music in the film, Oliver Sacks says:

I've seen this happen with hundreds of people who don't have any direct access to their pasts but for whom music can act as a bridge...this has not just an emotional impact, though that's crucial, but says something about the brain's strange retention of music which is very remarkable, and uniquely human.

Interviewer: What do we know about what's happening in the brain when this happens?

Sacks: Well, when music is played or imagined many areas in the brain get activated. Some of them are hearing areas, some are visual areas, motor areas, many are emotional areas. There's no one music center in the brain. There are a dozen networks which hold together and, in this way, music is rather different from language. There are very specific language areas in the brain. And if those are knocked out, people can become aphasic, and lose language.

Whereas it is almost impossible to lose music; it's very robust.

I have listened to this portion of the interview over and over again. (Well, I had to, because I had to do that transcribing myself. You can listen here.)

The information Sacks is relating explains not only why music helps Alzheimer's patients, but also, in my opinion, why music is a essential part of our children's education.

Music connects. Music is the connection. Music travels within the brain to all the deepest parts of the self. Even when cognitive areas are damaged or degraded, the networks within us that are music can still thrive.

Look at all the areas in our brains that music can "quicken": hearing, visual, emotional, motor...So, in education: music can be the oxygen which allows the strictly cognitive paper and pencil work to "breathe" into the student and be meaningfully retained, the leavening which allows the learning process to rise, the glue that makes the learning stick.

Some day one of us, or more, may be like Henry. If it is me, and I am down and troubled, please fill my iPod with James Taylor, will you?

But let's do something in the here and now for our children. Let's stop letting people tell us that music, or art, or movement, or play are just something nice that you do. We know better than that, don't we?

Henry knows.

*Taken from Science Friday interview.


On a brighter note, here is what musical excitement looks like as we begin a new school year in Howard County. Shout-out to Instructional Facilitator for Music Terry Eberhardt for putting this together and sharing the joy.


Saturday, August 29, 2015

On Second Thought

So. Bridge Columbia.

After twenty four hours of reflection, my thoughts about the email I received from the co-chairs of the Oakland Mills Village Board have evolved a bit. What follows is complete and utter armchair speculation. You have been warned.

There has been nothing about this in the actual news. If the County Executive isn't announcing it, if the Howard County Times isn't covering it, that is a clue to me that this is very likely a non-story. This would explain why the lowest folks on the food chain are doing the announcing. Any movement on the Bridge can be interpreted to be a success for their term of leadership.

But it seems that this:

We are pleased to inform the community that County Executive Allan Kittleman has added the US 29 Pedestrian Bridge (also known as Bridge Columbia) to the County's Priority Letter submitted to Maryland State Transportation Secretary, The Honorable Pete Rahn.

may not be such a big deal after all. So, what is it?

Well, in the most simplistic terms.

  1. Kittleman runs on pledge to work on the Route 29 bridge
  2. He allocates zero funds for the Bridge.
  3. Councilman Calvin Ball calls him out for lack of commitment.
  4. Kittleman announces the addition of the bridge to a Priority Letter.
Is it as simple as that?

"You're not putting your money where your mouth is."

"Yes, I am. See?"

Oh, brother. I sincerely hope it's more than that.