Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Snow Business

Just when you thought it was a good idea to encourage the youngsters to go out and play in the snow...

Principal Nick Novak of Howard High School was in the lamentable position of having to notify parents that parties as yet unknown had used school property to draw a swastika and a penis in the snow. Yes, really.

I have to be honest, my first thought was: this is a white boy thing. Now, I don’t know this. I could be wrong. It’s just a gut feeling I have based on past experience.

Second thought: drawing an enormous snow penis may be a big joke to some, but swatikas are not a joke. They appear to be having quite the run amongst local “pranksters” and I’d like to see someone truly lay down the law on this. And not the “go to jail only on the weekends” sort of law, either.

Anyone who thinks that using a swastika is all in good fun needs a boatload of education. Anyone who knows its meaning and uses it anyway needs to come to grips with substantial consequences for their actions. Symbols of hate and violence make targeted students feel less safe coming to school. This compromises their ability to get a good education.

And that is a big deal, friends.

As to the need to show off an admiration for male private parts in such a public way, may I just say we’d all be better off if they kept their big **** energy to themselves.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019


Welcome to the land of pet peeves this morning. It’s a local story, and it’s an Everywhere You Look story: giving credit. Lots of people don’t.

Sharing an inspirational quote? Who said it? Sharing a song lyric? Who wrote it? (Not the singer, the composer.) The same holds for a line from a movie. Credit the writers, not the actor. Yeah, I know, nobody does that. But trust me. The actor would never have said it without the writer.

In local stories, always, always give credit. Don’t use someone else’s photo without a photo credit. I try to get permission from local individuals first. If another person’s article or blog post pointed you in the right direction to address an issue, give them a shout out. If you learned valuable information from somewhere, give a link to your source.

There seems to be a sense that once a piece of writing is up on the Internet, it’s fair game for copying and pasting. While it is there for other people to see, that doesn’t mean it’s okay to take credit for their work or use it to get more hits, etc. I may seem “old school” to some but I still follow pretty much the same rules I learned when writing research papers and essays: credit your sources. Don’t even give the appearance that you are forwarding others’ work as your own.

Just because there’s no teacher reading over your shoulder to catch you swiping other people’s stuff doesn’t mean those actions don’t matter anymore. Remember,

Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching. (paraphrase of a Charles Marshall quote in Shattering the Glass Slipper)

Monday, January 14, 2019

Not Okay

I am currently taking an online course for professional development entitled “Children’s Challenging Behaviors.” I must say I have been pleasantly surprised by how good it is. I have endured plenty of boring and unhelpful PD over the years. This course has really made me think. And it will definitely make a difference in how I interact with children in the future.

One of the sections discusses how early childhood is a time to lay the groundwork for developing a capacity for respect. The author of this particular section holds that a basic quality for being able to respect others is empathy - -  being able to put oneself in another’s shoes, imagine how they are feeling. Young children are developmentally egocentric. They need to learn how to step outside themselves. This is a challenge for them. It takes time, They need support as they find their way from a self-only world view to one that allows for the feelings and concerns of others.

This is why social/emotional learning is such an enormously valuable part of the early childhood experience.

Looking at the news today I see three local stories where adults have clearly not mastered that shift from self-centeredness to respect.

  • In a recent meeting of the CAC, some parents showed a lack of concern for the basic civil rights of trans students because of their own uncomfortable feelings around bathroom use. 
  • On the County Executive’s Facebook page a commenter pokes fun of the concept that Federal workers are experiencing economic hardship during the shutdown because of her personal belief that all Federal Workers are highly paid professionals who live in expensive houses.
  •  Larry Walker of the African American Community Roundtable wrote this morning of two of the students of who defaced Glenelg High School with hate speech looking to have their actions reclassified as constitutionally protected free speech.

In all three cases we see a profound lack of empathy for other human beings. And without that basic ability to feel for others, respect cannot take root and grow. These are lessons that children should be learning from a young age so that, when they become adults, they can have respectful relationships
 both with friends and family and in the community at large. This does not mean giving up one’s own point of view. It mean developing the ability to hold more than one point of view in one’s head at the same time, and caring for the feelings of more than oneself.

Probably one of the strongest phrases I use in my interactions with students is the phrase, “It’s not okay.”

It’s not okay to push Ben.
It’s not okay to take Ann’s toy.
It’s not okay to say they can’t play.

Considering the local stories mentioned above I have much the same response.

It’s not okay to make it harder for trans kids to use the bathroom.
It’s not okay to belittle the financial hardships of others in your community.
It’s not okay to try to justify actions that hurt others.

Is it ever too late to learn empathy? Is there a developmental time window that, once missed, cannot be revisited? I hope not, because we have a lot of work to do.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

It’s Here!

The first snow of the season has arrived. There may be more today, if I am reading the forecast correctly. Kids will likely be enjoying some outdoor playtime today. Teachers may be wondering whether a Monday snow day is in the offing, and at some point today high school students will turn up on Twitter haranguing the school system with pleas, threats,and hard luck tales meant to influence their decision for tomorrow.

This is also the first big snow of the Ball administration. HoCoGov watchers will be keeping an eye out to see how the new team handles the winter weather event. There will be the inevitable comparisons between administrations amongst those with partisan leanings. Most folks, I think, just want to feel safe and secure in knowing that the County knows what to do when it snows.

So far this isn’t a cover the entire car and render most streets impassible snow, which is a very good thing. We’ll see how the day goes. People will be looking to keep up to date by checking County social media accounts or going to the Howard County Government website. There will be anxious attention to the snow plow tracker. And some folks will react by doing the same thing they always do: picking up the phone to ask a question or to request assistance. The County will need to be on top of that, too. Constituent services are the heart and soul of county government, in my opinion.

If it gets significantly worse people will be looking for social media outreach and assistance from their County Council representatives. I’ll be keeping an eye out for that, as well.

I do not know if this particular storm qualifies for the obligatory “County Exec in his after-hours attire meeting with the Emergency Preparedness Weather Team”* photo. I have to admit I am kind of hoping for one to see who all is around the table. But they certainly shouldn’t scramble to produce one on my account. I’m pretty sure they are all busy getting the job done.

Everyone at my house is too old to go sledding. I sure hope we have some neighborhood kids who take advantage of the hill right outside our front door. Our plan for the day involves music, crafting, and possibly watching a movie together. This seems like the ideal time to watch the second Paddington movie, since we’re all caught up with Dr. Who. And I’m still working on Michelle Obama’s book.

Wishing you warmth and a wonderful snow day.

*probably not the official title

Saturday, January 12, 2019


In the spirit of our friends over at Elevate Maryland, I have for you today my most unpopular benign opinion:

I hate spelling bees.

They really aren’t a sign of anything more than a capacity for rote memorization. Why must generation upon generation of American schoolchildren endure this 19th or possibly even 18th century public ritual each year? For some: anxiety and stress. For many: a whole lot of sitting around and waiting until it’s over.

Although the concept of a spelling contest has now spread to a few other countries, it originated in the United States. We see references to public spelling matches after the publication of Noah Webster’s famous “Blue Backed Speller.”

The great American educator Noah Webster first published A Grammatical Institute of the English Language, otherwise known as the Blue Back Speller, in 1783. His goal was to provide a uniquely American, Christ-centered approach to training children.  (Product description on Amazon)

Often when we talk about things being uniquely American, it is out of a sense of pride. In this case I think we ought to look at the other countries that don’t have spelling bees and ponder why they don’t consider this to be educational or entertaining. They might have something there.

Yes, I have heard the reasoning that American English has such a variety of words with irregular spellings and that is why spelling bees are a valuable sort of challenge here. In other countries words are largely spelled following more regular patterns. My complaint is that spelling bees come from an antiquated system of skill and drill, rote memorization which we should have put to rest long ago.

Today many of the nationally ranked, prize winning spellers are home-schooled children whose educational programs are modified to included hours and hours of daily drilling. There’s no decent research out there that supports an education so skewed to favor rote memorization in one subject area. It is essentially the process of creating a bonsai or a topiary kid.

As an aside, I was a great speller in school and did well in classroom spelling bees. So it isn’t a lack of spelling prowess that motivates my opinion. More likely it’s because of the particular kind of social anxiety I had that caused me to get nervous for all the other participants as they waited their turns and struggled for the correct answers. I wouldn’t live through that again if you paid me.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Things to Do

Five am has been looking pretty ugly this week. Today is much the same. I’m thrilled at the prospect of the impending weekend and a chance to sleep in a bit.

I read an article this morning about two Ellicott City folks who are opening a sports bar
in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. It’s great news for Baltimore but the concept itself sounds ghastly to me. But then, I am not a sports bar kind of person.

Upcoming events:

Earth Trekkers - - A Family’s Journey Around the World  
January 12th from 10 to 11:30 am
Howard County Conservancy

Elevate Maryland - - Interview with Council Member Opel Jones
January 14th at 5:30 pm

Gay Day at the Mill - - artists, performers, and history
January 26th from 4 pm to 8 pm
Historic Savage Mill

Great Chili Cook-Off - - to benefit Grass Roots
February 17th from 1 to 3 pm
Clarksville Commons

Evening in the Stacks - - an otherworldly themed fundraiser
February 23rd from 7 to 11 pm
East Columbia Branch

So, HoCo. Do you think it will snow this weekend? Have you done your crisis Grocery Store Run yet?

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Enough with the Dog Whistles Already

In response to the announcement that County Exective Calvin Ball had chosen Lisa Myers as the next Chief Of Police, one man said:

Well, we now know where you are coming from.

This was not meant to be a positive response.

I thought it was such an odd way to express disapproval. Dr. Ball has served on the County Council for twelve years. His record is out there. His campaign for Country Executive was a source of plenty of information about his goals and priorities. But suddenly, with the appointment of Lisa Myers, 

...we now know where you are coming from.

Is this is indeed the case, may I just say that this particular commenter has not been paying attention.

Of course, I don’t think for one moment that we are meant to take this comment at face value. These words are a racist dog whistle intended to indicate that Ball, a person of color, has appointed  Lisa Myers solely because she is a person of color. When whites appoints whites it must be because they are the most qualified for the job but when Blacks appoint Blacks, well, there must be something fishy going on. It must be some kind of unfair racial cronyism. It means that whites aren’t getting their fair share (read: most of the pie) so the use of coded language like “identity politics” will turn up in the comments section as a way to denigrate the choice.

I read the following statement yesterday and I think it’s quite telling:

It was once a crime to teach slaves to read. People fear equity when they're afraid to compete, justice when they know they're in the wrong. - - Janice Chan @curiositybone

This goes hand in hand with Clay Shirky’s statement:

When you're accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.

As County Executive Ball begins his administration and makes choices for leadership positions we cannot know in advance whether he (and they) will be successful in their missions. Some are inclined to believe they will. Some aren’t sure but hope for the best. Some look at his race and/or his party affiliation and know, just know, that something bad is afoot. You can hear their voices in the online comments saying, “Hey guys! Hey guys! He’s not one of us, guys!”

It’s sad. And disheartening. 

If you want to know where someone is really coming from, you’re going to have to do more than aim your pea shooter on social media.