Saturday, May 31, 2014

My Commercial for Summer

This ad yesterday made my skin crawl. It is creepy. Watching this confirmed every reason I have ever had for refusing to buy a Nintendo 2DS for my child. They have depicted children in all the iconic locations of summer, but the kids aren't really "present." They're disconnected from the natural environment. It's manipulative, and sad.

So, with a nod to this loathesome little piece which subverts the real joys of summer, here is my commercial. You'll have to use your imagination.


A sunny day. A happy child is biking along, tossing newspapers to front porches along a paper route.

Narrator: Have you heard the news? Summer's coming. Will you be ready?

Camera pulls back to show second child on bike, happily reaching into a pouch and tossing Nintendo 2DS devices in to trash cans along the route.

Narrator: What's on your summer fun list? Keeping cool?

Parent is throwing diving targets into the pool for kids to bring up. They are revealed to be 2DS devices.

Scene shifts to the beach where kids are digging in the sand with the 2DS, and using them to embellish sand castles. One child loads one up with seashells and floats it it to sea.

Narrator: Or soaking up the sun with your friends?

Next scene--child nailing steps for a treehouse into the tree. Each step is a 2DS. Moving up the steps, the camera shows children in the treehouse consulting a handmade treasure map. They look down at a child in a hammock, reading a book. Next to the hammock is a side table with a glass of lemonade, resting on a coaster. The coaster? A Ninetndo 2DS.

Narrator: Your imagination can take you anywhere. The sky's the limit.

Final scene: the sun has come down and children are roasting marshmallows around a campfire. The fire pit is delineated with a circle of Nintendo 2DS devices.

Narrator: This summer is going to be the best one ever. Because you're going to throw yourself into every minute.

Commercial ends with these words appearing on the screen:







Friday, May 30, 2014

Let's Do the Numbers

Last night I was startled to read the following in the Sun article about Thursday's joint meeting of the CA Board and the Inner Arbor Trust:

"Many of the residents who testified at the meeting did so in favor of the plan, although there were some who criticized it."

My first thought was, it's too bad there wasn't someone from the press there to take an accurate count.

Oh. Yeah.

For the first time in recent memory, the vast majority of those who turned out to speak at a CA Board meeting did so in favor of moving Columbia forward. If you weren't there, the press account gives you absolutely no idea this occurred.

The numbers really matter.

It made me wonder what other newspaper stories would be like without the numbers:

  • Many cast their votes for Smith, although some voted for Jones.
  • The Orioles scored many runs, but some were scored by the Red Sox.
  • The school budget allocates many dollars for testing, with some for teachers salaries.
  • Many of the pollutants were found to come from the factory, although some were unattributable to any particular source.
  • Test results show that many of the students improved, but some did not.

If you found yourself describing a neighborhood barbecue, or a child's lemonade stand, you might not feel it necessary to nail down the numbers. But this is the real thing, real news happening in Columbia, Maryland.

It counts.

For the record, of those who spoke about the Inner Arbor plan for Symphony Woods:

12 in favor

3 against

1 with several questions (difficult to discern for or against)

I think that could have been reported.

I think that should have been reported.

The next step for the Inner Arbor plan will be a presentation before the Planning Board some time this summer. I will share the date as soon as I know it. I want to see many of you there.

And I want some mention of how many in the newspaper.






Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Celebrating Something New

In one of my favorite movies, "A Thousand Clowns", Jason Robard's character Murray likes to go down to the docks to see off cruise ships. He explains, "It’s a great thing to do when you are about to start something new; it gives you the genuine feeling of the beginning of things."

That's the feeling I got when I volunteered at the Inner Arbor Trust booth at Wine in the Woods. People stopped to look at pictures of the plan, ask questions, share their own opinions. The response was overhwhelmingly favorable. The most asked question--

"How soon is this going to happen?"

There was a time when the concept of Columbia was

  • New
  • Daring
  • Cutting-edge
  • Ground-breaking
  • Creative
  • Breaking the Mold

Columbia was meant to bring the force of change to community-building: to transform old patterns with new ideas and transform our way of living for the better. The Inner Arbor plan brings exactly that spirit to Symphony Woods. I continue to be astonished that there are people who experienced the joy and excitement of Columbia's beginnings who refuse to allow that same joy and excitement to the residents of today and tomorrow.

I have attended multiple CA Board meetings and spoken in support of this park. I will keep coming back as often as necessary, and I am not alone. The voice of this park is carried by young professionals, families, children, and even in the words of long-time residents who recognize themselves and their values in the creation of something new for all to share.

One of the things we can all admire about James Rouse is that when he looked in the mirror, he saw something more than himself. He saw a responsibility to make the world better. These words describe it well:

"Without vision, there is no power. By building an image of the possible, we not only leap over a lot of roadblocks that would defeat us, we also generate a whole new constituency of people who want to see that image realized...For many years I have lived and worked with the conviction that what ought to be, can be, with the will to make it so..."

If Columbia is to live on and thrive, we must connect with that "whole new constituency of people" who can invest in its future by choosing or maintaining Columbia as their home. This imaginative, visionary plan for a people's park in the heart of our Downtown is crucial to our continued success as a community.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

It's Not Yours?

Anyone who has parents has lived through the stage where they go on and on about how "they don't make things like they used to." With my mother, it was shirt boxes. Every Christmas she bemoaned the fact that the making of shirt boxes had degraded to this:

"And they don't even give them to you--they make you ask!" she would exclaim indignantly.

Mother, who grew up during the Great Depression, knew how to outsmart those retailers and their substandard boxes. She had saved nearly every really good shirt box from years gone by. You know, the ones that looked more like this:

She kept her collection in an upstairs closet. Once a year, she'd get them down to use for gift-giving. They really were the best boxes for shirts, sweaters, scarves, and many other things. But they always produced gales of laughter once the wrapping came off, because each one was labeled on the end: "1971 Income Tax" or "Connecticut State Tax Records."

Before you could even say thank you for the sweater, she'd be moving towards you.

"Now, you can't keep the box. I need it for my records."

And you'd be saying, "1971 Taxes--just what I always wanted!"

Right now in Columbia, there is a movement amongst some long-time residents to assert the claim that Columbia belongs to them. You might have thought that since you live here, work here, play here, raise kids here, volunteer here, that it belonged to you. No, no.

You're merely in the box. But the box belongs to them.

My mother, with all her idiosyncrasies and Depression-era habits, wanted to save only the things that were made well and held up well over time. However, this did not prevent her from accepting better innovations as they came along. She didn't want the world to stand still. Although she missed things from days gone by, she also knew that part of life is moving forward: giving the world to your children. And their children.

Yet it seems that almost every day I am reading stories in local news about angry citizens who refuse to share Columbia with anyone else. Local village Boards, the CA Board, detractors of the Inner Arbor plan, even the local Democratic Club. If you think these things don't matter to you, you are wrong.

Quite simply, these folks are trying to control your future with their past.

Columbia, in theory, is beautiful. But it is beautiful only as long as our actions match its intent. We should strive to save the things that were well made and have stood up well over time. We should be honest about what hasn't. And above all, we should understand that the reason we do this is not just for yesterday, but for today, and tomorrow.

It's not just for keeping. It's for sharing.



Monday, May 26, 2014

The Meaning of Days

How do you write about something and not make it about yourself?

How do I blog about Memorial Day and not make it about me?

Because it isn't. It really, really isn't about me, my feelings or my views.

I could tell you about how I was raised as a Unitarian during the '60s and how my sisters' friends were conscientious objectors. I could tell you that my Grandfather fought in Italy in WW1 and my father served in Japan in the Army of the Occupation in WW2.

Oh, and have I ever told you that my family fought on both sides of the American Revolution and the Civil War?

I was raised to believe that war was wrong, killing was wrong, but that sometimes you still had to do it, and you had to choose very wisely, because life is precious.

But Memorial Day isn't about me. It is about choice, risk and commitment, fear, pain, work, dedication, and grief that I will never know. If I hang out a flag does that even begin to touch it? If I stop to say a prayer will it mean something?

Would I know how to pray?

I once had a conversation with an Episcopal priest about a complicated issue that sincerely troubled me. I said, "I feel like I am sitting in the back of the class, waving my hand, saying, 'I don't get it.'"

He said, "You don't have to get it."

In other words: it's not about you. Let go of the notion that it has to make sense to you. Be open to a meaning beyond your comprehension.

I'm closing with a poem that circulated in England during World War Two. Eleanor Roosevelt shared it in her My Day column on June 39, 1944.


"We who have husbands at home should be very quiet

For we do not know

The meaning of days, nor yet do we understand

The hush of houses where in shadow go

The unheard footsteps, the invisible faces of men.

Let us not speak

Too loudly of war restrictions and rationing and in the black-out

For there are eyes that seek

Empty horizons, skies and deserts and sad gray seas,

And a sign from God.

While we who have husbands at home look in the shops

For wool perhaps, or cod

Let us remember, when we complain of the winters cold

There are others here

Who have held in the moonless dark of a thousand nights

The hand of fear,

And have walked for years in desolate barren valleys

Where no flowers grow

We who have husbands at home should be very quiet,

For we do not know."




Sunday, May 25, 2014

Day of Rest

Such beautiful weather. Our azalea, often a late bloomer, is gorgeous this year. Our peonies are well on their way to the best blooms ever. One set of neighbors is re-doing their back patio, another is planting grass seed and making improvements before moving. On the other side of our house, our neighbor has put in a beautiful raised flower bed which has been adopted as home by an adorable frog she has named "Flower."

Margo and I went to the Talbott Springs pool yesterday on the first day of the season. (The weather was lovely but the water was cold.) I can't wait to see that pool filled with summer activity. Pool staff were knowledgeable and friendly and I just have a good feeling about this summer. For many years I lamented that our pool looked sad and unloved. I have to say that, little by little, all the small improvements are adding up and it now feels fresh and appealing.

Today should be a day of rest. And yet, despite the joys of Spring and love of neighborhood and home, I cannot feel entirely restful.

Because of this. In a week when I pondered the sexism of middle school dress codes and the unfathomable stupidity of a status posting about rape, a rich white kid in California went on a killing spree because women weren't handing over their bodies to him for his sexual gratification.

How can I rest? How can we rest? In fact, some women haven't. They've been up all night on Twitter participating in a powerful trending hashtag: #YesAllWomen. I found many of my life experiences as a woman there. And also much, much worse. There's so much violence against women, simply because they are women.

A man posted this, and was subjected to hateful pushback from other men:

@maltmonkey: Feminism should just be called equality but unfortunately then too many people would miss the point. #YesAllWomen

Today I will go to the Farmer's Market with my daughter, and support her as she cooks her first full meal for the family. That's what moms do. But is there anything I can do to protect her from hateful, violent, marginalizing, controlling, sexualizing, demeaning behavior which is what #YesAllWomen experience?




Saturday, May 24, 2014

Blame, Responsibility, and Rape

Yesterday I talked about how we take away the confidence of middle school girls by criminalizing their bodies. It isn't challenging enough that they are going through major upheavals inside and out, our culture throws extra rules and negative judgement at almost every change as it occurs. You are female: you are to be blamed.

That post promoted three different fascinating discussions: here, on Facebook, and on Twitter. It clearly struck a nerve. I was gratified that more than one point of view was expressed. I learned from all of the input. Contrast that experience with this:

Thursday evening this post was put out on Facebook and Twitter by Howard County Times--

A Columbia man has been charged with rape for allegedly having consensual sex with a 14-year-old girl, according to Frederick police.

Read more:

This is what followed:

A: isn't legal age of consent in Maryland 16? SO by definition it is NOT consensual at 14?

Me: Wow. This is truly an odd way to word this. If it is below the age of consent it is rape. Period. What is the writer trying to say here?

C: There's no such thing as "consensual rape."

Howard County Times: Thanks for your comments. We assure you the writer is not making a statement about the age of consent. We delivered the facts as they were presented in the police report, and, as such, every sentence in the story is attributed to police.

Me: Ah, so we should assume there are quotes somewhere in the status posting?

Howard County Times: Again, the information above is attributed to Frederick County police. We take special care to not take liberties in our writing on sensitive issues, so if the wording disturbs you in any way, you are free to get in touch with their department.

Howard County Times: For further clarification, here is the report from Frederick police:

Frederick, MD

Man Indicted for Second Degree Rape (CID)

D: No need for pedantry here, folks. They're just trying to be clear that it wasn't a violent attack. He's still being charged!

Me: "Pedantry"? (I was thinking, "I do not think that word means what you think it means...")


Whoever is running social media for Howard County Times must have been having an extremely bad day. Or it could be that they need some additional training on how to deal with the public. In the face of clear concern from readers, the response was: justify, justify, justify.

I read the Sun article. I read the police report. You should, too. The actual article is fine; the material is handled responsibly. The police report, on the other hand, certainly raises some questions in my mind about attitudes in the Frederick police department. But neither address the problem at hand, the choice to post these words on social media:

"A Columbia man has been charged with rape for allegedly having consensual sex with a 14-year-old girl, according to Frederick police."

Howard County Times cannot get away with blaming this wording on the Frederick Police Department. This wording was chosen and published by the Howard County Times. The reader is left with the thought: that the writer doesn't understand the age of consent, doesn't understand statutory rape, or thinks 14 year olds can have consensual sex with adults.

And the response to being called on this?

"It's not my fault. Blame the police department. If you don't like it, take it up with them."

This makes me sick. It also makes me angry. Take responsibility for your own actions. This is a story about a fourteen year old girl. It should not be a story about sloughing off the blame onto somebody else.

The rapist may say, "It wasn't rape; she wanted it." Isn't that horrifying enough? Is it necessary to add insult to injury through sloppy writing and a refusal to own up to it?

It was clear to me that the writer was thinking, "does the wording really matter that much?"

Yes, it matters.


Friday, May 23, 2014

Don't Tell Me How To Dress!

One day recently, during Homeroom time in Algebra class, Falcon News was all about the Dress Code. My daughter was infuriated.

Ms.Stevens and Ms. Saunderson lectured the entire school about What Not to Wear.

"Now that the weather is warmer, let's review the dress code."

Imagine you're a middle schooler for a minute.

Blah blah blah....shorts should be a certain length...blah blah girls--

"It was sort of that the girls were being singled out."

What do you mean?

"It sort of saying, "we see that you're wearing this and we don't like this, so stop wearing it, but they don't say that about the boys. The rules don't work both ways."

"Like what?"

"So ladies-- if you wear tank tops, cover up so nothing extra is showing."

(Nothing extra = bra straps.)

I asked her, "Should there be a dress code in middle school?"

"I think students can make their own decisions--like pajama pants. Pajama pants don't seem wrong to me. They wear them on college campuses."

"Would you have any rules?"

We talked about it. After a while, it boiled down to this:

  • Length of shorts -- no butt hanging out.
  • Consideration should be given for safety, and some basic level of modesty, but the focus should be comfort and personal style.

When the Middle School focuses on how the girls need to 'fix themselves' in order to be acceptable, they are just one more voice in the thousands of negative voices teenaged girls hear, critizing their bodies. Margo's older sister wrote this in a blog post in response to their clothes shopping trip together:

And beyond that - what is this power, this female body, which needs to be vanquished? Not only does my sister need to find shorts in three different sizes, no; she needs to make sure she isn't inappropriate, distracting, tempting. I understand that clothes should address utilitarian needs (so delicate bits hanging out would probably be a problem) but what is so worrisome about legs? I really do get that her clothes should serve a purpose - warmth, comfort, ease of movement - but, for me, any hint of the word "modesty" makes me clutch at my hair and moan. I find nothing offensive about my sister's body. Again, in the situation of her school making rules about the usefulness of clothes, I'm all for it - but once the line is crossed, once it becomes about covering up a woman's body because of "distraction" or "modesty" or "what's appropriate," then I think we all must wonder.

What concerns me about the school's dress code is that they act like the boys must be protected from being distracted by girls' bodies. That there's just something inherent in the female form that must be censored to assure proper learning. There aren't any rules in place to protect girls from being distracted by boys' bodies. Why? Perhaps because they expect girls to be responsible for their own behavior?

Margo and I agreed that this feels suspiciously like a double standard.

And it didn't take very long for me, as an adult, to make the leap to this photo from a Delhi protest.

We need to think about this, and talk about this. Not just because of the message it sends to our daughters, but also because of the message it sends to our sons.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Universe is Calling...


...but is anyone listening?

Yesterday I was walking down the hallway at Bollman Bridge Elementary on my way to teach a class. I passed an elementary student who was flanked by two staff members. I noticed as I passed that he was wearing a headset. I also found it interesting that they were moving down the hallway at a pretty consistent pace. That's not always the case with special needs students.

When I got a little further along I realized that the student was vocalizing. It wasn't clearly articulated, rather a monotone, but in an instant it struck me. I turned around.

"Is he singing?" I asked.


"Is he singing, "Let it Go?"

They were surprised. "Yes?"

I pumped my fist in a kind of triumph. "Yesss!" I exclaimed, with extra "s" for emphasis.

"Is that good?"

"Well, I'm a music teacher, so of course I think it's awesome."

"Maybe we should talk to you sometime, then." We smiled.

And all the while he walked, in perfect time to the song, which he sang, and then a few seconds later I heard him echo my "Yesss!" as I turned the corner to head to class.


Yesterday, the County Council passed a budget which will allow the Howard County Schools to cut back on Music and Art instruction in five Title 1 elementary schools. Yes, in order to fix the achievement gap, they're going to cut back on Music and Art. Just can't fit it all in. Nope. No more room.

In addition, this particular initiative is being touted as a "model for the future," so look for it to move to a school near you, and sooner than you might think.

Funny thing, on the very same day our County Council gave their assent, social media was ablaze with stories about First Lady Michelle Obama speaking out on the vital importance of Arts Education for at-risk students.

  • Mrs. Obama said, "The bottom line here is very clear: Arts education isn't something we add on after we've achieved other priorities, like raising test scores and getting kids into college. It's actually critical for achieving those priorities in the first place."
  • Mr. Obama said, "The arts are central to who we are as a people, and they are central to the success of our kids. This is not an afterthought," he said. "This is not something you do because it's kind of nice to do. It is necessary for these young people to succeed that we promote the arts."
  • Actress Alfre Woodard said, "Our kids are glimpsing the fact that they have an inherent value and that confidence just spreads across their lives."

But we don't have time for that. We just can't fit it in.


The Universe is calling...

Yesterday, because I was listening, I learned something:

Politicians may let you down,

People may let you down,

But Music will never, ever let you down.

Is anyone else out there listening?


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Someone to Believe In

Last Friday I had a chance to sit down and have lunch with Wendy Jane Royalty, who is a candidate for County Council in District 1. This is the seat held at present by Courtney Watson, who is a candidate for County Executive. Wendy and I had been introduced by a mutual friend who thought we might have some things in common.

Well, we did. Plenty, as it turns out. But I want to focus on one thing in particular, as it is near and dear to my heart: education.

Wendy and I share a deep respect for teachers, and concerns about low morale in our schools amongst our education professionals. Perhaps it is her background as a community activist, her training as a social worker, or her first-hand experience in schools as a parent. At any rate, she sees teachers and parents as partners in the ongoing process of educating our children and lifting our community up.

We discussed fair and positive treatment for teachers, the voice of teachers and parents in school reform, the complex needs of students as human beings, and the need for a dynamic Board of Education that sees an obligation to stakeholders.

Partnership and advocacy mean a lot to me. I want to see people in public service who are leading for the right reasons. Politics isn't a game of upmanship to me; it really should be about helping people. Ms. Royalty is the kind of person who places value on interactions with people--she's focused, listening, thinking. Ready to put it all together and do something.

Anyone who has worked in community activism knows the feeling when you meet someone who combines the right amount of enthusiasm, commitment, and determination. If you walk away from that meeting thinking of projects on which you could collaborate, it means something. It is the potential of working together for positive good.

I'm looking for candidates in all of our local races who support the whole picture of education, and most especially teachers, parents, and students. We can say all we want that "these issues are handled by the Board of Education." That's not enough. We all need to be committed to making our schools a positive and equitable environment.

Now, I don't live in District 1. Perhaps you don't either. But we all stand to win if we support responsive, collaborative candidates.

Give it some thought.



Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Questions and Illusions

Tom Coale in his blog HoCoRising wrote this yesterday about citizen engagement in the budget process:

To allow for meaningful engagement, you need two things - 1) Clarity of issues, 2) Results. If you can't explain the process and underlying factual basis for decision-making, engagement is an illusion. Any engaged citizen will quickly find that their budget request will have more shelf-life if they can recommend corresponding revenue or budget-savings to pay for it. The next, much more important, element is showing citizens that engagement works. Time is valuable and engagement can quickly turn to frustration without some evidence that time was well spent. We will not agree on every issue, but we need to show citizens how their participation affected the process.

I am going to reframe that in terms of the School System and the Model Schools initiative:

To allow for meaningful engagement, you need two things - 1) Clarity of issues -- If you can't explain the process and underlying factual basis for decision-making, engagement is an illusion.

Question: Do you feel the Board of Education and Central Office have adequately explained the process and underlying factual basis for moving to the Model Schools initiative?

2) Results -- The next, much more important, element is showing citizens that engagement works. Time is valuable and engagement can quickly turn to frustration without some evidence that time was well spent.

Question: Do you feel that meaningful citizen engagement was encouraged? Do you feel that your efforts in trying to communicate your views were treated with respect? Was your time well spent?

We will not agree on every issue, but we need to show citizens how their participation affected the process.

Question: Do you feel that your participation affected the process?

In summary:

1) Do you feel that we have enough data to make this change, and was that data clearly and fully explained to stakeholders?

2) Was stakeholder engagement actively encouraged, respected, and treated as meaningful input?

3) If we elect the Board of Education, aren't we entitled to this level of citizen engagement?

If you continue to have serious questions, make your concerns known. In addition to writing the Board of Education, please write County Executive Ken Ulman, and the County Council. Now that County Government has stepped up to tout this initiative, it means they are also responsible to citizens for its implementation.

Is citizen engagement in the school system real? Or merely an illusion?

It's time to find out.


Monday, May 19, 2014

Breaking: Corey Andrews Withdraws from Board of Ed. Race

Just received this letter from Corey Andrews:
Good afternoon,
I got into this race to make a difference for the Howard County Public School System. It is important that we protect this local treasure.
The fact is, there are forces preventing those who want to make a difference from doing so. The Howard County Board of Education exposed its corruption a few weeks ago when it abused its power and censured Cindy Vaillancourt in the attempt to smear her name before the upcoming election. Board members have had their personal emails breached by school system staff. Critical documents have been withheld from some Board members. There have even been attempts at physical intimidation by other Board members.
Several Board members, along with a select few candidates, have been coordinating an effort to control the Board and who is on it. Two candidates have resorted to extremely negative campaigning behind closed-doors.
This is not the first time I have run for this position. When I filed to run, I was prepared for a heated campaign. I was not prepared to deal with corruption and abuse of power and am not interested in serving on a Board with people who use such unethical tactics.
Therefore, I am immediately suspending by campaign for the Howard County Board of Education.
Sometimes, it feels like the "bad guys" are winning. The people of Howard County deserve better than this.
Corey Andrews

Breaking the Spell

Deep in the heart of Mr. Rouse's created city hides a mysterious secret: an ordinary plot of land where nothing ever happens.

Yet once a year, out of the mists, a vibrant park arises full of life--music, people, dancing. Then, just as quickly as it has come, it disappears. For only two days in the year this park exists. It is Columbia's Brigadoon.

In the Scottish town of Brigadoon, legend has it, the local minister prayed to God that his home would not be cursed by the evils of the outside world. He struck a bargain with the Almighty that, in order to maintain Brigadoon and its people in their state of innocence, never changing, all would disappear and sleep, awakening for only one day every hundred years.

In our town of Columbia we have residents so determined to keep Symphony Woods unchanged, tethered to an imagined purity, that they have assured that it comes to life but once a year--during Wine in the Woods. And then it almost startles one with what possibilities the park might have, if only it did not languish under a paralyzing spell. It bursts forth with delights to the senses: vibrant, beckoning.

Today I saw people walking in downtown Columbia! They came from all directions, down the sidewalk on Little Patuxent Parkway, crossing roads, carrying blankets, chatting wth friends and family as they made the pilgrimage. I talked to people of all ages. Little children danced, young couples held hands, older couples shared a well-worn blanket and enjoyed the music.

photo credit: Frank Hecker

Now, if real life were like the movies, I'd have to commit myself to a life of slumber to get even a brief taste of Columbia's paradise. But there's one thing of which I am absolutely sure: real life is not like the movies. (Nor am I Gene Kelly.) In real life good people can choose positive change. Brave people can help a community move forward.

And a park for the people can be freed from its spell.


A shout out to Michael McCall and the Inner Arbor team for coordinating volunteers to run a booth at Wine in the Woods this weekend. The response was positive, curious, sometimes even excited. I heard a woman exclaim, "I can't wait for this to happen!"

To learn more, visit .

Shouldn't children be able to dance in the woods more than once a year?


Sunday, May 18, 2014

Be Educated!

Tip of the hat to candidate Tom Baek, who sent the following:


On April 30th, 2014, The League of Women's Voters Board of Education Candidates Forum was held at the Howard County Dept. of Education on Rt. 108 in Ellicott City.

The following is a TV SCHEDULE of the REBROADCASTS for the rest of May.

Channel 42, Verizon; Channel 95, Comcast.

SUN MAY 18TH: FORUM #1 - 12PM-115PM; FORUM #2 - 130PM-245PM

SUN MAY 18TH: FORUM #1 - 8PM-915PM; FORUM #2 - 930PM-1045PM

FRI MAY 23RD: FORUM #1 - 8PM-915PM; FORUM #2 - 930PM-1045PM

SUN MAY 25th: FORUM #1 - 12PM-115PM; FORUM #2 - 130PM-245PM

SUN MAY 25th: FORUM #1 - 8PM-915PM; FORUM #2 - 930PM-1045PM

2 FORUMS were held, 6 in each group.

Numbers were drawn to determine who would be in which forum.

Candidates in Forum #1: Corey Andrews, Olga Butler, Dan Furman, Leslie Kornreich, Mike Smith, and Cynthia Vaillancourt,

Candidates in Forum #2: Bess Altwerger, Tom Baek, Zaneb Beams, Alan Dyer, Sandra French, and Maureen Evans Arthurs.

Candidate Cynthia O'Connor did not participate.

Blair Ames write-up is here.


This article by a Blair Ames take note of HCEA endorsements for the Board. Read it to see who, and why. For more in-depth information on why these candidates were selected, you can read updates on the HCEA Facebook page. Blair Ames has also been doing a series of in-depth pieces on each candidate. Three cheers to him for doing his homework; now let's do ours!


I don't normally say this, but there's a lot coming up on the blog this week. So do your homework on the Board of Ed now--talk about it with your friends, too, and be ready for what the week has in store.



Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Heart of Learning

The following was printed in the program of the Oakland Middle School Spring Concert. Read it.

No, I mean really read it. Read it as though you are going to be tested on it, or write a paper on it. Read it and think about how it might apply to your own life. Read it and think about how it applies to at-risk students.

Ten Lessons the Arts Teach

1. The arts teach children to make good judgments about qualitative relationships.Unlike much of the curriculum in which correct answers and rules prevail, in the arts, it is judgment rather than rules that prevail.

2. The arts teach children that problems can have more than one solution and that questions can have more than one answer.

3. The arts celebrate multiple perspectives. One of their large lessons is that there are many ways to see and interpret the world.

4. The arts teach children that in complex forms of problem solving purposes are seldom fixed, but change with circumstance and opportunity. Learning in the arts requires the ability and a willingness to surrender to the unanticipated possibilities of the work as it unfolds.

5. The arts make vivid the fact that neither words in their literal form nor numbers exhaust what we can know. The limits of our language do not define the limits of our cognition.

6. The arts teach students that small differences can have large effects.The arts traffic in subtleties.

7. The arts teach students to think through and within a material. All art forms employ some means through which images become real.

8. The arts help children learn to say what cannot be said. When children are invited to disclose what a work of art helps them feel, they must reach into their poetic capacities to find the words that will do the job.

9. The arts enable us to have experience we can have from no other source and through such experience to discover the range and variety of what we are capable of feeling.

10. The arts' position in the school curriculum symbolizes to the young what adults believe is important.

SOURCE: Eisner, E. (2002). The Arts and the Creation of Mind, In Chapter 4, What the Arts Teach and How It Shows. (pp. 70-92). Yale University Press. Available from NAEA Publications. NAEA grants reprint permission for this excerpt from Ten Lessons with proper acknowledgment of its source and NAEA.


Now, tell me: can we, in good conscience, cut back on music and art instruction in our schools? They are not a nice, expendable "extra". Arts are the heart of learning for our students.

Write the Superintendent, the School Board, the County Executive, and your County Council Representative. They need to hear your voice.

Friday, May 16, 2014


Things that make me scratch my head:


  • Political signs where the candidate ran out of room to include his own first name.
  • Middle school dress codes which seem to focused almost entirely on controlling what girls wear.
  • Democratic candidate who thinks one must be born a Democrat to be valid and accepts no converts -- way to kill off the party, sir!
  • Agitators who deface a park with spray paint, staple things to trees, and then claim they are trying to "save it".
  • Village Board members who act like the mean kids who always call you last when choosing teams.
  • People who are fond of saying decisions should be data-driven yet make sweeping decisions without adequate data.

It has been quite a week. Feel free to add the things that make you scratch your head in the comments section.


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Serendipity Shuffle

An update from Ann Faust, HoCo Families for Music and Arts in our Schools:

Dear Howard County Public school music supporters, I would like to let you all know that we have some good news from the Deputy Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction & Administration Ms Linda Wise. Ms Wise called me today 05/14/2014 and told me that our music sectionals shall be attended as before. While this is a step on the right direction she also mentioned that all content areas will be experiencing cuts of some sort, general music and art will be reduced from the current 60 minutes of instructional time to 45 minutes per week. Again less than ideal, but… Also Ms Wise told me that Mr Rob White's (Instructional Facilitator for Music) and Mr Mark Coates' (Coordinator of Fine Arts) positions will be current until the end of the year after that they will be looking for new candidates. Furthermore, I shall be meeting with them next Wednesday to address any further questions we may have so please feel free to send them to me. As always thank you very much for your support.


If you wrote a letter yesterday, thank you. It is because of you and others like you that the schools system reached out to Howard County Parents for School Music and HoCo Families for Music and Arts in our Schools to communicate the information you see above. While both advocacy groups had been told repeatedly that no decisions had yet been made, and that the Board wouldn't be addressing this until June, it is clear that a decision had been made and no effort was made to follow up with advocacy groups.

What made the difference? Serendipity.

It turns out that, completely by chance, Ms. Faust's call for letters occurred on the eve of the official press conference to unveil the Model Schools program, to be held today at Running Brook Elementary. What could possibly be more inconvenient than having email boxes fill up with letters from unhappy constituents the day before your big event?

That doesn't look good. Whatever philosophy of "control the message" has been in use doesn't appear to be working too well.

The heart of the matter:

  • The pilot program at Duckett's Lane hasn't even completed one year, so there is no data to review.
  • There is substantial data that music and arts programs are a significant game changer in school success for disadvantaged populations.
  • There is no data to show that cutting back on instructional time for music and the arts to introduce world languages produces significant positive results.

Even more puzzling:

  • Music and art professionals had no significant input in the changes
  • Parents and community members who sought to have input were marginalized.
  • Two separate advocacy groups received zero follow-up once the decision had been made
The only reason that a statement was issued yesterday was as a measure of damage control. I think that's pretty sad. And it just isn't good business. I love Howard County Schools and I always want to believe that the school system wants what is best for our children and our community. If the school system had handled this courteously and professionally, we would not be where we are today.

I leave you today with this saddening bit of news: do you know who is most anxious to see the official press conference today? Plenty of teachers in the Howard County Schools, because they have no idea what is going to be said or how it will affect them.

Don't you think they ought to know before the press?





Wednesday, May 14, 2014

It Ain't Over

This morning I received this email:


Dear Howard County Music and Arts supporters,


I urgently need your help regarding to the changes taking place that can jeopardize our wonderful music and arts programs.

During our numerous meetings with the Superintendent Dr Foose and her people from the Howard County Board of education, they have promised to us again and again that there will be no changes to the music and art programs. Then these promises turn into “we have not decided anything yet” malarkey. Unfortunately today it is becoming clear to us that they have yet again publicly lied to us all; for the past month they have been holding public meetings in various elementary schools to inform the parents about upcoming year and the changes that will be taking place.

Also it should be noted that Rob White's (Instructional Facilitator for Music) position vacancy has not been posted and neither has Mark Coates' (Coordinator of Fine Arts) position vacancy. Is there concern about what Superintendent Renee Foose is trying is planning on eliminating positions?

WHAT CAN YOU DO? Please please send emails and written mails to all the BoE and Dr Foose to remind us that we are still here, and music and arts are still VERY important for us before it is too late and before the actual voting takes place in early June. Today is the day and now is the time. Please act now as once the things are voted on it would be much harder to reverse.

Thank you for your contentious support to keep music and arts alive in HoCo for all of our students.



Ann Faust

HoCo Families for Music and Arts in our Schools


If you need the emails:

Student Member:




It would seem that "disingenuous" is the word for the day. While telling concerned parents one thing, the school system is moving ahead doing quite another. If you care about music and arts education, please continue to make your voice heard. Even if this is not "your" issue, please take note of how this is being done and how parents and teacher are being treated. If it can happen with music and arts, it can happen again.

If parents do not get involved to assert their right to participation in the process, it will happen again.

Post Script:

Howard County Parents for School Music has announced the Howard County Music Teacher of the Year Award. This year the award goes to two teachers:

This year's Howard County Music Educators of the Year: Brent Flinchbaugh - THES Band and Strings Director ; Aimee Winner - HSES Vocal Music Teacher. Frank Owens, CLES Band Director, is this year's Award Finalist.

I think it is extremely fitting that these teachers represent elementary music: band, strings, and vocal/general--the very programs we are fighting to maintain.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

You Mean, It's Supposed to be Fun?

Yesterday NPR asked, "Why Aren't Teens Reading Like They Used To?" And the floodgates were opened: television, YouTube, Internet, video games, electronic devices...but I don't agree. So I added my opinion to the mix.

Julia Jackson McCready: High stakes standardized testing changed the teaching of reading into skill and drill factories. Think of how the wonderful show "Reading Rainbow" was ditched in favor of skill based shows.

This is the discussion that followed, thanks to the Reply function on Facebook:

You're absolutely right. My daughters grew up watching PBS and I'm sad to say that my granddaughters are not. Reading Rainbow with LeVar Burton was my guide to library books for kids. It's a shame.

Julia Jackson McCready My 13 year old daughter learned to hate reading in school--read the "selection" then fill in the circles. Ugh. Where is the pleasure of beautiful literature in that?

We got around that by having a reward system at home for reading. And I think my son was the last generation of Reading Rainbow kids. He is 19 now. But from 6 to 12 we had a reward system for reading more books and he got to pick out what he wanted to read.

100% agree! My oldest daughter, 29, LOVED reading all through school. She graduated just one year into NCLB (2002). My youngest, who graduated last year, HATED reading all through school, even though she (like my oldest) was designated Talented and Gifted in reading. The way reading was taught to her was totally different than my oldest: every reading was followed by some sort of Q and A aimed at preparing kids for high stakes standardized tests. A year out of school, she finally reads for pleasure again. Now with the increased testing pressure and Common Core standards emphasis on non-fiction and "close reading" it's rare to find kids who think reading is anything but a distasteful chore. If reading is ONLY for finding information and answering a question, why would you want to do THAT? It's so much easier to google. It's sad what we are allowing people who know nothing about education to force on our schools.

Teachers definitely recognize the need for leisure reading, at least all the teachers I worked with did. The problem is often the administration who sees it as a waste of time, when they could be teaching for the standardized tests. If a teacher's students are testing well, then they have more leeway when it comes to silent reading time. When I was a school librarian, every class had scheduled library time once a week. I dedicated half that period to silent reading. But as soon as the teachers were instructed that their kids weren't performing up to standards, guess which "nonessential" class was sacrificed? Library! Even though it was only 45 min once a week. Good thing I was able to convey how awesome the library and reading in general was, as the kids would come in before and after school, or during class when they'd finished their work! They LOVED the library, because they got to read whatever they wanted, and I didn't make them do reports or test their reading comprehension. They were able to read for the pure enjoyment. For them, it WAS a leisure activity.


Recently my daughter discovered Fan Fiction on the internet. For the first time in her life she is enjoying reading. She reads and reads and reads. A lot of it is poorly written. And she knows that. But she reads it because she wants to. I would call it a guilty pleasure, but luckily she feels no guilt. The interesting thing? She has begun to notice that she can get through school reading assignments more quickly.

Funny that. Has no one done a study on how reading for pleasure can improve your overall reading skills? Really?

I leave you with the best, and most devastating comment I received:

Whoa. You just blew my mind. That's so spot-on. School sucked the joy out of reading for me.

It would seem that No Child Left Behind left reading--for pleasure--behind. Now, what do we do about it?

Monday, May 12, 2014

Torn from the Headlines

I once taught a summer camp session for fifth graders about how "old-school" ballads were really the tabloid articles of their day. We focused on this song:

In Scarlet town where I was born
There was a fair maid dwelling
And every youth cried well away
For her name was Barbara Allen

We listened to it, we read it aloud, we acted it out.

Twas in the merry month of May
The green buds were a swelling
Sweet William on his deathbed lay
For the love of Barbara Allen

Then I challenged them to write tabloid headlines based on the story. What would they say? What details would the story linger on? Which would be omitted?

He sent a servant unto her
To the place she was dwelling
Saying you must come to his deathbed now
If your name be Barbara Allen

We talked about the time period when ballads like these were created. No television, newspapers, or radio existed. There were no telephones or even reliable mail service. A traveling musician was the way many news stories were spread.

Slowly slowly she got up
Slowly slowly she came nigh him
And the only words to him she said
Young man I think you're dying

I thought it was a brilliant lesson. I thought it was a great success at making something old come alive and be relevant. Perhaps it was. Too much so. When we were done the students said, "That was creepy."

I've never repeated the lesson.

As she was walking oer the fields
She heard the death bell knelling
And every stroke it seemed to say
Hardhearted Barbara Allen

Most of the time our lives are ordinary. We have challenges and trials, yes. We have sad days mixed in with the happy, but most days are ordinary. And we don't mind that. Sometimes our worlds are threatened by national or international disaster, or a local weather occurrence that brings our usual existence to a standstill.

Oh mother mother make my bed
Make it long and make it narrow
Sweet William died for me today
I'll die for him tomorrow

It is truly rare for us to experience something that might be fodder for the tabloids. And that is a very good thing. Tabloids (and ballads) thrive on earth-shattering, gut-wrenching, heart-breaking stories. These are not the stories we want to live.

They buried her in the old churchyard
They buried him in the choir
And from his grave grew a red red rose
From her grave a green briar

This weekend many of us relived a loss which is the stuff of ballads. We all responded in our own way: some in writing, some in praying, some in living even more purposefully, some in silence. As the day came to a close yesterday, I saw a photograph of a dandelion posted by a friend with the caption, "Make a wish."

And suddenly this tune began to play within my head. It took me a while to realize why. When I awoke this morning it was still with me.

They grew and grew to the steeple top
Till they could grow no higher
And there they twined in a true love's knot
Red rose around green briar


Sunday, May 11, 2014

No Fragile Heaven

This poem was printed on the cover of the service leaflet at the Unitarian Church on Mother's Day, a long time ago:


if there are any heavens my mother will(all by herself)have
one. It will not be a pansy heaven nor
a fragile heaven of lilies-of-the-valley but
it will be a heaven of blackred roses

my father will be(deep like a rose
tall like a rose)

standing near my

(swaying over her
with eyes which are really petals and see

nothing with the face of a poet really which
is a flower and not a face with
which whisper
This is my beloved my

(suddenly in sunlight

he will bow,

& the whole garden will bow)

--e.e. cummings

That day began my lifelong love of e.e. cummings.

On the other hand, the poem itself was just embarrassing. I was in elementary school, and the relationship described between the father and the mother was too intimate for me to process. It came at me with a brilliance that hurt my eyes and made me look away. And it was certainly nothing like my parents who mostly coexisted, bickered, sometimes joked and very rarely hugged.

One thing stuck with me: no fragile heaven. So, so true. My mother loomed large in my world and in our family. For good or ill, there was nothing fragile about her. And so a heaven of blackred roses it would surely be.

As I wrote last year, Mother's Day is complicated for me. I try to focus on the blessing of getting to be a mother. It is the great joy of my life. As for my own mother, I can look back with the perspective of adulthood and see how difficult it was for her. She was a wounded bird who had to be a warrior; there was no rest from the struggle.

So, I wish for her whatever heaven she would have wanted, surrounded by the love and peace she always longed for.



Saturday, May 10, 2014

Do Something

Do something good today.

Go to Coffee and Conversation at Atholton Elementary School from 9:30 to 11 am and tell the Board members you support our music and arts education program as it stands and that they should, too.

Go to the new Farmer's Market in Old Ellicott City. Shop, see friends, enjoy the music, eat something tasty. Snap a few pictures.

Help candidate Tom Coale stuff some envelopes and be a part of a team that fights back against sleazy, negative campaigning with a positive message of how we can do better and make a difference.

Do something good today.

  • Take a walk in the woods.
  • Play with your family.
  • Snuggle with your kids.
  • Hug more. Kiss more.
  • Listen to your favorite music.
  • Taste one perfect raspberry.

Do something. Feel it, taste it, breathe it, remember it. Make it good.

We are blessed with life and the ability to love.

Do something good today.


Friday, May 9, 2014

Do Better

Last night, a delicious Spring evening in Stevens Forest, I sat on the back deck with three 20-somethings over barbecue and beer and tried to explain what was going on at the Columbia Association Board Meeting. I tried.

These three incredibly intelligent Hopkins grads just looked at me. Many words were exchanged. The short version might be: WTF?

One said, "I tried to explain Columbia to my boss on the phone yesterday. He said, 'That is seriously f---'ed up, man!'"

Yes. Yes, it is.

So the CA Board broke its own rules to seat a member with a clear conflict of interest, and then turned around and got rid of that pesky ethics rule. Easy-peasy.

No discussion with community. No attempt at transparency. They just changed the rules of the club because they felt like it.

Inspires confidence, doesn't it?

My daughter and I were having a discussion recently about people who claim to be Christians and yet espouse hate, promote hate, exclusion, and oppression. She said, "If Jesus came back today, he'd look at them and say, shut up! Shut up, and do better."

And so, to the people who claim Jim Rouse as their very own true founder and guide, and yet scheme, manipulate, defame, and exclude in order to maintain their own positions of power, I say the same.

Shut up and do better.

There are some very bright 20-somethings watching you. And the future is on their side.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Mish Mosh Drawer


Here it is, in all its glory. Our mish mosh drawer. Do you have one?

Maybe you call it a junk drawer. It's in the kitchen and it holds any manner of one of a kind items, gadgets, coupons, missing pieces, and more. The mish mosh drawer pictured above could be a carefully constructed photograph for an I-Spy challenge. But it's not. This is our mish mosh drawer in its natural habitat, with no alterations.

In Columbia, we have a living, breathing mish mosh drawer. It's called "Resident Speak-Out". It takes place at the beginning of CA Board meetings. If you haven't ever been to one, you are missing a quintessential Columbia experience. Residents may come and give the Board a piece of their mind on Columbia-related topics. Some nights there are only one or two; other nights the Resident Speak-Out threatens to obliterate the actual Board Meeting.

I have seen residents use their allotted time to talk about tennis facilities, senior citizen discounts, the widening of Route 29, the benefits of the Inner Arbor Plan for Symphony Woods, the arrogance and effrontery of one particular Board member, what a waste of money the Sister Cities program is, and much, much more. You stay within your time limit ( if you are polite) you answer reasonable questions from the Board ( if they are polite) and then you sit down.

Just making it through Resident Speak-out in order to get to the actual business part of the meeting must be a challenge some evenings. Remember those party games you played as a child where they blind-folded you, spun you round in circles, and then sent you off with a little push?

It's like that. Only no one gets a prize for winning and there's no cake and ice cream afterwards.

Tonight is the first CA Board Meeting of the year. The Agenda looks quite brief. But there is just one problem. One of the Board Members cannot be seated. Reg Avery from Oakland Mills is in violation of Columbia Association rules regarding conflict of interest. It is against the CA rules to be on the Board while actively pursuing other elected office. Mr. Avery is a candidate for County Council.

Now, he may apply for a waiver, and the CA Board might grant it, although I cannot imagine any circumstances under which this would not be conflict of interest. Oakland Mills deserves better than this, and so does CA.

So, back to the mish mosh drawer. Will anyone turn up for Resident Speak Out tonight to address this issue? And if so, will they encourage a balanced and reasoned approach that respects CA's own rules for governance? Or will they rant and accuse and threaten?

And: will the Board make their decision based on the former, or the latter?




Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Lakefront Memories

Under The Shining People Tree

(first appeared in Columbia Patch, May 26, 2011)

I moved to Columbia in the late spring of 1999, on the verge of beginning a new life. I knew very little of Columbia except that it was planned, and that it was extremely easy to get lost here.

Since I continued to commute to Baltimore City for several more years, I was limited in my time and energy for exploring. I learned how to get to the grocery, the gas station, and the mall.

In 2003 I began to work for Columbia School Aged Services. As a part of my training, I attended an orientation session designed to impart both the history and philosophy of The Columbia Experience. I was excited to explore my new land.

It didn’t go as well as I had hoped. Probably the worst occasion was when I dragged my family down to The Lakefront to see The People Tree, which I had learned was a symbol of all things Columbia. It was beautiful—there’s no denying that. The vista at the lakefront was lovely. And still. And barren.

There was no one there. It took on an incredibly creepy aura to me.

Little by little, I came to believe that Columbia was a beautiful experiment that had happened before I got here, and I had missed it. Like an awkward anecdote followed by, “I guess you had to be there.”

I hadn’t been there, I didn’t know what I was supposed to know, and I couldn’t afford the pools, the nice restaurants, the lovely gourmet stores, and the upscale arts events.

In the years since then something has changed: my decision to grow and evolve as a member of my village—Oakland Mills. Through participation in events, volunteering, serving on the board, and getting involved in community-based social media, I found my own way to put down roots.

As a celebration of this ongoing change, I decided to attend the first Lakefront Concert this year on May 11. Although the day was beautiful, I still had some trepidation about returning to the too-perfect atmosphere of The People Tree.

When I arrived, I felt cheered by the sound of bluegrass music and the sight of people on the lawn. I wandered around the edges of the event, trying to decide whether to stay.

And then I saw it: a plaque honoring the first class of Columbia children to start in kindergarten and graduate from high school. I scanned the names, wondering if any of these people had stayed to continue The Grand Experiment, or if they had flown the New Town Nest. As I was turning away, one name caught me: Timothy J. Lea.

This is what I know about Timothy J. Lea: He is a warm, hospitable man, and a great dad. He is welcoming, unassuming, and—wait for it—he’s still here, raising his kids in Hickory Ridge.

I don’t know why that meant so much to me, but it did. I turned again to survey the scene and felt for the first time since 1999 that this was my Columbia, too.

At that moment I spied a friend on the hill, who raised a hand in greeting.


Today is the first Lakefront Lunchtime Concert of the season. Here's hoping that the rain holds off so that we can all start making some new memories at the Lakefront.


Tuesday, May 6, 2014


Mrs. Stearns was my Kindergarten teacher. She appreciated my crazy-good memory for the poems we learned each week.

Mrs. Pollack was my third grade teacher. She read aloud to us from challenging chapter books. That time each day was sacred to me.

Mrs. Broker was my fifth and sixth grade general music and chorus teacher. Her encouragement set the course for my life.

Mr. Atwood was my AP US History teacher. He was a mentor, advocate and guide in turbulent adolescent years.


I was a shy, socially awkward kid with terrible fine motor skills. I was bright and articulate but my work habits were shaky. I could write a poem that made adults cry. Going to the board to solve a math problem made me cry. (Or at least filled me with dread, anyway.)

I played well in worlds of my imagination, but not on the playground, or in gym class. I had allergies, asthma, and frequent ear infections. I always came to school clean and nicely dressed, with all appropriate school supplies. But my home life was often emotionally abusive.

Every day teachers face rooms full of individual human beings who come with their own needs, issues, talents, challenges. We ask teachers to bring their best to the classroom and get the best from our children. It is a big job.

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week.

Please thank a teacher.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Judgement of Solomon

Yesterday I attended the 100th birthday celebration for James Rouse. I brought Margo because I wanted her to be a part of it, and because I suspected she'd get a charge out of seeing the Young Columbians. (She did) One odd thing we noticed was that there were a significant number of people there who were not smiling.

I was trying my best to be friendly and neighborly but quite a few people just weren't buying. Not everyone was glum, however. There were plenty of cheerful folks. Some young families with children playing or getting face paint, and I saw some of my own friends who were in a celebratory mood.

When we took our seats we became aware of a man behind us pontificating on the subject of Michael McCall. As people stopped by his seat, he expressed indignation that Mr. McCall could be at the event, having snacks and drinks at the front of the room, talking to people. If I had not known better, I would have thought he was talking about an escaped convict.

The conversation moved quickly to the Inner Arbor. "It's all over now!" I heard. "He has absolutely no idea what he's doing."

"Well what's the plan? What do we do next?"

"Well, first we go after the Caterpillar..." their voices trailed off in angry mumbles...

Margo and I looked at eachother. We decided to find other seats. As we walked away we noticed he was wearing a "Save Symphony Woods" t-shirt. We didn't feel quite as celebratory as we had when we arrived.

I have been thinking a lot in the last week about the judgement of Solomon. Do you know the story? Here's the gist of it, courtesy of Wikipedia:

(1 Kings 3:16-28) Two young women who lived in the same house and who both had an infant son came to Solomon for a judgment. One of the women claimed that the other, after accidentally smothering her own son while sleeping, had exchanged the two children to make it appear that the living child was hers. The other woman denied this and so both women claimed to be the mother of the living son and said that the dead boy belonged to the other.

After some deliberation, King Solomon called for a sword to be brought before him. He declared that there was only one fair solution: the live son must be split in two, each woman receiving half of the child. Upon hearing this terrible verdict, the boy's true mother cried out, "Oh Lord, give the baby to her, just don't kill him!" The liar, in her bitter jealousy, exclaimed, "It shall be neither mine nor yours—divide it!"

The king declared the first mother as the true mother and gave her the baby. King Solomon's judgment became known throughout all of Israel and was considered an example of profound wisdom.

Columbia is that child, that infant son. And what we are witnessing right now is a small group of angry people who are willing to sacrifice its life, the essence of of what it truly is, in order to get what they want. They would rather kill the future of our community in order to control it. Today, Symphony Woods. Tomorrow? What then?

It would not be difficult for Solomon to look at this situation and see the truth.

Our community has all kinds of talented and hardworking advocates who want to participate in its growth. They believe that a vibrant Columbia welcomes people of all kinds, of all generations. These people come from a variety of generations and backgrounds. Despite what you may have heard, they're not developers or salesmen. They are parents of young children, teachers, engineers, musicians, lawyers, master gardeners and more. What they share is a vision of ensuring the life of Columbia beyond their own lifetimes, a desire to share with their children and grandchildren: to include, not exclude. To love, not control.

Jim Rouse's son said in an interview for the event, "We are co-creators of Columbia. Go out and create this great city."

We don't have an all-powerful Solomon to render judgment in this case. We have to decide for for ourselves. The sword is in the air.

And, if you didn't make it to the celebration at Merriweather today (which was awesome, by the way) you can celebrate by reading this post by Lisa B, Mrs. S., entitled:

"Oh, I LOVE this place!"


Saturday, May 3, 2014

Do We Need a New Idea?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was passed in 1975. You may think of it as "mainstreaming". Or you may have heard the term "least restrictive environment." It changed in a dramatic way who is eligible to receive free public education in this country.

In Howard County our Early Intervention program for children with special needs is superb. (Yes, my music program with RECC students falls under the umbrella of early intervention.) I also have experienced the program as a parent. I have participated in a number of focus groups and discussions about what Howard County does right in the area of Special Education. Parents speak highly of their children's experience in Early Intervention programs.

I want to write today about what happens after a child leaves the RECC program and moves up into the elementary grades and beyond. How well are we doing?

I attended a Board of Ed. Candidate events several years ago where parents and teachers talked about middle school students whose special needs or behavior issues were so involved that they adversely affected classes for all of the students. Some of the comments that concerned me:

  • Not enough support staff for the Special Ed. children in regular classroom setting
  • Not enough training for Gen Ed teachers
  • Parents pushing to get their kids identified as GT in order to get away from disruptive class environments
  • Teachers who were good with special needs kids were then given more and more of them, beyond their ability to be successful
  • Teachers who didn't handle them well/didn't want them received fewer and fewer, leading to inequitable work loads.

The IDEA made a point of including children with special needs into the mainstream. Each child has an individual education plan (IEP) which commits to a plan of action for achieving specific goals -- in the least restrictive environment. This means that inclusion in the general classroom activities is deemed to be the best for the child, with a hierarchy of incrementally more supported or "restrictive" methods to be used as needed.

I overheard a conversation recently in which a para-educator or a one-on-one lamented that her ALS students were not getting the education they really needed. When she took them to the Gen Ed classroom as dictated by their daily plan, they were often miserable. The setting of the class and its demands were unnecessarily upsetting and harsh to them. The subject material was often irrelevant to them. So they acted out.

This is not the first time I have heard this narrative from support staff and teachers. A child is brought to a class and the Gen Ed teacher tells the support professional, "Just take him out. He's disrupting the whole class." The support professional doesn't know what to do. "This is where he's supposed to be according to the plan. Where am I supposed to take him?"

ALS, or Academic Life Skills, is the name for a program which (and I am not an expert here) largely consists of children on the autism spectrum, though not exclusively. There are many children in the Howard County Schools who are served by Special Education, who have IEPs, or receive accommodations, whose integration into the regular classroom setting is appropriate and successful. I am not lumping all Special Needs students together here.

Are we doing to best for this smaller group of students? Is making them go to uncomfortable class settings where they must "get through" a session that may be completely meaningless to them, where the teacher may not even want them there--is that truly the least restrictive environment?

This is an extremely complicated issue. The school system must follow the law. But I am hoping that the law allows schools systems some leeway for interpretation. Shouldn't these students be immersed in a program which is right for them? Shouldn't support staff be there to support them in positive environments, with meaningful goals? Just getting through Reading Group without having a meltdown is, by itself, not a meaningful goal. In fact, if that is all school becomes, it is in no way the "least restrictive environment."

We push, push, push for College and Career Ready these days. Someone needs to shout from the rooftops to advocate for these students, for whom Academic Life Skills should mean fostering the capacity for enjoyment, supporting the development of capability, opening doors to live a successful life. I know is what the school system means to do.

I just don't know if we are doing it.