Saturday, January 31, 2015


Frequent readers of this blog will be surprised to learn that I loved high school Biology. It's true, though. I loved Biology because I had a brilliant teacher who made it engaging to everyone, and who clearly loved the subject. And although I dreaded the labs at first, when I realized that the table of guys behind me were waiting to see two girls get squeamish and fail, I dove in with gusto. Funny how that works.

Of all the exams I took in high school, my favorite was the one in Biology, which was called a "lab practical." As a hands on, multi-sensory person I found the lab practical set-up fascinating. We moved to different stations around the room to complete different tasks based on real examples. We even had to close our eyes, stick our hands in a bucket of soapy water, and guess by feeling what was inside. Cool, right?

When I think about what has happened in American education since then, I shudder. The continuing move from authentic teaching and learning to daily prep for meaningless high-stakes testing is gutting our educational system. How on earth will our kids be ready for college, career and life after this?

Brothers and sisters, life is not a high-stakes, standardized test. It is a lab practical. Consider your own life and what you do every day. You are learning and doing all the time. You are expected to apply what you know in real life situations. Other than very specific moments in time where you must pass a test for career certification, actual life-after-school is hands-on, practical application which is continually putting to the test how well you learned the lesson, whatever the lesson at hand may be.

The good news is that the number of states willing to administer the newly devised PARCC tests is dwindling. The bad news is that Maryland is still one of them. Please read this article about what is going on in Illinois where the Chicago Public School systems has rejected the administration of PARCC and is at odds with the state department of Education.

Students taking both PARCC mathematics and reading language arts tests will spend more time taking PARCC tests than aspiring lawyers will spend sitting for the Bar Exam with no payoff. This is true in elementary, middle school and high school.


The PARCC test is neither valid nor reliable as a measure. And the reason for that is that it has never been given to a large population. So we’re paying to have a private testing company norm their instrument on the backs of Illinois students. That’s a big problem.

Doctors look to the Hippocratic Oath as they pledge, "first, do no harm." Why is there no such oath for our school systems? Our children are not engaging in valuable assessments. They are being forced to submit. Forced submission is neither a meaningful lesson for life nor a useful preparation for a life in a democratic society.

I applaud the Chicago School system for fighting back and I encourage the Howard County School system to do the same.


Friday, January 30, 2015


It's time to announce this week's winners in citizen responsiveness!

On Wednesday, after I wrote a blog post outlining my concerns about the Oakland Mills Village Board and their proposed Sports Complex, I sent some letters.

First, my letter:

Dear __________,


I am taking the liberty of sending you a link to my blog post today because of a sincere concern for the future of my Village, Oakland Mills.




I do not support plans for the development of a Sports Complex in Oakland Mills for several reasons:


  • It is predicated on a desire to displace poor and minority residents and diminish opportunities for affordable housing.


  • It is a poor use of available funds.


  • It detracts from major projects which are vital to the future of Oakland Mills.


This is what I do support:





In a time when Howard County will be making hard decisions about how to best invest in the future within a limited budget, I ask you to focus on the projects which will bring true, meaningful connections to and increased quality of life within my village.


Thank you for your help.




Julia Jackson McCready

Former Oakland Mills Board Member

Oakland Mills Middle School PTA Member

Blogger: Village Green/Town Squared



And, the results are in! Responses, in order of receipt:


Howard County Councilman Calvin Ball

Howard County Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty

Maryland State Delegate Shane Pendergrass

Maryland State Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary

Howard Councilwoman Jen Terrasa


All of their responses, though varying in length, spoke directly to my letter--none were canned.


Who has not responded?


Howard County Executive Alan Kittleman

Howard County Councilman Greg Fox

Howard County Councilman Jon Weinstein

Maryland State Delegate Frank Turner

Maryland State Senator Guy Guzzone




The entire Columbia Association Board, plus Milton Matthews.


(Hmm. Maybe I have a bad link to the Columbia Assocation? I'll double check.)


What has been your experience in reaching out to your local elected officials? Is this pretty much par for the course? What can a constituent expect under these circumstances?


I await your response.








Thursday, January 29, 2015


Blame it on my sister. First class of women at Yale (1972). Topped off with a Masters of Divinity, Masters of Sacred Music, and a PhD in Religious Studies, all at Yale. Her speciality was the Roman Catholic Liturgy. Yes, she was the sort of person who would write course papers so good that the next term they would be added to the syllabus as required reading.

So, it is her fault that I know words like anamnesis and epiclesis. I understand what it means for a priest to be "bi-ritual". I have been invited to historical re-enactments of ancient liturgies and I have eaten dinner while listening to accounts of the martyrdom of Felicity and Perpetua. Thanks, Pam.

Anamnesis, in a Christian context, "has its origin in Jesus' words at the Last Supper, 'Do this in memory of me.'" My sister would be quick to point out that the exact translation is "for my recalling." And this is not the passive reminiscing of, "Oh, I recall Jesus..." but rather an active re-calling into the present. Imagine Mary bustling about the house, "Jesus! We have guests! Get in here right now. Don't make me call you again!"

Here you have, in a nutshell, the dispute within Christian denominations: do we receive Holy Communion as a memorial, or does the Holy Eucharist literally re-call Jesus?


Today would have been Dennis Lane's sixtieth birthday. Those of us who knew him will be gathering at Clyde's today to raise a glass, maybe even eat a Twinkie (a Dennis Lane birthday tradition.) Perhaps I'll see you there.

Dennis was raised as a Roman Catholic and yet I am guessing he wouldn't care two hoots about issues over anamnesis or transubstantiation. In fact, he'd probably think this entire post is a little bit silly. Because, for Dennis, it wouldn't be about remembering or re-calling. It would be about celebrating.

And so we will.


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

I Just Don't Get It

I recently was accepted into a Facebook Group called Clarksville Happenings. As an overall cheerleader of local communities, I thought it would be good to see more than my own backyard. And, of course, I'm always looking for a good story.

It turns out that a good story rose up to hit me in the face a whole lot sooner than I expected. On January 25 th a member shared this letter, reprinted in full. (Sorry so long.)

Dear Lifetime Sports Advocate,

Are you interested in seeing a 50 meter indoor pool, an new ice skating rink and/or a sports center in Howard County? Are you tired of driving yourself and your kids to other counties to allow your family to fully participate in the sports you all love?

Ginny Thomas promised to keep you informed on our vision for Economic Development for Oakland Mills because it presents a major opportunity for participants in lifetime sports. She has been hearing from swimmers, skaters, runners and others who lament the lack of good facilities in Columbia and the county that would allow them to pursue their sport and host tournaments.

A key aspect of the Oakland Mills Village Center Community Plan, which is nearing finalization, is the need to give the Village Center a new focal point that will jumpstart revitalization. As examples of what might work, the plan suggests a state-of-the-art ice rink, 50-meter pool, and a sports medicine/rehab center. The plan does not to select a particular facility but seeks feasibility studies for a county/CA/private partnership to build one or more first-class facilities that will accommodate such neglected lifetime sports as swimming, skating and running.

On January 19th and 20th, the Oakland Mills Village Board met with County Executive Allan Kittleman and the delegation to the Maryland General Assembly to ask their help in exploring the prospects for economic development and obtaining planning and budgetary support.

If you support this effort, you can help by contacting these officials (using the links below) and describing the need for a facility that will allow more people to participate in your sport. If your group is spending money outside the county to practice or compete, it is especially important to mention this. We believe the county is losing tax revenue by failing to build facilities on a par with our neighboring counties—a fact guaranteed to get their attention when budgets are tight.

They are developing their budgets right now, so this is the time to act. Please encourage others to do the same and cc Ginny Thomas ( on the email so she can track how much support there is for this idea.

Ginny ThomasCo-Chair, Oakland Mills Village Board cgthomas 65@verizon.net410-992-7984

Allan Kittleman, County Executive, contact

Howard County Council find your Howard County Councilmember open the district maps for each Councilmember and locate your street.

Columbia Association Board of DirectorsThere are 10 Columbia Association Board members plus the CA President/CEO. Milton Matthews President/CEO, Columbia

Each of the 10 represent one of Columbia’s 10 villages.The link below has the board members names/pictures and village they represent.

You need to send your support email to both Mr. Matthews and to YOUR CA Representative on the CA Council.State Senators and Delegates

Thank you for your support!



I found this extremely odd, as Ginny Thomas is co-chair of my own Oakland Mills Village Board. Why would she be encouraging people to drum up support in other villages when her own village isn't completely on board with this plan? I soon saw why.

Parents of sports involved kids responded quickly, full of enthusiasm. This is wonderful! What a great idea! How can I help? How do we get this moving faster? Everyone, it seemed, was thrilled to support a sports complex. In Oakland Mills. Finally I decided to chime in.

It's exciting to see so much support for a new sports facility. I'm not sure that is as clear as it should be that this plan is predicated upon a desire of the OM Village Board to offload the affordable housing burden onto other villages. I just want you to understand the ramifications of this plan: affordable housing residents will be displaced and this board is looking to other Columbia Villages to pick up the slack.

Having followed this process with interest for the past year, I can confirm that the goal is to get rid of affordable housing. I also know anecdotally that some of these same people feel that other Columbia Villages do not "do their fair share".

Well, gosh. That's not as exciting, is it? Everyone is excited about a new sports complex for their kids until they understand the the whole picture...

I chose as a title "I Just Don't Get It" but that isn't entirely true. Of course I get it. The Oakland Mills Village Board leadership is doing the end run around some very serious concerns and possible opposition in their own village and peddling a pie-in-the-sky scenario in other villages, while leaving out some rather crucial information.

Yeah, I get it. It's dirty pool. It is negating the involvement of Oakland Mills residents and taking advantage of the goodwill of perfectly nice people in other villages. In the long run this kind of "leadership" is bad for Oakland Mills, and extremely bad for how people elsewhere will view Oakland Mills for a long time to come.

So remember, when somebody offers you a deal that's too good to be true, it probably is. Before you get excited, make sure you read the fine print.



Tuesday, January 27, 2015


You'll probably be surprised to hear this, but: I did nothing.

That's right. The Oakland Mills branch of the Columbia Bank is closing, and I did absolutely nothing to prevent its demise.

When you think of all the energy I have spent advocating for The Second Chance Saloon, encouraging folks to try the Food Lion one more time, lauding the efforts of the Oakland Mills Village Staff to make our village a better place--well--it's kind of horrifying to think I let this one pass me by.

My village is losing its only bank, and I did nothing.

Why? Because I had absolutely no idea until I got the letter in the mail.

I know a lot of incredible people in Oakland Mills who send out the call and get to work when it comes to helping neighbors, schools, local businesses and organizations. Am I naive to think we might have been able to help our village bank, had we only known? After all, a place like the Second Chance is a mom and pop operation. The Columbia Bank is merely a purchased entity of the Fulton Financial Group. It stopped being a hometown business quite awhile ago.

Me? I haven't changed. I'm still the same old individual, local customer who wants local, individual service. I haven't changed with the times, I guess. Perhaps if I could have morphed into a more complex organization, I'd be worth negotiating with. And yet...what about their slogan?

The Columbia Bank. Listening is just the beginning.

So, listen to this: my husband has been a Columbia Bank customer from the moment he moved into Oakland Mills. So have I. We have multiple accounts there. We have used them exclusively for our loans. We have recommended them to others. We have encouraged folks to check them out for loan opportunities. And we are the kind of people who actually go into the bank and talk with real human beings. We also use online banking, ATM's and the drive-though. I'd say over 90 per cent of our bank interactions have happened in Oakland Mills.

More importantly, we stayed when they really stopped being the Columbia Bank and were transformed into a product of Fulton Financial. We knew things wouldn't stay the same, but we wanted to support our local branch and we stuck by them. Perhaps this is why I am so ticked off that they are not sticking by us.

So much of any business happens through word of mouth. If The Columbia Bank had been committed to staying in Oakland Mills, might they have reached out to the community for support? Does anyone bigger than a mom and pop even do that these days? I don't know. But I do know that if they had really "been listening", they would have known how important it is to Oakland Mills to keep The Columbia Bank.

"Listening is just the beginning." Yes, and then they obey the bottom line instead. It's a sign of the times I guess. But I don't have to like it. And I really don't like that I wasn't able to do anything about it.






Monday, January 26, 2015

Compare and Contrast

How much of your schooling was dominated by the words "compare and contrast"? As high schoolers we used to groan when we saw the term come up again in yet another English essay. And, although they may not have been explicitly named, there was plenty of comparing and contrasting to be done in math, science, social studies, even in music classes where we listened to and evaluated performances.

Having the ability to compare and contrast was considered to be an essential part of my high school education. Why? Because it is essential in life to be able to evaluate and make choices. Life choices. Major purchases. Political candidates. Family budget allocations.

Ah, budget allocations. Let's talk about those. Have you seen this petition? It states:

The citizens, parents, and staff of HCPSS want to preserve school based staff who directly support student instruction and academic success. Stop the proposed elimination of secondary library media staff and kindergarten para-educator positions in the proposed FY16 budget.

Reducing staff members who provide direct support to both students and teachers is of great concern. So is an increase in class size, also included in this year's budget, although not in the petition. Now, you might think that parents would just automatically sign a petition based on a gut feeling that services are going to be reduced for their child.

But this is Howard County. What I see are concerned parents asking to view concrete budget information. They want to look at what we did spend, where it went, what we are proposing to spend, and where the cuts will be. They want to examine other areas that might be more suitable for cuts. In short, they want the ability to compare and contrast in order to make an educated decision.

Funny thing, that.

Last year, in the Superintendent's switch to zero-based budgeting, something got lost. From the 1/14/14 Baltimore Sun article by Sara Toth:

Yet absent from the budget is a side-by-side comparison of what specific programs received in previous budgets, versus what they actually cost, said Delmont-Small.

Financial data detailing what was budgeted versus what was spent was provided to the review committee, but Delmont-Small last week asked for it to be made public as in years past.

"Generally, [those numbers] are for account managers," Foose said. "You would need some sort of advanced degree. ... We structured [the budget] so it was more user-friendly. The details are for program managers."

"In order to get a sense of budgeting from one time period to another, it's helpful to have those numbers," Delmont-Small said.

Delmont-Small asked that Foose "have the same confidence in the community to understand the information."

Yes, you read that right. In a response to a citizen request for more complete financial information, the Superintendent essentially defended her decision to withhold that from the general public because one would "need some sort of advanced degree" to understand them.

In Howard County?

What I see in Howard County are concerned, involved, well-educated parents who, even if they don't have "advanced degrees" (although many of them do) are pretty darned savvy about how to assess information to make intelligent choices. They want to compare and contrast. But the way information on the budget is now being presented, is almost impossible to do that.

Christina Delmont-Small, President of the PTA Council of Howard County, made the above comments as a member of the Operating Budget Review Committee, whose mission is to review school system programs to see if they're properly funded in the budget. The OBRC is the only way for members of the Howard County community to have direct input into the budget process.

Actually, I should say "was". The OBRC has been dissolved by the Board at the recommendation of the Superintendent.

Intelligent choices. Data-driven decisions. Compare and contrast. How are we going to do that now?






Sunday, January 25, 2015

Tasting Menu

A sampling of delicious bloggery from the past week.

From Kirsten Litkowski Coombs, how one bumper sticker makes you think about a lot of things:

Bumper Sticker Politics, Kirstycat's Meow! (and sometimes Growl!)

From Tom Coale, a look at how important it is to allow our heroes to be truly human:

Our MLK, HoCoRising

From Krista Threefoot, a tender and bemused look at what motherhood does to your brain, which reminded me of those months when I became besotted with Magnum, P.I.:

Mom Brain, And Another Thing, Hon

From Eric Freed, probably the best articulation I have ever read of why music education is a crucial part of our children's development and an excellent investment for a healthy, happy life:

Give the Band a Hand, Away from the Things of Man

In closing, I want to note the success of The Pick Me Up Foundation, created to celebrate the memory of Howard County student Aaron Reed.

Instrument Drive Raffle Winner, The Pick Me Up Foundation

Missed the donation? No worries. If you still have an instrument that you want to donate, The Howard County Parents for School Music ECHO Project is holding a pick-up day on January 31st from 9-4 at Mount Hebron High School, during the MS & HS Solo & Ensemble Festival. If you can't make it to the donation day, you can contact HCPSM for a pick up time at your home. (Berni Giroux, Instruments are donated to schools where there is the most student need.


Today is the anniversary of the horrific shooting at The Mall. For this, I have no words.



Saturday, January 24, 2015

Rise and Shine

I just got back from serving breakfast to a group of middle schoolers at a youth group overnight. Apparently they call them lock-ins these days. The last one I went to, the youth pastor was playing his old Cat Stevens records to wake us up.

Well, anyway.

Serving breakfast to a group of teens really means laying out everything on a table and backing away. You sit across the room. You try to have your own conversation with other adults and refrain from observing your child too closely. Gone are the days where one must be at the ready to help put straws in the juice boxes. No adults will be needed to help two children negotiate a plan for the last chocolate donut. There will be no tears, no massive spills, no one sneaking food off your plate.

It's a different world.

Do you remember needing to step into a side room at the preschool where you could observe your child's interactions without being detected? There'd be a mirrored window so you could actually see what they did without you, because once they caught a glimpse of you there'd be no room for perspective whatsoever. They'd be in your lap in a second, or tugging at your arm, or hiding behind you, suddenly shy and silent.

Once you have a teen that mirrored window is just somehow magically there. All the time. You drop them off, they don't say goodbye to you. You arrive to pick them up, they don't really acknowledge your presence. You sit across the room as they eat breakfast with their peers and you might as well be in another room, behind a wall of mirrored glass.

I was thinking about all of this as I came back from dropping off my daughter last night. On the radio came this story, "After The Slaughter, A Pakistani School Seeks to Heal." They interviewed some of the teachers at the school in Peshawar where where 132 students and 12 of the school staff were slaughtered a month ago by members of the Pakistani Taliban. Many of the students who died were teenagers, like the kids I had just left behind at the youth group overnight. Middle schoolers.

A middle school teacher spoke about what life at the school is like in the aftermath of the attacks.

"We are now more loving," she replies. "We're showing more love to the students. Even those [kids] who used to make us angry in the past. We just go and hug them, and love them and just say, 'Thank God, you're OK!' "

Her words rang in my head long after the broadcast. Our world in Columbia Maryland is so different than theirs in Pakistan and yet everywhere there are middle schoolers who are pushing boundaries, getting on our nerves, in short, being teenagers. Many things may be different, but that is universal.

Also universal are the adults who care for, teach, guide, and love them. In Peshawar. In Columbia. How often do we, in our protected world, remember what a blessing it is that "they are okay"?

In the school where a month ago there was bloodshed, there are repainted walls, taller fences, and banners--

...many banners bearing the words, in capital letters: "I SHALL RISE, AND I SHALL SHINE."

So at the crack of dawn on a Saturday morning I am setting out the donuts and bagels and yogurt and juice. All is quiet and dark. We pull aside the slats of the window shades to let in the morning light.

Rise and shine.





Friday, January 23, 2015

HoCo Holler: Lunch Counter Life

One of the biggest things I have learned from being involved in the local blogging scene in general, and from Jessie Newburn in particular, is the value of social capital. In short, social capital is using your social media communications to "pay it forward." It is based on the assumption that those communications have a value.

Case in point: recently the Columbia Whole Foods hosted a tasting night for local food bloggers to try out new menu items for The Counter, the full-service lunch counter in their store. In return, the bloggers used their social capital by writing about their experiences, and also sharing information through tweets and status updates on Facebook. Here's where I come in.

I read this post on AngieKozBlogs and it made me hungry. I hadn't yet tried The Counter, but I had been curious. And now I was convinced. So on Wednesday, as the snow began to make its picturesque descent around town, I took my older daughter (HoCoHouseHon) for a lunch time adventure. It had to be this particular daughter because Husband is a meat and potato kind of guy, and Daughter Number Two is a chicken and fries kind of gal.

The mood was easy and relaxed at The Counter while we were there. I suspect that most folks were popping in to pick up a few things in the grocery because of the snow, and not taking time out for lunch. There were about four or five of us, I think. We quickly learned that you can really ask anyone behind the counter for help; they all take responsibility for assisting customers.

I had the Falafel Sammie with a side of onion rings. It was delicious. My lovely companion had a big bowl of some kind of curry soup which she loved. It had just enough of a spicy kick to it, and although you can order it with additional chicken or meatballs, she enjoyed it just the way it was. The food was excellent, the service was excellent, the portions were ample, and the prices quite reasonable. You won't spend your Whole Paycheck on lunch, that's for sure.

We enjoyed some friendly conversation with the fellow to our left. The leisurely pace of the day meant that staff joined in a bit as well, as we discussed how people drive in the snow, school closings, and so on. Truly it was my first experience of sitting at the lunch counter and just chatting with people. It felt to me like those small town experiences we read about or see in movies.

I don't mean to get too mushy here, but it was definitely a community experience. While Whole Foods is a big corporation, and Columbia is moving from a suburban backwater to a real city, our moment at the lunch counter was appropriately small, personal, human. There's definitely a "there" there.

A big HoCoHoller to Whole Foods for taking a chance on Columbia, and for working with local bloggers to spread the word. An equally big HoCoHoller to Jessie Newburn and local bloggers for spreading their social capital around.

And a heartfelt thanks to HoCoHouseHon for being an adventurous eater. Lunchtime wouldn't have been as much fun without her.






Thursday, January 22, 2015

It's Time

Yes, Mom and Dad, it is time to have that little talk with your children. I know you've been putting it off. I know you feel uncomfortable talking about it. You think, "The kids think they know more than I do. They'll think I'm lame. I'm not really comfortable with the subject matter. And besides, they probably won't listen."

I don't care what you think. It is your responsibility, and you need to face the music.

You need to talk to your kids about Twitter. Yes, Twitter.

Recent weather events have brought out high school students in droves.

@katiefromtrap: @HCPSS if I fall and break my neck lord knows yahll dead

@Smatribe: @HCPSS It's so slippery outside I could moonwalk with boots tied to concrete blocks covered in Stickum on the grass.

@easternpebble: @HCPSS my mom just fell on ice and hit her head and I'm now taking her to the ER. really??? do you want this to happen to all kids in HC?

@swagmaster_7: @HCPSS Real live I'm gonna f*** our superintendent up if we crash

@AustinMagez: Yall some b****es. I busted my a** slipping on this sh**, now my a** hurt. hope yall happy @HCPSS

@HynesFinlay: I swear if there a delay tomo, foose won't be getting any Valentine's Day gifts from me .

@HondaCybyk: believe it or not Foose gets paid $250,000 a year basically just to decide whether or not to cancel school

This piece of advice from a fellow student made me smile:

@callahan_deej97: lmao @ the people who are tweeting @HCPSS to cancel with their poor grammar. #reasonswhyschoolisntcanceled

You need to talk to your kids. Accounts on Twitter are right out in the open unless you have protected tweets. It is not set up like Facebook with a variety of privacy settings. Your Twitter stream is not like a protected backyard with a fence around it where you can play in privacy. It is deliberately set up so that it can be searched by key words, and when users include actual account names, like @hcpss, then what they say is immediately visible to that account.

While we do have free speech in this country, what that means is you won't go to jail for poor choices in your tweets. However, you certainly can be expected to bear the consequences. I'm not sure kids understand this. Actually, I'm not sure some adults understand this.

@Haughman101: @HCPSS I'm an aide. The bus was stuck for about 20 minutes for 1 f'ing kid. Quit jacking off and make the right call. Your system sucks.

@Haughman101: @HCPSS you're full of sh** for not closing early.

These tweets are from an adult who works as a bus aide in Howard County. Would you want this person helping special needs children on the bus? Would you want to hire them if you saw this kind of attitude and language?

Parents, don't postpone that little talk. You don't want your kids learning how to tweet from some other kids on the corner or in a back alley somewhere.

Wait--did you just say, "What's Twitter?"

Oh, man. We need to talk.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015


"Come away; poverty's catching."

--Aphra Behn, English Restoration dramatist

Councilman John Grasso, who supported colleague Derek Fink’s bill, was not impressed. "When I came out of high school, I had two full-time jobs and a part-time job," Grasso said. "So my heart doesn’t go out to any of you with this problem."

Grasso went on for a minute and a half, his voice rising as he concluded, "You get out of life what you put into it. You save your money, and if you can’t afford it, you can’t live there." --Who Gets to Live Where? By Lawrence Lanahan

"Not in my backyard."

Even if these matters do not invoke you to demand change and bold action, one must consider the economic outcome. If we fail to fix some of the problems in the ‘other’ MCPS, those problems will ripple into other parts of the county. House values may plummet, county budgets may unnecessarily skyrocket causing cuts in other programs, and the whole county may feel the effect. One way or another, these Two Montgomerys will become one.

--A Tale of Two Montgomerys, written by Michael Robinson

"There goes the neighborhood."

"The fact is, we’ve had growing inequality in the country for many years," [McGuire] said. "It didn’t happen overnight, but it’s steadily been happening. Government used to be a source of leadership and innovation around issues of economic prosperity and upward mobility. Now we’re a country disinclined to invest in our young people."

Majority of U.S. Public School Students Are In Poverty, by Lyndsey Layton

I don't have much to add to this except to say that the millions and millions we are spending on the Corporate Educational Complex (Pearson, et al) should be at work lifting children out of poverty. And all the money and lawsuits and broken window policing being leveraged to keep people out would be better used in bringing people in.

It does seem that many today are operating under the 17th-century notion that poverty is contagious and that avoidance is a cure. In fact, as student Michael Robinson points out, it is much more likely to spread if it is ignored. Addressing poverty means going right up to it. Blaming the poor may be done from a distance.

What will we do in Howard County? What will we choose in Columbia's Villages?


Tuesday, January 20, 2015


I just found out that it is No Name-Calling Week. If you want to learn more, go to GLSEN for a description, history, lesson plans, and helpful links. From the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network page:

No Name-Calling Week was inspired by the popular young adult novel entitled The Misfits by popular author James Howe. The book tells the story of four best friends trying to survive the seventh grade in the face of all too frequent taunts based on their weight, height, intelligence, and sexual orientation/gender expression. The friends create a new political party during student council elections and run on a platform aimed at wiping out name-calling of all kinds. The No-Name Party in the end, wins the support of the school's principal for their cause and their idea for a "No Name-Calling Day" at school.

Motivated by this simple, yet powerful, idea, the No Name-Calling Week Coalition created by GLSEN and Simon & Schuster Children's publishing, consisting of over 60 national partner organizations, organized an actual No Name-Calling Week in schools across the nation. Since then, No Name-Calling Week has been adopted by schools everywhere and has grown into one of the largest bullying-prevention initiatives in the country.

Since I only just discovered this, I have no way of knowing whether the Howard County School System observes this. I certainly hope they do. If you know more, tell me. In the meantime, here are some groups I'd like to see adopt a No Name-Calling Week:

  • High School students on Twitter before an anticipated weather event. (!)
  • Members of the Board of Education
  • Members of HCCA
  • People who comment on news articles
  • Middle school students who think it's okay to say "faggot"

I mention that last one because my daughter says she thinks they might be doing something at her school for No Name-Calling Week, but she is almost positive there will be no acknowledgement of its LGBTQ roots. If that's true, it's a shame. Refusing to even name a portion of our students because it would just be too controversial is a kind of name calling unto to itself.

You think kids miss that kind of subtlety? Nah. It's so much easier to marginalize classmates when the system renders them invisible already. Middle school is rough. We know that. Having a No Name-Calling Week can give adults an opportunity to work with students, but how effective will it be if everyone involved knows that some issues are off the table?

I suggest that we can all observe No Name-Calling Week not merely by silence, but by speaking out--for those whose voices are ignored or suppressed.


Monday, January 19, 2015

What's in Your Backpack?

I read this one first. It is entitled "Product Review: The Invisible Backpack of White Privilege from L.L. Bean" by Joyce Miller. (12/18/14) It's a painful read. Today, on our national observance of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I went looking for this essay to reread it. At first I couldn't find it.

What I found was this: "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" by Peggy McIntosh. (1988)

Wait, what? This essay has been around since 1988? But I had never heard of it. It took the summer of Ferguson and beyond to knock this concept into my consciousness. In the past 27 years our invisible backpacks have been doing their jobs and the truth of this essay has made little headway.

Our society feels more segregated than ever to me. Our children may go to school in the same building but often are moved along very separate tracks. The law may prevent discrimination in housing but the invisible forces at work separate us from one another. It is possible that we will never be neighbors, never go to the same church, never even be friends on Facebook.

The invisible backpack makes us feel good about ourselves, while at the same time, prompts us to fear others who are not like us. "Other-ness" is anxiety provoking. We shrink from the people and situations that make us feel anxious, sometimes even assigning blame where none is merited. We simply assume that what we are is normal. It shapes all of our thoughts and actions.

I find this description of the evolution of the song "I Will Overcome" to "We Shall Overcome" particularly telling:

"The left, dominated by whites, believed that in order to express the group, you should say 'we,' " explains Johnson-Reagon. "In the black community, if you want to express the group, you have to say 'I,' because if you say 'we,' I have no idea who's gonna be there. Have you ever been in a meeting, people say, 'We're gonna bring some food tomorrow to feed the people.' And you sit there on the bench and say, 'Hmm. I have no idea.' It is when I say, 'I'm gonna bring cake,' and somebody else says, 'I'll bring chicken,' that you actually know you're gonna get a dinner. So there are many black traditional collective-expression songs where it's 'I,' because in order for you to get a group, you have to have I's."

And so we are 55 years from the turning point in the title of that song and 27 years from Peggy McIntosh's unflinching essay about how far we still must come in addressing race in this country. And we,


And I am just beginning to scratch the surface.




Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Pebble in my Shoe

I am obsessed right now with the fact the I seem to be the only one at my house who changes the toilet paper when the roll is empty. Over and over again, I come to find a roll with half a piece of paper clinging to it, or a roll that is getting low where someone has placed a full roll on top of it, postponing the inevitable. Sometimes it's just a plain old empty cardboard tube, naked as the day it was born.

Now, at our house we buy large packages of toilet paper which don't really fit handily under the sink, so they stand guard out in plain sight in the bathroom. So, on the one hand, I haven't actually been left high and dry in these situations. On the other hand, if the new roll is right there, how hard could it be to change it?


I wrote once about how repetitive household tasks, like cleaning the bathtub, can be a quiet and sustaining act of love. And that can be true. But sometimes, my friends, it is that tiny thing, over and over, which becomes the insurmountable obstacle. It can just about drive you to the point of madness.

It turns out that I am not the only one who has had it "up to here" with the image of how an oyster can turn a tiny grain of sand into a pearl. In "Coping With Irritable People", Human Resources blogger Tom Bolt writes:

Is there any more overcooked analogy than the one about the lowly oyster taking a grain of sand and making it into a pearl? If we were to believe all of the motivational quotes, shallow platitudes, flowery poems and religious themes about creating something of beauty out of a painful irritation we would be surrendering our humanity.

He goes on, "People have choices. When irritations invade our lives we are not powerless to do something about it."

There it is: it is my anger and frustration that have become the insurmountable obstacle. I cannot make something beautiful out of this because I am already actively making something else: making myself crazy! And I won't get anywhere until I change my point of view. Perhaps, as Mr. Bolt suggests in his article, education is the key in changing irritating behaviors.

It seems I am not alone in my suffering.



Saturday, January 17, 2015


Last June I took a mini-van full of seventh grade girls to see The Fault in our Stars at the AMC theater at the Columbia Mall. I gave all of them mini-packets of tissues, just in case. I didn't realize that I would need one for myself.

Around me in the theater the sound of teens crying was actually audible. They cried for young love thwarted by the horror of a disease that cares nothing for the beauty of human existence. But when I cried, quietly, tears sliding down my face in the dark, I cried the tears of a mom. That could be one of my daughters, my heart said to me as I looked at Hazel Grace. What would I do? How could I live if that were one of my children?

I am thinking of that moment today as I write. I am asking you to help out an Oakland Mills family that is living their own version of that story.

From the Oakland Mills is Awesome FB page:

Remember when I said it was a good day to care for your neighbors? And remember that article that said that Columbia is one of the most CARING places to live? Meditate on that a minute and then think of what you can do to help one of our own young people Mai Bird-Walker.

From the Second Chance event page:

Mai, a vivacious 17 yr old senior from Oakland Mills High School, has been diagnosed with follicular carcinoma and with her current insurance being up for renewal this past October the deductible for the new insurance is astronomical! Please help raise money for Mai's cancer support and treatment!

50/50 raffles, 10% of all sales will go to Mai and more!

The Second Chance event is tonight, January 17th, beginning at 5 pm.

If you can't make it, please take a moment to gofundme page and donate. In addition, Mai's mother, Christina Bird-Walker, is selling her original artwork to help the family make ends meet during this financially challenging time.

So there are three different ways you can help: have dinner for a good cause, send a donation, or buy some art. I hope you are able to chip in for this family and their daughter. This could be any one of us. But it isn't. Our children are healthy, and our neighbors need help.

Augustus Waters says, "Apparently, the world is not a wish-granting factory." True. But a community can light a wish-granting fire to warm their neighbors when times get rough, okay?





Friday, January 16, 2015


"Dr. King said 11 a.m. on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week," Anderson said. "The church of Jesus Christ is the last bastion of self-selected racial segregation." -- Dr. David Anderson

I can't get this out of my head. It's from Luke Lavoie's article "Howard County Martin Luther King celebration seeks to keep the dream alive".

Self-selected racial segregation. It's true more often than not, and admitting it it makes me uncomfortable.

When I was in sixth grade chorus, we had to sing, "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me." I loathed it. It was dopey, and treacly-sweet. And my just-about-teenaged self felt that it was pretty likely that we had to sing it so that adults could ooh and ahh and say, "Listen to the lovely sound of innocent children's voices calling for peace and brotherhood."

I'm adult now. Oh, we all say "Let there be peace on earth" but the "let it begin with me" part? Not so much. And while we admire Dr. King's famous quote...

"Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step."

...we just haven't found the right time to take the first step. Because it has to be perfect step, or the most meaningful step, and we never really thought that we might have to let go of control or allow ourselves to walk into awkward situations to do it. What if we look foolish, or our overtures are rebuffed?

This article reminds me that God not only comforts the afflicted, but also afflicts the comfortable. Is it too late to overcome self-selected segregation? It depends. In fact, it depends on me.

If I am not willing to put myself in the picture, then--probably not.


Congratulations to Kristen Carrasco, winner of the first ever giveaway on Village Green/Town Squared! Kristen and a guest will attend Wilde Lake High School's Jazz @ the Lake Concert on January 24th at 7:30 pm. Many thanks to HoCoBlogs, Totally HoCo, and ScottE Software for helping me to promote this event.

Bummed that you didn't win? Buy your tickets here.



Thursday, January 15, 2015


Our kids are going to high school. "Can you believe it?" we say to one another, shaking our heads. We read the forms from school, talk about scheduling and attend orientation meetings. We try to make sense of it all. We know it will be a big change (for us!) and for our children. We pay attention, perhaps even take notes.

And we talk amongst ourselves.

First impressions of the high school are, overall, positive. The only thing I thought was unnecessary was the science teacher, who kept saying over and over again, "If they are not exceptional they shouldn't even try the class." Exceptional is a rather hard start to live up to. If you start from there, where can you go, I wonder?

This discussion started yesterday on Facebook and the thread ultimately ran to fifty-two comments. If I could I'd print the entire discussion here, because it was that good. But that would be too long for a blog post, and I haven't asked permission. It's clear that Facebook is the neighborhood coffee klatch of old, and some big ideas are being shared.

What did other people think of this Science teacher's presentation?

Totally agree. The GT Bio teacher basically was telling the kids not to take her class.

Various people chimed in. Some said, my child did take that class, it is tough, but the teachers work with you and you can get after school help. Another remarked that the teacher in question was an excellent teacher. All who had experience with the class agreed that it was a lot of work. But overall there was an underlying concern about pushing kids to take GT and AP classes, and the prevailing attitude that only those students were worth taking seriously.

In some schools parents push to get their children into all GT's and AP's at the high school level, in other schools well-meaning counseling coach students away from music, drama, dance, and other subjects in favor of testable, weighted subjects that they think are better for college applications. The school system itself brags about how many students are enrolled in AP classes.

As parents we agreed that our kids need more than high pressure academics. They need balance. One mom said, "I know young people who are excelling in excellent colleges RIGHT NOW who never took an AP or GT class in highschool. THIS IS A TRUE STORY."

So, we don't want to push. And yet, there's something that bothers us, deep down, when we hear childen sorted out like this:

The teacher's talk to the parents translated to me as, "I only teach to the exceptional kids, if yours are less than that take Earth Science, that is a good class for less than exceptional kids."

It's a fine line, isn't it? Like Lake Woebgon, in Howard County we want to believe that all our children are above average. But education should be about meeting the actual needs of the students. We should not be getting bogged down in a head game for adults. I'd like to hit a reset button on this one.


Photo credit: Chris Palestrant


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Seeing Dollar Signs

Two headlines are on my mind this morning. The first:

Plan to build 150 Clarksville homes approved

The second:

Kittleman, advocates listen to concerns about proposed Jessup homeless center

It's no surprise that in this world there are the haves and the have-nots. But there are plenty of folks out there that believe Howard County is all about the haves. I was in a meeting the other night where someone said, "They want to work with us because when they see Howard County they see dollar signs."

Dollar signs go both ways. A high cost of living combined with a low minimum wage may not affect some, but cripples others. Why does HCPSM seek donations of instruments? For students whose families could never afford buying or renting an instrument. For schools whose PTA's can't raise additional funds for music programs. Why do the residents of Oakland Mills and the students at Stevens Forest Elementary School have an ongoing food drive? To make sure their own neighbors won't go hungry.

Now, I'm sure there were objections raised to the 150 high-end, single-family homes in Clarksville. I am going to guess traffic concerns, environmental concerns, and potential overcrowding of schools. Objections to a facility for the homeless: public safety, turning the area into a ghetto, concentration of homeless population in one place.

And yet the Clarksville folks and the (potentially) Jessup folks are all Howard County. It is foolish to ignore this. Some people think that the solution is as simple as redrawing boundaries to make poor people disappear. It's based on the notion that everyone gets excited about building for and marketing to rich people, so let's get more of them. And the poor? Well, if they can't afford to live here, they should just go somewhere else.

That is not the truth of what Howard County is. The sooner we wrap our heads around that, the better. A shout-out to all of the people who work with at-risk populations in Howard County every day. They know better than most that we are all Howard County.


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CDC Meeting tonight, 7 pm at the Jeffers Hill Neighborhood Center. The topic is Human Trafficking. (Another topic we don't really want to wrap our heads around in Howard County.)