Thursday, January 27, 2022

Fully Educated


 

A word about yesterday. I wrote a post objecting to the use of a photo containing Howard County students to accompany an opinion piece in the Baltimore Sun. I still stand by that opinion. However, the piece was perceived by some to be a personal attack on the teacher involved. That was absolutely not my intent. After some thought I decided to take the post down. I’m not here to be hurting people. 

So, that’s that.


*****


In other news, I saw a post on Twitter this morning that indicates that there will be a protest this evening at the Board of Education. The post is a screenshot from a private Facebook group called “Fully Educate All HoCo Kids”. As I don’t know whether this was posted with the group’s permission, I’ll refrain from sharing the screenshot.

Here’s the gist of it: they’re protesting against wearing masks at school.

Friends, I am tired. And depressed. We are dealing right now with a variant that is highly contagious. We are only beginning to understand the long term damage that Long COVID can do to both adults and children. This is not a case of what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

And one more thing: families. Every child, every teacher, every staff member goes home to a family every night. What we do in our schools during a pandemic impacts them as well. Wearing masks at school is something we do not only to protect those at school, but also those at home.

Take a look at this:



Children are losing parents and primary caregivers all over this country. This is a traumatic loss that will forever alter these young lives, including their educational lives. Why shouldn’t we be doing everything we can to cut down on the number of cases of COVID generated in schools and going out into the community?

Almost every family unit contains someone whose health is more precarious than the rest. It could be due to age, or poverty, or illness. When people say that all they care about is whether kids can be unmasked at school they propose putting all those other people at risk. Is it necessary to sacrifice them in order for our children to be “fully educated”?

That’s not what fully educated means. 

Of course these parents have the right to protest. The BOE/Central Office has been the site of any number of demonstrations in the past. I do hope that members of the Board are influenced more by public health recommendations than by disgruntled parents.

And, about having a group called  “Fully Educate All HoCo Kids”? I have some opinions about that, too. More on that soon.








Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Remembering This Day: 2014


 

On January 25th, 2014, there was a shooting at the Mall. When it was over three were dead and five others injured. It was a sad and terrifying day for our community. 

Today I’m remembering. 

I found this article in the Baltimore Sun written on the one year anniversary of the shooting. I don’t recall reading this the first time around. 

A child, a cause: the legacy of the Columbia Mall shootings, Jean Marbella, Baltimore Sun, with contributions from Jessica Anderson and Alison Knezevich

This piece is so thorough and so carefully crafted. Marbella takes the time to tell the stories with respect, shaping the flow of the words with a tender hand. We don’t get to read a lot of local journalism like this these days. It’s too bad that the best example I can think of is rooted in a community tragedy. Is that the only time journalists are allowed the time and space to do this anymore?

Outside Zumiez, two black floor tiles — one engraved "B" and the other "T" — memorialize the co-workers who were shot just over an hour after they had opened the store that Saturday. The mall had no plans for a formal commemorative event, but issued a statement saying that "not a day goes by that we don't think of Brianna, Tyler and their families."

Zumiez is still in business at the mall. I didn’t know about the memorial tiles. Have you seen them?

I’ve never been a big mall person. The shooting didn’t influence my willingness to shop there one way or another. I know it had a huge impact on others, though. For some it was a moment that changed how they felt about the mall (and Columbia) forever.

The shootings have had a lasting impact on the quiet Howard County town. Columbia, built as a community of villages rather than a conventional suburb, was shaken by the attack on a mall that residents viewed as their town square.

For me it was a different event at the mall that deeply hurt me and challenged my faith in my community. But that’s another story for another day.

Today is January 25th, 2022. There are some complicated and contentious issues swirling around Columbia/HoCo right now. Add to that the overall challenges of the pandemic, the current omicron surge, a recent spike in inflation, and the memory of this day eight years ago might easily slip by.

Don’t let it. Take a moment to remember. Read the Baltimore Sun article. If you don’t subscribe, you can access the paper through the Howard County Library website. Do a good deed, share a kind smile, refrain from that one biting comment you probably have every right to say. 

Can we declare a truce, just for a moment - - or even a day? - -  on all battles and skirmishes that darken our thoughts and consume us, day in and day out? 

Into that moment put Brianna, who loved her son Elijah, and Tyler, who worked to help others struggling with addiction. Sit with them a moment today. 








Monday, January 24, 2022

Still Excited


 

I’ve been listening to the Elevate Maryland interview with State Delegate Brooke Lierman, candidate for State Comptroller. I highly recommend it. So many times candidates and elected officials feel constrained to pick their words so carefully and restrict themselves to a certain image, which makes the end result feel less human somehow. Not so with Ms. Lierman. I’m struck with how comfortable she is in her own skin, and how gifted she is in presenting her vision for the State Comptroller’s office in a clear and engaging way.

Personally, I’m a rather artsy, math-anxious sort of person. When Ms. Lierman talks about budgets and how we can best spend Maryland’s money I’ve been fascinated. I think that having a candidate who makes financial issues more interesting and understandable is an excellent thing. 

I attended on online announcement event for her campaign way back on December 17th, 2020. Facebook kindly reminds me that I wrote:

I had no idea I could get excited about a brand new political campaign at this point in time but I am so impressed by Brooke Lierman for Maryland Comptroller following her kick-off announcement this evening!

At the time I pondered writing about my impressions and I decided it was probably too early. I’m kicking myself now that I didn’t at least take notes. Hindsight, you know. Relying on memory alone, what struck me was her ability to show how the Comptroller’s Office is so perfectly suited to shaping priorities for things that deeply need addressing across Maryland. This may be a no-brainer to you, but it was a bit of a revelation to me.

As someone who has experienced a number of financial lows and struggles, I’ve come to look at budgets and finances as things you have to keep on top of purely so you don’t get in trouble. You must look after the money stuff so that the bad things don’t catch up with you. You take care of needs before wants or face the consequences. I realize that this is painfully basic but on the other hand I don’t think I’m alone in this mindset. I think that the more limited your finances, the more likely you are to operate this way.

Listening to Ms. Lierman I sensed that “lightbulb” realization that it’s entire possible to look at our budgetary choices through an equity lens, or an environmental/climate change lens and make choices that reflect our priorities. Again, this may be elementary to you but it wasn’t to me. I’ve lived my whole life compartmentalizing the “money stuff” in one room and my “real life” in another. Following her announcement event I really began looking at these things in a new way.

Essentially what Ms. Lierman helped me realize was that zooming out and having the big picture about Maryland’s finances enables us more effectively address priorities we deeply care about. 

So, here we are more than a year later and I’m actively choosing to listen to Delegate Lierman talk about “the money stuff” and I’m still fascinated and my eyes are not glazing over. That’s why I’m recommending you take the time to listen to this episode:

Elevate Maryland: A Comptroller to Get Excited About with Brooke Lierman 

Now if I can just learn to apply all of this to my own finances.


Sunday, January 23, 2022

CA’s Internet Sensation



Without a doubt, the coolest video I have seen on the internet in a very long time is this one from the Columbia Association posted this past Thursday on its social media accounts. At one minute and thirty four seconds, it’s definitely worth your time this morning.

https://fb.watch/aIXNkJq46E/


Kyle Cope was one of many behind the wheel in the wee hours of the morning clearing our pathways to make sure they're safe for everyone. Thanks to Kyle and our entire snow/ice removal team! 

Here’s a screenshot of what makes this video so cool. It’s the inside of Bridge Columbia, the pedestrian and bicycle bridge that spans Route 29 between Oakland Mills and Town Center.



The short but impressive piece has almost a sci-fi movie feel. I mean:





Honestly, this must be the closest thing Columbia has to a thrill ride, even if it is only on one level.

All fantastical musings aside, this video got me thinking about all the places around town that the Columbia Association looks after during snowy weather. A quick trip to YouTube turned up this piece, posted four weeks ago:




It’s also featured on the CA website on December 14, 2021:

Winter Weather Prep: How Open Space Keeps Columbia Safe 

The short informational video, hosted by Nicholas Mooneyhan, CA Open Space Operations Manager, answers just about every question I’ve ever had about how the Columbia Association responds to snow events. If you’ve ever had one of those “what does CA do, anyway?” moments, this video will give you a glimpse of what it takes to stay on top of all those pathways and sidewalks when it snows.

Of course, we don’t get as much snow as we used to these days. But we seem to be in for a bit more of a “wintry” winter this year, so it’s good to know that these folks try to stay in shape to deal with the white stuff. 

In the meantime, my whimsical suggestion of the day: I think CA could make good money selling rides across Bridge Columbia on Kyle Cope’s Magical Machine. Even if it weren’t snowing. Would you take a ride?










Saturday, January 22, 2022

Driving and Thriving



What do you know about Neighbor Ride? Here’s what I knew: they help older adults without transportation by providing rides to places like doctors appointments, shopping, church, and social events. I knew they were a nonprofit powered by many volunteers. I have a friend who volunteered with Neighbor Ride and she said it was one of the most rewarding volunteer experiences she’s ever had.

I did a little basic research and learned how it all began:

In 2001, the Howard County Office on Aging conducted extensive research which projected that the county’s senior population would double by the year 2020.  Seniors surveyed in the study identified health care and a lack of transportation options as their top two concerns. Neighbor Ride was founded in 2004 to address these concerns with a safe, friendly and reliable means of senior transportation designed to strengthen connections and help older community members live the life they love. 

Here’s what I didn’t know: requests for rides from area seniors have gone up sharply and Neighbor Ride needs more volunteer drivers than ever to respond to the growing need. From their website:

Neighbor Ride is experiencing a steep rise in requests for rides. Volunteer drivers are needed to:

  • Provide rides for medical appointments, shopping, and other day-to-day needs
  • Make deliveries of food or medical equipment

You can make a difference in the lives of Howard County seniors by driving just twice a month. Simply pick the rides that are convenient to your home and daily routines. Opportunities are available 365 days per year. Be prepared to enjoy a fun and rewarding volunteer experience! To get started call 410-884-7433, email volunteer@neighborride.org or click here.

The pandemic has contributed to increased isolation for many older adults. Yet they still have the same human needs and desires be independent, take care of themselves, and remain in connection with others. As much as we love Columbia/HoCo, we also have to acknowledge how automobile-centric it is. It truly isn’t possible for many older adults to navigate if they don’t have access to transportation.

To learn more about the requirements for being a Neighbor Ride driver:  

https://www.neighborride.org/volunteer-requirements/

Once you indicate your interest, you’ll be scheduled for a 45 minute orientation session: 

Learn the ins and outs of our process and and our easy-to-use database to see if driving for us will work for you. Schedule your 45-minute Orientation by calling, emailing or clicking Join Our Team.

Neighbor Ride is offering the orientation both virtually and in person based on volunteers’s schedules and comfort levels. They have also established common sense protocols to keep riders and drivers COVID-safe.

Those are the basics for getting started.

Now I’m going to reveal the secrets behind my motivation to write this piece. When I started doing my research, on a whim, I went to YouTube. Sure enough, there are some engaging short videos that make the case for Neighbor Ride in a way that text alone simply cannot. Here are a few if you want to dive in and get a better feel for what this amazing service is like. 

From about 10 years ago: Neighbor Ride, Inc.  (4.30)

More Recently, around 2018: Neighbor Ride, Connecting Our Community (3.01)

Neighbor Ride 2011 Audrey Robbins Humanitarian Award - - Volunteer Team (4.01)

Neighbor Ride Coordinators 2019 ACX Humanitarian Community Impact Award (3.33)

And, finally, a short informational piece made to promote charitable giving for Giving Tuesday in 2021:

Neighbor Ride Giving Tuesday (1.25)

Take a look. Whether you are a potential driver or donor, or see yourself as someone who may be needing rides, these videos will give you the information you need to see how you might connect. Not to be underestimated: you’ll be informed enough to tell your friends. And that’s vital to the ongoing success of a volunteer-driven organization like Neighbor Ride. They need to continue to make new connections in the community in order to keep this vital service both surviving and thriving.

You can help.



Friday, January 21, 2022

Feeding the Falsehood



 

I am tired of people arguing about babysitting. 

Yesterday the school system made a decision about the weather and the weather didn’t pan out. It happens. It’s inconvenient. I worry less about affluent parents and more about the hardship for kids who may not eat. Believe me, the folks who make these decisions know. 

But it galls me to see the old argument arise yet again when frustrated teachers respond with the angry, “parents just think of us as babysitters.” 

Why does it gall me? Let me tell you.

Babysitting is when Mom and Dad or other primary caregiver want to go out to the movies or whatever and hire what is essentially a casual employee at an hourly rate, probably in cash. 

What parents struggle with on an unexpected day off from school is not a lack of babysitting. It’s childcare.

Childcare should not be a dirty word. But we treat it like it is. From even the earliest age levels, I see parents and teachers say, “Oh, I wouldn’t want that,” or, “I wouldn’t do that. It’s just childcare.” 

Having worked in facilities that provide care from infants on up, I can assure you that childcare is education. Every, every minute. Whether it is learning that you are safe, that your actions will bring a response, that there are adults who want to interact with you and meet your needs - - all of that is the beginning of education. Brain development and speech development don’t happen in a vacuum. 

Each developmental level builds on the one before. That doesn’t stop when a child begins their “formal education.” But our culture pits “teachers” against “caregivers” both in terms of status and pay. And, the older the level one teaches, the more respect one is accorded. 

I often wonder why that is.

Is it purely because we see the curriculum at the highschool level as being more complicated stuff, so that those jobs are more intellectually rigorous? (And therefore more valuable?) Is it because we value education more when the students are perceived to be focused on the content alone? Primary teachers get less respect than secondary, probably because of the perception that their role requires more caregiving.

This is a ridiculous distinction which, in my opinion, should be smashed into a million pieces and then burned. And, let’s face it, it probably stems from the fact that childcare was for so long considered the responsibility of mothers, which is to say: a woman who has no choice providing a valuable service for no pay whatsoever.

We are in this mess because our culture puts high expectations on requiring parents or other primary caregivers to be employed while placing a low value on children. Period. This perpetuates the desperation to find and keep good childcare while also devaluing the people who provide it. I know many good teachers who feel demoralized by a feeling that they are looked at as nothing more than free childcare. 

I am deeply sorry that they feel demoralized. I know they are good and dedicated teachers.

But the truth is that people need childcare! That is not something to feel shame about. Wanting to provide the very best care for one’s children is one of the greatest aspirations we have as parents. But American culture isn’t centered around that very basic need. We don’t value families and children. And, as long as the only lifeline we have is free K-12 education, that’s where all of parents and children's needs will be piled.

It is wrong, it is exhausting, it’s counterproductive, and it’s unsustainable. I don’t blame teachers for pushing back.

It makes me sad, though, to see such a rejection of childcare as a part of the equation. Because, the truth is, those teachers who “just want to teach” are caring for our children all the time. The elementary teacher who fosters independence in a way that helps students academically and socially. The middle school teacher who has an open door lunch policy for lonely or awkward students who have no one to sit with. The high school teacher who is the first to notice an abusive relationship and coordinates with other staff to get help. This is all childcare, because it is caring for children. 

It is not separate from, or less than. Teaching children and caring for children are extremely valuable and deeply intertwined. Our culture doesn’t honor that. That promotes this false distinction which makes everyone feel terrible and does nothing to help children. 

Let’s stop feeding the falsehood and work to fix the real problem.






Thursday, January 20, 2022

Missing

 


Every Thursday morning the Columbia Flier appears in my inbox. I’m a digital subscriber. 

When I was working I accumulated quite a few subscriptions: New York Times, Washington Post, Maryland Daily Record, Baltimore Sun/HoCoTimes/Columbia Flier. Due to budgetary constraints, I’m down to just the last one. I want to support journalism, especially local journalism. My father was fascinated all his life by printing and publishing. He adored seeking out local newspapers whenever we traveled. 

I think I must have caught the bug.

If you read our local paper you probably have been noticing that the actual space allowed for local news is getting smaller and smaller, while content purchased from outside sources seems to grow weekly. Something else I’ve been noticing: where are the letters to the editor?

Almost every issue of the Flier used to contain an editorial piece from the paper, an actual political cartoon about local happenings, and letters to the editor sent by local residents. I can’t remember the last time that was happening regularly. Have people stopped writing in? I know they haven’t stopped having opinions. 

Has the advent of social media as a place where everyone can publicly display their opinions made editorial pages less viable? Or is the cost of vetting letters, researching and writing editorials (not to mention paying cartoonists) now considered to be too costly by the corporations far away that own local news organizations? As I recall, an editorial page can’t run advertisements. Is that part of the issue here?

The last time I submitted a letter to the editor someone reached out to me to let me know that they printed them in the order they received them, “as space permitted”. 

It looks like space is no longer…permitting?

Not everything that goes away deserves to be saved, necessarily. But this one concerns me. It is isn’t merely that I enjoy reading what people are riled up about, and who is riled up, for that matter. It’s also the time and attention that the paper used to invest in learning and thinking about local issues well enough to write about them. 

When that goes, part of the soul of a local newspaper goes. It’s not that the journalists and their editors who cover Columbia/HoCo news don’t care. It’s that financial decisions far above them cut and cut away at what they are able to do. So they do what they can, within the limitations that are given them.

What do you think? Do we lose something if we lose a local editorial page? Or has the internet and modern life rendered it obsolete? Do younger residents see any relevance in reading the letters to the editor anymore?

When does a local newspaper stop being a local newspaper?