Thursday, March 4, 2021

True Crime


 

The feeling of a true crime television show burst into the local consciousness yesterday afternoon as area news outlets broke the story. 

HoCoMoJo’s account begins like this:

David Crawford, an Ellicott City resident and former Chief of the City of Laurel Police Department, was arrested yesterday on arson and attempted murder charges in connection with a series of incendiary fires of homes, vehicles, and residential garages since 2011. 

This piece of information from the Baltimore Sun article by Ana Faguy is chilling:

Police said they first searched Crawford’s Howard County home in January and found a target list of known victims along with other evidence.

It is naturally upsetting to learn that someone in one’s own community might be involved in violent criminal acts. That it was someone like Crawford, known for a career with various police departments, makes the story exponentially more horrifying to many. It’s quite simple: someone the community trusted to uphold the law very likely spent years secretly breaking it.

This piece of news made me think about who we trust, and why. Like many folks, I took to Google to learn more about Crawford. I discovered that he had come out to give testimony against Howard County becoming a sanctuary county in 2017. 

Citing concerns about opening the floodgates to undocumented immigrants and crime, Ellicott City resident Dave Crawford, a former police officer with 35 years of experience in law enforcement, said the status would attract undocumented immigrants.

Here we see the upstanding white police officer raising the spectre of immigrants and crime. In his world it’s simple: the bad guys don’t look like us. Funny how he himself is a prime example of how that may not true.

This tweet from activist and former Columbia resident Bree Newsome Bass hits the nail on the head:



I’m starting to think maybe police aren’t more law abiding than the general population & so it makes no sense to give them blanket authority to kill people.

That’s a lot to think about. Crawford’s arrest challenges notions of who the good guys and the bad guys are. I think it’s a conversation we need to have. As we confront story after story of violence towards Black and Brown people by police, and look at data on the school-to-prison pipeline showing how futures of students are harmed by racially-biased school policing, it’s time to go beyond the good guy/bad guy stereotypes. 

The bad guys can look like us. They can live in our neighborhoods and interact pleasantly wth us on social media. In a sense, both Crawford’s whiteness and his affiliation with the police were his “secret weapons” in perpetuating ten years of crime. When we assess who is dangerous and who is trustworthy based on cultural stereotypes we do ourselves and our communities a disservice.

This is a very upsetting story; there’s no question about that. But, while the moment is upon us, let’s take the opportunity to have some deeper and more nuanced conversations about the role we want police to play in our communities. 





Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Make It Stop


 

A problem which I had noticed before the pandemic has multiplied drastically over the last year. It looks like this:


Here you see plastic cutlery and napkins which have arrived with take-out orders. It’s not even a whole year’s worth, as I was able to rehome a large chunk a while ago with someone in my Buy Nothing group who needed them for her office. Yes, we’ve been eating more take-out during the pandemic to support local business. No, we didn’t ask for any of this cutlery.

Through no fault of my own I’m now in possession of:

  • Wrapped packets (sets): 41 
  • Wrapped Single Pieces:  45  (Knives 9 Forks 35 Spoons  1)
  • Unwrapped Single Pieces: 107  (Knives 34 Forks 65 Spoons 8)
Number of items I requested or used: 0.

All this plastic is piling up in homes all over Howard County. Social media is studdded with offers from swamped consumers looking to offload their growing stash of takeout silverware. Although merchants most likely provide these items unasked as a form of customer service, the end result is anything but. The amount of plastic pushed out into the community daily is mind-boggling.

Therefore I was pretty darned excited to read this article by Ana Faguy in the Howard County Times:


The gist of it is laid out at the beginning of the article:

The Howard County Council passed the Plastics Reduction Act in a 4-1 vote Monday night, prohibiting the use of certain single-use plastic by restaurants and retailers.

The legislation, introduced last month by County Council member Christiana Mercer Rigby, Vice Chair Opel Jones and Chair Liz Walsh, aims to limit single-use plastic such as straws, stirrers and certain condiment packets in the county by requiring retailers and restaurants to supply alternatives and by asking before giving out condiment packets and plastic ware to customers.

The article details the process by which the bill moved forward, was negotiated, amended, and passed. It looks like there was some pushback from the restaurant industry, as well as some desire from Councilman Yungmann to delay taking action on the bill. In the end, while the bill that was passed was a compromise, it helps the county make significant progress in reducing plastic waste without burdening local merchants with an outright ban which could could cause economic hardship during already difficult economic times.

Local advocacy group Less Plastic Please HoCo celebrated the passage of the bill in a tweet which reads:

HAPPY DANCE HOWARD COUNTY! 

THE PLASTC REDUCTION ACT PASSED 4-1!

WE ARE LOOKING TOWARDS A CLEANER COMMUNITY

This is progress. And it is progress that should not be diluted or delayed. This photo from the Less Plastic Please HoCo Twitter feed says it all:




Just one more thing before I let you go:  does anyone need some plastic silverware and napkins?



Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Here We Go Again

 


Welcome to March, and the seemingly inexorable march into the world of Theodore Geisel. Read Across America  has become synonymous in many places with the works of Dr. Seuss. If you’ve ever had a child in a local school you know that Dr. Seuss is on the menu annually. Gradually it’s beginning to drip into the public consciousness that there are far better choices. Far too slowly if you ask me.

Here’s a piece I wrote for Columbia Patch in 2013. I suppose this qualifies as my very first Benign Unpopular Opinion.

Cat in the Hat? No, Thanks!

I hate Dr. Seuss. No, I don't. I dislike the work of Dr. Seuss. I hate the Cat in the Hat. It is easy to get confused since Dr. Seuss' birthday, Read across America Day, and the Cat in the Hat character have been fused into one giant educommercial-edutainment complex.

I taught Preschool, I taught Kindergarten, I have two children, and I hate the Cat in the Hat. I hated it when I was little, and I still do.

Let's look at it from a child's point of view: a smiling stranger gets into your house, takes complete control and you are helpless. Powerless. And you are supposed to like it. Although it doesn't really matter if you do or not.

Great fun, right? 

And, from an adult's point of view: two parents leave their children unsupervised for an indefinite amount of time. The children allow a stranger to come in the house, who smilingly, charmingly, takes complete control. In the process he very nearly kills the only character who passes for parental stability--the fish. In fact, the fish really stands for the voice of their Better Judgement, doesn't he?

And then it builds to a chaotic frenzy where it's all about getting everything cleaned up before the parents come home--you don't want to tell your parents, do you children? Really, they'd never believe you...

Am I the only one who sees child abuse written all over this?

Horton Hears A Who is a vivid and painful account of torment, mockery, bullying. Of hearing and believing an inner truth but being disbelieved. Horton is good, kind, helpful. And helpless. As a child I cried when the tiny Who folk cried out, "We are here! We are here!" I still do. 

The happy ending in no way makes up for the abuse, to my mind.

Now, it is true that I was very shy as a child, and that I was seeking a safe, comforting world view. The illustrations of Eloise Wilkin in My Little Golden Books were restful to me. The Doctor Seuss books always felt ugly and threatening.  The additional insult was that everyone said that children just *loved* them. 

Theodore Geisel had a great facility for word play. He was given the task of writing vocabulary-controlled readers. He did what he did very well. But let us not confuse that with a deep love for or compassionate understanding of children. Let us not make of his work our only blueprint for a religion of childhood reading.

If you like Dr. Seuss, if his stories ring true

If the Cat in the Hat makes you laugh til you're blue

Then I'm glad that you like it. Insult you? I won't.

Just don't make me read it or like it,

Just don't.


Monday, March 1, 2021

The Tastes of Yesterday


 

I’m not sure what sparked today’s post. I think it has something to do with how much we in Columbia/HoCo love remembering and talking about local places that don’t exist anymore. I’ve always enjoyed following such conversations because they give me a glimpse into local history. It reminds me of long Sunday afternoon drives where my father would gesture out the window and say, authoritatively, “This is where the old road used to go.”

So, here goes. 

What was your favorite menu item at a local restaurant that no longer exists? Was it your go-to choice every time you went? Or was it a once-in-a-lifetime selection at a very fancy place for a celebratory meal? I’m looking for your “I’ll never forget” food experiences in Columbia/HoCo. The good ones, that is.

Here are a few of mine:

  • The Catfish Po’ Boy at The Second Chance Saloon
  • The Turkey Club at the Double T Diner in Ellicott City
  • The Blueberry Scones from Renata’s Tasty Bites 
  • The entire experience at The Melting Pot
Of course I’ve only been here since 1999, so, what do I know? I’m sure my readers with deeper roots in the area have some wonderful culinary memories to share. Don’t be shy. 

Sunday, February 28, 2021

A Gift of Thanks


 


I don’t get much mail, so this handwritten thank you note from Chiara D’Amore of the Community Ecology Institute stood out in the pile of catalogues and bills that arrived yesterday. It meant a lot to me because, frankly, I’m a small donor. I haven’t been doling out the big bucks. But I am a big fan of the work that CEI is doing at Freetown Farm.

I first heard of Dr. D’Amore through her local initiative to get families out into nature. (Columbia Families in Nature)  This work has expanded in a variety of ways since then, including a program for children called Roots & Wings Learning Community

The mission of Roots & Wings is to provide an educational experience for home-schooled children, where their knowledge, creativity and voices are nurtured through experiential and nature-infused lessons and activities.

I see that Roots and Wings has announced a gift raffle to support their programs. Here’s the information:

Starting this Spring Equinox, we are kicking off a quarterly gift basket raffle! The raffle winner will take home an amazing basket chock full of seasonal goodies, gardening tips, and it will feature a local artist each quarter. You can expect to find locally sourced items, kid-friendly goodies, and more! Approx. basket value: $300 (the first basket will definitely exceed this amount!).

Raffle tickets are $10 each or 2 for $18 - ticket prices will increase on March 1st, so be sure to grab a few before then! 

The winner of our Spring Equinox Basket will be drawn March 19th, so that the winnings can be enjoyed on the equinox.

Our featured artist for the Spring Basket is our very own Chiara D'Amore - she lives locally in Columbia MD, creates beautiful works of art  inspired by nature and is the Executive Director of the Community Ecology Institute.

To purchase raffle tickets - send your ticket fee via PayPal to rootsandwingscommunity@gmail.com and please note how many tickets you are buying and your first and last name in the notes section of payment. Also be sure to select "sending to a friend".

Raffle proceeds will go directly to supporting the Roots and Wings program! Please be sure to spread the word and share this raffle with your friends and family.

*If you would like to donate an item or service for the basket, please contact us. All donations are welcome and encouraged.



I can vouch for Dr. D’Amore’s beautiful art work. I bought the calendar she produced to support Freetown Farm at Christmas and every page is gorgeous. A small donation on your part in the form of raffle tickets might very well score you a bountiful basket of artistic treasures. 

This description of the program makes me wish I had grown up this way:

The Roots & Wings program is run at Freetown Farm, our 6.4 acre organic farm in Columbia. Farm-based education is among the most effective and promising forms of environmental, experiential, and place-based education because of the innate ability in people to connect to farms. Farm-based education promotes life values by relating to the social, moral, cognitive, and emotional aspects of the human experience and it provides hands-on learning that builds confidence, self-awareness, and individual and collective responsibility which leads to the sustainable stewardship of our world.

What a great investment in the future, too.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Conjunction Junction

 


I’ve been mulling this over for a few days, but this still makes no sense to me. 


It’s as though the Board of Education skimmed all the letters from the community, petitions, and accompanying data and the exhortation to have “counselors, not cops” stuck in their heads but in a wholly distorted way. 

“Well, gee, we have lots of people here who are all riled up. Let’s give everybody something that they want. We’ll have counselors and cops.”

No. 

The movement to remove SROs from our schools continues to be active locally and is being considered at the state level as well. There is a big difference between “counselors, not cops” and “counselors and cops.”

It seems that the BOE doesn’t really want to make that SRO decision. They’d rather someone else did it for them. But this move is a move of avoidance and it also disrespects all the students and families who have shared their lived experiences of poor treatment at the hands of school police. It seems to be trying to mollify white (pro-SRO) parents while throwing a bone to Black and Brown parents. 

I agree with Board member Antonia Watts, who said:

We seriously need to address mental health, irrespective of what we do with SROs... I can’t see why we’re coupling mental health with cops. It seems disingenuous, actually. These things should be pulled apart, and we should take care of the mental health needs of our children, and we can deal with the security in a different way.

If the way that the Board is going to try to resolve this issue is by trying to give everyone something that they want, I propose the following:
  • At the middle school level, put SRO’s in the whitest, most affluent schools. The other schools will get counselors.
  • At the high school level, where each school has officers, the counselors should be allocated in such a way that the schools with the most Black and Brown students get the most counseling staff. 
Does that seem like an odd way to make decisions to you? It is. But, I’m just trying to give everyone something they want, right?

When it comes to school policing, we can’t fudge our way out of it by trying to make everybody happy. We need to be clear on the difference between right and wrong and then actively make the right choice, no matter how much pushback we get. If school policing harms Black and Brown students then it is bad for our school system as a whole, period.

I’m all for increasing mental health resources for students. I’d also like to see more funds allocated for restorative justice training. But it should not be at the expense of looking the other way on the issue of school policing. By making this some kind of a trade-off, the Board of Education is neglecting its responsibility to be champions of all children. 

“Counselors, not cops” vs “Counselors and cops.” There’s a very big difference.  

Surely the Members of the Board should have a better understanding of their parts of speech.








Friday, February 26, 2021

Friday Freebie


 

I offer my apologies that my usual post didn’t materialize this morning. I was not finding local news to be the least bit inspiring, alas. 

But here’s a tasty tater tidbit that I just can’t resist sinking my teeth into. 

Mr. Potato Head brand goes gender neutral, sort of

This quick-to-become-viral story is truly a non-story. Basically Hasbro is acknowledging something that has always been true: all of the toys are potatoes. It’s the child who plays with them who decides their gender. Isn’t that what the best play is all about? The child decides.

I’m both amused and annoyed by those who are grandstanding about this as though it is a telling indicator of a liberal conspiracy to smash the “God-given” gender binary. It’s a toy. It’s a potato. Potatoes don’t have gender. But this is all obvious stuff. 

As a career early childhood educator, I have spent enough time observing children play to have some educated opinions. I even have a few about Potato Head toys.

For those whose takeaway is that this is a stupid toy to begin with and why is anyone still playing with them, well, you’re entitled to your opinion. But, believe it or not, Potato Head play helps develop fine motor strength and hand-eye coordination. It supports choice-making, develops imagination through dramatic play, encourages the use of descriptive and even mathematical language.

But, subversive?  That part has always been inherent within the toy itself. Children take delight in mixing and matching all the body parts and accessories. Some may choose to assemble something which rigidly conforms to gender stereotypes, but many do not. Young children are nowhere near as bound to gender expectations as adults. A toy which allows for open-ended play is a very healthy part of child development. 

It does not matter if your potato has a pink handbag or a cowboy hat or red kissy lips paired with a mustache. What matters is that you choose. You feel satisfaction in your choices. You try something, change your mind, try something else. The child decides.

Through all this play the child is developing their sense of self. They know what feels good to them and what doesn’t. They also see what is accepted and what isn’t. A child will not be harmed by the name change of a toy but they will be harmed by adults who seek to limit their choices and imagination.

In conclusion, I’d like to share with you what my first Potato Head looked like. 



Don’t believe me? Watch this.