Thursday, June 30, 2016
Why? Well, I follow the school system pretty closely as both a parent and a blogger, and I had no idea this was in the works. I re-checked all the HCPSS News emails from June 1st onward. June 1, 8, 15, 16, 22, 29th: nothing. You would think that if the school system were putting on a major event on diversity and inclusion that they'd want to tell people about it. Especially since it was clear that student participation was key to the success of the event.
These words from John White suggested a reason this event was kept under wraps:
Howard County superintendent Renee Foose announces new “Student Voice for Inclusion & Equity” model today at cultural proficiency conference."
Let's face it, the announcement by the Superintendent of anything that contains the word "model" does not exactly inspire confidence. Specifically, the announcement of a major initiative on diversity and inclusion made without community outreach and collaboration defies good sense. Although, to be honest, it is what we have come to expect.
The good news here is that the event itself appears to be more of the excellent work of John Krownapple and his colleagues in the Cultural Proficiency office. I have heard nothing but good things about his work from teachers, parents, and students. I was also extremely encouraged to hear that Sara and Lina, the Mount Hebron High School students of #StoptheSilenceStartaConversation #HoCoStudentWalkOut were invited to participate and will be on a panel today. All indications are that this is wonderful, valuable work.
But I can't get over that parents were kept completely in the dark about this, especially since this is such a hot issue right now in our community. An indication of what the priorities were: the media were invited to this in advance; the public found out after it was already happening.
And one more thing. It's my opinion that, if students are intended to be involved as participants, then notification of parent community as a whole should be a given. Where did these students come from? They were hand-picked by administrators.
That doesn't sound very inclusive. Or diverse.
I want to emphasize how much I value this work and the students and teachers who are participating. But the overall message to the community is of another failed opportunity to communicate and collaborate. Yet again there's no room for stakeholders at the table. Parents are viewed as merely consumers of a social media message. It shows a profound lack of respect.
How can we make progress on issues that are so entrenched and complex if the school system's own initiative is predicated upon exclusion? As I said before, it defies good sense.
Wednesday, June 29, 2016
The Smaller Community
A long time ago I wrote about the difference between the larger community
― Raquel Cepeda
Tuesday, June 28, 2016
The Back Burner
Some things that are percolating but aren't ready to roll yet:
- Changing acoustics in Downtown Columbia. I keep reading about this. Changes to the landscape due to development in the Crescent, combined with changes at Merriweather, appear to be affecting who is hearing what, where, and how much.
- Expanded summer feeding centers in hcpss: good. One of the sites has recently-verified mold issues: bad.
- Why do elected members of the Board of Education often learn of hcpss/Board actions by reading about them in the newspaper?
- Women community and/or political bloggers in HoCo: we need more of them.
The Columbia Concert Band returns to where it has always belonged - the Columbia Lakefront July 4th fireworks! It's been so long, I can barely remember the last time the "hometown band" has been part of the Independence Day celebration - I am thinking 26 or 27 years (yeah, I played). Unfortunately, due to space restrictions, we can only bring a little over half the ensemble, but it's a start! Come hear a nice variety of music, including marches, popular songs, patriotic medleys, and original symphonic band music. We start at 7:00 and finish - well, when the fireworks begin!
This is exciting stuff--live community band music for the Fourth. It's wholesome, sugar-free, yet won't offend anyone's sense of fair play. Get your blanket out there early, folks. Also, it sound like there may be a back-story here. Yet another thing to put on the back burner.
Time to start cooking up some future posts.
Monday, June 27, 2016
Where We Are
A year ago Columbia-raised Bree Newsome scaled the flag pole in South Carolina to take down the Confederate flag. Some saw it as an act of liberation--I did. Others saw it as lawlessness, provocation. The last year has been filled with more violence and injustice towards African Amercian citizens of this country. More of the same, more of the status quo.
Here in Howard County a racist video made and posted publicly by Mount Hebron students was a punch to the gut from which we are still recovering. Local students mobilized, spoke out, walked out. The response from the school system felt more like spin. "Let the grown-ups handle this." The sincerity of their actions was called into question when it was learned that the student who had shared the video in order to call out racism was punished right along with the maker of the video itself.
An all-day youth summit on racial justice sponsored by area churches sought to lift up, educate, and empower the young people themselves. One of the presenters: Bree Newsome. Local student activists were flown to San Francisco by Twitter to participate in a panel on "Creators for Change", focusing on their work with HoCoStudentWalkout. The school system floated the idea of a Diversity Coordinator, the Board passed it, then the school system cut it when the budget negotiations didn't go their way.
All the while members of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia have been standing out in the center of Downtown Columbia one Sunday each month with their Black Lives Matter signs and a banner proclaiming, "Standing on the Side of Love". From their website:
BLACK LIVES MATTER MONTHLY VIGIL – 4:00-5:00 PM at the intersection of Governor Warfield Parkway and Windstream Drive. Join us on the second Sunday of each month for a recurring action in Columbia to keep public attention focused on the problem of black lives NOT mattering in our society.
Last night actor Jesse Williams gave a speech at the annual BET Awards that just about set Twitter on fire, and rightfully so. Video and full transcript are here. These words, in particular, struck me:
And let’s get a couple of things straight, just a little side note: The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander. That’s not our job, alright? Stop with all that. If you have a critique for the resistance—for our resistance—then you’d better have an established record of critique of our oppression. If you have no interest… If you have no interest in equal rights for black people, then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.
In the battle for racial justice, I never sought to be a leader. I have thought it was enough to "have my heart in the right place." Reading Mr. Williams' speech made it clear to me that I'm not even a very good follower or ally. What does it mean to have your heart in the right place if it does not move you to act for justice? Being a nice person on the sidelines is still a choice to be on the sidelines, after all.
Today, June 27, 2016: this is where we are.
Where are we?
Sunday, June 26, 2016
Today is my brother in law's last service as a minister in the United Methodist Church. He is retiring. When I was little I never understood adults saying "It seems like only yesterday that..." but now, I know. It was only yesterday, wasn't it, that he left his management career at Kraft to go to seminary and completely changed the course of his (and my sister's) life? He has given it his all.
Love, humor, pragmatism, grace, insight, vision, hard work, patience, diplomacy, endurance. Talking the talk and walking the walk. I've always thought that, had I lived nearby, I would have become a Methodist just because of Evan.
I learned recently that he has become well-known for closing each service with the following:
Spend time with the people that you love, and let them know that you love them.
That's undoubtedly a better message than any blog post I might have written today. Godspeed, Evan. And to my sister and nephews--what a huge part of this amazing ministry you have been. No one can be a minister in a vacuum. I know what a big part of your lives has been commingled with Evan's life's work. You have given your all, too.
Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can. --John Wesley, founder of Methodism
Saturday, June 25, 2016
Pie 5, Coke 0
Strategically placed by the check-out, this eye-catching sign is a slick way to shame people out of the old tap water habit. Tap water is boring--you don't want to be boring, do you?
I wonder what the folks at HoCo Unsweetened would think of that?
Sugary soda (and other high-sugar beverages) and the frequency with which the typical American is drinking them continue to be a huge public health challenge. The movement to address the long-term consequences of the SSB (sugar-sweetened beverage) habit is bigger than initiatives in our own little bubble. A statement from the Baltimore City Health Department includes these words:
Studies have shown that beverage companies disproportionately market their sugary drinks to low-income communities that are already hardest hit by health disparities and have the highest rates of diabetes and heart disease. The consumption of SSBs is increasing rampant inequities, speeding our most vulnerable children toward poor health and shortened life spans.
The statement, urging warning labels on SSB's, makes it clear that BCHD views this not only as a Public Health issue, but as taking a step towards remediating a social injustice.
In Philadelphia the City Council recently approved a 1.5 cent tax per ounce tax on sugar-sweetened and diet beverages.
The American Beverage Association has spent nearly $5 million on advertising against the tax. A nonprofit created to support the mayor's initiatives spent just over $2 million, according to its spokesman, $1.6 million of it from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
That's a lot of money.
Back to the sign. What struck me about it, aside from the health aspect, was the money involved. Let's be honest. This sign might as well read:
Tap water is Free. These alternatives, made by us, cost money. If you drink tap water, we lose. Spend your money.
That's the job of merchandising, after all. To get you to part with your hard-earned money. There's no law against that. And it's also true that there may be a few sugar-free, relatively chemical-free choices in the "Freestyle" machine. But something about this sign just got my goat: spend more money, quite possibly undermine your health. But you won't be boring.
A foot-note, albeit an important one. We loved pie five and we'll definitely being going back. We liked our pizzas and the service was excellent.
Friday, June 24, 2016
An Unusual Guest
If you need help, or can offer help due to storm, please comment here. I have received a few messages from people concerned about elderly relatives they can't get a hold of due to power outages, etc, or who may need help with blocked driveways and such. If you are a tree service business, feel free to post your services here too.
Ms. Cutroneo herself was presented with a bit of a post-storm challenge when a rather unusual object turned up near her house.
Yay!! I will drop her off, she will be so happy. Might need to watch Netflix for a few days to help recover.
Surprised she only went as far as your woods. With that wind, she could have ended up in Glenelg!!
Just throw it into the yard. Hopefully another twister won't blow her away any time soon. Thanks!
How crazy would this have been had it been a goat?!
The S family are missing an 8ft pizza slice. Anyone?
Oh I wish there was an 8 foot pizza slice in my woods.
She's headed home. Toto, there's no place like home.
Thursday, June 23, 2016
It's raining. And raining. I'm thinking about the power of the storm Tuesday afternoon, and about the rushing waters* in Ellicott City. Then I wonder about what long-term progress has been made to help residents and businesses in Old Ellicott City deal with chronic flooding. And I think about how much polluted stormwater runoff that storm generated that headed directly into the Chesapeake Bay.
It reminds me of the old joke:
Hey farmer, when you gonna fix that leakin’ roof?
Well, stranger, when it’s a-rainin’, it’s too wet to fix it; and when it’s dry, it’s just as good as any man’s house.
Still, all of this is merely a prelude to this question: what about the Columbia Patuxent Rotary Boat Float? (Yes, I went from rain to storm to rushing waters to run off to boats.) Have I missed it? Are they having it this year? I've never been, but every year I tell myself this this will be the year to go down and experience this uniquely Columbian event.
Did I put it off too long? Has it ceased to exist? Is it one of those things I just assumed would go on forever and still be there when I finally decided to go? I don't know, and a quick Google search was no help. In the meantime, here's some YouTube footage from 2013 featuring well-known local emcee extraordinaire (and Rotary member) Dave Bittner.
Maybe I'll just go play with boats in the bathtub.
Update: I have learned that the Boat Float is no more. I wish I had taken the opportunity to see it. That's the price of putting things off and taking things for granted.
*Scroll down on the County Executive's Facebook page for two short video clips of Ellicott City during the storm.
Wednesday, June 22, 2016
Where Were You?
Where were you when the call came to take shelter? I was at an appointment at an office on the first floor of a heavily-built concrete building in Columbia. We could hear the storm but it didn't sound all that severe from where I was. A quick review of social media shows residents weathering the storm:
- At Home Depot
- In their basement
- At the Mall
- In a stairwell at HoCo Rec and Parks
- Having an indoor sing-along at Girl Scout Camp
- Face down in the auditorium at Howard High School
- Stuck in traffic on the way to get gas
- In a car on the way to pick up a child at camp
Information on the County response to the storm can be found here. Info specific to Western Howard County is here.
Tuesday, June 21, 2016
Partisan Politics and Human Nature
I have made much in this space about how the Board of Education race is a nonpartisan race and should be respected as one. Not everyone agrees. Probably the nicest thing someone has said is that I am deluded, if that tells you anything.
I do understand that this year's presidential election puts horrific pressure on local races because of the negative influence of the Republican candidate. Trump's patently racist statements, which stir up fear and anger as a way of solidifying support for his candidacy, are more than unappealing. They are proof positive that he is downright dangerous as a motivator of the worst kind of behavior.
For some this has translated into a deep desire to know where local BOE candidates stand on Trump and his message. And, if this is what is most important to them, they have every right to ask those questions.
As for me, I haven't seen any convincing proof that any of the BOE candidates are of the same stripe as Trump. If I had I would have mentioned it here. It isn't that this issue doesn't matter to me. I simply haven't seen anything of this nature that alarms me. And I also don't believe that this is the only lens through which we should be evaluating Board of Education candidates.
I have read multiple think pieces on how politicians can't work across the aisle any more, going back eight years or more. Writers lament a lack of bipartisan cooperation. They recall leaders who could get things done through cooperation and finding consensus. We all look around ourselves and denounce partisan gridlock.
But what are we doing to change that?
A bunch of amazing people worked together to make change in the Howard County Schools. They lobbied for better legislation in Annapolis. They campaigned for better board of education candidates, and their work helped to bring forward better choices for the general election. And they chose to work together despite party differences, because they were united by a cause that was bigger than party affiliation.
A highly developed sense of partisan purity may make people inside your political bubble feel secure. But it does nothing to make change. A friend of mine said recently,
I actually have made more female friends in Howard County than I have ever had before, but I had to let go of the liberal superiority in the process.
Liberal superiority. Conservative superiority. "We know we are right!" "Never compromise!" "The other side is the devil!"
How's that working for you?
You can argue til the cows come home that you'll never let down your guard against the foe, but that argument won't change this truth of human nature: positive, lasting change doesn't come from the throw-down and the show-down. It comes from small steps, careful listening, and well-considered risks. It comes from compromise and willingness and stepping out of one's comfort zone.
I am not interested in people of either party whose idea of political discourse is gleefully throwing darts at the other side. If you take delight in watching the other guy squirm, that's all the delight you're going to get. It will not bring progress or improvement of any kind.
And when it comes to the BOE race, while you are busy throwing darts, there's a third "party" that stands to benefit: the ones who want things to remain exactly as they are. If Howard County voters can be distracted by a partisan "shootout at the OK corral", they'll take their eyes off of our shared community goal for better schools for our children.
If that happens, we all lose.
Monday, June 20, 2016
There's something wrong with my shoulder. And since it's connected to my arm, and my hand, I've now got a problem holding my iPad. And that means I have a problem writing, at least until I figure this out. Grr.
In the meantime, read this. The author, Marge Neal, was one of the writers for Columbia Patch, back in the day. She's now writing a blog called Scribbles from the Margen. This piece really struck me because she saw something in an obituary that many of us would have missed.
In a simple life-to-death narrative she spies the evidence of opportunity denied. It was a world built for men. Men played the leading roles. Women played bit parts. And the same story: passed down from generation to generation. She invites us to contemplate the fate of Carrie Kohn Wyman, of whom she states:
Women of her era weren't aware of the glass ceiling because they weren't allowed out of the basement.
Ms. Neal's piece is a challenge to look beyond the usual and seek out the possibilities. Imagine what amazing things might happen "if we keep telling girls they can do anything they want. And be there to mentor them along the way."
Sunday, June 19, 2016
With the evolution of marketing on the Internet has come the introduction of categories for gift-giving. Is your Dad:
- Outdoorsy Dad?
- Sports Dad?
- Tech-Geek Dad?
- Executive Dad?
- Auto-enthusiast Dad?
- Grilling Dad?
One of my memories of childhood play is that no one ever wanted to play the Dad when we played "House". The dad had such a limited role. All he did was say "I'm going to work" and then return later on, saying, "Honey, I'm home!" Who would want to do that?
So at least Dad now warrants multiple drop-down menus which indicate that society thinks he does more than put on a necktie and go to work. That's an improvement, right? It still presents a challenge for those whose dads doesn't fit the Madison Avenue ideas of Dad-hood. Dad himself may wonder why he must be pigeon-holed rather than just appreciated for who he is.
The perfect Father's Day for our Dad-in-Residence would involve sleeping late, really good coffee, watching "the Football" from Europe or some Orioles baseball. Food would involve pork pies or sausage rolls. There would guitar jams, seriously good milk chocolate, maybe a trip to Atomic Music or Appalachian Bluegrass. There would be no schedule to keep, no to-do list.
Instead he will be up and on his way to lead the music at church and give the Children's Chat. That will be followed by an attempt to watch the Orioles game overcome by a much needed nap, I'm guessing. Tonight we will have dinner in his honor. There will be family, and food, and laughter.
It doesn't matter what the gift categories are. What matters is who we are: who we love, how we chose to celebrate. We make all sorts of wonderful families and relationships throughout our lives. They don't all look the same. They might not even be recognized as such by others. That's not a problem.
That's a blessing.
*With special love for my husband, Richard; my father, Byron; my father-in-law, Sam; and my former father-in-law, Roger--all of whom defy categorization.
Saturday, June 18, 2016
Going to an Unknown Place
I've made no secret that land use is not my thing. That is to say, I'm more than a little interested, but it isn't my area of expertise. But I've been seeing an uptick in conversations about APFO, proposed new developments, school overcrowding, traffic issues, and all the rest.
On the one hand, those opposed to increasing (or would that be continuing?) development in Howard County point to negative impact on our way of life. They are asking questions such as:
- How well are we managing infrastructure needs as density increases?
- How effective is the school system in handling overcrowding through redistricting and building new schools?
- Will increasing population overwhelm the amenities and benefits that make Howard County special?
- Don't people understand that the law gives specific rights to the owner of the land?
- Isn't this just a selfish attempt to prevent other people from enjoying the Howard County way of life that they are already enjoying?
- Isn't this, at its roots, a racist reposnse to the possibility of a more culturally/ethnically/racially diverse population in areas which has traditionally been less diverse?
Where do you think the discussion on these issues is headed? Where do you think we should be going?
Friday, June 17, 2016
Friday's Feel-Good Story
This local story brought to you by the magic of social media:
FOUND DOG* wandering parking lot by The Ale House, near Walmart and 175, around 3:30 today, Weds, June 15. He does not have a micro-chip. He is wearing a green collar with no tags.
PLEASE share far and wide ASAP. We do not want to take him to the pound... and I cannot fit any more canine friends in my bed :
UPDATE: IT IS A GIRL!!!!!!
If you take him to the pound, they can check to see if he's microchipped and maybe get him home. You can take him and have them read the chip without surrendering him if you don't want to.
Sigh. Didn't read carefully. He looks sweet!
Sorry for caps lock... I have been busily correcting my inaccurate report --- this is a GIRL.
There is a homeless man that is in that area that has a similar dog. Txxxx, do you recognize him?
TURNS OUT THIS IS A GIRL!!!!!!
Or her :)
Did I mention my daughter is a medical professional? bwahahahahahaaaa
I was just saying that she does look like that...
They are going to go over and see if they can find the man.
That's Goldie Girl, she belongs to a homeless man. Do you still have her??? I can take her until I find him. He has a camp close to my neighborhood.
Are you sure?
Yes!!! I love that dog!! Do you want to meet somewhere??
She is hanging out by the pool. Where are you located?
I know the gentleman you are speaking of - last time I saw him, he was in the parking lot of Ale House with his dog - hope he is OK.
I hope he hasn't been arrested. I have always told him I would take Goldie Girl if he needed me to. I am sure he is worried sick about her.
That's great I have given them food many times, I hope he's ok! I've never seen him without her!
Yes! I know her too. He must be heart broken. He had a cell phone at one point I have his number. I'll try it. Their tent city is just south of the Carmax on Route 1.
Can we do anything to help this man and his dog?
I'm with her. Can we help?
UPDATE: Wonderful news. "Goldie Girl" will be reunited with with her owner soon. Thank you EVERYONE!!!! Such a wonderful, caring community.
He was there and now has Goldie Girl!!
I loved reading this thread and the good hearts of all of you. #Community
What you see here is that everyone united to help this dog find her owner. What you don't see is anyone passing judgement, making negative comments, being critical. Everyone in this story receives respect: the dog, the owner, the rescuer, and all the people on the thread.
I bet you haven't been reading many stories like that this week. I thought you'd enjoy this one.
*Original poster in bold. All other responders in regular type.
Thursday, June 16, 2016
Popping Up in a Village Near You
5:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m. at the Oakland Mills Interfaith Center Parking Lot (closest to Santiago Road)
Food distribution for those who are in temporary need of food.
Food distributed to those who are 18 and older and bring any type of photo ID.
The event will be held in the parking lot of the Oakland Mills Interfaith Center close to Santiago Road. If possible please bring grocery bags and a cart to carry items home (if you are walking).
The Pop Up Pantry will provide free food for those in need in the community and is sponsored by the Howard County Food Bank (Community Action Council), The Oakland Mills Community Association, and the Oakland Mills Interfaith Center and with the support of Oakland Mills area schools.
This food giveaway can provide temporary assistance food for up to 400 families!
Sandy Cederbaum, Oakland Mills Village Manager
You may have seen this posted on social media yesterday. A pop-up food pantry means taking the food to where the people are. Sometimes people don't have a car to make it to the Howard County Food Bank location. Public transportation can be complicated and inconvenient, and difficult to navigate with young children. Cabs are expensive.
I was there for the set-up portion of the event. A truck arrived from the food bank. Tables were set up, food unloaded off the truck. Volunteers unpacked the boxes and sorted out the food donations on the tables. There were cases of food which must have been purchased with money from donations to the food bank. And there were boxes that must have come from area food drives, packed with a wide variety of items that individual donors had picked out.
I was working with the food drive donation boxes, sorting soup from spaghetti sauce, rice from pasta, green beans from spinach, peaches from mandarin oranges. Oh, and pumpkin. Lots and lots of canned pumpkin. And can after can of black beans. If someone comes up with a truly tasty recipe combining pumpkin and black beans, there's a real opportunity to use up a backlog of donations.
Our little area had two tables, then expanded to three. I worked with two other women around my age, and two great kids who had come with their dad. We unpacked, sorted, stacked. We chatted about where the gravy should go, or if baby food should have its own table. It was a lot like playing grocery store when I was little, and the mood was light-hearted as we worked our way through the boxes.
Yet, as we worked our way through the boxes, we could see the line forming at the other end of the parking lot. People waiting, quietly, holding bags. Our people. Our Oakland Mills people. The weight of knowing that we have neighbors who struggle with food insecurity transformed my childlike feeling of playing store into something else: gratitude.
Gratitude that my family has enough. Gratitude that our Village has enough to share, that our County Food Bank has enough to share. Gratitude that we could host this pop-up food pantry because we were able to get enough volunteers to staff it--about forty volunteers were there over the three hours of the event. They were unloading the truck, unpacking boxes, helping clients.
It's true that our Villages and Village Centers are aging and the realities of modern life provide different challenges to which we must respond wisely, if we are to continue to thrive. We must act with both wisdom and compassion. In my opinion we don't need reinventing. We just need to lift each other up.
You can support the mission of Blessings in a Backpack to feed hungry children at Cradlerock Elementary by eating at Grotto Pizza tonight! Print the notice included in the link and bring it with you.
Wednesday, June 15, 2016
What Do We Stand For?
When I was running for CA Board someone on my campaign team made some suggestions that I wasn't comfortable with. (I can't remember for certain who it was.) When I said that we weren't going to do those things because that's not what I stood for, someone said to me, "Do you want to win?" I did want to win, but not like that. In the end I lost. I don't regret sticking to what I believed was right.
When partisan unpleasantness sprang up at Savage Fest I reached out to the three Challenger BOE candidates who had been unaffected. I asked them to speak out publicly against this kind of unproductive nastiness.
Last week I started receiving reports of rumor-mongering against three of the challenger candidates at the Democratic Unity Dinner and elsewhere. By Saturday these reports were confirmed by multiple, unrelated sources. These attacks were not only political but personal.
Why should you care about this?
Well, who do you think should wield influence in the Board of Education race? Should it be the local Democratic organization? Or that of the Republicans? Should it be the school system itself? We know from past experience that HCPSS leadership is not above finding ways to "endorse" candidates that they feel won't rock the boat.
If you hear people spreading negative information about any of the challenger candidates, ask yourself this question: who stands to benefit if this person is eliminated from serious contention? Then reach out to the actual candidate and find out whatever you need to know to make an educated decision. You don't need to let other people pull your strings.
The post I wrote last Saturday received a lot of pushback from the community. As a blogger I have to be willing to take that. Some of the criticism was fair, some was not. (And let's not forget that one memorable sock puppet.) Many people felt I was not being fair to the subject of the post. While I have taken this past weekend's experience to heart, and learned quite a bit, I am still left with the nagging question, "who was being fair to the candidates being smeared?"
Who will stand up for them?
I took down Saturday's post largely because of an amazing update later in the day by current BOE member Cindy Vaillancourt, which spoke to the heart of the matter and truly rendered my post superfluous. We are all indebted to her for her wisdom, diplomacy, and compassion. We can only hope to make the best choices in November that will give her colleagues of similar character and abilities.
I am not as sure as I once was as to my top three choices in the BOE race. I'm interested in qualifications and achievements. I'm interested in talking with them about what their goals are and what they believe in. But I'm also interested in how they handle rumours and infighting and situations where others are under attack.
I hear there may be some of that on the Board of Ed. I want whoever wins to be ready.
Tuesday, June 14, 2016
Here's an invitation for you.
Really enlightening thread guided by @migold right now -- going places I've never been. Maybe you have. Check it out.
Just go. Find @migold and just read. Read back to the beginning of the thread, which is at some point yesterday afternoon, when he asks,
What was your first experience at a gay bar like?
Just one simple question. Amazing responses. A chance for people to be heard. A chance for people like me to learn. A contribution to a feeling that we are all human and worthy of love. We all look for acceptance.
Michael Gold was a reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He was snapped up by the Washington Post, then quickly made the leap to the New York Times. He does social media. He does it well.
So, read it all. And read the article he recommends, "'It's Sacred.' A Gay Refuge, Turned Into A War Zone" by Michael Barbaro.
I don't know of Mr. Gold was doing this for his job or on his own time, and it doesn't matter to me. It was a beautiful moment in a stream of chaos, and I was glad to be a witness.
Monday, June 13, 2016
Musings About a Flag
Again we respond to horrific tragedy in our social media communities. It makes me sick that an acceptable protocol has evolved for expressing grief. In days gone by a tolling of church bells or a lowered flag were the symbols of national calamity. Now we have an array of profile pics and memes to tell our sorrow, invoke a higher power, urge greater love. We "react" and we "share" until the moment has passed.
And when the next horrific slaughter occurs we will be ready to do it all again.
I was surprised to see some people use an American flag yesterday to express their solidarity with the victims and their families. I understood quite well the rainbow images I was seeing. The Rainbow flag is the standard of the LGBTQ cause and the act of terror and hate was committed in a well-known Orlando gay nightclub. But I realized that I had an almost visceral response to seeing the traditional red, white, and blue.
I shrank from it. Why?
The Rainbow flag is a flag of inclusion, acceptance. It celebrates diversity. Does the American flag? Do our LGTBQ brothers and sisters see an American flag and feel it speaks for them? Certainly many have fought and even died in military service to defend it and what it represents. As teachers they have taught students to say the Pledge of Allegiance. As judges and lawyers they have upheld notions crucial to holding this republic together.
But what does it mean to them?
Does this flag represent inclusion and acceptance? Does it celebrate their diversity? Most importantly, does this flag guarantee their equal protection under the law?
It does not. Not anywhere near enough.
More often than not the people who wrap themselves in the American flag do so to exclude and and revile those who are different. That's not how it should be. If our nation claims to be a place of Liberty and Justice for All, we are doing very poorly indeed.
And we are doing poorly not merely by our LGBTQ citizens, but also by African-Americans, Hispanics, the chronically and deeply poor, the mentally ill...I would hazard a guess that there are people in almost every state working to create policies and laws that define "those people" as less than American. Less than worthy of protection.
The truth is that memes of candles and rainbows and hearts and words of love are just barely holding back the tide of hate speech on social media. I want to believe, like Lin-Manuel Miranda, that
Love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.
But this flag, though.
To whom does it belong? Does it remain a pure symbol of a diverse nation which is somehow indivisible? Does it still speak the promise of Liberty and Justice for All? Or is it merely a casualty of war, diluted and defiled by hate?
Should we reclaim it for all that is good? I really don't know if that's possible at this point. I do know that, if I were in trouble or in danger, I'd much rather wrap myself in a Rainbow Flag, because I know what that means.
I love my country. I love the ideals which brought it into life. I would proudly admit to being patriotic if that did not make me think of other, darker things. I'm struggling to see the beauty.
I don't want to give up hope.
Sunday, June 12, 2016
The following post is written by my friend Debbie Fickett-Wilbar. We went to Middle School together. She had the most perfect handwriting and she was a voracious reader. She once basically dared me to read "Gone With the Wind" because I pooh-poohed it. (I went home and read it in a weekend. It was much better than I expected.)
Debbie and I found each other again on Facebook and have been enjoying a new-found friendship as adults. She has a granddaughter. I have a blog. Her granddaughter is undeniably cuter than my blog. When I read this yesterday I immediately asked permission to run it as a guest post. Although it was written in New Hampshire and not locally, I think it will still connect with folks in Howard County, Maryland. Enjoy!
Dear small animals who hang out in my yard,
I do not begrudge you an occasional strawberry, a carrot, or a radish. But, taking a single bite out of each and every strawberry the night before I predict they will be ripe is unacceptable. For all that is Holy, just pick a strawberry and eat the whole darn thing.
I’ve lived here 9 years and have always tried to protect you. I don’t use pesticides, I don’t use fertilizer. I’ve bought a special skimmer so that, if you fall in the pool, you have a good chance of escaping. When one of you fell down my chimney, we paid to have someone rescue you. I keep an eye on your homes when you go on vacation.
But, YOU aren’t being good neighbors!
This morning you broke the last straw. You picked the first strawberry of the season that was starting to ripen. Seriously?!? I’ve been waiting for that since last summer! I saw one of you Chipmucks running across my yard. If I could have caught up with you, I suspect I would have smelled strawberry on your breath.
That’s it. You are no longer welcome to take reasonable amounts of food from my garden. You are no longer invited to any parties in our back yard. I’ll no longer pick up your mail or feed your pets. If you are prepared to apologize and stop your behavior, I’ll reconsider.
Chipmunks have Facebook accounts, right?
Friday, June 10, 2016
Return of the Trojan Horse
Thursday, June 9, 2016
A Statement on the Board of Education Race
Candidate Robert Miller posted this to his campaign Facebook page last evening. I am sharing it with his permission. (Headings are editorial, added for ease of reading--jam)
For those who may not be aware, since Saturday there has been much said on social media about some of the candidates for the Howard County Board of Education. Placement of campaign signs appears to be the spark that set off the firestorm that has included discussion about the appropriateness of linking candidates in the non-partisan Board of Education race to political parties, about what can be assumed about candidates regarding how they will perform in office based on who their political party supports for president, about the extrapolation of candidates’ views based on party platforms, etc. I would like to go on record regarding some of these issues and the people involved, though I do not want to “name names” as I feel I can make my points in generalities and without drawing attention to some individuals and not others.
Though I don’t know any of the candidates very well, I feel that I have gotten to know the “challengers” well enough to say that I have not found any of them “disturbing”. Quite the opposite… I feel that they are great candidates and great people, individually and as a group. I have much respect for each of them.
For readers who feel my posts tends to be verbose (understandably), please feel free to stop reading here, as you have the gist of my message, and as I feel some verbosity coming on…
1. Diverse backgrounds and views
Though I feel that everyone is either trying to do what they think is right or would otherwise admit to using poor judgment, I think that some contributors should look at the recent posts in the light of a topic that has often been discussed on educationally-related social media: diversity. It struck me how essentially everyone states that our students should respect people with diverse backgrounds and views, yet some adults are not walking their talk. Accusations have been made and conclusions have been drawn about candidates based largely on conjecture (whose sign was near whose, which part of a statement was used in a newspaper article, etc.). If people wish to make their decisions based on that sort of thing, they have that right, but with the difficulty voters have in getting sufficient accurate information about candidates to make their decisions, we should focus our attentions on providing that; in this way, we can best help our democracy function optimally. Some voters may want to base their decisions on factors that have little to do with party platforms, and other voters may want to base their decisions largely on factors that do; I can see legitimacy to both of these perspectives based on what each voter perceives as important. Every voter has a right to make this decision, and that right should be universally respected; people may disagree, but those disagreements should be respectful of each person’s right to make his/her own decisions. Meanwhile, I think it is safe to say that all voters want to base their decisions on accurate information. I have often thought of politics as being a lot like sports. There is a big difference, though; what happens in politics can have a big effect on a lot of people’s lives in very profound ways, so we need to respect the system and each other, and refrain from propagating rumors and conjecture. It can be challenging when everyone is not playing by these rules, but if we all try to follow them ourselves and point out when others aren’t, I think the results will be much more positive.
2. The Rights of Candidates and Voters
Each candidate has the right to determine what information they would like to be public or private. Each voter has the right to determine if they feel they are being provided the information they want and base their voting accordingly. I have been asked questions that first struck me as overly personal for a non-partisan Board of Education race, but when I understood why that voter wanted to know, I decided to provide the information; to me, it is not my view of the relevancy that is important, it is the voters’ view. On the other hand, I respect the rights of other candidates to keep that information private; it is a personal choice, and some voters may respect that and others may not. I see that as part of how the system works. Furthermore, I know that if people have a problem with something that I’ve said or done or wants to know how I feel about a topic, I would like them to contact me directly. They can decide for themselves whether or not they agree with me or even believe me, but I’d appreciate the opportunity to communicate directly with the hope of being understood accurately.
3. Savage Fest Events
Shortly after I arrived Saturday at Savage Fest, I spoke with someone at the Democrats’ booth asking if I would like to bring signs and fliers. I did not have signs with me, so I went home and got some. Though I believe the race should be non-partisan, I don’t have a problem with a party supporting me at the level of displaying my literature; in fact, I was pleased that they asked. Frankly, I would have been happy if someone from the Republicans’ booth asked me to do the same, and I would have been happy to put signs and literature at their booth. As it is a non-partisan race, in retrospect I am disappointed that I did not make time to go to their booth that day. I feel that voters who care have a right to know that I am a Democrat. Meanwhile, I know many wonderful people who are Republicans, and though they may hold some views that are different from mine, I can still understand and respect their points of view and try to work for solutions to problems that provide good outcomes for everyone as much as possible. Again, this is another example of respect for diversity. I have not heard any of the other candidates indicate that they would not like support from both parties, either. I should also mention that one of my signs was later moved by someone other than myself to a more prominent place; I just mention this to point out that conclusions should not be drawn due to sign placement proximity.
4. An Excellent Group of Challengers
I feel honored to be one of what I feel is an excellent group of challengers in this race. Each of us has different backgrounds, experiences, and views (though I think our views are more alike than different in most, though not all, areas). I think there is much reason for optimism. In my case, I bring a perspective as a former HCPSS teacher and parent (shameless plug), while others bring perspectives from being a parent, an accountant, an educator in another county, a government worker, a social media activist, as well as many other backgrounds that could be helpful as a board member. Voters will have to choose candidates based on these various backgrounds, as well as the views (stated and extrapolated), personalities, and other characteristics of the candidates. This is a tall order. Many voters take this responsibility very seriously. Others arrive at the polls having given no thought to the Board of Education race. I imagine that we would agree that our system works best when all voters make their decisions based on quality information, and it is our obligation to respect our voters and enable that to occur.
5. What is Best for our Students and Community
The playing field is already not level. In my case, my lack of political experience was not helpful to me during the endorsement process, as I understand it was something that was considered. Question to ponder… in a non-partisan race, is support from a political party much different from support from a PAC? This is another area where I could see how intelligent people could disagree. Ultimately, though, while voters can consider what the parties and PACs have to say, it is also the voters’ responsibility to look beyond parties and PACs and choose who they think will be the best board members. I think the reason the Board of Education race is non-partisan is as much for the sitting board members as for the candidates… we don’t want our board members making decisions based on approval from a party or a PAC, we want them making decisions based on what is best for our students and community. Parties and PACs have a right to express their support, but it should be emphasized that the race is non-partisan, and each voter has the responsibility to choose their candidates based on knowledge, not rumor and conjecture. For the best outcomes, we should endeavor to make the playing field as level as possible, and presenting facts and avoiding rumor and conjecture can be done by everyone, including parties and PACs. As a general statement, it would be disingenuous to decry a lack of integrity and transparency on the board yet not act or speak with integrity and transparency with regard to the candidates, so we should be on guard against this.
6. This Can All Be Done Respectfully
We should be respectful to all involved. No one is getting rich from being on the board. I think it is reasonable to think that all involved are trying to do what they think is right, and that includes the outgoing board members, even if we do not agree with their actions or perspectives. Some, myself included, may “lose perspective” and do things that are wrong, and it is fair and ultimately helpful to point that out. It is also fair to point out differences of opinions, as that might also help to inform voters and candidates and lead to productive outcomes. In due time, voters can express their opinions at the polls. This can all be done respectfully, with the understanding that reasonable people can disagree.
7. Predictors of Effectiveness
Most of the important work done by the Board of Education is not overtly political. It may have political overtones, but past history seems to indicate that an individual’s characteristics are better predictors of effectiveness on the board than political party affiliation. With the prevailing national political atmosphere, I believe that we should keep this in mind.
8. Taking the High Road
The candidates themselves are not mudslinging, even with what’s been happening. Pretty cool.
9. A Sign of Things to Come
Being involved in this race has been an awesome experience. I have met and communicated with a tremendous number of amazing people, including all of the candidates. It hurts me personally when people are not treated well; it is often not hard to put myself in their shoes, whether referring to another candidate, sitting board member, or contributor to a Facebook post. I hope we all want to and will keep our communications above board (no pun intended), factual, constructive, and respectful. It would be a wonderful sign (sorry) of things to come. Thank you for your consideration.
Wednesday, June 8, 2016
From the movie, "A Thousand Clowns" --
Murray Burns: [shouting at rows of houses] Campers! The entertainment committee was quite disappointed in the really poor turnout at this morning's community sing. I mean, where's all that old Camp Chickawattamee spirit? I'm sure I speak for all of us here when I say that I...
Murray Burns: Now, I'd like to say right now that... that...
Murray Burns: Campers, I can't think of anything to say.
Tuesday, June 7, 2016
Taking a Stand for Safe Schools
Monday, June 6, 2016
The Board of Education race went
Savage partisan over the weekend. Here's what that means to you. It means that there are some people who want to shift the focus from transparency, accountability, responsiveness, and collaboration to interpreting hot-button issues through a partisan lens. There's nothing illegal about that but, as you do your research on the candidates, you should do it with your eyes open.
We have a little over five months until November. If you have genuine concerns you have every right to reach out to candidates, ask questions, weigh their qualifications. How do their actions speak? Do their actions match their words? Do you feel they have answered your questions adequately?
Some words of advice from educator Bonnie Bricker:
People are digging for big truths here, and in doing so passions can ignite less desirable traits. State what you KNOW, not what you've heard or what you suspect. And respond with whole truth that does not conceal.
What galls me is that we wouldn't be where we are right now, within reach of really changing school system leadership for the good, if it hadn't been for the truly bipartisan efforts of a grassroots movement. That's what made us successful, because we were inclusive. I resent witnessing organized political parties muscling in on this and saying, essentially, 'We've got this. It's our show now. We'll tell people how to think." Not only is it gobsmackingly arrogant, it betrays a complete ignorance of what is good about this cause, and what will work.
What happens when members of the original grassroots coalition become disgusted and or disillusioned by partisan machinations? They'll stay home. This not only dooms a positive outcome for the election in November, we will also lose the energy and gifts of those people who were willing to work for a better school system. That's worse than losing an election. And, ultimately, our kids lose.
Political parties know all about the ins and outs of running elections. I don't dispute that. But this is a non-partisan race, and more than that, this is bigger than party affiliation and it is our fight. Do the necessary research to make up your mind. Don't abdicate your decision to people who view everything through a partisan lens.
You know who will win if the Board of Education race descends into partisan bickering? The status quo. And when the election is over, the D's and the R's will put away their signs and booths and we'll be left with someone on the school board who thinks it's okay to lie to parents and teachers about public health issues. And the good people who worked so hard to bring about success in the primary will feel disenfranchised and defeated.
A final thought: candidates who are willing to stand by while others are targeted by partisan whisper campaigns? That says a whole lot about who you are. That may not be a deal-breaker for some, but it just might be for me.
Sunday, June 5, 2016
What's the Point?
Yesterday was a day of partisan ugliness in the Board of Education race. I'm still trying to wrap my brain around it. It would be extremely easy for me to react out of anger and use this space to tell a lot of people off.
Not going to do it. This race is far too important for me to "go off" just to satisfy my own personal sense of outrage.
Facebook tells me that, three years ago, I wrote this. Read it.
It's why I do what I do.
I wanted to add this comment from Bonnie Bricker, which addresses this situation perfectly:
We often move within groups of people whose beliefs mirror our own. Here, we come together with those whose beliefs may be different. As humans who look for affinities - from tribalism (I write about the Middle East from time to time) to the sports teams we favor, there is comfort in being with those whose values match our own. But it is heartening to see that Democrats, Republicans, and Independents can come together to try to create a new vision for our schools, our children, our community. Our school system feels broken in some respects, and we are part of an effort to refashion something better.
We can't give up on those who think differently, because everyday our children will suffer if we give up on each other.
What's the point? That's the point.
Saturday, June 4, 2016
I made the mistake of having an extra iced coffee on the way home from work yesterday, thinking it would keep me going through a busy evening. It did. It also kept me wide awake until well past one am and this morning I am bleary-eyed and disoriented. All of the intellectual threads I am following are frayed, knotted, or loose ends.
A few things:
I had the opportunity to attend the first annual "Queens and Cocktails" event to raise money for Howard County PFLAG last night. It was an amazing event, and it was gratifying to see how well-supported it was. If you want to learn more about the work of PFLAG in Howard County, look here. Two highlights of the evening for me were: 1) hearing Liz Bobo take the microphone to inform the crowd that her husband, Lloyd Knowles, a former Howard County Council member, sponsored one of the first bills in the nation to include lesbians and gays in Howard County’s Human Rights Law, and 2) seeing Collette Roberts, co-founder of Howard County PFLAG and an inductee into the Howard County Women's Commission Hall of Fame, win the raffle prize of the evening, a $250 gift card to Iron Bridge Wine Company.
Yesterday a Mount Hebron student posted a photo on Twitter that showed that we still have a long way to go when it comes to addressing racism in our schools. I want to get some more information before I write about this, especially since students who call out racism sometimes seem to be scrutinized as heavily by hcpss as actual offenders. While the school board may have proposed having a Diversity Coordinator as an easy move to pacify the public, and found it just as easy to cut that position, it's clear to me that we are in need of genuine leadership on this.
Lastly: get up, get out, and go to the Abiding Savior Flea Market. 8 am to 12 noon. Bargains galore, snacks and drinks, friendly people. All proceeds go to charity. Help our tiny church make a big impact again this year!
And now, I may very well take a catnap and give this day a do-over.
Friday, June 3, 2016
Long, cold, damp, gloomy Spring has been overtaken by the familiar hot and humid Summer weather. School doesn't end until June 17th but swim suits are already out and in use, the AC is on and ice pops are in the freezer. My gut tells me this is all wrong. I grew up in the Midwest, where, if it was hot enough to go barefoot or go swimming, school was definitely out for the year.
I'm looking forward to pool time with my daughters, lazy Sundays shopping at the Oakland Mills Famers Market, and seeing what this new Columbia Weekend in the Woods is all about. We might get away to Rehoboth for a few days. (Caramel corn FTW!)
What about you? What are the things about Summer in Columbia/HoCo that you look forward to every year? I'd love to write about this in a future post, so tell me all the good stuff. What makes Summer "Summer" to you? Do you have family traditions? Are you going to try out something new this year?
Speaking of trying out new things to do, the Totally HoCo calendar continues to grow and become an incredibly useful jumping-off place for events in our area. Take a look at Jessie Newburn's most recent write up for more information. Since I'm not working this Summer, I'll be looking for free and low-cost ways to enjoy Howard County and beat the heat.
So, tell me. What are the quintessential Columbia/HoCo Summer things to do? What should my readers add to their Summer Bucket Lists?
Thursday, June 2, 2016
School: Past, Present, Future
I think it's a mistake to talk about students in a way that separates "academics" (the hard stuff) from "activities" (the soft stuff). Students are motivated most of all by their passions, and the joy and energy drawn from those inform, feed, and sustain everything else. Pushing students to load up on extra "academic" classes, multiple AP's, etc, at the expense of courses and activities that fuel their passions does not make them "college and career ready." In fact, quite the opposite. It's merely an exercise in ignoring their own choices and not allowing them to take the risks necessary for self-discovery and personal growth.
While the Scotts and their family are looking back on their years in the Howard County Schools, the Howard County Times editorial board minces no words in describing where HCPSS is right now in relation to the budget and the County Council.
Wednesday, June 1, 2016
What's Your Issue?
- Music/arts education
- Fair treatment of teachers and support staff
- Special education
- Transparency/MPIA requests
- Reducing high stakes standardized testing
- Addressing racism
- Bullying, sexual harassment, sexual assault
- Mold and hazardous conditions
- Electing a better board of education
What's your issue? One? More than one? What about one or two I haven't even listed? More recess, healthier school breakfast and lunches, non-sexist dress code, school overcrowding, school redistricting...
Right now in Howard County parents are pretty much on their own. The necessary qualities for collaboration with the school system are notably absent: respect, responsiveness, accountability, transparency. If you want to make change, you need to create your own network and mobilize your own grassroots organization. It can be overwhelming.
So many important issues are being neglected or downright suppressed that parents and community members are put in the position of advocating, organizing, investigating, publicizing, seeking and assessing stakeholder input, reaching out to public officials. In short, they are doing the work of the school system.
It is a heavy weight to carry.
How do parents, who may be motivated by one specific and all-consuming issue, find a way to work together for over-arching goals without losing forward momentum on their own? It's hard. Parents don't have the money and institutional resources that are provided to the school system. They are taking on this mission on top of everything else they already do.
Juggling priorities when so many are desperately important is a challenge. I don't think it's impossible. I continue to be impressed with the tenacity and compassion of Howard County Parents. This is not a stupid population HCPSS is serving. If something needs doing, they get to work to get it done.
That doesn't mean that this is the way things ought to be, however. No one I know has a desire to run the school system. The goal is school system leadership that knows how to do the job and does it, with respect, responsiveness, accountability, and transparency.
I don't think that's too much to ask.
A footnote: I lead off with music/arts education because that's how I first got involved--in trying to defend elementary music and art programs from cuts to instructional time. I don't put it first because I think it's more important than the others. I put it there to say: this is what reached out and grabbed me and said, "Pay attention!"