Thursday, January 31, 2019

Keep it Going

Yes, I took the Baltimore Sun/Howard County Times to task for missing the opportunity to mark our historic election on their front page. Actually, a lot of folks did. Although It’s hard to know if there’s any connection whatsoever, HoCo Times published a whole bunch of pieces about race and diversity over the weekend, 

This was one of those times when being a subscriber helped. Otherwise I would have exceeded my monthly limit.

Love is colorblind: Since Columbia's early days, interracial families have found acceptance in Howard County, John-John Williams IV

Diversity by the numbers: As Howard County has grown, so has its racial and cultural mix, Christine Zhang

Q&A: How has Howard County's diversity shaped your perspective?, John-John Williams IV

As Ellicott City's Korean community grows, residents learn the language to connect with their neighbors, Mike Klingaman

Columbia artist brings hip hop culture to Slayton House exhibit, Allana Hanes

There’s also a “Three Things to Know” piece by Janene Holzberg about the director of FIRN from January 9th.

What does this all mean? It does feel like a sudden onslaught of diversity, although I of course haven’t done any scientific study and I have no statistical analysis. I think it’s great. I hope it isn’t merely because Black History Month is upon us and someone thought they should ramp up the diversity coverage. 

I like it. If you like it, you might want to let them know. Oh, and subscribe. So they can keep writing pieces that reflect all of Columbia/Howard County.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Bring it on Home

Let’s talk about control. Who has it.? Who should have it?

I’m talking about our schools. Some things in our schools are covered under federal law, some by state law, and some are determined by local jurisdiction.

You may remember that I took a dim view of State Comptroller Peter Franchot’s “Let Summer Be Summer” campaign, in which he spearheaded state legislation to require schools to start after Labor Day. You know, the legislation that also required all schools to finish by June 15th. Well, despite Mr, Franchot’s overwhelming confidence that everyone is on his side but a few nefarious bad actors, it turns out that I am not alone in objecting to this.

(Or perhaps I am one of the few nefarious bad actors? I doubt it.)

A move is afoot in Annapolis to overturn Franchot’s school calendar legislation. You can read his take here  My take? I think that setting school calendars should be determined by local school systems.

Things like the civil rights of students are rightly covered at the federal level. Health and safety issues  need the weight of Maryland State standards and enforcement. School calendars are developed by each school system with the knowledge of their own communities. I don’t see anything in Franchot’s original legislation that convinces me otherwise.

Here in Howard County the later start was pretty much a farce for anyone playing sports or participating in marching band. So much for “Letting Summer Be Summer” for them. And do you remember the trainwreck that was setting the last day of school?

Maybe, just maybe, local school systems know how to do this school calendar thing better than Mr. Franchot and Governor Hogan. I certainly think it’s worth taking another look. Despite its roots in a kind of “remember when we were young and white and middle class” mindset,  the Late Start initiative is driven largely by business interests and not student needs.

I say we give the decision to the folks whose sole job it is to care about student needs. Let’s get rid of the middle man.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019


If you can, if you get the chance, make sure you marry into a family of storytellers. No amount of wealth or social position can touch the value of even one magical tale. Imagine a lifetime of them. 

As for me, I chose well: bound in marriage to master storytellers of word, image, and song. Their stories have flowed like the wine at Cana - -  on the stage, at dinner, around the fireplace - - one can hardly imagine that their sweetness could have come from ordinary human creatures.

Surely there are other callings some may find more important. But for me a life filled with drama and music and poems and paintings is the closest thing I will ever experience that touches the pure love and joy of whoever created the Universe and made us who we are.

By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, and by his breath the stars came forth.

Stories can live forever if you listen hard and are brave enough to make them your own and share them in your own way. People can live forever if you are brave enough to love them so deeply that it breaks your heart to lose them. Somehow they live on in the pieces, in the memories, the moments you can’t let go.

Once upon a time I knew a prince of stories and now I carry within me the treasures of a thousand kingdoms.

If you have a chance to love a storyteller, don’t let it pass you by. Once you let their stories become a part of you they will change you. And you will change the world by sharing them.

I love you, Sam. Thank you for all of the words you have shared which have helped to shape this beautiful universe.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Ready or Not

I’m in the thick of writing student reports right now. The students I teach will be moving on to Kindergarten next year. As I do my best to capture student progress for parents I’ve also been keeping an eye on articles about Kindergarten readiness in Maryland.

Kindergarten Readiness Assessment previews preparedness of preschools WBAL TV, Tim Tooten

Less than half of Maryland students are ready for Kindergarten HoCoTimes, Liz Bowie

My first response to this is that I’d like to see the assessment they are using. I have read elsewhere that this is a computer-based test. Is that the case?  If so, it would automatically be discriminatory towards children who don’t have computers in the home or those whose parents have deliberately chosen not to introduce computer use to their young children.

The assessment we use at my school includes a basic gross motor screening. Does the State look at the readiness of student’s bodies or just their cognitive ability? Overall readiness is more than knowing letters and numbers. Children need to have mastered some basic control over their bodies and their emotions in order to function as a part of a group and take care of personal needs.

Sadly, it appears that children’s gross motor skills have been steadily declining due to a lack of vigorous, child-directed outdoor play. These deficits show up in the classroom in a variety of ways. I am curious as to how the Maryland State assessment takes this into account.

I have seen posts from parents expressing the understandable sentiment that, if so many children are deemed “not ready for kindergarten”, perhaps there is something wrong with kindergarten and not the children. I’d have to agree with this to some extent. Kindergarten curriculum has become more and more academic and less and less developmentally appropriate. Are we asking young children to do something which most of them are not ready to do?

On the other hand, early assessments for young children have value if they can be used to identify children who need to receive support. As we know, the achievement gap begins at birth. Early intervention, much earlier than this, is preferable. But, if this is the first time the student’s needs are addressed, then the point of this assessment should be to hook up the families with the needed services to ensure school success.

Bonnie Bricker, a former Howard County Schools early childhood special education teacher, is doing amazing brain-based early intervention through her Talk With Me Howard County initiative. Language development begins at birth and is fostered through every human interaction: speech, songs, shared eye contact, word-play, and parent-child story times.

I hope that the State addresses Kindergarten readiness as more than “which preschool you chose”. The steps which lead to a confident and capable young child at the age of five begin at birth. It’s in our power to substantially level to playing field by investing in early intervention from the earliest moments of life. And speaking of the “playing field”, we also need a huge push state-wide to get out and play.

Here’s an interesting idea.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Not So

The ten local misconceptions that bug me the most.

I’m just going to admit that I am in a cranky frame of mind and go with it. Here is a random list of local misconceptions that somehow never seem to get completely straightened out in the public consciousness. None of these are true but they keep turning up nonetheless.

1. We pay taxes to CA. (The Columbia Association)

2. There is construction/development going on in Symphony Woods.

3. You buy your children’s school along with your house purchase.

4. Columbia’s beginnings were its halcyon days and they are over.

5. Renters are less valuable to a community than home owners.

6. Newspaper paywalls are some kind of trick to prevent citizens from having access to the news which they deserve by right.

7. Public transportation is for poor people.

8, All developers are evil.

9. All citizen activists are crackpots.

10. Density is always bad.

Some of these are outright false. Some are clearly matters of opinion. If I get it together I’ll speak to each one individually in a future post. In the meantime, what are your candidates for local misconceptions that just drive you nuts?

Post them here.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Our House

It used to be that a Friday night date at the House of India meant that our daughter was having a sleepover at Grandma and Grandpa’s. Last night it so happened that she, too, was out on a date.

Times change.

She’s moving forward through her senior year of high school, trying to hold all the moving pieces together: school work, leadership roles in student organizations, extracurriculars like a capella singing and musical theatre. Applying for college, Applying for a summer job. Her dad and I are just trying to keep up.

Last night was the first time in a very long time that the two of us sat in a restaurant across from each other and had a moment to catch our breath. The House of India has been a date night destination for us for so long that I can’t remember when it started. Chefs have changed, management has changed, even ownership has changed over the years but we keep going back.

We have made many memories there. Not big, “post your status on Facebook” memories, but small, life-nourishing ones. Moments where your eyes meet over the table and you really look at one another. The sharing of laughter after long weeks of stress. Times when there wasn’t much to say but the hand that reached across the table to hold mine was a lifeline.

Howard County has plenty of Indian restaurants. We have tried a lot of them. But somehow we keep coming back to House of India. It’s our “home place.” They treat us like long lost relatives and frequently proffer appetizers or dessert on the house. Once, when our daughter was a squirmy, fussy toddler during a birthday meal for a friend a waiter showed up at her place unexpectedly with a dish of chocolate ice cream. It was a hit. She made it through the meal.

Next year she will very likely be away at college and my husband and I will have more time to reconnect than we know what to do with. Should we feel the drag of empty nest syndrome, I think a visit to House of India may be just what the doctor ordered.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

For All Children

From a local leader in Howard County:

....equity includes the rights of the majority of white families and children to not ever support integrated bathroom, locker room, overnight accommodation and sports team access.

When would you imagine this was said? Perhaps in 1954, when the Brown v Board of Education ruling came down and a certain independent, nonsectarian school opened in Western Howard County? That would seem about right. It harkens back to a time when African Americans couldn’t drink from the same water fountains, use the same bathrooms, or eat in the same restaurants as white people. They couldn’t even try on clothes or shoes before buying them, lest their very touch would render those items unsellable to whites.

The thought of their children being in school with those of another skin color made many white people so uncomfortable that they asserted that their rights as the majority race should forever come first.  And when the Supreme Court ruled against them, well, it was time to build private schools where they could fix the rules in their favor.

Let’s look at our quote again. You might be surprised that it’s from 2019. And it looks like this: 

...equity includes the rights of the majority of families and children who do not identify as LGBTQ to not ever support transgender bathroom, locker room, overnight accommodation and sports team access. - - from former Board of Education candidate Mavourene Robinson on an public online forum* 

Those who seek to negate the innate human worth of LGBTQ students often do so by claiming that who they are, with every fiber of their being, is a mere choice: a preference, a “lifestyle”. It is not.  It is no more a “lifestyle” than being a person of color is a “lifestyle”. And efforts to exclude and ostracize transgender students from public spaces such as classrooms, bathrooms, field trips, and sports teams have nothing at all to do with religious and moral conviction. They are a violation of civil rights. And they are illegal.

We have been down this road before. People who want to deny basic civil rights to others have
one name alone: bigots. Public schools are for all children. If you can’t handle that very essential truth, then perhaps you don’t want to send your children to public school. Democracy is not compelled to bend to the will of bigots.

Do I sound angry? I am. Our children need our love, support, and acceptance. All of them. Anyone who seeks to make life more difficult for those who are the most vulnerable is no friend of education. Or of children. 

Perhaps we will see another generation of “independent, nonsectarian” schools spring up for the sole purpose of running from civil rights. It could happen. I think it’s a bad plan for everyone involved but, no matter what: I’m absolutely clear that no one gets to take advantage of a free education while trampling on the rights of others. 

If you want to hide your children under a rock you will have to pay extra for that. Stop peddling your poison to the masses.

*A shoutout to Suzy Gerb Of PFLAG Howard County for bringing this quote to my attention.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Closed Systems

One of my older sister’s first jobs after college was as a teacher of religion at a Catholic high school. She was only a few years out of Yale with a degree in Religious Studies, and a convert to Catholicism. She had no background in education but she felt her knowledge of the subject matter and her deep conviction in her faith would be enough.

She learned a lot.

I think there was quite a bit of culture shock for her as she confronted kids who had never known anything but Roman Catholicism. Their homes, their church communities, their schools, their social circles. She came face to face with what it meant to be culturally Catholic. It wasn’t necessarily the same spiritual core which had drawn her into the faith.

It was more like a closed system where no other points of view were considered. Conversely, one might also say it was a supportive environment where it was safe to be Catholic. I make these comments as a second hand observer, not as a judge and jury.

Something that has been on my mind the last few days is an anecdote from her old teaching days. It was very important to her that her students understand that God’s love is a free gift. She would often write on the board, in large letters:

How can we earn God’s love?

Then, underneath:

We can’t. It’s a free gift.

Before every test she would remind them that this was the easy-peasy extra credit question that they could rely on. On every test she would ask them:

How can we earn God’s love?

And, without fail, she would get to-do lists from good Catholic children.:

Go to Mass.
Go to Confession.
Say the Rosary.
Know the catechism.

She found this incredibly frustrating. How could these young people, who had the benefit of a lifetime of learning in the Catholic Faith, be unable to grasp what was, to her, a basic tenet of salvation?

It was the culture in which they were raised which was at loggerheads with this one simple question. She was asking them to do something which was counter intuitive to how they had been taught to be Catholic. In every situation there is something you must do to be good.

Why is this on my mind? I wonder if raising children in closed systems runs the risk of shaping young people who can only think one way, and do not know how to react in the face of other cultures, other ways of thinking. I do not mean to claim that I can extrapolate from one anecdote to make a blanket statement about anything.

But I just wonder.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Human Interest

As the November election approached, I commented to a friend that I was so exhausted by online acrimony that I was thinking of spending a lot of time in the blog exploring local human interest stories. Howard County must have tons of them. Here is one I wish I had known more about sooner:

Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, 77, dies, Historian Recognized Black Suffragists

I remember seeing her at events in Oakland Mills. I wish I had known her. A shoutout to my friend and Oakland Mills neighbor Mary Kate Murray for bringing this to my attention.

She committed the first decades of her career to the deep research that was required to pull back the curtain, dispel the myths and otherwise challenge the story about the history of women and the vote that had been, to an important degree, crafted by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton,” Martha S. Jones, a history professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said in a telephone interview. 

Ms Terborg-Penn is quoted in the piece, responding to the pushback her work received from those in positions of authority:

Nonetheless,” she added, “we have made a way when there was no way.”
Please take a moment today to read about this amazing woman and her life’s work. 

Monday, January 21, 2019


Yesterday I had lunch at the White Oak Tavern with some amazing women I haven’t  seen for a long while. The uniting force was our community involvement in Oakland Mills. We’ve all had varying leadership roles in OMCA. Now we’re busy with other ventures. When a friend reached out to suggest a “reunion” of sorts, everyone said yes.

A shout out to the White Oak Tavern is in order. I don’t think I had ever had an actual sit down meal here, just attended cocktail events a while back. The food I ordered (French toast and bacon) was amazingly good. So was my pre-meal cocktail and my coffee at the end. The service was attentive but not suffocating: smooth and well-timed.

We talked some about Oakland Mills, but mostly about our lives. Children, grandchildren, trips, current job challenges/career shifts, things we’d read recently. For me this was rather like traveling in a foreign land. I don’t do social events much. So I felt more like an observer in some ways than a participant.

As I often feel the older I get: I have much to learn.


A few other shout outs are in order this morning: a big thanks to (honorary) HoCo blogger and dog-mama extraordinaire Mickey Gomez for snapping a photo at Wegman’s for me when I wasn’t able to pin down permission for another one I had spotted on Facebook. That was definitely going above and beyond.

A different sort of shout out to the former local candidate who took a tweet about sexism towards women in politics and 1) made it all about himself and 2) took a potshot at me. Kind of a one-two punch of hubris. I’ll leave it at that.

One last thing: HoCo Pride is sponsoring a Gay Day at Savage Mill next Saturday, January 26th from 4 to 8 pm. Proceeds will help support Howard County’s first ever Pride Celebration on June 29th, 2019. Go here to learn more. 

Sunday, January 20, 2019


‘It's not a pretty world, Papa.' 'I've noticed,' my father said softly.
Chaim Potok, My Name is Asher Lev

I’m having a hard time processing the overwhelming racism, white privilege, and bullying that was on view Friday at the intersection of the March for Life and the Indigenous People’s March in Washington.

I wish I had something meaningful to say here. I think I have said it all before. Many others have said it better. 

Certainly this is yet another example of the toxic masculinity of white boys at work here. We can see that quite clearly in the video clip. What we don’t see is the school that molded them, the parents that raised them, the Church that enabled them, the culture that gave them a sense of superiority. They’re not on camera but they are very much present and all must bear responsibility.

But will they? 

Over and over in our society, the powerful separate themselves off into enclaves where they are the center of the universe and only their voices matter. Should they ever venture out of that bubble, everything they perceive and all of their actions are rooted in that deeply segregated mindset. They owe nothing to those who are different. Their responsibility is to themselves alone.

Yes, we have a President who gives them cover but they were there all along, generations of them back to our nation’s founding. And some of them are us. 

We are probably not the taunters on the front line of active assault and harassment. But are we silent by standers? Do we want to look at what’s beautiful and ignore the ugly? Do we want to minimize the gravity of these events instead of sitting with the ugliness? 

Do we desperately want it to be somebody’s else’s problem?

If I have any takeaway from this incident that applies on a local level it might be that we must truly work in Howard County to intentionally create and sustain integrated spaces in our community from birth onwards. And yes, that means not just schools but classes and programs within those schools. It also means hiring a more diverse faculty and staff to support this valuable work. 

Most of all: when we redistrict we must also do the work of community-building in every school to make it safe and rewarding for students of different backgrounds to learn, socialize, and grow together.

Play dates. Birthday parties. Study groups. Youth activities. In every place where children come together there is an (often ignored) opportunity for bridge building. And this is not the antiseptic, bloodless Jim Rouse utopian, White Liberal “we all get along” vision. It will be awkward at times and make people feel uncomfortable. There will be hurt feelings and possibly fear and distrust. Some will undoubtedly want to pull back.

That will be a good time to remember what the alternative looks like.

Saturday, January 19, 2019


Finally someone on Twitter gave voice to something I’ve been thinking for ages:

Scaggsville Maryland is the traffic circle capital of America. Don’t  @ me!

My response:

What is up with that? Somebody went crazy out there with roundabouts.

Other responses:

Yes lawd. 216


For no damn reason.

Well, everything has a reason. I certainly don’t know the reason for this, though. I know I have some readers are are well versed in the local history of such things. I’m hoping they will turn up in the comments to educate me. Was someone running a special for traffic circles, three for a dollar? Was road construction funded by a grant to introduce more traffic circles? 

I can think of a few things that would make getting around Scaggsville/Fulton/Maple Lawn more people-friendly. Am I underestimating the value that these traffic circles have in these locations? Would everything be a mess without them? I guess it is safe to say I don’t truly understand the thought process/planning process that went into the development of this area. 

If you haven’t ever had this particular driving experience, go out and give it a go-round and see for yourself.

Friday, January 18, 2019


Wegman’s Columbia opened in June of 2012 with much fanfare and a large quantity of seating both upstairs and downstairs for patrons of their prepared foods section. It was, briefly, a place to see and be seen for local notables. It then settled in to a comfortable existence as a place to grab a casual meal or to take a break before shopping.

Over time the Wegman’s public spaces evolved into a great place for meet-ups of local groups: Book clubs, PTA committees, and so on. CA even hosted a World Language CafĂ© there for a while. It has become what is known as a “third space” for some:

In community building, the third place is the social surroundings separate from the two usual social environments of home ("first place") and the workplace ("second place"). Examples of third places would be environments such as churches, cafes, clubs, public libraries, or parks.

I was first introduced to the concept of a third space by blogger/social media guru Jessie Newburn on her blog Jessie X. She described the Columbia Starbucks as such a place, also an ideal center for co-working.

But, according to signs posted recently throughout the public areas, the Wegman’s meetup era is to be no more.

                                                          Photo credit: Mickey Gomez

I have two thoughts on this: 

1. Usually companies do this in response to problems. I’m curious as to just what those problems were.

2. Could this backfire by alienating folks who might otherwise have occasionally shopped at Wegman’s.?

I myself have never had difficulty finding a seat when eating dinner or lunch with my family there. It has always seemed to me to have more than enough space to accommodate the community. If you have had a different experience I’d be interested to hear from you. If non-paying customers are causing real inconvenience for paying customers, I can see that as an issue Wegman’s would want to address. I would be very disappointed if this came down to something penny wise and poundfoolish
that takes away a lively and useful place in the community.

I’d be extremely disappointed if it were the sort of complaint driven action of the “You kids get off my lawn” variety. You know, the “those people are too loud” kind of complaints. I have no evidence of any kind, mind you, Merely the notices posted by Wegman’s themselves.

There is one other possibility. I noticed on social media that Ilana Bittner of HoCOMoJo was pondering this as well. The upstairs portions of Wegman’s will need to be reconfigured when the Loft  Wine and Spirits goes in. That will reduce upstairs seating. Perhaps this move is a precursor to that?

All in all, I don’t think that anyone disputes that Wegman’s has a right to do this. But most people feel it’s shortsighted and not very community-minded. This tweet addressed to Wegman’s said it bluntly:

@Wegmans Sorry to hear you don’t want folks using your seating areas for group meetings anymore at the Columbia, MD store. The only time I shop there is after my book club; in fact, we all shop afterwards. Oh well, the parking lots sucks and the prices are too high anyway.

What do you think? Have you used the Wegman’s space as a meeting place for a group? Are there other local institutions that you think might be able to fill this need? Comment here.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Honor System

I’m laughing at myself over here this morning. I had a blog post all planned out but as of yet haven’t gotten permission to use a photo that’s essential to the meaning of the post. Having made a big fuss already this week about getting permission for local photos...well...I’m temporarily at an impasse.

So you see where being virtuous gets you. Luckily the post isn’t time-sensitive.

In the meantime, devoted hcpss watchers will enjoy the delicious irony of this announcement in regards to student health and safety. We’ve come a long way since “condom-gate”, haven’t we?

Speaking of change, there’s a new proposed hcpss dress code policy and it’s a vast improvement over the old one. A shoutout to the committee that worked on bringing this all together. I’ll be writing more about this very soon.

At Wilde Lake High School last night County Executive Ball heard from a variety of residents including students as they shared concerns at his latest listening session. I get the impression from several folks who were in attendance that there are some people who don’t think that the two minute time limit for speakers applies to them. Don’t make them bring a big old honking buzzer, folks. Use some self-discipline. If you go over time, some one else doesn’t get to speak. It’s not exactly a victimless crime.

This year’s library fundraiser has begun its annual promos and it looks fun. Just a reminder that everyone can be a library supporter simply by using local libraries and telling friends, neighbors, and colleagues how important they are to you. When was the last time you stopped by?

Have a great Thursday.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Snow Business

Just when you thought it was a good idea to encourage the youngsters to go out and play in the snow...

Principal Nick Novak of Howard High School was in the lamentable position of having to notify parents that parties as yet unknown had used school property to draw a swastika and a penis in the snow. Yes, really.

I have to be honest, my first thought was: this is a white boy thing. Now, I don’t know this. I could be wrong. It’s just a gut feeling I have based on past experience.

Second thought: drawing an enormous snow penis may be a big joke to some, but swatikas are not a joke. They appear to be having quite the run amongst local “pranksters” and I’d like to see someone truly lay down the law on this. And not the “go to jail only on the weekends” sort of law, either.

Anyone who thinks that using a swastika is all in good fun needs a boatload of education. Anyone who knows its meaning and uses it anyway needs to come to grips with substantial consequences for their actions. Symbols of hate and violence make targeted students feel less safe coming to school. This compromises their ability to get a good education.

And that is a big deal, friends.

As to the need to show off an admiration for male private parts in such a public way, may I just say we’d all be better off if they kept their big **** energy to themselves.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019


Welcome to the land of pet peeves this morning. It’s a local story, and it’s an Everywhere You Look story: giving credit. Lots of people don’t.

Sharing an inspirational quote? Who said it? Sharing a song lyric? Who wrote it? (Not the singer, the composer.) The same holds for a line from a movie. Credit the writers, not the actor. Yeah, I know, nobody does that. But trust me. The actor would never have said it without the writer.

In local stories, always, always give credit. Don’t use someone else’s photo without a photo credit. I try to get permission from local individuals first. If another person’s article or blog post pointed you in the right direction to address an issue, give them a shout out. If you learned valuable information from somewhere, give a link to your source.

There seems to be a sense that once a piece of writing is up on the Internet, it’s fair game for copying and pasting. While it is there for other people to see, that doesn’t mean it’s okay to take credit for their work or use it to get more hits, etc. I may seem “old school” to some but I still follow pretty much the same rules I learned when writing research papers and essays: credit your sources. Don’t even give the appearance that you are forwarding others’ work as your own.

Just because there’s no teacher reading over your shoulder to catch you swiping other people’s stuff doesn’t mean those actions don’t matter anymore. Remember,

Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching. (paraphrase of a Charles Marshall quote in Shattering the Glass Slipper)

Monday, January 14, 2019

Not Okay

I am currently taking an online course for professional development entitled “Children’s Challenging Behaviors.” I must say I have been pleasantly surprised by how good it is. I have endured plenty of boring and unhelpful PD over the years. This course has really made me think. And it will definitely make a difference in how I interact with children in the future.

One of the sections discusses how early childhood is a time to lay the groundwork for developing a capacity for respect. The author of this particular section holds that a basic quality for being able to respect others is empathy - -  being able to put oneself in another’s shoes, imagine how they are feeling. Young children are developmentally egocentric. They need to learn how to step outside themselves. This is a challenge for them. It takes time, They need support as they find their way from a self-only world view to one that allows for the feelings and concerns of others.

This is why social/emotional learning is such an enormously valuable part of the early childhood experience.

Looking at the news today I see three local stories where adults have clearly not mastered that shift from self-centeredness to respect.

  • In a recent meeting of the CAC, some parents showed a lack of concern for the basic civil rights of trans students because of their own uncomfortable feelings around bathroom use. 
  • On the County Executive’s Facebook page a commenter pokes fun of the concept that Federal workers are experiencing economic hardship during the shutdown because of her personal belief that all Federal Workers are highly paid professionals who live in expensive houses.
  •  Larry Walker of the African American Community Roundtable wrote this morning of two of the students of who defaced Glenelg High School with hate speech looking to have their actions reclassified as constitutionally protected free speech.

In all three cases we see a profound lack of empathy for other human beings. And without that basic ability to feel for others, respect cannot take root and grow. These are lessons that children should be learning from a young age so that, when they become adults, they can have respectful relationships
 both with friends and family and in the community at large. This does not mean giving up one’s own point of view. It mean developing the ability to hold more than one point of view in one’s head at the same time, and caring for the feelings of more than oneself.

Probably one of the strongest phrases I use in my interactions with students is the phrase, “It’s not okay.”

It’s not okay to push Ben.
It’s not okay to take Ann’s toy.
It’s not okay to say they can’t play.

Considering the local stories mentioned above I have much the same response.

It’s not okay to make it harder for trans kids to use the bathroom.
It’s not okay to belittle the financial hardships of others in your community.
It’s not okay to try to justify actions that hurt others.

Is it ever too late to learn empathy? Is there a developmental time window that, once missed, cannot be revisited? I hope not, because we have a lot of work to do.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

It’s Here!

The first snow of the season has arrived. There may be more today, if I am reading the forecast correctly. Kids will likely be enjoying some outdoor playtime today. Teachers may be wondering whether a Monday snow day is in the offing, and at some point today high school students will turn up on Twitter haranguing the school system with pleas, threats,and hard luck tales meant to influence their decision for tomorrow.

This is also the first big snow of the Ball administration. HoCoGov watchers will be keeping an eye out to see how the new team handles the winter weather event. There will be the inevitable comparisons between administrations amongst those with partisan leanings. Most folks, I think, just want to feel safe and secure in knowing that the County knows what to do when it snows.

So far this isn’t a cover the entire car and render most streets impassible snow, which is a very good thing. We’ll see how the day goes. People will be looking to keep up to date by checking County social media accounts or going to the Howard County Government website. There will be anxious attention to the snow plow tracker. And some folks will react by doing the same thing they always do: picking up the phone to ask a question or to request assistance. The County will need to be on top of that, too. Constituent services are the heart and soul of county government, in my opinion.

If it gets significantly worse people will be looking for social media outreach and assistance from their County Council representatives. I’ll be keeping an eye out for that, as well.

I do not know if this particular storm qualifies for the obligatory “County Exec in his after-hours attire meeting with the Emergency Preparedness Weather Team”* photo. I have to admit I am kind of hoping for one to see who all is around the table. But they certainly shouldn’t scramble to produce one on my account. I’m pretty sure they are all busy getting the job done.

Everyone at my house is too old to go sledding. I sure hope we have some neighborhood kids who take advantage of the hill right outside our front door. Our plan for the day involves music, crafting, and possibly watching a movie together. This seems like the ideal time to watch the second Paddington movie, since we’re all caught up with Dr. Who. And I’m still working on Michelle Obama’s book.

Wishing you warmth and a wonderful snow day.

*probably not the official title

Saturday, January 12, 2019


In the spirit of our friends over at Elevate Maryland, I have for you today my most unpopular benign opinion:

I hate spelling bees.

They really aren’t a sign of anything more than a capacity for rote memorization. Why must generation upon generation of American schoolchildren endure this 19th or possibly even 18th century public ritual each year? For some: anxiety and stress. For many: a whole lot of sitting around and waiting until it’s over.

Although the concept of a spelling contest has now spread to a few other countries, it originated in the United States. We see references to public spelling matches after the publication of Noah Webster’s famous “Blue Backed Speller.”

The great American educator Noah Webster first published A Grammatical Institute of the English Language, otherwise known as the Blue Back Speller, in 1783. His goal was to provide a uniquely American, Christ-centered approach to training children.  (Product description on Amazon)

Often when we talk about things being uniquely American, it is out of a sense of pride. In this case I think we ought to look at the other countries that don’t have spelling bees and ponder why they don’t consider this to be educational or entertaining. They might have something there.

Yes, I have heard the reasoning that American English has such a variety of words with irregular spellings and that is why spelling bees are a valuable sort of challenge here. In other countries words are largely spelled following more regular patterns. My complaint is that spelling bees come from an antiquated system of skill and drill, rote memorization which we should have put to rest long ago.

Today many of the nationally ranked, prize winning spellers are home-schooled children whose educational programs are modified to included hours and hours of daily drilling. There’s no decent research out there that supports an education so skewed to favor rote memorization in one subject area. It is essentially the process of creating a bonsai or a topiary kid.

As an aside, I was a great speller in school and did well in classroom spelling bees. So it isn’t a lack of spelling prowess that motivates my opinion. More likely it’s because of the particular kind of social anxiety I had that caused me to get nervous for all the other participants as they waited their turns and struggled for the correct answers. I wouldn’t live through that again if you paid me.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Things to Do

Five am has been looking pretty ugly this week. Today is much the same. I’m thrilled at the prospect of the impending weekend and a chance to sleep in a bit.

I read an article this morning about two Ellicott City folks who are opening a sports bar
in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. It’s great news for Baltimore but the concept itself sounds ghastly to me. But then, I am not a sports bar kind of person.

Upcoming events:

Earth Trekkers - - A Family’s Journey Around the World  
January 12th from 10 to 11:30 am
Howard County Conservancy

Elevate Maryland - - Interview with Council Member Opel Jones
January 14th at 5:30 pm

Gay Day at the Mill - - artists, performers, and history
January 26th from 4 pm to 8 pm
Historic Savage Mill

Great Chili Cook-Off - - to benefit Grass Roots
February 17th from 1 to 3 pm
Clarksville Commons

Evening in the Stacks - - an otherworldly themed fundraiser
February 23rd from 7 to 11 pm
East Columbia Branch

So, HoCo. Do you think it will snow this weekend? Have you done your crisis Grocery Store Run yet?

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Enough with the Dog Whistles Already

In response to the announcement that County Exective Calvin Ball had chosen Lisa Myers as the next Chief Of Police, one man said:

Well, we now know where you are coming from.

This was not meant to be a positive response.

I thought it was such an odd way to express disapproval. Dr. Ball has served on the County Council for twelve years. His record is out there. His campaign for Country Executive was a source of plenty of information about his goals and priorities. But suddenly, with the appointment of Lisa Myers, 

...we now know where you are coming from.

Is this is indeed the case, may I just say that this particular commenter has not been paying attention.

Of course, I don’t think for one moment that we are meant to take this comment at face value. These words are a racist dog whistle intended to indicate that Ball, a person of color, has appointed  Lisa Myers solely because she is a person of color. When whites appoints whites it must be because they are the most qualified for the job but when Blacks appoint Blacks, well, there must be something fishy going on. It must be some kind of unfair racial cronyism. It means that whites aren’t getting their fair share (read: most of the pie) so the use of coded language like “identity politics” will turn up in the comments section as a way to denigrate the choice.

I read the following statement yesterday and I think it’s quite telling:

It was once a crime to teach slaves to read. People fear equity when they're afraid to compete, justice when they know they're in the wrong. - - Janice Chan @curiositybone

This goes hand in hand with Clay Shirky’s statement:

When you're accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.

As County Executive Ball begins his administration and makes choices for leadership positions we cannot know in advance whether he (and they) will be successful in their missions. Some are inclined to believe they will. Some aren’t sure but hope for the best. Some look at his race and/or his party affiliation and know, just know, that something bad is afoot. You can hear their voices in the online comments saying, “Hey guys! Hey guys! He’s not one of us, guys!”

It’s sad. And disheartening. 

If you want to know where someone is really coming from, you’re going to have to do more than aim your pea shooter on social media.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Hop To It

Twitter searches aren’t  exactly foolproof. A search for Columbia (Maryland) turned up this:

We took the Hop On, Hop Off bus tour around Vancouver @ Vancouver, British Columbia.

For a second I could almost imagine that Columbia had a tour bus. But that’s ridiculous. We don’t even have a decent local transit system. 

But let’s pretend for moment. What if Columbia/Howard County did have a Hop On, Hop Off Bus Tour?  What do you think would be essential stops on the tour?

Some thoughts:

The Lakefront
The Chrysalis
The Mall
Blandair Park
Centennial Park
Savage Mill
Clarksville Commons
Main Street Old EC
Robinson Nature Center
The Howard County Conservancy

What am I missing? Please remember this is a purely hypothetical exercise. I’m not up for a lecture this morning on why having a tour bus in Columbia would be silly. Most regular readers of the blog will already know my penchant for contemplating silly things.

Benefits to this kind of a bus tour are many. You don’t have to risk getting lost in an unfamiliar place. You don’t have to find and pay for parking. You can take as much time as you like in the places that you like.. You can do as much or as little walking as suits your needs.

Gosh, maybe we need a Hop On, Hop Off Bus for Columbia Crossing shopping center.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

A New Wave

Four year olds can really take the energy right out of you. After one day back at work I’m struggling a bit with re-entry.

Today I’m sending you over to the Washington Post for this fascinating piece about community spaces for shared experiences:

Why developers are offering ‘experiences’ to attract suburbanites by Katherine Shaver

Most developers aren’t shunning traditional retail as much as Kaplan plans to. But many say they, too, are focusing on more “experiential” ways to attract people and hold on to them long enough that they’ll browse and buy instead of stay home and click. Providing experience now goes well beyond the traditional winter ice rink or summer movie night.
It’s why you’re seeing so many more restaurants, food halls, cooking demonstrations, outdoor yoga classes, smaller concert venues, bars and lounges, farmers markets, tot lots, fire pits, splashable fountains, restaurant-like bowling alleys, and cocktail-serving movie theaters — anything that helps people interact in a way they can’t online.
It occurs to me that one’s stage in life also makes a difference in the kind of experiences one seeks out. Parents with young children may be looking for amenities like splashable fountains. Older couples who are downsizing may come to these suburban hubs for a walkable vibrancy where they can connect with friends. Of course, cross-generational experiences give communities a truly authentic sense of place. We don’t want to place different age groups in silos to the point that they don’t come in contact with one another.

What do you think? Can you think of some local examples where this is happening? Do you enjoy frequenting places that give you those opportunities to have shared experiences?

H/T to Dan Reed of Just Up the Pike  for bringing this article to my attention.