Monday, August 31, 2020
Every teacher has a story like it. A student turns in a paper appallingly late, but then checks back in less than twenty-four hours to find out why the grade hasn’t been posted yet. Or a high school senior has requested a college recommendation at the eleventh hour but comes around almost immediately to check if it has been sent. For those, and others like them, the following statement is particularly relevant.
Not to be outdone by the Governor’s eleventh hour press conference on the reopening of schools, the State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Karen Salmon stepped up to turn in an appallingly late plan on distance learning. This last-minute move would essentially force schools to rip up the plans they have put in place.
Teachers have been working throughout the summer on the best ways to implement distance learning. School systems have been devising their overall plans and have submitted them to the state by the agreed upon deadline. In some counties students will start today. In others teachers are in meetings to prepare for the beginning of instruction. No one feels that distance learning is the ideal but the safety of our communities depends on it. Our schools are doing the best they possibly can under extremely difficult circumstances.
What the State Superintendent of Schools should have contemplated on the eve of the 2020-21 school year was the value of giving an inspirational pep talk to those around the state who are poised to undertake new and unprecedented challenges. Instead she used the power of her position to provide an unwarranted slap in the face. Any good teacher knows this is not how you get the best out of your students.
According to the Superintendent, students will be required to spend an additional hour each day sitting in front of a computer screen. This is educationally counterproductive and is just plain bad for young people. Students are not robots. Teaching is not content delivery. Teachers are working to establish relationships that will set the stage for students to engage and persist in learning activites. Force feeding is disrespectful of that teacher-student relationship.
Dictating a plan at the last minute is not respectful of the relationship that the State Superintendent should be working to foster with state school systems. Perhaps Governor Hogan and Dr. Salmon are working under a different sort of management principle.
The Maryland State Education Association has created a petition to protest the last minute changes. You can find it here. From the petition:
Just days after Governor Hogan held a press conference throwing school systems under the bus and undercutting the work of educators, now State Superintendent Karen Salmon is recklessly attempting to do more of the same. At the State Board meeting this Tuesday, September 1, Superintendent Salmon will propose that all school systems must revamp their schedules to hit new, arbitrary targets for synchronous and asynchronous learning by September 28. If she has her way, then—after months of silence and zero guidance on schedules from the State Board—in just a few weeks systems, schools, and families across the state will need to rip up the schedules and plans they’ve spent months developing to meet these new targets.
Key words here are “after months of silence and zero guidance from the State Board.” School systems from around the state have been looking for guidance for months and received none. It does them no good at all for the State Superintendent to show up with a long overdue assignment and say, “Ta da!” This is not leadership and does not promote any kind of partnership, either. And, in the end, it’s bad for students.
You can take a look at the State Superintendent’s plan here. You can sign the MSEA petition here. You can support schools, teachers, and students by rejecting a last-minute, educationally unsound approach to distance learning.
You’ll be giving a vote of confidence to the work our teachers have been doing all summer long to get ready for their kids. Our kids.
Sunday, August 30, 2020
Ten years ago I attended a Beer and Pizza summit hosted by Candace Dodson Reed. Its purpose was to talk about issues of race in Columbia/HoCo. Despite the fact that Ms. Dodson Reed had experienced substantial pushback from some in the community who didn’t think she should be holding it, the event was well attended. For me it was the beginning of putting my sheltered liberal white woman self out there and realizing how incredibly ignorant I was.
Today, ten years on, I’m mortified by how much I didn’t know on that day. To be honest, much of it has been learned in the last several years. A sampling:
- The History of Redlining and how it perpetuates a wealth gap to this day
- How SRO’s contribute to the school to prison pipeline
- What Microaggressions are and how/why they cause harm
- How Black and Brown people are policed differently than whites
- How the health care system often provide substandard care for Black and Brown patients
The Task Force is charged with identifying changes to County ordinances and recommending legislation to the County Council that will improve racial equity in Howard County.
From Council member Jones:
Discussing race is not an easy topic, but to make sure we are fostering an even level playing field, for residents of color, we must continue to strive for an equitable and inclusive county, that will advance racial equity and social justice.
You may recall that Rigby and Jones have also proposed that unconscious bias and racial equity training to be provided for Council members and County Council staff. Has that happened yet?
Ten years ago the room at the Beer and Pizza summit was filled with people who voluntarily responded to an invitation to talk about race in our community, and to learn more. But the years since then have been a painful reminder of how many people in Columbia/HoCo do not want to talk about race. When local students led an outpouring of grief at the death of George Floyd at the hands of police and support for Black Lives Matter, social media lit up with the angry statements of those in opposition. Many of them were blatant examples of the racism they claim does not exist.
Yes, talking about race is hard, but we need to keep doing it. And doing it. It makes us uncomfortable. We don’t know how to fix things and we wish the unending and exhausting onslaught of racist violence would just go away. Imagine how our Black and Brown friends and neighbors feel.
Where will we be ten years from now, Columbia/HoCo?
Saturday, August 29, 2020
I was going to write about Governor Hogan’s press event on Thursday but, frankly, the Baltimore Sun editorial board did it better. Read it here. The most important words to me are these:
Instead of complaining about local districts, the governor should be reaching out to them, listening and learning about their individual challenges, taking actions to help their circumstances. This is leadership.
Listening and collaboration have been in short supply during Hogan’s years in office. Perhaps he sees them as signs of weakness. He appears to prefer a top-down approach where the most important thing is to be seen making pronouncements from a podium: one man in the spotlight.
That may be powerful symbolism but, as the Sun editorial board points out, it’s not leadership. After what I thought was a strong start in addressing the pandemic, the Governor didn’t engage in the kind of collaborative follow-up with local jurisdictions that was necessary.
Perhaps he was too busy with his book and media appearances.
The tone that the Governor takes towards teachers has consistently been dismissive and almost hostile. His press conference performance is no different. He verbally swats away the concerns of teachers as merely the annoyance of a “special interest group.” Mr. Hogan forgets or chooses to ignore that teachers have some of the most expertise in understanding whether students can be taught and cared for safely in the midst of a pandemic. Or perhaps he shares his parties’ disdain for “experts”. I don’t know.
He also forgets that teachers belong to more than one “special interest group”. They are also parents. They are taxpayers. They are voters. To attempt to diminish teachers when you are trying to open schools is akin to denigrating health professionals when you are trying to eradicate an illness.
There may be some who continue to be impressed by an “I alone can fix it” governmental model. The problem is, it’s just too easy to see where it falls apart: local jurisdictions ignored and then thrown under the bus, professionals who should be valued partners criticized unfairly and disheartened. And parents all over the state who are upset and confused by a political stunt that didn’t really give them meaningful or timely information.
As the editorial states:
No matter how schools proceed, whether they stay online or move to a hybrid model or bring students back entirely, some people are going to be unhappy. How fortuitous to be the critic and not bear the burden of accountability.
Friday, August 28, 2020
How well do you know your co-workers?
Think for a minute. Who would be most likely to front you lunch money if you forgot your lunch? Who’s most likely to be late without a good excuse? Who is the best person to work on a team project with? Who is lamentably all talk and no action? Who always takes the time to ask about your family?
Who is most likely to wangle six figures out of management?
Yes, I’ve been thinking about Governor Hogan and his pick for Chief of Staff, Roy McGrath. I started to say “ill-fated” pick but that sounds like something bad happened to him. In truth, McGrath brought this upon himself. What is foremost in my mind is how well one would need to know a job applicant to have a sense of whether they were likely to use other people’s money as their own.
Thanks to dogged and clear-headed reporting by Pamela Wood of the Baltimore Sun, we know:
McGrath used the transition from his job with the Maryland Environmental Service as an opportunity to fund his own personal nest egg. His response when caught showed a profound misunderstanding of how tax dollars work and, in essence, a profound disrespect for taxpayers. This was not a small error in accounting, or a legitimate misunderstanding of his job benefits. This was intentional.
So, back to Governor Hogan. Let’s say you have a new hire coming in. How much can you possibly be expected to know about them, really? If you are the Governor’s office I suppose you do the usual vetting, and there are interviews. But might it be possible that someone with such this kind of ethical shortcoming could breeze through without being detected?
Maybe. But McGrath was not an unknown quantity. He was not someone new coming from the outside. From Luke Broadwater’s piece in the Baltimore Sun on May 26th:
Wednesday, August 26, 2020
In the “big on style, but short on substance” department comes Kimberly Klacik, candidate for Congress in Maryland’s 7th District. Her much-hyped campaign video makes this abundantly clear. Overflowing with the same old tropes that excite Republicans without showing any understanding of Baltimore’s underlying problems, the two minute video served as a springboard to an appearance at the Republican National Convention.
While Ms. Klacik appears to be speaking to Black citizens of Baltimore, encouraging them to walk away from the Democratic Party, it seems pretty clear to me that hers is a message tailor-made for affluent whites in the other part of District 7. Hardly a month goes by when I don’t cringe at a letter in the Sun from someone in Howard County opining on what’s wrong with Baltimore and how to fix it.
All of this serves as a prelude to what irks me the most about Klacik’s campaign video. Her shoes.
These are not the shoes you wear if you are going to get something done. These are the shoes of cocktail parties and photo opps. Frankly, these are the shoes of someone visiting from out of town. If Ms. Klacik were truly ready to jump in and address the long-entrenched issues that plague Baltimore she’d hardly be wearing red stilettos.
She’d be wearing sensible shoes.
Sensible shoes don’t make headlines, they don’t go viral, and they don’t earn you a spot on a nationally-televised political convention. But sensible shoes get things done. When you are wearing sensible shoes you can go farther, work longer, and you’re less worried about getting dirty. No, they’re not sexy. But serving as a member of Congress is not a modeling opportunity. It’s hard work.
In one truly hilarious bit of camera work in the campaign video, Ms. Klacik declares, “This is what Democrats don’t want you to see,” and the next immediate shot is of her shoes. Her shoes!
How that got through the editing process I’ll never know.
Frankly, as a Democrat, I think potential voters should look long and hard at those red shoes. They take up more time and space in the video than actual citizens of Baltimore.
As an aside, I thought I’d mention that I did reread the Hans Christian Anderson story, “The Red Shoes” in preparing this post. That was probably a bad idea. I can tell you it only served to reinforce my feeling that sensible shoes will serve you better than the stylish red ones. (And don’t read it right before bed!)
I’m interested in someone who has actual credentials, not simply a fashionable wardrobe. If you think I’m being too simplistic here, consider this: Ms. Klacik could have put her credentials front and center in the video. She didn’t. She chose to let her shoes be the star.
Sunday, August 23, 2020
Today, from 2 to 3 pm: a virtual walk-through of the Maker Space at Freetown Farm. To register for the Maker Space Kick-Off, use this link.
From the event page:
I learned more about the whole Maker movement when I attended the mini Maker Faires at the Chrysalis in Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods. There’s a slide show of things I saw in this post from last year. One of the things I loved was how welcoming and open-ended the concept was. Anyone from any stage of life could participate. There was no bar set for educational or experience level. If you had ideas, if you loved to tinker - - this was the place for you.
Readers of this blog know what an outspoken advocate I am for inquiry-based, hands-on, multi-sensory learning in early childhood. The truth is, it’s good for everybody. Our educational system has long honored paper and pencil achievement over all else. I think our culture is the worse for that.
If you have the time today, register for this event and learn what it’s all about. It’s just another initiative from the Community Ecology Institute that gives us the opportunity to learn and grow and make our community better.
Friday, August 21, 2020
I woke up out of extemely vivid nightmares this morning. Even two cups of coffee haven’t entirely ameliorated the experience.
Putting that aside, I’ve been thinking about the divide in our culture right now in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. Some attribute it all to one’s political leanings. Others point to educational levels or intelligence. And yet others say it depends on whether people have had a first-hand, personal experience with the illness. Some will not believe what they have not seen.
Here’s another theory:
The thing that has most profoundly influenced me is my memories of my parents describing life during the Great Depression and World War II. I grew up hearing stories of a national forced to go through difficult times and enduring, pulling together, working for a common good. I didn’t think that I would ever have to live through such a time. But I absolutely believed that caring for others and perservering during hard times were core values, not just my parents’ values, but those of our country.
All around me I see complaints. People want everything from being able to go to restaurants and get hair cuts to a refund of their tax dollars if their children can’t matriculate inside of a school building. They chafe at restrictions which are in place to prevent the spread of illness. At every turn they use their discontent as an opportunity to place blame on those who are tasked with keeping people safe.
At the same time there are other people giving their time and money to support community members who are in desperate need due to COVID-19. Columbia/HoCo is blessed with a variety of initiatives that are doing amazingly good work. And there are people who are still committed to observe public health guidelines even while many around them are tired of making the effort.
I wonder if any of them had parents like mine. I wonder if the experience of the Depression and WWII lives on in other homes and families. Even though we are living through something completely alien to our life experiences, some people instinctively seem to know what to do. They dedicate their heads, their hearts, and their bodies to bringing goodness into a world beset by enormous pain.
Wherever that comes from, we need more of it. And we need to teach our children, right now this minute, how much we value pulling together and caring for others. We need to give them good examples of how working for the common good is essential to the American experience. Now is the time for planting seeds. We may not know how they will be harvested. My parents surely did not know.
But one day in the future our children may need to reach inside themselves to find a strength and a sense of direction to face unexpected challenges. Will they be ready?
Thursday, August 20, 2020
I’m running late this morning because I stayed up past my bedtime watching a livestream on my iPad. You know how it is.
A footnote to last week’s post from local beekeeper Nikki Schmidt:
Later on in the week I was the fortunate recipient of a jar of her honey. I wasted no time in preparing my HoCoLocal honey-tasting experience. First, a taste of the honey by itself. The mouth-feel is indescribable. The best word I can think of is sexy. The flavor is light, and so much better than any honey I have every tasted. Local, hand-curated honey is an entirely different animal than what you get at the supermarket.
Next up: whole grain toast with butter and honey. Perfection. What a delight. If I am careful I’ll be able to make this little jar last well into the winter, when tea and toast are the perfect antidote to darkness and chill.
I’ve read that local honey also has many healthful properties. There are so many good reasons to support local beekeepers. They are all over Maryland.
This week I’m grateful for an unexpected gift of sweetness that lightened my mood and sang an entirely new song to my tastebuds. I now fully understand why Winnie the Pooh went to all that trouble to get some. Before it was just an abstract concept. Now I have tasted the real thing.
Wednesday, August 19, 2020
Maryland State Delegate Courtney Watson is on a mission: to make sure residents know they need to request a ballot to vote by mail this November. While Governor Hogan mailed out ballots to everyone for the Primary, he’s decided you need to request them for the General election. A lot of folks don’t understand the change. Delegate Watson has been reaching out by phone to make sure voters know what to do.
She posted this account of one such phone call and I asked her if I could share it here. It reads like a blog post. A very good blogpost. It tells an important story.
Tuesday, August 18, 2020
The past twenty-four hours have caused me to think a lot about what people say online. How often do we become outraged at shared screenshots, yet still pass on those scandalous tidbits, or use ‘inside’ knowledge to make ourselves look good, or to make a joke at someone else’s expense?
I had more than a moment of profound embarrassment when I came across the following post on Facebook from someone I do not know. (I have removed any identifying information because names aren’t the reason I’m sharing this.)
Sunday, August 16, 2020
Response: I was at Taylor at this time (1968 to 1975) and my sister is in this photo along with a friend of mine from my class and her sister who was a year younger. Their family moved away about a year after this photo. I went there from k through sixth.
The purpose of this ad was to stem the tide of white flight from the area which was already in full swing ( my family did not leave.) Unfortunately the goal of maintaining an integrated school failed and within four to five years of this photo the school was almost entirely African American with almost all white families with school aged kids having moved out. Then shortly after that the school was converted from an elementary school to an extension of Heights High for kids with disciplinary problems. Taylor was the first elementary school closed in the Heights system. (the local junior high for Taylor kid, Roosevelt, was closed in 1974 and kids were bussed to other junior highs.)
The dream of a happy, healthy integrated elementary school was reality for roughly 3 short years —Cleveland Heights tried to keep this going in the schools and neighborhoods.But the overall racial climate of national segregation won out and unfortunately still exists today. The parents of that time tried hard to keep the Taylor community together but unfortunately were ultimately unsuccessful. It all fell victim to white flight. It is unfortunate that people could not accept living in an integrated neighborhood.
This is a great ad and it would have been great if it had been successful.
When we think of that same time period here - - 1968 to 1975 - - we see the foundational years in the establishment of Columbia as the antithesis of white flight and segregation. Fifty years on, our school system has been in the awkward position of trying to convince parents of the benefits of allowing their children to go to school with children who are different than they are. I wonder what would happen if they ran ads like this:
Friday, August 14, 2020
This afternoon I sat with a wastebasket and carefully removed the name from each pencil and crayon. I cleaned off the pencil box. Added a pair of school scissors. I’m finally going to see if I can find someone who can use them.
Something about the repetitive motion of removing each label, so carefully applied - - to no purpose - - made me think about how we do so many things over and over again in Columbia. Sometimes the names are the same, and sometimes they change, and the ages of the players shift. But the arguments are so mind-bogglingly familiar and in general it often feels as though there is no purpose.
People accuse one another of malfeasance, secrecy, incompetence, greed. Motives are challenged and facts are laid by the wayside. The addition of social media serves to magnify the drama and to minimize the understanding of the eventual outcome. People still write hot letters to the newspaper, too. (I have been known to send a few myself.)
There are a couple of letters to the editor this week about what may become of the Columbia Flier property. They reminded me what a Columbian thing it is to resist change. And how I’ve been indulging in a little of that myself lately.
Newly minted opinion: do with that property what is best for Columbia now and going forward. What could go there that would be a natural fit with nearby Howard Community College and Howard County General Hospital? We need symbiosis, not silos.
While we are at it: it’s kind of crazy how purely unwalkable it is over there. One might say it’s a lovely parkway but I am having a hard time finding the beauty in a set-up that requires you to get in your car to do anything. HCC has a shuttle (the Dragon Wagon) to ferry students to satellite parking. If the mix of businesses at that end of LPP evolved to contain a healthy variety of locations appealing to HCC and HCGH, would they partner on a shuttle that stopped at various places along that loop?
It might give that part of town the sense of place that I think is lacking.
I once received an invitation to a party which announced, “we will be gathering to celebrate our annual futility rites.” It was meant to be witty but the words came back to me today. So many of us (myself included) keep doing the same old Columbia things and expecting a different outcome.
That’s futility all right. Maybe it’s human nature. But don’t we claim to admire a visionary who did bold and untried things in creating a New American City?
I wonder if we would be on board today.
Thursday, August 13, 2020
Hi HoCo Families!
Have you seen the Little Free Libraries around? Another Howard County resident/friend and I are on a mission to grow and diversify those libraries through an initiative that is taking off nation-wide called Little Free Diverse Libraries. You can read more about the woman who inspired it all here:
Our goal is to add diverse books to the existing Little Free Libraries around Howard County in order to reflect the diversity in our community. You can help!
—Follow us on Instagram (@littlefreediverselibraryhoco). We'll post as we receive books and deliver them throughout the county.
—Donate a book! Use this link.
Books will be shipped directly to us and we'll deliver to the libraries.
—Let us know about the Little Free Libraries near your house! Feel free to also share diverse books you love and we'll add them to the list
Thanks for helping us! This is especially important with schools and libraries currently closed (in-person)!
Everyone knows I’m a big fan on children’s books. I went to the list and picked out two. One of them was a favorite of mine: All Are Welcome.
Wednesday, August 12, 2020
Today is National Honey Bee Day. According to its founders, this is “a day when beekeepers, beekeeping clubs and associations, and honey bee enthusiasts from across the United States celebrate honey bees and recognize their contribution to humans' everyday lives as a means of protecting this critical species. National Honey Bee Day also pays homage to beekeepers, whose labors ensure…well-managed, healthy bees…”
Why are you reading about honey bees in Julia Jackson McCready’s blog? Beekeepers are all around you. We’re part of your village, part of the fabric of community that Julia works to weave. Howard County has a thriving backyard beekeeping population, with over a hundred people taking classes from the Howard County Beekeepers Association every year. Maryland has over 14,000 registered beehives and many of them are in places you drive past every day. Places like the Robinson Nature Center, the Howard County Conservancy, Howard Community College, Ace Hardware, Christ Episcopal Church, and neighborhoods throughout the county. All of us beekeepers are trying to do our part to help these amazing insects survive and thrive in a region that becomes increasingly difficult with each passing year.
You’ve read the statistics about Honey Bees and how they benefit our world. What you might not know is how to help. Here are some things you can do to make your part of the world a little bit better for honey bees and other beneficial pollinators:
Beekeepers in Howard County are enthusiastic about the Bee City USA partnership that County Executive Dr. Calvin Ball entered into, but we need everyone in the county to help. As with all things, if everyone in a community makes a few small changes – it makes a big difference.
Nikki Schmidt is Howard County beekeeper and a member of the Howard County Beekeepers Association. She is parent to two boys and approximately 320,000 bees.
Tuesday, August 11, 2020
Monday, August 10, 2020