Sunday, January 31, 2021
Saturday, January 30, 2021
Yesterday afternoon the doorbell rang. That doesn’t happen very much these days. I figured it was just a package being delivered but I went to grab a mask just in case. As I fumbled with the elastic the doorbell rang again, followed by persistent knocking on the door.
When I opened it I saw a man with a clipboard.
“Are you registered to vote in Howard County?” he asked.
He waved his clipboard in the air as he went on.
“Well, I just need your signature right here. So we can let the voters decide!”
Suddenly it hit me what this was all about. I’ve been reading about friends being accosted outside local businesses, pressured to sign a petition without being given adequate information. Now these same folks were at my front door. In a neighborhood that prohibits solicitation. During a pandemic.
He was affronted when I told him I was absolutely against what he was doing.
“Yes, please go away.”
I closed the door rather emphatically.
In case my readers don’t know what’s afoot, let me clue you in on what’s happening. It’s about Sanctuary. Or, rather, it’s about a Council Bill that has already passed and become law in Howard County. It looks like this:
Council Bill 63-2020 – Introduced by: Opel Jones - AN ACT providing that County employees shall take, or refrain from taking, specified actions with respect to the immigration status of specified individuals; prohibiting certain discrimination based on immigration status; requiring that certain information related to citizenship status be kept confidential; providing a procedure whenever specified provisions may be preempted by other law; requiring specified officials to take actions under certain circumstances; and generally relating to human rights in Howard County.
Thursday, January 28, 2021
Every year I make my pitch for why you should run for your Village Board in Columbia, or for a seat on the Columbia Council. In recent years these posts have become more fatalistic in their tone. To be honest, results each year in Village elections show that most folks don’t know and/or don’t care. And, for those who do take the leap to get involved, there’s often a long-standing environment of power-hoarding in place that can be mightily discouraging to newcomers.
Lucky for me, and you, this year’s “why you should run for your Village Board” comes from The Merriweather Post, complete with charts, statements from past candidates, details and some history.
You get a break this year from hearing me whine at you about why you should care, and a set of fresh eyes on a topic that deserves all the perspective it can get. Put simply: we need new people, younger people, and people from diverse backgrounds to get involved in CA and Village governance. The longer we keep letting someone else do it the farther we slide from being the kind of people-driven community Columbia was meant to be.
A shoutout to Jeremy Dommu at The Merriweather Post for putting this together. How about it, folks? What would it take for you to throw your hat in the ring?
Wednesday, January 27, 2021
The local news story of the day is undoubtedly the vote to return students to classrooms in the Howard County Schools. A few thoughts:
- This decision was made by the Board of Education members who are meeting remotely due to the pandemic.
- Scientists tell us that a newer and more contagious strain of COVID is moving into our area right now.
- The possibility of receiving the COVID vaccine is close enough for educators to taste but their desire to be fully protected before returning to the classroom won’t be honored.
- The hybrid model under discussion will provide a far less effective learning experience for students, and creates more work and stress for already stressed and overworked teachers.
Why? None of this makes any sense. Teachers feel betrayed and demoralized. They, their families, and the students they teach will be put at risk.
The Governor of the State of Maryland, aka “I have the vaccine and you don’t” Hogan, has put enormous political pressure on local jurisdictions to return to in-person learning. And we know that Hogan’s political base has gone all out in their efforts to force a return to face-to-face instruction.
So now we are all taking part in a whole lot of political theatre which is meant to make the Governor look good. And it’s all completely preventable. Imagine how much goodwill Hogan could have generated by publicly committing to getting teachers vaccinated before returning to classrooms and then actually following through. We are so close to a solution to this that would honor the people we claim are so essential to the well-being of our children.
Key point: Making a promise and then keeping it is the simple act that Larry Hogan is seemingly incapable of fulfilling. And because of that people will be put in positions where they will become sick, may die or suffer from long term health consequences.
The fact that this is being pushed through in such a top-down manner without regard to the real human beings who will bear the greatest burden says a lot about how our state feels about teachers and education. We don’t treat them as highly trained and experienced professionals. We don’t work collaboratively with them as partners. We order, we decree, we pronounce, we demand.
What this means is that we are cannibalizing our own school system for the purpose of forcing a second-rate educational experience that some are convinced is “more normal.” We are going to push out all sorts of devoted and highly effective teachers in the process. The long term consequences of this on our entire school system will be devastating, not just in the numbers of teachers that we lose, but in the loss of trust from those teachers who stay but whose worth has been so egregiously devalued.
Insisting on short-term results when a long-term solution is so clearly within reach is just bad leadership. I guess we are going to see how that plays out in real time.
Tuesday, January 26, 2021
A sign of the times: HCPSS released a “snow cancellation announcement that isn’t” last night which takes into account the new world of distance learning that we live in.
1/26/21, Virtual instruction as scheduled; HCPSS buildings are closed. Meal service canceled. In-person evening activities w/ HCPSS students/staff & community-sponsored programs in HCPSS buildings are canceled.
I must admit I was extremely gratified by the lone student voice who came back with:
What if the power goes out
I noticed that, earlier in the evening, this same account had responded to an earlier HCPSS tweet with this question:
If there are power outages cause of ice tmrw, can we get off to play in the snow
Long-time readers of the blog know that I hold a particular fondness for students turning up on Twitter trying to influence weather-related school decisions. We haven’t seen many of them lately, since high school students have abandoned Twitter for Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, and other platforms I am too lame to be “up on.”
I miss them.
Now they are more likely to turn up on Twitter if they are attempting to holler at adults to get their attention, for instance, when calling out racist behavior by peers. The rest of the time they have better places to be.
Something about these two tweets tugged at my heartstrings a little bit. Even in a world so changed by the pandemic, there’s such a basic desire to get a day off, to break the expected routine: to play. Do you remember being that age? Do you remember what an amazing gift that would have been?
Our kids’ world is so different from ours, and yet the kids who they are, deep down inside, may be more like us than we realize. We should never forget how essential play is, and part of play involves having the time and the space and the free choice to create one’s own enjoyment. Even in a pandemic, or maybe especially in a pandemic, having the autonomy to make those choices makes the difference between mere survival and actually thriving.
To be honest, teens could also be looking to get a chance to sleep in followed by an unstructured jumble of lying on the couch on social media, binge-watching, gaming, hanging out via group chat. And the hook of “playing in the snow” could be out there baited for nostalgic oldsters like me, ready to believe in the magical properties of a snow day.
But that’s okay. I remember being that kid, too. Don’t you?
Monday, January 25, 2021
A suggestion for your Monday evening:
From the event page:
Join us Monday, January 25th at 6pm to hear about our plans to open Columbia Community Care Peace & Justice Center! Learn, ask questions, hear testimonials about how community centers save lives, and experience a taste of what we will offer!
If you can’t make it tomorrow evening, join us on Thursday, January 28th at 6pm for the same presentation!
Created at the beginning of the pandemic by hcpss teacher Erika Strauss Chavarria, Columbia Community Care has successfully organized an enormous group of local volunteers and donors to provide food and other household necessities to those in financial crisis. Chavarria has been honored for her leadership by several organizations, including the Howard County Human Rights Commission Human Rights Award for 2020 and as a “Pandemic Hero” in the Howard Magazine Best of Howard Readers Poll.
In November she announced that Columbia Community Care would building on its initial success by committing to create the Columbia Community Care Peace and Justice Center. The group has also been circulating an online petition in support of the initiative in order to show a broad base of community interest in the project.
In the meantime, we are still in need of community support for our vision! Share this petition with10 friends so we get to 10k signatures!! Let’s do this!
The initial mission of Columbia Community Care has been one that Columbia/HoCo has been quick to understand and latch on to. The group has been tremendously good at helping people see that whatever time, funds, or goods they have available are welcome and useful to the larger cause. A brick and mortar community center is a bigger dream with an expanded purpose and I get the feeling that the size of the project may be more difficult for people to comprehend how they can fit in.
That’s why signing up for one of these Town Hall events is such a good way to learn about both the project and the process. I look forward to getting a better sense of the big picture as well as how ordinary community members can be involved.
Columbia Community Care has been addressing the essential needs of our families and young people but that is not enough. There are needs in our community that extend far beyond the needs of just physical survival. If we only focus on basic needs of survival, we have failed our neighbors and ourselves. As a teacher I know the importance of creating safe spaces for mental, emotional well being and healing. We must provide spaces for development of essential skills, in depth learning and critical thinking. All of this is necessary so that our young people and communities not only survive, but thrive and prosper to their fullest potential. - - Erika Strauss Chavarria
Sunday, January 24, 2021
For some reason I’m not in the local groove this morning. My apologies. A few things that are on my mind:
I watched two excellent programs on PBS last night. The first, from a series called “Secrets of the Dead” was entitled “The woman in the iron coffin.” It traces the story of a woman whose coffin was unearthed in Queens, NY, and the subsequent efforts to discover her story. It’s fascinating. In particular, the light it sheds on the use of science, historical research, archeology, and even community outreach gives a multifaceted look at all the many ways we pursue knowledge.
The second program was an episode of Amercian Masters called “How it feels to be free” a documentary looking at pioneering Black women performers Lena Horne, Abbey Lincoln, Nina Simone, Diahann Carroll, Cicely Tyson and Pam Grier. There’s a ton of history here that I was completely unaware of. Brilliantly done.
My unpopular benign opinion of the day: I’m not all so jazzed up about the Bernie Sanders meme from the inauguration. Why? Well...I saw someone suggest that the Bernie mitten photo is the Little Black Dress of memes: it goes with everything. But, it doesn’t, really.
It’s completely incompatible with this. (Link for photo purposes only.)
Think about it. We’re spending a whole lot of energy reproducing the image of an old white guy all over eveything. It’s not a crime, to be sure, but it’s telling. I do not wish to rain on anyone’s legitimate enjoyment of the current craze. Nor do I question your motives.
Just a thought, not a sermon.
I’ll be back tomorrow with completely local content. Enjoy your Sunday.
Saturday, January 23, 2021
It was not the news story that Delegate Stephanie Smith wanted for her bill. She was there as a sponsor of House Bill 41, to establish a Maryland State Bank Task Force. But the behavior of Delegate Rick Impallaria cast a whole different tone on the coverage that followed.
Maryland delegate calls colleague ‘more attractive’ in public hearing , Pamela Wood, Baltimore Sun
As he questioned Delegate Smith, Impallaria inserted a comment comparing the physical appearance of the former and current sponsors of the bill, both women. It created an awkward moment in the hearing. And why wouldn’t it? In what universe is the physical appearance of a bill’s sponsor remotely relevant to the value of the bill?
Only in a universe where men hold the power and set the expectations. Where women’s chance of success is determined by how they compete for prizes that have nothing to do with their true worth.
When it came time for Delgate Courtney Watson to speak, she circled back to address that awkward moment.
“I would like to counteract my friend Del. Impallaria’s comment about you, Del. Smith, by saying that it is not your looks as a female delegate that are impressive, but your intellectual strength, your confidence and your hard work on behalf of our citizens,” said Watson, a Howard County Democrat. “And I suspect he probably meant to say that instead.”
Didn't you, Delegate Impallaria? Her pushback was polite but firm.
In a later statement, Watson added:
If we don’t choose to call it out when we see it, it’s not going to change. I felt a responsibility to Del. Smith, who was put in a very uncomfortable position.
TC: We’re got the Year of the Woman in the General assembly.
CDR: (gives numbers of women elected)
TC(going on)...in the context of two years ago , there being lobbyists were not even just harassing women, but touching them inappropriately. They were unsure how to deal with someone in the General Assembly who was accused of assaulting someone. In that context, the electorate responded with women leaders. And so now, I bet you, they’re going figure out a way to resolve the people that don’t know how to act, that you know don’t know how to be in that environment. Because, just speaking from my personal experience, you’re not going to have someone like Courtney Watson go down to Annapolis and accept any of that type of behavior and so...
CDR: You’re damn right about that.
I laughed. I think most of us present laughed, imagining Ms. Watson giving a stern dressing down to anyone who got out of line. But, despite the humorous mental image, that’s not really the point that was being made here.
It’s not that we’ll have less bad behavior because Courtney Watson (or any other woman representative) is one tough cookie. Going down that road gets one to an odd place where the responsibility for harassment is placed on the victim.
No woman working in the Maryland General Assembly should be harassed, demeaned, or assaulted. It should not matter in what capacity she serves or what sort of personality or demeanor she possesses.
I think the real point that Tom Coale was making is that it’s the increase in the numbers of women in public office that will make the difference in changing attitudes and expectations. There’s not just “safety in numbers” in this case, but the ability to build the kind of power that commands respect. And that gets things accomplished.
It’s important not to lose sight of that point.
If you had your money on Courtney Watson smashing the patriarchy in Annapolis, your confidence would have been well placed. It came with an unfailingly polite but iron determination. And it got the point across: Delegate Smith is not alone here; she has allies. And we see what you are doing, Impallaria, and we reject it.
Our elected officials are in Annapolis to do the work of the State of Maryland. They are there to represent us. Devaluing someone’s work by reducing it to nothing more than a beauty contest shows not just disrespect for the delegate herself, but also for the citizens of Maryland. If you don’t take your colleagues seriously, you’re not giving the job the respect it requires.
Women do not come to the Maryland General Assembly as ornaments or decoration. Their job effectiveness is not determined by their physical appearance. Comments like these, even if brushed off as “compliments” or “jokes” are not acceptable because they devalue our representatives both as women and as professionals.
A tip of the hat to Delegate Watson to calling this out in real time, and a shout-out to Elevate Maryland for their uncanny prescience.
Friday, January 22, 2021
Starting off with the good news: the Howard County Board of Education voted last night to approve Black Lives Matter at School Week for this year. If you wrote a letter in support, it looks as though you were heard, at least by the members who voted in favor. I’m disappointed that this was not a unanimous vote, with one member voting no and one abstaining.
These votes send a terrible message to our Black students, staff, and families in the community: we had a chance to lift up and educate, and we didn’t take it. Frankly I can’t think of anything more damning that could be said of someone on the Board of Education.
Yesterday Governor Larry Hogan had a press conference about resuming in-person school instruction in which he said things that weren’t true and appeared to mandate things he doesn’t by law have the authority to mandate. You can tell who the audience was for this event by who was happy afterwards: privileged white people. People not unlike Mr. Hogan himself. This appears to be a trend with him. He is the Governor for “people like me.” His policies benefit what he sees when he looks in the mirror.
Who gets left out? Teachers, school staff, poor students and their families, Black and Brown students and their families. All are equally his constituents but his words and actions show he is not governing for them.
I’m beginning to think that the Governor has some long-lasting bad feelings from his school days. His profound disrespect for teachers is alarming. When plans to put teachers back in classrooms were at odds with the preparation needed to make it happen, and it became clear that teachers would not be able to be vaccinated in time, Hogan quipped:
If they're not going to be back in the classroom, we probably shouldn't be wasting the vaccine on them.
No one should have to prove their usefulness to Governor Hogan in order to get a vaccine. That’s just outrageous.
And then yesterday he stood at the podium and announced that it made no difference in his plans for Maryland schools whether employees had been vaccinated or not. Don’t even take that into account, he seemed to be saying.
Maryland may be “open for business” but the door on basic human decency appears to be closed.
When the Governor of the State of Maryland stands at his podium he, like the Howard County Board of Education, has an opportunity to lift up and educate. It should be his responsibility to tell the truth about our state’s challenges and show through his words and actions his respect for educators who he should see as partners and not adversaries. To see him choose, time after time, to comfort the comfortable and allow for affliction to fall on the already afflicted is profoundly damning.
Public service should not be for those who look to serve only people like themselves.
Thursday, January 21, 2021
I have never met the new Republican appointee to the Maryland delegation. I don’t even need to do a search of Reid Novotny to know his name has never appeared on the blog. Today he makes a grand though dubious entrance as he strives to strip away the right to cast votes from Student Members of the Board across the State of Maryland.
Mr. Novotny, who was not elected by the voters but rather hand-selected by members of his party, wants to delegitimize and disempower student leaders who were duly elected by their peers. In fact, current Howard County SMOB Zach Koung received 4,732 more votes then Reid Novotny did.
And they say education issues aren’t political.
The basis of his proposed legislation is that student members must be prevented from casting what is being referred to as “deciding” votes. This, in turn, is predicated on the misunderstanding/falsehood that it was specifically the HoCoSMOB’s vote which prevented a return to in person learning. That’s not how the HoCoBOE voting rules work, but the concept is being perpetuated by those who wish to strip any meaningful power from the SMOB position. It suits their narrative.
So House Bill HR 1189 is based on inaccurate information about Maryland State Law as it pertains to student representation on Boards of Education throughout the state. I don’t pretend to know Mr. Novotny, but, if I were going up against some of the smartest, most able students in the state of Maryland, I would have done my homework first.
Beyond that, what it all boils down to is that the proposed legislation seeks to take away voting rights for SMOBs in any case where their vote might make a difference. And why does anyone choose to enter public service? To make a difference.
Now, the 2021 session of the Maryland General Assembly is already underway, and it stands to reason that Novotny’s proposed legislation (House Bill HR 1789) is coming along far too late in the game to make any headway. Nevertheless I feel that a bit of extra effort to oppose this wrong-headed proposal is merited.
Wednesday, January 20, 2021
When your goal is to write seven days a week, you will have many days to fill where nothing in particular is going on, punctuated by the occasional days of great national import. Frankly the nondescript days are easier. On days like today everyone will be writing. There will be ample opportunity for comparison. Some really good writers come out for the big days. I try not to take that into account, but...
Today is a big day.
The events of the day are national but will affect all of us here locally. So I’ll indulge myself in a few words.
Today our country will install a duly-elected President who brings to the office the most important value we need if we are to save our troubled Democracy. President-elect Biden thinks and acts from a core belief that humans should foster goodness in themselves and others, and, when there is goodness to be shared, it should be. No holding back, no keeping supplies in reserve. No doubting whether the needy are deserving.
The president who departs today does not seem to be oriented in a way that acknowledges good or evil. His words and actions have focused on the desirability of material goods and acts of power. It matters very much who has control of them, who gets the power.
The difference between these two men and between those who support them makes all the difference in the world. One results in an attitude of believing in our fellow citizens, the other sows anger and distrust. I sincerely believe that our country, well, even any civilized society, cannot survive a sustained culture of the latter.
We must have the capacity to want good for others as well as ourselves. We need leaders who put that goodness into policy decisions. We need laws that establish a commitment to basic human decency and caring as key components of how our country works. National or local, the goal must be the same.
Most of all, we need to challenge at every turn the notion that goodness is scarce and must be hoarded to assure its proper use. It is, in fact, that very notion which limits and chokes goodness down to nothing but a commodity to be bought and sold. The last four years are proof of that. It is ugly and it has been deeply damaging to our country.
Today is a big day. There will be a thousand think pieces and millions of tweets and Facebook posts. We will observe the day’s events and our nation and the world will move into tomorrow. It’s important to remember that this day didn’t happen by chance. Biden’s election is the direct result of millions of people who organized and worked and donated and stood in line to vote because of their commitment to creating better government.
Goodness matters: without it the world crumbles. Believe it. Act on it. Share generously. Nothing you do today and in all the days going forward will have more impact on the world around you.
May this day be safe, and joyful, and a truly good beginning for us all.
Tuesday, January 19, 2021
Yesterday was the official national observance of the birthday of the late civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior. Many took part in service activities to honor his memory. Some watched films and programs about his work. Some read from his speeches and other writings. Social media timelines were filled with Dr. King’s words of protest, equality, empowerment, and challenge. Frequently quoted:
The time is always right to do what is right.
Meanwhile, in Howard County, I learned that there’s been a flurry of letters to the Board of Education urging them to vote against observing this year’s Black Lives Matter at School Week.
This year will be the third Black Lives Matter at School Week. I wrote about it for the first time in this piece:
A Crucial Nutrient , February 2019
Our schools have long been deficient in telling the stories of non-white cultures, and our systems have been deficient in treating non-white students with the same respect as whites. Black Lives Matter at School Week is a taste of what we need to do to enrich our classrooms with the knowledge and learning activities that have been missing from our schools. Everyone needs it.
Participation in Black Lives Matter at School Week is a choice that the Howard County School System has made for the last two years which is consistent with policies it already has in place to foster diversity, equity, and inclusion, and to elevate student voice. There are a variety of activities and lesson plans, created by educators, available from the national parent organization. Schools choose the ones that work for them.
It’s that simple.
As a parent and a teacher, I feel it is my responsibility to look at what we are teaching our children and think about how it could be better. Is there anything important that’s missing? Are there good things that should be increased? Are there less than useful things we should reduce or eliminate? It is in that same way that we need to look at the long years of inequity in our schools and strive to make improvements, not only for the purpose of boosting Black students, but also to help make all our students aware of a complete and accurate history of our nation and how we all fit into it.
Those words feel just as relevant today as they did when I wrote them. This is not the time to go back on our resolve to be a more truthful and just school environment.
The dates for this year’s event are February 1st - February 7th. The Board of Education will vote on whether the school system will participate this week: January 21st. If you have a moment, please send the Board members an email in support of Black Lives Matter at School Week. It doesn’t need to be fancy. Just state your support for the school system to participate.
- Black Lives Matter at School Week
- February 1st - 7th
- The goal of Black Lives Matter at School is to spark an ongoing movement of critical reflection and honest conversation in school communities for people of all ages to engage with issues of racial justice.
- Elevates student voice; fosters diversity, equity, and inclusion
Monday, January 18, 2021
Suddenly I saw multiple police cars ahead on the left. At first glance it looked as though they were fanning out across the road. Were they shutting down the access to my exit? Was there an accident up ahead? I saw an officer out of his car, waving traffic over to the left. I slowed down and moved over as I pulled to a stop.
Was there some kind of manhunt happening? An escaped convict? Kidnapping? So many thoughts swirled through my head in those first moments. I saw the police officer walk towards my car and I suddenly thought, “Oh! Mask!” and hastily grabbed and put mine on.
“Good afternoon ma’am, you’ve been pulled over for speeding.”
My brain moved directly into mortification. Of course.
Exit 94 off Route 70. Labeled as the Security Boulevard Park & Ride. I think of it as the odd stub-end of a road that gets us to Grandma’s house. It feels long and windy and curvy and, while the goal is to move drivers from 65 miles per hour down to acceptable speeds once you enter local traffic, that’s generally not what people do. It’s very easy to speed there. I used to be religious about observing the posted limits but over time I’ve let peer pressure wear me down.
“May I have your driver’s license and registration, please?”
His voice was calm and polite. Pleasant without being fawning. I pulled out my license and then realized in horror my dilemma.
“Oh, no. It’s expired because of COVID.”
“That’s all right, ma’am. Don’t worry about that,” he reassured me. “Your registration?”
I reached over to open the glove compartment and pulled it out.
“Okay, thank you ma’am. Now I’ll be right back. You just sit tight.”
And I thought.
I thought about how respectful, and calm, and unthreatening this police officer was. I thought about how the color of my skin was affording me a privilege not afforded to Black drivers under the same circumstances. Not once in this entire exchange had I worried for my safety. It didn’t matter where my hands were resting on the steering wheel. It didn’t matter how I reached for the car registration in the glove compartment.
I was not going to be threatened or harassed. My car was not going to be searched on some predetermined pretext. I was not going to be arrested for supposed resistance or defiance. I was not going to die.
I was being treated like a respected human being who was making a mistake. Yes, you were speeding and that’s in violation of the law. No, that does not make you a hardened criminal whose life is now in danger.
The officer returned to my car with my license, registration, and a paper printout.
“I’m just issuing you a warning. There’s no points on your license. Drive safely, now.”
And I said thank you, and put on my indicator to re-enter traffic.
For the rest of the day the encounter weighed heavily on me. How clearly my whiteness influenced my treatment in that routine traffic stop. Why does our society allow such glaring disparity of treatment based on race? We see it in the big picture of how law enforcement responded to Black Lives Matter protests in DC as opposed to the January 6th insurrection attacks in the same city.
We see it every time a “routine traffic stop” ends up with the driver dead. The driver is black. The police officer is very rarely charged. Even if there is body camera footage it will be interpreted in a way that denies responsibility.
I felt some fear at being pulled over yesterday. But my experience was absolutely nothing compared to what Black drivers go through. Every day there are so many extra rules I don’t have to follow, so many extra fears I don’t have to fear. If we keep allowing this to happen and do not actively work to change it, are we complicit in the injustice meted out upon others?
Sunday, January 17, 2021
If you see the words “Bridges to Housing Stability” and think “chili” then that’s certainly to the credit of the good folks at this area non-profit anti-homelessness organization which has been raising funds with a local network of chili cook off events as they spread awareness of their mission:
- Prevention – helping households that are at-risk to stay in their homes or move to more affordable housing
- Re-housing – helping homeless households who are ready to do so, to move into permanent housing, often without entering shelter
- Temporary Housing – providing housing to homeless families while they work on their goal of achieving permanent housing
But today I’m here to talk to you about pizza and other tasty Italian treats because Bridges is having a restaurant night with Coal Fire in Ellicott City/Shipley’s Grant. (Want a peek at their menu?)
This is good news for me because my family is not so fond of chili (aside from me) but they are big fans of the sort of menu items on offer at Coal Fire. And that means I won’t have to do much persuading to get them on board with supporting this event.
Saturday, January 16, 2021
I wonder if applications are down this year.
I keep seeing this item posted and shared on social media and every time I feel myself recoiling. What student in their right mind would want anything to do with this position after what has been unleashed on this year’s SMOB, Zach Koung? Is it possible that, lawsuits aside, angry parents may manage to kill interest in the SMOB position purely through their own bad behavior?
I have already started to wonder: what if we had a SMOB but no one applied?
Our students are not stupid. They see what’s happening. And I’m pretty sure that at least some who might have considered a run for this (once-respected) office are now shaking their heads and looking for more rewarding challenges.
Now I haven’t done any research on this yet. It’s possible that my theory is completely incorrect. But, humor me for a moment. Think about what this year’s treatment of the Student Member of the Board is saying to our students. To many it will say: it’s not worth it. And they could be forgiven for walking away with that impression because of the overwhelming amount of vitriol available online maintaining that students deserve no meaningful input on decisions pertaining to their own education.
Some students may take the lesson that the SMOB’s role should be to show up, look nice, and take notes. Be safe, keep your head down. Pose for pictures looking like an upstanding citizen. Just be grateful to be in the room. Know your place. I don’t know how many high school students you know, but I’m pretty sure that is not an appealing job description for most. Be seen and not heard. Offend no one.
The SMOB position in particular has attracted highly motivated, well-informed, and deeply involved young people who have been activists within their own school communities in one way or another. If you read the statements submitted by former SMOBS in support of the position, it’s clear that Zach Koung is a part of a continuing line of student leaders willing to take on big challenges in order to represent Howard County students.
To be sure, not every SMOB thinks alike or pursues the same issues. But it is the willingness to “get in there” and wrestle with the issues that connects them. Don’t we, as a community, want to foster that kind of leadership? Isn’t that a worthy investment in the future? If we render the Student Member of the Board position essentially toothless then the students themselves will have no reason to value it. We might as well hand out stickers for being nice.
By the time you are in middle school and high school you know how meaningless a gesture that is. Kids won’t be fooled.
Now, we all know a few exceptional young people who, when presented with a situation like this, become more determined and ramp up their responses to obstacles in their way. Perhaps we have a few out there right now.
I sure hope so.
Friday, January 15, 2021
Yesterday County Executive Calvin Ball announced the appointment of Denise Boston as Howard County’s first equity and restorative practices manager. Dr. Boston is tasked with establishing this new position within the Office of Human Rights and Equity. This appointment is another significant step for County government and other leading local institutions to 1) acknowledge and articulate examples of systemic racism and historic inequity in our community, and 2) take tangible steps to create and enact solutions.
Howard County hires first equity and restorative practices manager to strengthen community relationships, Jacob Calvin Meyer, Baltimore Sun Media
Yesterday’s event was a familiar scene to those of us in Columbia/HoCo. A podium set up down by Lake Kittamaqundi. An elected official making an important announcement, flanked by other local notables. This is the place where so many announcements are made, campaigns kicked off, important dates observed and celebrated. Down at the Lakefront, close to the People Tree which symbolizes for many what Columbia was meant to be, has long been one of the most favored spots for politicians and proclamations.
For me this one was different, for several reasons. This wasn’t a looking-backward sort of affair, as many of our Lakefront gatherings are wont to be. It wasn’t a campaign-button, sign-waving pep talk for the faithful. As the County Executive made his remarks he was both standing in a place deeply rooted in our local history but emphatically committing to carrying on the work we often say is at the foundation of Columbia’s creation - - far beyond what its founders likely imagined.
If our community’s progress in pushing back against institutional racism can be seen as a sort of relay event where a torch is passed from one set of participants to the next, we can see that, along with our successes, there have been times of indifference, fatigue, times we just plain dropped the torch. The appointment of Dr. Boston is a sign that Howard County is committed to being “in the race”, as it were, and not just for a commemorative event, but for the long haul.
The fact that Dr. Boston’s family came to Columbia in the 1970’s and that she is a graduate of Wilde Lake High School will give her added perspective to the people and institutions she’ll be serving. Her background in counseling psychology and in the field of education will give her the tools to take on the challenges she will undertaking. Let’s face it: her presence and her newly created office are about bringing much-needed change.
We’re not always so good at change here in Columbia/HoCo.
With the water rippling behind them, and the Rouse Brothers clearly visible to the side, yesterday’s announcement looked strikingly familiar to many others. I somehow think that what it means is newer and more focused than what we may have been used to in the past. For one thing it’s about all of Howard County, not just Columbia. For another thing it’s a sign of action and not just intent.
Intent is nice. It fits nicely with ceremonial events and it is not likely to ruffle the feathers of general public. Action goes deeper and challenges us to go deeper, too. It may also make us uncomfortable. That’s good. Pretty words won’t bring justice. Catchy slogans won’t break down walls. All around us are the signs that it is action which is deeply needed in our county.
If yesterday’s announcement is the beginning of Howard County seeing the work of equity and restorative practices as being our work, not just Dr. Boston’s work, then this is the kind of action we need right now this minute. In truth, it’s been needed for a long time.
Thursday, January 14, 2021
The Columbia Festival of the Arts is sponsoring a song-writing contest and the ten finalists await your consideration and votes for the Audience Choice Award. The contest is called “Songs of Strength.” From their website:
The announcement on social media of the ten finalists caught my eye because one of them is Alan Scott. You may recall I’ve written about him here before, most recently this past fall.
That post is about the song which has earned Scott a place amongst the ten finalists:
Where there is hope
where there is freedom
where we fight for justice
John Lewis lives.
Where you build a bridge
Made of faith, made of courage
He will walk beside you.
John Lewis lives.
- - John Lewis Lives (Good Trouble) Alan Scott
It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Scott’s work already and you won’t be surprised that I’m downright exhorting you to vote for his song in the Columbia Festival of the Arts contest. But it’s only fair to encourage you to listen to all of the finalist’s songs and rate them, too. Their rating system is from 1 to 10, with 1 being the lowest and 10 being the hightest, which I found a bit counter-intuitive, so I’m warning you in advance.
It looks as though the voting is once per device, but I will see if I can get clarification on that. You don’t have to register or give any personal information to cast a vote but you can voluntarily sign up to receive updates from Columbia Festival of the Arts. Here’s the link to vote:
While you are there you might want to poke around on their website. It is, as my mother would have said, “snazzy.” They have a variety of things going on right now and it’s worth a minute to explore their offerings.
Our community has responded to the challenges of the pandemic in so many positive ways. Highlighting how the arts give us strength and help us express the deepest parts of ourselves in hard times is another valuable mission among those that respond to immediate physical needs. Hard times require great art. As the venerable women’s suffrage song tells us, “hearts starve as well as bodies. Give us bread but give us roses.”
Scott’s song is particularly timely and moving to me. Its message speaks to me as much today as it did when I first heard it last fall.
You are not alone
On this road to freedom.
Where there is good trouble
John Lewis lives.
I hope you’ll consider giving him your vote.
Wednesday, January 13, 2021
Today is the first day of the Maryland General Assembly for 2021. There are some new faces in new places and there is plenty lined up for them to consider. Add to this the precautions that must be taken due to COVID and the national political mood and I’d say it wouldn’t be amiss to call this a session like no other, even before it starts.
It has always struck me that this isn’t particularly Governor Hogan’s favorite time of year. He seems much more comfortable operating in a world where there is no General Assembly. His style of leadership leans far more towards one man at the top rather than a collaborative approach. In fact, Hogan’s studied disinterest in state legislators has become such a thing that he doesn’t seem to know whether or not he knows Delgate Dan Cox.
I’m no expert in the world of Annapolis but it seems to me that it would be helpful for the Governor to know the duly elected representatives of his constituents.
Best wishes to everyone working during this legislative session, and that includes all the journalists working to bring us the stories we need to know to stay informed on the issues.
Moving on, I want to recommend this article by Dr. Tyler Black, an expert in child and adolescent emergency psychiatry:
In-person schooling is not a mental health panacea for children , Tyler Black, MD, The Star
This piece dated August 24th began as a thread on Twitter on July 24th. If you are intrigued by the article, by all means read the entire thread, which can be found here. There’s more to it, more specifics, and more to think about. Anyone who is engaged in evaluating the risks of in-person schooling vs. distance learning right now should read it.
It is frustrating that an expert in pediatric psychiatry has to point this out, but the more than 800,000 global deaths from COVID-19 are incredibly bad for our children’s mental health as well. Preventing further deaths from the virus may be the most trauma-informed mental health maneuver we perform, ranking far above the need to return to pre-pandemic schooling methodologies.
Marijane Monck, a lifelong teacher in Howard County, responded to this so succinctly that I’m using her words verbatim:
The problem is not that children are not in the school buildings, it's that there is a pandemic. That's where the focus needs to be. The pandemic is the cause for any stress we're feeling about any part of our lives right now, including schools. It's a distraction to continue to focus on schools rather than on the pandemic as the cause.
If we are truly going to help our children, our focus needs to be in the right place.
Speaking of someone whose focus in in the right place, I wholeheartedly recommend the most recent episode of local podcast Elevate Maryland: Teaching Through Crisis with Maryland History Teacher of the Year Matt Gresick. Hosts Tom Coale and Candace Dodson Reed give Gresick some great material to work with in their choice of topics, but they also allow him the space to make the interview his own and show the kind of connection-making and respect for students that make for a gifted teacher. The interview also confirms my belief that you cannot separate a teacher from their good teaching anecdotes.
What kind of people work with our kids in Howard County? Listen to this show and find out.
One last thing today: a correction of sorts. When I wrote on Sunday about Haven on the Lake and this year’s CA budget, I think I could have done a better job in clarifying that these are proposals, not a fait accompli. In other words, it’s not a done deal; that’s why CA (among other reasons) is holding a Virtual Town Hall to solicit input from the community. If you have opinions on this or other parts of the budget, attend the Town Hall and/or send an email to CA. The CA Board of Directors is having a work session on the budget tomorrow evening, January 14th, at 7 pm. You can learn more here.
In closing, a shoutout to Oakland Mills Community Association Board Chair Jonathan Edelson, whose remarks at last night’s meeting drew together so much of what we are going through in our community and in the nation. His words reminded me of all the good people who are willing to get involved and share their gifts to make the world around them a better place. Each one of them reaches out with what may seem like tiny threads of strength in a time when our own strength is being tested and perhaps weakened. Edelson and those like him remind us that we can be a part of that network, too.
Hang in there, folks.
Tuesday, January 12, 2021
If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State. - - Joseph Goebbels
We know now that it doesn’t need to be an entity as large as the State to “shield the people from the political, economic and/or political consequences of the lie.” It can be an ideologically slanted “news” channel. It can be a politically infused evangelical “church” community. It can be a local Facebook group.
Admin of the local Facebook group “Reopen Howard County” continue to make the statement that the Howard County Education Association, which they call “the Teacher’s Union” is corrupt. Do they present any evidence to support this? No. Do they define their terms? No.
They just keep repeating it.
Merriam Webster defines corrupt as:
1a: morally degenerate and perverted : DEPRAVED
b: characterized by improper conduct (such as bribery or the selling of favors)
2: PUTRID, TAINTED
What part of this definition is Reopen Howard County driving at? Do they assert that Howard County teachers are depraved? Engaged in improper conduct? Putrid?
It’s hard to tell, since they haven’t ever engaged with any definition of the word corrupt in an attempt to substantiate their claims.
They just keep repeating them.
And another thing: they keep repeating the falsehood that HCEA is not the teachers. This is ridiculous. The only reason HCEA exists is to advocate for teachers. While not every teacher will agree with every position that HCEA takes, suggesting that this alone makes HCEA purely self-serving to its own leadership and not to members is ridiculous.
I may not agree with everything that the leadership of my political party espouses at any given moment, and yet I still consider myself aligned with and a member of that party. The same may also be said of affiliation with a religious denomination. One can still be an Episcopalian, or a Lutheran, or a Jew, or a Muslim, while having one’s own disagreements with statements and actions of church leadership.
Back to the assertion of corruption. I’m going to take a wild guess here and say that Reopen is aiming for definition 1b: characterized by improper conduct (such as bribery or the selling of favors) corrupt judges.
Where is the proof? There isn’t any.
But they just keep repeating it.
Let’s dig a little deeper. What are the teachers doing that Reopen doesn’t like?
Our teachers, supported and represented by HCEA, are requesting specific safety measures to be met before returning to in-classroom teaching. Why? Because COVID-19 spreads quickly in close quarters and has proven to be virulent and deadly. It can leave survivors with long term health consequences and disability. If you survive.
It’s clear to me that this is the position of teachers because they care not only about themselves and their own families, but also their students, students’ families, members of support staff, and everyone who would come in contact with in-classroom learners. A decision to return to school buildings does not effect one group. This is another one of those situations where decisions need to be made understanding the interconnectedness of all those involved.
But let’s just simplify it for the purposes of this argument. Let’s just say teachers are reluctant to return to classrooms for in-person learning because they don’t want to die.
Show me the corruption.
The desire for self-preservation is hard-wired into human existence. There is not one thing corrupt about it.
Let’s go further. Have HCEA and the teachers they represent broken their contract? No. Have they refused to teach? No.
They have entered into a long-term period of distance learning which has required, in many cases, a complete reinventing of how their curriculum is communicated to students. Distance learning has required more work than face-to-face teaching for teachers. So they are working more hours for the same pay. (Does anyone remember they took a pay cut this year?)
Add to that the fact that distance learning has been accompanied by the continued complaints of privileged parents who call teachers selfish, incompetent, and - - oh, yes - - corrupt.
Does Reopen Howard County share any of this with their members? No.
They just keep repeating the lie.
And the lie spreads to other pages, turns up in tweets, letters to the editor, or emails to the Board of Education.
The truth is that this group wants the schools buildings open and they perceive that HCEA stands in the way. Their response has been to attempt to destroy their credibility with an argument which itself has no credible proof.
What HCEA actually provides to teachers is an ability to negotiate. This provides them with some measure of empowerment in the workplace. It gives them some choice. Reopen doesn’t want the people who they perceive as “working for them” to have that choice. They want their housekeepers, hairdressers, restaurant workers and teachers to come when they’re called.
Would that look good if they admitted that out loud? No, probably not.
So they just keep repeating the lie.
Monday, January 11, 2021
I haven’t written about it in a while, but I continue to be committed to supporting the removal of SRO’s from the Howard County Schools. It was nudged back into my consciousness this week by this excellent informative video put out by the The Howard County Coalition for Police-Free Schools.
Think you understand the police-free schools conversation - who's having it, where they stand, and why?
It begins with a very good question: why don’t all kids get the gift of police-free schools?
As the video unfolds it becomes clear that police-free schools are a privilege granted to some, but not all, of our students. When you see the data concerning Black and Brown students and special needs students/ students with disabilities in schools where SRO’s are assigned, it’s appalling. If you’ve heard people use the term “school to prison pipeline” but you aren’t really clear on what this means, the numbers collected right here in Howard County will make it alarmingly plain.
You can clearly see why attending a school free of policing is truly a gift.
Watch. Read. Think again - then take action.
I urge you to take the time to watch the video and really think about what it says. Then find a friend or a family member to watch it and talk about it with you. If you have Middle and High School students in your family make sure to include them in your conversations. Did you learn something you hadn’t known? What concerned you the most? How do you see yourself entering into the community conversation?
The power is yours.
Spread the word.
You can get more information by going to: Peers Not Perps or you can send them an email with your specific questions at PeersNotPerps@gmail.com .
National news is full of examples of how police respond to citizens in very different ways depending on color. The data collected from the SRO program right here in Howard County is sadly consistent with this. See below for a way to sign up to speak on behalf of Police-Free Schools at the January 21st Board of Education meeting.
The school system has a responsibility to provide a healthy, safe, supportive school environment for all students. We as community members have a responsibility to step in and advocate when we see our schools fall short.
The video is approximately four minutes long. Watch it and join the conversation.
From the Howard County Coalition for Police-Free Schools:
League of Women Voters of Maryland takes an anti-SRO stance: https://www.lwvmd.org/lwvmd_supports_par
HCPSS BoE Calendar (please sign up to testify on the 7th or 21st): https://www.hcpss.org/board/meetings/
Sunday, January 10, 2021
The Columbia Association released their proposed 2022 budget plan Friday. There’s a lot to process there but the thing that stood out for me is the closure of Haven on the Lake. Let me begin by saying that there are plenty of people in this town who know more about the ongoing saga of Haven on the Lake than I do. I am no expert.
I have heard bits and pieces over the years. Perhaps you have, too. Are you a frequent visitor there? I have never been. I knew from the outset that, while appealing, Haven on the Lake was not an amenity our family could afford. I guess one might say that when the original business plans were made up, CA was not looking at our demographic.
That’s okay. Not everything has to be for me. Just because it wasn’t in my price range didn’t mean that it wouldn’t provide a valuable service. I’ve always hoped it would be a success.
I was there with my daughter, sometime blogger HoCoHouseHon, at the groundbreaking ceremony at the Lakefront in 2014. You can read about that here.
I’m still disappointed we never got to see former County Executive Ken Ulman jump in the cold plunge pool.
Later on I tried to follow CA’s ongoing disputes with original partner The Still Point, in Lakefront Woes.
Haven on the Lake was an ambitious plan for the Columbia Association. I often wondered if it looked far better on paper or came across better in an elevator pitch than it was ever able to function in real life. It takes a steady and ample supply of people who exceed certain income levels to support a business which is not a purveyor of a “need to have” but rather a “want to have”.
It seems to me that if Columbia/HoCo has any significant concentration of such folks, they don’t live anywhere near Haven on the Lake. In fact, most don’t live in Columbia proper.
And that brings to mind the long journey of the Downtown Plan and beyond: all the hopes for a more vibrant, livable Downtown Columbia. There are so many pieces to that puzzle. We see new housing, businesses, and various attractions moving towards completion now. We wonder if they will succeed in being the draw to bring the people who truly want to live and work here.
Was Haven on the Lake the simply right place at the wrong time? Did they jump in too soon?
Perhaps there will be a time in the not too distant future where Downtown Columbia will have become home to the right number people at the right income levels to successfully sustain that kind of business model. Perhaps they are coming, but far too late for Haven.
With the pandemic as an additional variable that no one had in the plans, we don’t know exactly how that will impact future Downtown success. But, since it affects timing - - and timing is interconnected with so many of the relevant pieces of the puzzle - - all of the local hardships as a result of COVID-19 are bound to slow things at the very least.
There were some rather pointed conversations back in the day about whether CA should even be in the business of selling a luxury product which was out of reach for ordinary Columbians. I find myself wondering what kind of success that same space would have had as a typical CA facility, conveniently located Downtown near ordinary Columbians. Yes,it’s an expensive location which must mean high operational costs. But would it have made up the cost difference in the number of people it would have served?
Could it have been the flagship location, a perfect introduction to the CA we want everyone to know and love when they move here from out of town?
Is it too late? Right now, probably.
I know for a fact that many of my readers are armchair Columbia Association experts, so feel free to chime in with your comments. Also, if you have questions about Haven on the Lake, the proposed budget, or anything else CA-centric, you’ll want to sign up for their virtual Town Hall Meeting on Thursday, January 21st, at 7:00 pm. Learn more here.
Saturday, January 9, 2021
I’ve been telling people for years that I live in a neighborhood of quadroplexes. It turns out I may have made that word up. The correct term is more likely quadplex or fourplex but I like mine better. At any rate, it means that our house is a part of a larger structure made up of four independent houses. We are surrounded by grass and trees; each house may not have a very large yard but each has a fenced patio. And there is plenty of shared open space for running, playing, sledding, and so on.
It doesn’t look like the suburbia of the neighborhoods I grew up in but it is clearly suburban. When I first moved here I still had a picture of my childhood homes in Cleveland Heights, Ohio in my head and to me my little “quadroplex” was not it.
Things change. Time and life experiences change you. Living through a recession when you realize you are living in a house you can afford while many around you are struggling or losing their homes is truly transformative. Home becomes what you make of it.
So, here’s the thing. I have an invitation for you:
Won’t you be my neighbor?
There are a few homes for sale in my neighborhood. I’ve taken a peek at the ads. It’s fun to take a look and see what someone else has done with a similar space to your own. And these homes are looking good, too. Some excellent work has been done on the inside. You’d be getting a reasonably priced home close to Downtown but still with a suburban feel, if that’s what you fancy.
But let’s talk for a moment about what makes my neighborhood affordable. It’s a word that makes many in Columbia/HoCo shudder or wince: density. Duplex, triplex, quadplex: these are ways to provide more homes on a smaller amount of land than what is required by single-family, detached homes. Some folks I know are deeply distrustful of anything that involves more density.
And some of us wouldn’t have any place to live in Howard County without it.
I came across this on Twitter this week. It’s written about California, but applicable here as well:
There’s a lot in there to consider. Climate change, for instance. Long commutes. Or the time-worn concept that most people don’t want their own neighborhoods to change but are all for increased housing “somewhere else.” A term I spotted that I’d love to see more is “gentle density.” It's not tall towers or row upon row of little boxes on a hillside. It’s my neighborhood, or others where multi-family housing is a part of the mix.
Local blogger Frank Hecker (Civility and Truth) offered these words on Twitter when sharing the paragraph highlighted above:
Likely that the future of #AffordableHousing in #HoCoMd is not so much in apartment buildings in #DowntownColumbiaMD (though those are important) but rather in duplexes, accessory dwellings, and small townhome projects in the rest of the county, including Western Howard.
I see many people equate any increase in density with the word “urban”. In some cases I think this is an outright dog whistle, in other cases I think they may not know any better.
We all know that Downtown Columbia is a city, or is becoming a city, or was always destined to be a city. There’s really no surprise if what we see evolving there is urban. But allowing more land around the rest of the county to accommodate a larger share of multi-family structures will not automatically make them urban areas.
Honestly, sometimes I think urban is just another word for “scary” to some people. On the other hand, some may read the words “gentle density” and think “shoe-horning too many people into a small space.”
This past week author Lawrence Lanahan (The Lines Betweeen Us) shared a photo from his newspaper that illustrated an interesting juxtaposition. (Photo used with permission.)
On the left is a contemporary home whose footprint is enormous. It might as well be the Americanized version of something out of Downton Abbey. On the right is an article about who has prospered during the pandemic. I can’t read every word so I’ll need to paraphrase:
This pandemic has created winners and losers...Higher-income households and households that own their homes or a second one are big winners. Losers are lower-income households who are likely to rent or are struggling as homeowners.
When we insist that a majority of our land must be used for single-family, detached homes, we are essentially declaring winners and losers from the get-go. It determines who can afford to live here, who pays a lopsided share of their income because costs are too high/housing scarce, who can’t live here at all but is forced to commute.
Some people are just fine with that. I’m not. I think that we can do better overall by supporting housing for people at a variety of income levels in Columbia/HoCo.
Blogger Dan Reed of Just Up the Pike shared a photo of a sign he spotted while out walking his dog. I like it.
Maybe density isn’t as scary as you think, friends. Maybe we should be making room for better places to live for people who work here already and add to our community in a variety of ways.
And you should definitely come and take a look at houses in my neighborhood. You might be surprised by how lovely it is here and by how far your money can go. It could be a transformative experience.