So, once upon a time I switched to a different blog URL so it would be more relevant.

Then I got embroiled in a legal…something.

That sucked.

So I’m back to this URL.

Conveniently, it’s been brought to my attention that an entry I made a year ago has been spotlighted in the Otterbein Swim Club August/September newsletter. Thanks! I’m glad you liked (?) my meandering ramblings.

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Oh, Smalltimore. It’s one of my favorite parts about Baltimore, actually; the interconnected, can’t-go-anywhere-without-running-into-someone-you-know, six-degrees-of-separation-is-more-like-two-or-three-at-the-most nature of the city. (Wow, that was a lot of hyphens.) I’m also someone who believes in good manners and etiquette, and that there’s a set of rules for every situation, and I’ve spent time studying etiquette so that I know all of them and therefore can mostly ignore the crippling shyness that makes up one half of my personality. (The other half being, of course, very outgoing.)

But Smalltimore continues to astound me. Here are a few situations that arose in the past few weeks and how I (rightly or wrongly) handled them:

1) The high school acquaintance.

I did not go to high school in Baltimore. I went to high school in a place most people tend to leave after high school. I once was making idle conversation with a stranger sitting at the tables outside of the Donna’s in Mount Vernon and it turned out that we had gone to the same high school in New York, only he had graduated a few years below me. I always knew that the high school acquaintance in question (who was never a friend per se but always a friend of a friend) lived in Baltimore and there were times I thought I saw him but for the most part I didn’t really care, so I ignored it. And then the other day I was sitting in Dionysus, waiting for a friend of mine to meet me there. She was running late, and I was sitting at the bar by myself, and he was pretty much right next to me and I figured I might as well say hi. So I did and we made awkward small talk. But  I did it and I lied and was like “wow, do you live down here?” and so he did the same thing. Why do people do that, pretend they don’t know things about each other? I’m pretty sure I handled this badly, manners-wise, but it’s not a huge concern. I give myself a C. But the kind of C you get in gym class, which in my high school didn’t even go into your GPA.

2) The ex.

I’ve been pretty lucky in that most of my exes leave Baltimore almost immediately after dating me, for places like Siberia, or Philadelphia. Of the ones who don’t, I very rarely run into them. (Maybe this is one of the reasons why I still like the whole Smalltimore thing.) The one time I ran into an ex in a situation was when I saw an ex at Max’s with one of the male friends I have who likes to offer to beat people up for me. I didn’t tell said friend about the ex being at the bar (and ignoring me) until after we’d left. He still insisted on going back in and looking for him. “What color shirt was he wearing?” asked the overly-eager-to-punch-him friend. “Green,” I said. He was not wearing a green shirt. Nobody got punched, but overly-eager-to-punch-him friend still felt like honor was satisfied. On the Smalltimore etiquette of the situation, I give myself an “A+, well-played.”

3) The twitter friend.

I love twitter. I follow a lot of people on twitter who I don’t know. Some of them follow me back. Since I am not a crazy person, I know this doesn’t make someone a friend. President Jack Young, President of the Baltimore City Council, follows me on Twitter. Doesn’t mean that I expect him to know me. I follow people on twitter who don’t follow me back and a fair amount of people follow me who I don’t follow back either. But there are a few people on twitter who I don’t know who I’ve had twitter conversations with. (As in, at least two or three @ exchanges.) Often times I know I am at the same place as these people, thanks to Twitter, but I’m still not going to go looking for them, even if I know what they look like.

A few weeks ago, a friend introduced me to a friend of hers. I didn’t think anything of it until he left and I realized that not only was he a twitter friend, but he was someone who I often have twitter conversations with. Because he was gone already, I didn’t bring it up. And I didn’t ever tweet that I had met him in person. So this person does not know that this person he thinks is a twitter conversation buddy has met him in person. My Smalltimore Etiquette grade on this one? I don’t even know.


If I had more time to write this I would find the scene in the fourth season of The Wire where Bunny Colvin, exiled from the streets, ends up in an experimental educational program. When getting permission to run his program in a West Baltimore middle school, the weary administrator tells him that “tracking is a bad word.” And, it is. I’ve heard that as a student in a school that engaged in “tracking lite”, a college student interested in urban educational policy, an educator, and as the daughter of one of New York State’s experts on educational law, especially as it relates to Constitutional law. Tracking is bad.

Tracking, for those who don’t know, is when you separate students based on abilities into separate classes/ educational “tracks.”

I’ve decided that I’m putting out a reward. Anyone who can give me a real reason to avoid tracking gets cookies or beer, your choice.

I’ve asked my mother. “It’s racist.” Separate but equal is not equal. And yes, I agree tremendously. Tracking doesn’t work if it means we separate out the higher-income, whiter kids who have an advantage from the start (middle-class kids of educated parents hear more words as their brain develops, I would link the study but I’m writing this in a rush) and give them an education while we use the schools as a holding system for the disadvantaged kids.

But in this case, together and equal is just as inherently unequal.

On Twitter, a Baltimore education feed I follow asked a “question of the day?”;  Should low-income students be held to the same standards as high-income students? Absolutely! But if we hold them to the same standards and give the students the exact same tools/paths to get there, how can the students from disadvantaged backgrounds end up at the same place as the students from privileged backgrounds? They can’t. In order to have the same result you have to change the way we educate to take who these kids are when they start in the educational system into account. Otherwise you end up with frustrated students who either feel that school is too fast for them, too slow for them, teachers who are frustrated, and students who are alienated.

I took Calculus in high school, which in my school, meant you were somewhat advanced, since otherwise you stopped at Pre-Calc. (I think. It’s been awhile.) I had friends who struggled with math, so instead of being in a standard math class, they were in a special math class that was smaller and met more frequently. Both of these students went to good schools, majored in science, got good scientific jobs/into graduate schools, and, while I don’t think either of them particularly love math, they were able to do college-level math courses. They were on the same level when they left high school as anybody else, regardless of income-level. They passed their math state exams and everything.

But it’s not fair. Let’s say we were all in the same math class. I was bored, because the class was too easy and moved too slowly, so the teacher accelerated it because she could sense that I was bored and bored students cause trouble. But then Student X, who should have been in the slower class, gets lost and fails tests and doesn’t understand. So the teacher strikes a middle ground, and because I’m bored and Student X is lost, two students are at a disadvantage. But let’s say I don’t really like math, but I’m good at it. I don’t want to take advanced math, but I can be in a faster paced math class. I get through all the required math taking it every other day. Student X gets through all the required math taking it every day. When we graduate, we are at the same level in math.

Tracking can easily be done in a way that is racist, of course. But to have such a kneejerk reaction to the thought of it is hurting students. Urban environments are especially suited to a tracked-type school system because being fairly compact and often having public transportation means a child isn’t confined to their zoned school, and that means that they have a better chance of finding a school program that suits them more. Instead of having cookie-cutter schools confined by test scores and politically-influenced curricula and methods, why not have schools with different educational models and match students to the ones where they can really thrive?

I’ve heard from teachers in schools where they can’t mark kids down for late work. They can’t give zeros. They can’t fail students. Homework is irrelevant. They can’t discipline kids. I’ve personally worked in schools where I’ve seen teachers treat students with distrust, suspicion, and disgust. How is that a place where people can learn? You tell me tracking is potentially racist? Our school system is racist already. What is there to lose?


1) The orange line of the Charm City Circulator began today, going from Harbor East to Hollins Market (east-west along the harbor). I’m particularly excited for the purple line, which will go by my neighborhood of Mount Vernon. I hope that this really is the start of a Baltimore with better public transportation.

2) A kid shot another kid at a Douglass high school basketball game. Both the shooter and the victim ran; the shooter got onto the Metro and disappeared and the victim ran through Mondawmin mall. Baltimore City Public Schools would like everyone to know that the kid was not shot in the school, he was shot on the median of grass outside.

Baltimore is a city that sometimes feels very far apart from itself, but sometimes it feels very squashed up. Mondawmin is on the opposite side of Druid Hill Park from Johns Hopkins Homewood and today is one of those squashed-up days. As Baltimoreans, our lives overlap more than we think.


Fall is when nature gives trees haircuts.


Today’s topic du jour–Utah’s strict anti-texting and driving laws.

Teen interviewed number one  a young woman named Brandy, who was a junior in high school when she ran a red light while texting and driving and collided with another car. She broke her arm and legs, and took six months to walk again. Now Brandy has another car. She vowed never to text and drive again. But she found herself doing it. “At first I did it rarely–only once every five minutes or so-” but blah blah blah she’s bored in the car and she can’t help herself she’s just so addicted. “I want to stop,” she cried, “I just can’t.”

Are you serious, Brandy?

We use this phrase, addiction, to absolve ourselves of personal responsibility. I’m not arguing that addiction doesn’t exist–heroin, cocaine, etc. are physically addictive. I can buy gambling and sex. Maybe shopping. But texting is not addictive. Sending a text message does not have a physiological effect. Brandy, you are just bored and you have been so over stimulated that now you are engaging in a practice that left you in a wheelchair–that almost killed you! Put down the damn cell phone. I don’t text and drive, and I drive a lot by myself. I listen to music, or to idiots like Brandy on the radio, or sometimes I just think. Sometimes I’ll talk to myself.

After Brandy they interviewed a girl about how she would feel if her parents put a device in her car that disabled her cell phone while the car was on. She was appalled. “I would not be okay with that! I love texting and driving! It’s so much fun! It’s the “it” thing!” I wish I was paraphrasing.

Put the cell phone down. You are not addicted to texting while you drive. You are just not. Culturally, we’re obsessed with addiction. We are fascinated by real addiction and use it to explain all the things we don’t have the discipline to control in our lives. I’m addicted to chocolate. I’m addicted to CNN. I’m addicted to texting. I’m addicted to FarmTown or whatever that stupid Facebook game app is. That is not real addiction. That is a lack of self-control. And I’m guilty of it too–there have been many times that I have watched ten episodes of a television show in a row instead of doing what I needed to do, and I’ve used the addiction excuse, when in reality I didn’t have the self-control to turn off Netflix and do what I needed to do.

I’ve been unlucky enough to see real addiction up close, multiple times, from different angles, which is maybe why I hear “I’m addicted to texting” and automatically think “you’re an idiot.”

Public radio: please stop infuriating me. Especially when I’m already in the world’s crankiest mood ever.


I have not blogged in a long time. I would apologize but that’s silly. 

 

My thoughts on the kid who killed a home intruder with a sword: poor kid. I can’t imagine my home being burgled twice in two days, accidentally killing a man, and then going on the internet to hear people thinking its funny or awesome. This kid took a human life, and while I think it was clearly self-defense and that he didn’t intend to kill him and I’m adamantly against him being in any trouble at all, he still took a human life. That is not something we should take lightly–especially in Baltimore.

 

Why especially in Baltimore? Especially in Baltimore because we live in a city known throughout the country for its murder rate. We live in a city that started the Stop Snitching videos. We live in a city where young, mostly African-American men are killing each other in astounding numbers. Don’t believe me? Follow the Baltimore Police Department on Twitter. Then you get a tweet for all the shootings in this city. It will blow your mind. 

More importantly, we live in a city where a teenage boy gets into an argument and deals with it by going to get a gun and shooting at the people he was arguing against with NO regard for life around him and hits a five year old girl in the head. We live in a city where a pregnant woman was shot at a barbecue memorializing another young man who was killed by violence. (These are not long past cases. Both of them happened this summer.) And instead of rising up in outrage at these incidents we say “that is so awful” and move on. We take comfort in the fact that most of the murders are drug-related. The horrific crime in Baltimore has a psychological effect, and part of that effect is that we are beginning to lose sight of the value of a human life. Even if we would never deliberately do it, the fact that we can see a death as funny is thought-provoking.

 

At the same time, I understand why people are celebrating this kid, and that is because we all live our lives, in some way, under siege. I don’t know a single person living in Baltimore who hasn’t had a car broken into/something stolen, and several people I know have been mugged or had someone try to break into their house. I don’t think anyone I know really cowers in fear all the time–most of the people I know have at this point chosen to stay in Baltimore–but I don’t think anyone is free of a slight resentment about it. Nobody likes to feel powerless. So when somebody fights back against “Crime”–this big behemoth thing we never see but feel the effect of and hear about all the time, we celebrate it, even if it means forgetting that somebody died. 

 

Especially if the fighting back occurred with a samurai sword.