Tag Archives: montgomery county

A lot of affluent liberals

Binyamin Appelbaum wrote an article in the New York Times about my native county, Montgomery County, Maryland, and this is what he tweeted about it:

A lot of affluent liberals in Montgomery County, outside Washington, D.C., fiercely opposed a plan to build a little more affordable housing. “Affordable is not what people move here for,” one of them told me.

The plan in question was approved unanimously by the County Council, all nine of whom were Democrats, but, as Appelbaum reported, not everyone in progressive Montgomery County was happy about it. He quoted several residents making remarks that made them look like, well, uptight snobs:

Ellen Paul, 59, said in-law suites were bad enough: “It’s changing suburbia to allow two homes on each lot. You’ll have strangers walking by your house all the time now.”

“That’s where the backyard trailers are going to go,” said Dale Barnhard, one of the more than 1,500 people who signed a petition opposing the “dramatic” change in rules.

or worse:

One county resident, Katherine C. Gugulis, wrote a protest letter in The Washington Post that concluded, “Just because others flee crime-ridden and poverty-stricken areas doesn’t mean Montgomery County has to be turned into a slum to accommodate them.”

I was interested in these affluent liberals and wanted to learn about them. A few minutes of Googling later, here’s what I found out. Katherine Gangulis is a Republican appointed official. Ellen Paul, according to her public LinkedIn profile, is a former staff assistant to a Republican member of the House of Representatives, and her most recent listed activity was public relations for a Republican candidate for Montgomery County Board of Education in 2014. Dale Barnhard doesn’t have any political career, as far as I know, but he wrote a letter to the Washington Post last year complaining about their biased coverage of Donald Trump. Hessie Harris, who worries aloud in Appelbaum’s piece about “flophouses” and literally utters the words “There goes the neighborhood,” is listed by the FEC as contributing thousands of dollars a year to Americans for Legal Immigration; that’s a PAC which describes its mission as “our fight AGAINST the costly and deadly illegal immigration & illegal immigrant invasion of America.”

These people aren’t liberals!

I don’t doubt there are liberals in Montgomery County who oppose relaxation of zoning. (I grew up there, and I live in Madison, WI: liberal NIMBYism is not a foreign idea to me.) But why weren’t any of those people in Appelbaum’s article? Why run a piece featuring a bunch of conservatives protesting a decision by an all-Democratic county council and bill it as a portrait of progressivism failing to live up to its ideals?

Here’s my theory. I don’t think Appelbaum purposely gathered quotes from Montgomery County’s small but nonzero Republican population for his piece. I think he had a story already in mind, a story of rich liberals who profess a commitment to affordable housing but really have a lot of contempt for the kind of person who lives there, and who would certainly under no circumstances stand for such people residing in Potomac or the nice parts of Bethesda, you know, the Whitman part. Those people might say their opposition to density had to do with something other than snobbery. But their words would show how they truly felt about the poorly-to-mediocrely-heeled.

And he got the quotes he wanted, the quotes that supported this story. Good, salty quotes. But the people who said those things weren’t self-styled progressives. They were Republicans.

Maybe there’s a reason for that!

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The superintendent’s writing awards, Adam Ostrow, and me

I’m at my parents’ house, looking through Adventures in Writing, a collection of winners of the 1987 Superintendent’s Writing Awards from the Montgomery County Public Schools. My 10th grade self is represented here by a very earnest essay on The Glass Menagerie (big finish: “Either way, the contrast provides an effective comment on society.”)

I flipped through the table of contents hoping to find famous writers of today; the biggest name I came across was Adam Ostrow, now editor-in-chief of Mashable, then a sophomore at Gaithersburg High School. His story, “Insignificance in the Two Thousand Nineties,” does a pretty good job with the future — his late 21st century teen views images of new clothes on his computer and pays for them via direct deduction from his bank account. When he needs to arrange some travel, he “telecomms” to make a plane and hotel reservation. Count against Ostrow that the reservation is from Pan Am. And it’s to the moon.

Best line in this story: “Just then a robot came in with what was to be his lunch.”

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Fund the Montgomery County math team

Montgomery County is no longer going to fund the county’s participation in ARML, the American Regions Mathematics League. (Funny name, right? In my day, young whippersnappers, it was the “Atlantic Region Mathematics League,” and stopped at Chicago. By the time the rest of the country got in on the competition, the acronym was too well-branded to change. Nowadays, teams from Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Phillipines, and Colombia compete. “All-Encompassing Regional Mathematics League?”)

Montgomery County has been sending a team to ARML since the very first meet in 1976. These days, they send four full teams of 15 students each, plus a separate team of middle-schoolers. So all kinds of kids come, not just the child prodigies and the math obsessives — which is a terrific feature of the “mathletic” culture that our coach, Eric Walstein, has built up over the last thirty years. It would be a shame to see the county ARML team disappear, or radically contract to the 15 superstars only.

I don’t understand the intricacies of school funding well enough to complain knowledgably about Montgomery County’s decision (but feel free to do so in comments!) I think the idea is that MCPS expects the math team to have alumni and friends who can afford to help out with a little money. If you’re one of them, you can send a check made out to “Blair Math Team” to

Eric Walstein
Montgomery Blair High School
51 University Blvd – east
Silver Spring, MD 20901

Please do not write “TNYWR” for the amount.

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“His parents think he’s fine. The school system thinks he’s fine. But he’s not fine!”

No sooner do I mention Eric Walstein than Emily Messner’s long profile of him appears in the Washington Post. You get a vivid sense of this devoted and — um, what’s the opposite of soft-spoken? — educator, who’s been wrestling Montgomery kids through math since — well, I don’t know how long, but he was already an old hand when I met him. I was seven. He ran me through some arithmetic problems and bawled me out when I gave him an answer of “Two hundred and six.”

“There is NO SUCH NUMBER AS TWO HUNDRED AND SIX!” he told me. He wrote “206” on the board. “This number is called TWO HUNDRED SIX.”

OK, in restrospect, I don’t really understand why he needed to insist on this point. But I was tremendously impressed. I’d never met somebody who would have cared in the slightest how properly to pronounce “206.” Let alone somebody who would yell at a seven-year-old kid about it.

The article isn’t just about Walstein, but about the raging battle over how math is to be taught in Montgomery County, one of the fanciest public school systems in the country. Messner is to be commended for going a little deeper than “Are calculators good or bad? Are standardized tests good or bad? Are math education Ph.D.’s good or bad?” which is all one usually gets on this issue.

Also: more memories of Ted Widerski in the comments on Madison’s School Information System blog.

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