Only in a society that is hyped up on fear, will the local police be called because a young man is wearing a trench coat. True story! And, it was not the first time! This post is not about that specific tale, which is truly not mine to tell, but the sense of disconnection we have fostered through our, obsessive, willingness to judge and criticize others based on our personal and cultural biases.
Why did we stop talking to people? Why are we afraid of teenagers? Why do we hone in on the differences instead of the similarities? And, most importantly, why have we, as a society, lost our ability to create connections, instead of dissonance?
Does anyone else recognize how utterly stupid it is that someone actually called the police because they saw a teen walking around wearing a trench coat, or, the multitude of other ridiculous reasons law enforcement have been contacted in recent memory?
The only way we can fix this is to counter the culture of fear and prejudice by developing bridges across the perceived divide of differences to recognize our shared humanness and to create relationships. Go - talk to a stranger! Look at people and smile when they walk past. When you are curious about something, ask the question - get engaged. And, most importantly, open your mind and your heart to the beauty of diversity. Only then can fear of the other be replaced with the sense of community and connection.
Most young people come to DRC with a severely distorted image of themselves, which has been cultivated, manifested, and sustained by the negative verbal and subliminal messages they received from peers, authority figures, or from people they respect and love, as well as all the traumas they endured. Those critical implications ignite a perverse and dangerous cycle of self-perpetuation. Perceptions are powerful, and they do not discriminate! Say or hear something, negative (or positive), often enough and it will become normalized and very real within your mind.
The following statements I hear from kids, on the daily, are all I need to confirm this truth: “well you know, I am the bad kid.” “I am so dumb. I can’t do anything right.” “I am lazy.” Or, even, “I am not creative, artistic, or imaginative.”
Pointing out negative behavior does not force someone to change – it only reinforces all those internal negative images and profoundly impacts their future. In time, the label becomes their excuse, their reason for not trying, and for ultimately not succeeding.
This is just one of many reasons I never request school records. Most consist of nothing more than a rap sheet. And, I understand that whether I am aware of it or not, my feelings about a student could be unfavorably influenced by knowing their previous record.
Seeking out and focusing on the affirmative accomplishes, as you would expect, the exact opposite – positive steps forward. The following is a short tale to highlight this basic principle: we currently have a teen who believes with his whole heart that he is the “bad kid.” He (as well as a parent) has relayed a well-documented reputation to confirm why he believes that statement. We have spent the months, since he joined us, refuting that conviction – honing in and frequently remarking on the sweet-natured kid we see underneath the bluster, immaturity, and bravado.
Friday afternoon, Chris was talking to another student who was having a bad day. He was simply feeling blue and disappointed with how the day had unfolded. The teen overheard the conversation, got up from the computer, took off a silicone bracelet that had an inspirational saying on it, and handed it, without fanfare or explanation, to the kid who was feeling unsettled. Needless to say, we immediately expressed our appreciation and the pride we felt for his selfless and kind behavior.
When he left for the day, he was standing a bit straighter, with the hint of a smile, indicating a sense of personal achievement, on his face. That one small, but, significant action could very well be the beginning of healing for that teen. I look forward to watching his journey unfold as he manifests positivity in his life by being the “good,” kind, and compassionate kid who helps others through some of the rough patches he understands far too well.
Trust and respect are tricky, and, hotly contested concepts, especially in reference to kids, teens, and young adults. We often hear: “I’ll trust them when they can prove to be trustworthy.” Or, “they have to earn my respect.”
My response will always be – “how can they prove themselves trustworthy if they are not trusted to begin with?” And, “how does someone know what respect looks or feels like when it is never freely given to them?”
Frankly - one cannot dictate responsible behavior with control and coercion. And, one cannot demand respect with threats and intimidation.
At DRC, we trust that all young people are capable of self-regulation and that they will make good choices when offered the opportunity.
We do this because our main goal will always be to encourage our students to embrace and rediscover their natural curiosity and creativity; and, in the process, rekindle their love of learning and their belief in themselves.
The concept is actually quite simple. Without coercion, along with the cycle of reward and punishment, kids are free to make choices that speak to their interests and aspirations, not to what society or an authority figure commands. With that freedom, they learn responsibility for their actions through natural cause and effect. Not to mention that, all-important, the notion of self-motivation, which is always the first excuse I hear for not allowing a child to explore self-directed education.
Everyone at DRC understands that our one rule is based on the fact that respect is freely offered to everyone who enters. We have discovered that when you foster an environment where everyone is viewed as an equal, where kindness and compassion abound, and where freedom of expression is sanctioned - respect naturally follows.
Yes, sometimes we need reminders, and when that is the case, a straightforward, “that’s not OK,” is usually enough to prompt reflection and take personal responsibility.
At the end of the day, we appreciate that all DRC members are individuals, moving forward in unique directions at a pace that is right for them. And, we are responsible for providing this comfortable place where they feel utterly trusted, respected, and safe to take on their next adventure.
No DRC is not Utopia, and we don’t pretend to be. Furnishing this non-coercive, nurturing space is hard and emotional work, but we would not be anywhere else because we want all of “our” kids to understand that they can have a positive future, as long as they remain true to themselves, meet others with respect, and follow their hearts. And, that future can entail anything they imagine - college, entrepreneurship, a trade ... the possibilities are absolutely endless.
This coming Wednesday, October 2nd, will be the first drop-in day for family support of self-directed education. This weekly program has been developed as a stop-gap measure for the families who would like to join DRC but are currently on our waiting list. We are also making it available to any family who has received consultation services from DRC and is home-schooling on their own but would like some additional support. You can visit this page on our website to learn more.
DRC is gearing up to inform and educate folks about our mission and vision for the future. We are looking for people in our community, as well as the wider world who are passionate about investing their time and money to make sure any child in the NoCo has the opportunity to pursue self-directed education if they choose to. You can learn more here.
Everything you spend time on counts - every activity, project, plan, strategy, puzzle, game, and creative pursuit is valid. Indeed, absolutely, every single thing you do (or, think about), including all the mistakes you make, is credible (in fact, those errors may actually be worth more in the grand scheme of things). Nevertheless, our kids, as well as society in general, have been brainwashed to determine the value of an activity based on a set of arbitrary standards generated and ordained by people who have zero imagination and no interest in creativity, and whose sole interest is the bottom line.
I will argue, forever, that if we continue on this trajectory, we are completely doomed, not only as a society, but as a species. This may sound unnecessarily harsh, fatalistic, or even a bit fantastical and dystopian. However, I am a direct witness to the results of a system that teaches young people that they will fall behind and be deemed stupid, if they don’t spend enormous amounts of time on rote, canned, predetermined, grade assigned tasks. They tell me that they are deathly afraid of making mistakes, and, they believe that “play” is a four-letter word. They have often lost sight of the joy and fun of learning. These kids judge themselves, as well as others harshly if they feel they do not “measure up” or “assimilate” in a variety of ways - academically, physically, and emotionally. Consequently, their awesome, brilliant, and authentic personalities are subdued and not allowed to shine through.
To be clear, the state-run, compulsory educational system is primarily responsible for producing compliant, judgmental, ferociously competitive, uninspired automatons for an industrial economy that no longer exists. Our kids are, quite literally, being set up to fail in this new world that no longer needs those human robots, but requires imaginative, creative, non-conformists who are not afraid to follow their interests – those who are excited to brainstorm, experiment, and explore all the possibilities.
Therefore, Go! Hike through the woods, splash around in a river, play the guitar, write a song, build a beat and write a rap, draw, paint a mural, design a hands-on project, cook (real) macaroni and cheese with your friends, bake pumpkin bread and chocolate cookies, sort and organize a room, dig a hole, build a cabinet, install a sink, work with others to develop guidelines for your community, sew a pillow, read a book, develop new characters for D&D, write a story, study the history of your community, share personal experiences and socialize with a group of friends, train a dog, ride a horse, tear apart a motor, organize a haunted Halloween dance, refinish a piece of furniture, play a computer game, race around the backyard in a game of freeze tag (or murder mystery), rewire a lamp, play and design board games, or sit still in your comfy place and stare off into space. All these things, along with the multitude of other activities and pursuits that do not look particularly “academic,” are valid, important, and essential (and, absolutely count) toward the development and education of free-thinking, authentic, and innovative individuals who are destined to save us all.
This is your chance to own some DRC swag. Contact us to order your t-shirts and hoodies before Friday, September 27th.
I am proud to be known as a problem solver – an individual who automatically looks at a problem and sorts through the issues to find the solution. Here is a silly example from this past week: I stopped at the gas station to fill up my car on my way into town. I decided to get my coffee while there to free up my early morning time at the Center. When I walked in, there was a guy trying to get coffee out of one of the carafes. He stated that it wasn’t working, while he repeatedly tried to pump it. After filling my cup from another dispenser, I said (what seemed obvious to me), “maybe the tube is disconnected.” He opened it up and sure enough, it wasn’t even inside. The funny thing is – he then told me that he had seen a tube laying on the other counter before he even started trying to fill his cup.
It honestly confounds me that some folks have lost all sense of innate curiosity, they don’t know how to look beyond what has been presented to them, and they are often afraid or don’t know how to ask questions. But, I guess I shouldn’t be astonished given that we have intentionally developed a system that specifically teaches conformity, obedience, and fear of anything that appears different. Consequently, our society is filled with people who are narrow-minded, uninspired, unimaginative, disengaged, disenfranchised, bored, and, yet, fearful of change.
With that being said, I constantly wonder (worry) how our world can move forward if we continue to train people to do the same thing, in the same way, over and over again, but, yet, expect different results? I ask this question in all seriousness; because that is how some people define insanity. (A quote often attributed to Einstein but not clearly substantiated.)
I will always argue that, instead, we need curious, imaginative, open-minded, unbiased people who are excited to meet challenges head-on - who are inspired to look beyond the obvious and develop exciting new solutions.
I am grateful to be one of those people who is always looking at the big picture (despite my early training within said system) – one who has a constant stream of ideas (chatter) running through their heads, which can be in response to an immediate problem, something somebody mentioned in passing, or even a potential future complication. I literally cannot turn it off – even during my summer-time adventures, when I was totally relaxed and living completely in the moment, I was still subconsciously churning out plans and ideas.
This compulsion, along with my willingness to jump on an idea, comes in handy when we are faced with exciting opportunities/challenges at Deep Root Center. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, we have reached capacity at 48 Riverside Drive (DRC Canton). This has created an intense emotional struggle for me, because I have had to say, “sorry, we are full,” to three families (10 kids) already this year (literally, within two weeks of opening). It really does break my heart to say, “no,” to people who reach out to us for help.
Which leads me to my most recent brainstorm --- As you probably know, we are closed every Wednesday. It is the day we expect our student members to use for independent pursuits and the one day of the week that I can schedule meetings and get some of the admin. stuff accomplished. My current idea is to have the kids who are on our waiting list come to the Center on that day to access my direct support, to use our facilities, and to have the opportunity to socialize. This provides a multi-prong solution to several of our ongoing challenges. I don’t have to feel horrible about giving families a “hard no.” Parents will have a consistent face to face support to create their own self-directed learning environment at home. And, in the process, we can provide some additional cash flow to help ease some of our financial issues by charging a daily fee for our services. In addition, when we can offer those students full membership, they will have had some time to settle in and understand how DRC works. It seems like a win-win for everyone, at least for now. We do know, as our waiting list continues to grow, that we will ultimately need a second facility, most likely within the year.
Stay-tuned as we continue to generate exciting, new, and creative, “outside the box” ideas and collaborations to meet the needs of all of the NoCo families who are breaking barriers, smashing educational norms, and hopping onto the Self-Directed Educational train, with their children.
* I wanted to share one of Seth Godin’s recent blog posts; he speaks to all of the above in his uniquely, brilliant fashion.
A useful definition of art
Art is a human activity. It is the creation of something new, something that might not work, something that causes a viewer to be influenced.
Art uses context and culture to send a message. Instead of only a contribution of beauty or craft, art adds intent. The artist works to create something generous, something that will change us.
Art isn’t painting or canvas or prettiness. Art is work that matters.
It’s entirely possible that you’re an artist.
Everyone can be, if we choose.