By: Maria Corse
When I talk to people about DRC, one of the first things I mention is how the entire community completely and immediately enfolds anyone new who joins us. It is absolutely seamless and not instigated by any of the adults. If you come to visit tomorrow, you will not be able to tell who started last Thursday and who has been a member for three years. Our kids – all of them –bring inherent strengths and challenges to the community. They simply, know that DRC is a safe space for everyone, and to uphold that sense of refuge, we (they) use our (their) talents and skills to support everyone to feel welcome, taken care of, and free to be themselves, as well as comfortable to work on the things that will move them closer to where they ultimately want to be.
I could tell you a million stories – several from just last week. However, to save us all a bit of time, I will merely say, I am blown away by their intuitive kindness and compassion towards each other, every single day.
See, we humans are designed to be helpers. It is in our DNA. Our ancient ancestors would not have survived if competition was built into their basic biological coding. You can look at it from both an evolutionary and cultural standpoint - those hominids who lived in community cooperatively, caring for each other and sharing all of their resources and skills, lived to pass on their genes. Those who were selfish, greedy, and cruel jerks, were often shunned from the group and most probably did not. In this way, the ideals and concepts of reciprocity – sharing, kindness, and compassion were passed on throughout human history.
The cool thing is – we now recognize this exact same trait in other species besides our own. It is proven that chimps and other primates take care of each other, as do elephants and whales, as well as a host of others in the animal kingdom. But wait --- even trees have been found to communicate with each other.
In traditional, tribal Africa, the concept of Ubuntu, the rule of the land, exemplifies all of this perfectly. “I am who I am because of who we all are.” In other words, I cannot be any better (smarter, richer, or more virtuous) or worse (dumber, poorer, or more unethical) than the entire community (tribe, family, or clan). We are all in this together.
This philosophy, I believe, should still be the very foundation for all of society. In the end, as human beings, we are all equals. Privileges and prejudices related to ethnicity, religion, economics, gender, sexual orientation, health and disease, etc., are all solely distractions – things to fight over. I’ll say it again, loudly, for the people in the back - we are all human beings – we are born into this world and then, when it is our time, we die. And, as the old axiom says, “you can’t take it with you.” Whatever power, privilege, and wealth you have amassed in this life stays right here.
So, what went so horribly wrong? I believe that the driving force behind all of the hate currently being spewed and our disconnection from other humans is driven by our overwhelming reliance on capitalistic principles. Which in essence, instructs us that helping equals cheating and those that need the assistance are weak, lazy, and unmotivated. We are actively teaching our children, through a system that uses reward and punishment, as motivators, that winning is more important than helping. And, that survival involves taking care of Number 1. Consequently, those who are greedy, power hungry, and privileged “win,” and those who are not “lose” – the complete opposite of our biological and cultural beginnings.
I find it completely fascinating that kids, who have the opportunity to be in a place where competition, quite intentionally, does not exist, spontaneously, revert to back to reciprocity - what I like to think of as the natural order.
And, I would like to be very clear – this concept (way of being) is not part of a lesson – none of us teaches a class or hands out an instruction manual called, “how to share and be kind.” Upon entering this space, you can literally feel the collaborative spirit – it has weight and mass and it exists because everyone here understands, on a profound level, the true meaning and value of kindness. Not only are we building our community, we are leading the way for the future of our world.
Thank you to everyone who came to our House Warming Party this past Thursday. We had a ton of fun showing you around our new home. For those who could not make it, you are welcome to visit anytime. We would love to see you. Just let us know when you plan on stopping by.
At DRC, we are focused on providing an educational opportunity for those who would otherwise be left behind. These are kids who are so deeply unhappy that they can not envision a positive future. In doing this work, we hope to support a generation of youth to be inspired to stay, here in the NoCo, and use their skills to build a positive, economically viable place for future generations to thrive. Yes, it is a grandiose goal, but one I believe to be doable. If we can raise the money required to keep DRC functioning and sustainable --- which means providing not only the funds for basic operations, but also salaries to pay our dedicated staff a livable wage --- we will be successful.
Your business or organization can support this vision by sponsoring a DRC student. Please share the following information with your employer – if you are the owner of a local business, please get in touch. Thank you!
Plan on joining us this coming Thursday, December 6th from 4-7 for DRC’s House Warming Party to celebrate everyone who has helped us make this dream a reality. We will provide the snacks and tours. You will also have the opportunity to meet our staff, some of our students and their families as well as our Board of Directors.
by Maria Corse
Self-Direction, when applied as a pedagogical philosophy, is often severely misunderstood and (let’s be honest) completely baffling for those deeply inured in the system. They simply cannot begin to conceive that kids (especially the students they know) are capable of taking charge of their lives and education.
These misconceptions run the gamut from: (1) If it doesn’t “look” (or come labeled) educational, then it isn’t. (2) If the activity isn’t part of a lesson plan devised by an educational professional, then it is not valid. (3) The curriculum determined by the State is all there is to learn and will produce educated, well-rounded citizens. (4) Playing is, well, just playing – it has zero educational value. (5) Seat-time equals learning time. (6) Kids are lazy and will not self-determine if they are not coerced and told what to do. (7) Punishment and reward systems actually work. And, inciting competition is a rational motivational device. (8) Test results determine what a child understands (how smart they are) and will impel them to do better. (9) The more time a child spends in school (detention, longer school days, and longer school years) the more they will learn. (10) And finally, there are smart kids, and, then, there are the low achieving, learning disabled (L.D.) kids (who have been labeled so they know who they are and so they can be recognized, as such, by everyone they encounter throughout their lifetime).
When spelled out – some will recognize how absolutely ridiculous the above statements are. We can obliterate all of these myths with this easy to understand self-directed education philosophical counter punch. All humans are brilliant --- our individual genius is completely unique to each of us. We were all born natural learners, and, as such, are all innately motivated to develop new skills and acquire new knowledge (unless, of course, we have learned to hate learning). Learning, quite literally, happens everywhere --- through boisterous play, experimentation (making mistakes), unrestricted exploration, quiet contemplation, a supportive community, respectful collaboration, and even during sleep. Every single life experience is an individual moment of valid, authentic, and deeply personal enlightenment.
The key to all this is passion, which is one of those words that is often conceived as pretentious --- one which engenders the impression of over the top expectations and rigidity. Some would go so far as to claim it is a bit ridiculous to allow a young person to follow and investigate their passions now instead of waiting until they are finished with high school. When in fact, it opens the doors of possibility by allowing each child to explore their burning obsessions right now --- to use them to discover everything they will ever need to thrive in this world. And, the cool part --- once they are tired of, or, have outgrown one interest, it, without doubt, leads to the next, and the next, and so on. This, folks, is what self-driven education looks and feels like.
Now here’s the kicker, the one all those doubters and naysayers latch on to – what if a student doesn’t have a grand passion or interest? What if they have no aspirations or goals? What if they are just plain old lazy?
Ah, yes, the lazy card! This is the question I will be responding to till the end of my days - the one I hear in my sleep. The one I always want to answer in my snarkiest tone --- Hello! Have you ever considered that their behavior and abject outlook is a product of their environment and experiences? Inertia, disenfranchisement, ambivalence, defiance, and overpowering sadness are all direct and logical responses to the systemic coercion, intimidation, and competitive conditions they have been dealing with for years. Yes, indeed, hello!
What I actually say is --- well mostly that --- only without the attitude, which, I freely admit, is usually simmering just below the surface. Every single time, I can only hope it doesn’t begin to boil over and show in my expression.
Most students come to Deep Root Center profoundly wounded (three in this past week, a total of eight since September). These are kids, who could mistakenly be described as unmotivated, lethargic, and shiftless, are in the process of sloughing off the pain-filled negative influences and are growing scar tissue, all the while soaking up the kindness, and the affirmative optimistic energy that surrounds them. This process is painful, frustrating, and at times disheartening. It usually involves one step forward and ½ a step back. Progressive motion, whether physical, emotional, or both, is never easy, and we recognize that.
We, quite simply, believe in each of them. We trust that they will all discover a passion --- a calling that pulls them out of their ambivalent state --- one that leads them to the next interest and blossoms into aspirations and goals, and, yes, even hope.
By Maria Corse
I was reminded today that each of our lives is made up from the collective of stories that we create (live) throughout our lifetime (thanks, Trish). The most amazing part is that these individual tales are completely unique to each of us. I have three siblings, but the family recollections we share about particular events, when we are together, are completely different. In fact, I think I have fewer memories of our childhood than my brothers and sister, and I am the eldest.
I can, however, reminisce about the insane amount of time I spent with my grandparents – I recall it being every weekend and weeks on-end during the summer – but it probably wasn’t that often. It is where I learned to cook and appreciate garden fresh fruits and veggies, while standing on a stool at my beloved Nama’s elbow. And, where I could pick raspberries, eating more than ever went in the pail to make the most delicious pies and tarts. It is where I learned that perfection was not always required, when my grandma proclaimed, “it won’t show from the road,” after I had ripped out, and resewed a crooked hem three times in the skirt I was making. I recall the smell of my “Poppy’s” cigar and pipe smoke surrounding his massive recliner, crawling into bed with my Gram after he left for the early shift at Alcoa, donuts - oozing with raspberry jelly - from the Norwood bakery, and sweet and gooey, Sugar Daddy lollipops from Perry’s market.
Grandma and Poppy’s was my happy place. It was where I was accepted and loved for myself without having to share any of that attention with my sibs, where the bed-sheets were cool and crisp with the smell of summer sunshine, where I could read all day if so desired, and, where ice cream sundaes, with hard crack chocolate syrup, were a nightly ritual.
I think we forget that our personal identities are often tied directly to the narratives that our loved ones recite about us, as well as personal lore we tell ourselves. Some of those tales are positive and allow us to see ourselves as proficient and successful, while others have the opposite effect. Those negative anecdotes we tell (and believe) about ourselves are, I suspect, the most damaging of all.
I recognize that my childhood stories have played a major role in creating the person I am today. I can say, that cooking is an innate skill that I love, because I had the opportunity to do so as a very young child. My crazy tendency to do the opposite of everyone else – to walk my own path based on my unique ideas, and to stubbornly persist until the very obvious end - was born right there on those five acres of pure and unadulterated childhood paradise. It is also where I recognized that I am extremely shy, and, if given the opportunity, I will hide out with a book instead of interacting with people.
To this day, over ten years after her death, I feel my grandmother’s loving energy surrounding me. I know without a doubt that she is my guardian angel and she is so proud of all I have accomplished.
I encourage you to take time to examine your personal narrative – are you telling it with a favorable and affirmative spin, or are you weaving your tale with negative vibes? If it is the latter – consider a revision that includes writing yourself in as the hero - honor your idiosyncrasies, skills, and talents – take ownership of all that is you – and – celebrate.
Don't miss our house warming party on December 6th from 4-7pm. Join us to celebrate everyone who worked so hard to get us into our new home!
By Maria Corse
DRC is an innovative educational facility – which is exactly how we describe ourselves to the world. However, when I think about everything we do on any given day, that doesn’t even begin to illustrate a fraction of the actual work we are all engaged in. Relationship building is a far more accurate description, and, I contend, is the most important work we can possibly do as an educational community. If we don’t take the time to create those basic human connections, the amount of knowledge these kids may cram into their heads is beside the point and (I will argue) absolutely useless.
Every year, around this time, I write a few full-length profiles of individual DRC students (read last year's here, here, here, and here ). I would not be able to write those spotlights, if I did not have the extreme privilege of time to build relationships - through daily interactions and weekly mentoring sessions with every single kid at the center. Last year, I really wanted to profile a teen who had joined us that September, but, no matter what I did, I could not capture her essence. Even though I thought I did, I simply didn’t know her well enough, after two months, to write about her. That is no longer the case. Yesterday, the words practically poured from my brain through my fingertips and onto the screen. Over the past year, she and I have developed an affinity that goes beyond the normal teacher/student association. She feels comfortable talking to me about her anxieties and concerns, as well as her dreams and aspirations. She calls me her “not” mom. We have the luxury of being close without the hassle of familial ties. I can offer her suggestions and critiques and she doesn’t (won’t) take offense like she does with her “real” mom.
The absolute beauty of Deep Root Center, is that I am able to develop that closeness with every single kid here. It is fluid and easy. I am everyone’s “not” mom. They know that I trust them to make good decisions and to be their best selves. They each understand completely that I will always be available to listen, offer suggestions and help problem solve, if that is what they want, and I will advocate for them, no matter what. With that being said, they also know, and trust, that I, or one of the other community members, will call them out when they are being “poops.” Because, we all understand that mistakes and errors in judgment are part of the learning process.
See, we have time and space to do that. I have no rules or regulations to enforce, or, for that matter, agenda (or, curriculum) to follow. DRC is a safe place, where they are free to be themselves – to express emotion and to explore their interests and aspirations, wherever they may lead. We can be playful and silly or deadly serious.
In the end, we all comprehend that authenticity and honesty are the essential components in creating those fundamental links between individuals, as well as the entire community. And, in the process, we are growing compassionate and caring young people who are able to go into the world to build relationships based on respect and genuine kindness.
Happy Thanksgiving to you all!
There may or may not be a blog posted next week, depending on whether I am feeling inspired enough to write, while on the 13+ hour, overnight return train from Chicago, where I am, happily, spending the Holiday with my husband and both of our adult “kids”. I am looking forward to being together. It doesn’t happen often, now that they are grown and gone.
T'is the Season for giving.
Consider honoring a loved one with a donation to Deep Root Center.
Many years ago, one of my first students, who happened to be four and a half years old at the time, said that she wanted her school to feel like home. That honest sentiment, offered straight from the heart of that very young being, has remained with me, and inspired me to work hard to create an atmosphere of “homey – ness” in every single educational setting I have been part of.
However, a feeling of comfort, coziness, and congeniality were difficult to forge in some of the more sterile, utilitarian, and frankly uninspiring (ugly) environments I found myself in. Now all these years later, DRC inhabits an actual house - a very old house with tons of character and warmth (read – wonky, slanted, and scarred wooden floors, old-time porcelain door knobs on solid paneled doors, a nicely weathered front porch, weirdly placed outlets and light switches, original plaster and lathe walls, narrow farmhouse style stairs, southern facing windows, a centrally located large kitchen, and old-fashioned wooden outside doors that allow in a hint of fresh air, around the edges, from the ½ acre yard). Yes, indeed, 48 Riverside Drive is a place that we are all incredibly proud to call home.
The people have not changed, everyone who enters is still sincerely welcomed, and the mission and philosophy are the same; however, this permanent home has made an immense difference. It no longer feels borrowed or transient. And, that feeling of ownership permeates the space and influences how people behave here. I believe that emotional connection is the key.
The formally, self-described, grumpy twelve-year-old, now makes a point of gently bumping my hip at least once a day to say, “I am happy to be here today” and voluntarily heads up the kitchen cleaning crew at the end of the day. The six-year-old, previously defined, spinning dervish, who, on Friday, calmly sat and stacked paper cups, and then placed them on a stuffed toy giraffe as hats and mittens. After that independent exploration, which took up a good portion of the morning, he then headed outside to the backyard to shovel the fallen leaves into a pile and build stick houses, for hours, with the two - 10-year-olds, a 13-year-old, and 8-year-old, who, for the fourth day in a row, were captivated by their imaginary games and stories in the brisk air. The 13-year-old, who said she was interested in trying digital art, took a pen tablet from the art room closet and spent the entire afternoon figuring it out (playing with it). The, nearly, 16-year-old and 17-year-old spent a couple of afternoons working on our new “Respect” sign in the art room while giggling together and listening to music broadcast from a blue tooth speaker. The 16-year-old happily sprawled in any available space to draw, write, do her math, play the guitar, and create her web cartoon, and, who interrupted those tasks to offer whomever walked in the door a smile and a hug.
Friday, the 18-year-old and I spent time sorting through one box - one piece of furniture, at a time, to determine what we are going to use to put together a creative space in the cellar, where he wants to build costumes and other elements related to his interests in Viking History, Mythology, and Super Heroes. We made significant headway, by setting up work tables and arranging craft items on the shelves down there, as well as organizing the boxes of skates, boots, snow pants, and other outdoor gear for our Water, Woods, & Wild Wonders explorations.
Those are just a few vignettes, from the four days we have been here, before we are even completely unpacked. There are still tables and boxes of assorted “stuff” on the porch that don’t have a place. There are innumerable cartons filled with books, waiting for bookshelves to be built and installed, stacked in the upstairs hallway and inside the classroom closet. The Seedlings Room has not been completely unpacked nor has the music room. The garage is in state of disarray - filled with more tables, shelves, assorted cabinets, and various boxes that we really have no idea where they are going or if they will even fit in. Nevertheless, even with all that disorganized clutter, it, simply, doesn’t feel incomplete or unsettled.
Ownership gives us the license to invent the home we all envision, in whatever amount of time it takes us. Each of us has our own definition of home; therefore, this community is built from a combination of all of our individual characters and ideas. And, the beauty of Deep Root Center, is that the vision grows and changes as new stakeholders are welcomed and enfolded into this awe-inspiring amalgamation of unique personalities.
Thank you to the Canton Unitarian Universalist Church for supporting Deep Root Center with their Social Action Shared Offering yesterday. It was great to catch up with old friends and meet new folks who were interested in learning more about DRC.
Join us December 6th from 4-7pm.
We are busily working on getting our fall funding appeal out in the mail. While you are waiting for your paper copy to arrive, you can read it below and then drop on over to our website to easily make your donation on-line.