In case you missed the ubiquitous memo, it is once again back to school time. The retail rush is on – get all your school supplies and new clothing before the sales are gone. Parents are sharing memes about getting their kids back on a schedule and out of the house. And, everyone is trying to shove that final bit of summer-time energy into these last two weeks before the first bell rings.
What if I told you, all that retail therapy was intentionally designed to distract kids from the fact that they will no longer have all the time and space to explore the things that truly interest them? What if you knew that rushing around to get all those summer-like experiences is not necessary? What if I told you that it is OK for a child to be bored – that it is, in fact, the catalyst for most creativity? What if you discovered there is another way for kids to learn all they need to survive, and thrive, without the ridiculous stress, timetables, restrictions, intimidation, or coercion? Would you believe me if I told you that back to school propaganda is one more way to convince you and your child that they are not capable of learning without the societal institution known as school?
For many of the families I work with at Deep Root Center, the call to action went far beyond the unhappy kid who was still complying, to the utterly disenfranchised, despondent, child who was acting out and no longer cooperative. In all fairness to parents, most kids will not blatantly say, “I hate school! It makes me feel uneasy, uncomfortable, and anxious.” Instead, all that stress and anxiety around school take on many disguises from seemingly unprovoked melt-downs to sleepiness or insomnia. Your child may suddenly lose the ability to choose clothing and get dressed in the morning, or become indecisiveness around food choices. Or, they lose interest in all the things that formerly excited them. A formerly chill kid may become decidedly un-chill and overly sensitive.
No, for the most part, they will not say, “I want to leave school.” Since, the two main concepts they have learned from the institution are that: 1) they cannot be trusted to make good decisions, and 2) they will not be motivated to do what is required without all the punishment and rewards schools employ to get them to do what they want them to do.
When a child has reached that deeply flawed understanding of learning, it takes tons of time filled with constant, gentle, nurturing reassurance before they fully comprehend that they can be trusted to, capably, make good choices about their life and education.
Slowly, they begin to understand that all their interests and passions, which are often shunted to weekends and summertime, can become the fuel for all of their learning. I know they have begun to reach this point when they start to ask, “does this count?”
This is the point in this post where all the disclaimers are obliged to live – yes, most of us went to school, yes, most of us survived, and, yes, some of us did just fine – with no major complaints, and no (or little) residual trauma. However, most of the adults I speak with usually say something like, “where was DRC when I was growing up?” Or, “man, my child could have used you guys. We went through Hell, getting them through school.” (The latter is actually the reason DRC received a $10,000 anonymous donation last August.)
Imagine that you had the opportunity to focus on the things that only received part of your attention because you spent the majority of your time locked into a system that required your full concentration to simply survive. How could your life have been different? Would you have followed a different career path? Would you be more curious and open to exploring all the possibilities? Would you be happier?
Now envision your child – what would happen if they were allowed to get completely engrossed in those things that they normally save for their “downtime?” What would it look like if they were able to shake off all that societal pressure that holds them back from fully exploring the abundance of subjects that they are interested in? What if they could fill their personal buckets of knowledge from a place of contentment, excitement, and wonder? Would they be happier?
These questions about our system of education are all receiving national attention through respected sources and outlets. Dr. Peter Gray, the author of Free to Play and a regular column in Psychology Today (here is one related to back to school from 2014), is a well-respected developmental psychologist who has spent much of his career researching the role of play throughout human history. Kerry McDonald is a Senior Education Fellow at FEE and the author of, Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children Outside the Conventional Classroom. She also had this opinion piece published in the Wall Street Journal, recently, and here is another related to back to school. Jeremy Stuart just released the independent film Self-Taught, which follows six young adults who were unschooled through much of their childhood. Not to mention, Ken Danford's new book: Learning is Natural. School is Optional. These are just a few examples of media around self-directed education in the past couple of months. You can learn more from the Alliance for Self-Directed Education.
*note – Deep Root Center owns copies of Free to Learn and Learning is Natural. School is Optional. We are happy to lend them out to anyone interested in borrowing them. We also have a license to screen Self-Taught and we are looking for suggestions for venues. The film is also available for private viewing at Deep Root Center. Simply let us know if you are interested in watching it.
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DRC is still accepting applications for membership; however, we are closing in on capacity pretty quickly. Contact us today.
Summer Programs begin tomorrow. There is still room either week. Register today!
I am a firm believer in the power of Universal energies, and within that, the type we send out into the world will be the ones that return to us. Affirmative, kind, loving, and nurturing energy and language attract all the positive vibes, and, I am pretty sure we all understand where hate and other negative vibrations originate from.
With that being said, most people, even if they are not aware of, or believers in, Universal energies, are conscious of being helpful, gracious, and generous when they interact with others; however, they forget those very same principles apply to their own personal dialog, and thereby, beat themselves up daily. Stop! You wouldn’t think of behaving that way towards others, so why do it to yourself?
In addition to all of that, I was reminded a couple weeks ago (thanks to my little sister, Melanie), that even when we are placing most everything in a positive context within our own minds, if we are not intentionally sending those messages out into the great beyond, achieving our goals is harder and far less likely.
Use all those Universal energies to your advantage, write it all down - every dream, every aspiration, every damn single brainstorm, whether it seems plausible in the moment, or not. And, the most beautiful thing is - no one, necessarily, needs to read them – the act of inscribing them is enough.
Since taking my sister’s advice, the most delightful things have happened. Not only am I more aware of my own goals, and attracting positive into my life, my internal radar is, actively, receiving the intentions that others are putting out there, as well.
I have discovered that even when we don’t think we can be helpful, our skill set, or the resources we have access to, are exactly the support someone else needs to inspire them to renew their focus and work towards making their own dreams come true. The added bonus to each of these interactions, beyond the immediate enriching conversation, is the potential for future collaborations, and friendship, whether professionally, personally, or in some (most) cases, both.
In this way, together, we can, intentionally, make the world (our corner of it, at least) a place we are all proud to inhabit.
Imagination Station, DRC's Summer Program, begins the 19th - one week from Monday. Remember to register here.
When I went back to SUNY Potsdam as a “non-trad” anthropology student, in 2001. I learned in my Human Origins class that all humans are born with only two fears – the fear of falling and loud noises. The startle reflex, that we witness in babies, and sometimes experience ourselves, as we are falling asleep, or when we hear a loud sound, is our ancient response to those fears.
All other fear is learned. For the most part, it is either: intentionally cultivated by society, codified and legislated, thereby, designed to control our behaviors, physical phobias such as all the creepy crawlies, etc., or incredibly nebulous, but very real angst including the fear of the unknown, or of making mistakes.
I believe that those amorphous anxieties, and the taboos society has created, as restrictions, are inextricably tangled. The prevalence of judgment and blame within our culture feeds the restrictions, which then drives our apprehensions. We are taught from a very early age to keep our heads down, to follow the rules, be perfect, and just be “normal,” or else.
Many of us have a desire to take chances, make waves, explore the possibilities, learn through our mistakes, and create change; however, ejecting ourselves from our cozy little comfort zones involves facing that fear of being judged and ostracized - head on.
I feel this anxiety of potentially screwing-up – daily. The “what-ifs” could be overwhelming, if I let them. There are days that I am mortified by the errors I have made, while there are others that I am so very proud of our accomplishments, and, even, slightly amused by the mistakes. Yes, I have “bucked” the system, by creating something that is completely new and different, which, ironically, involves encouraging and trusting others to push through their own personal blocks erected by fear, to do those things that are important to them. Indeed, there are still those days that I want to chuck it all, and retreat back into my shell; where no one will judge or confront me, and where I can attend to mindless tasks that won’t involve nudging anyone, including myself, to do anything but bask in the comfort of low expectations. Thankfully, those days are few and far between, because wallowing gets really old, very quickly; and, oddly enough, I have come to appreciate the discomfort of being the “weird” one with “strange” ideas.
* This post was inspired by a personal mistake I was made aware of on Friday, and all the subsequent feelings I had in response to that discovery.
Time is marching on. August has arrived with September close on its heels. If you have been thinking that DRC might be an option for your child, please get in touch soon. There has been a flurry of interest over the last few days and I anticipate reaching our maximum number, soon.
Summer Programs are open to any child in the community – Register today.
Anyone who knows me, my family, friends, and, the kids I work with (even the ones I have recently met), can tell you I hate playing games. It doesn’t matter what genre – board, card, console, computer, puzzles, or even those silly little phone games. Don't get me wrong – I fully appreciate that many folks like them or even love them. Along with the psychological community, who have researched them extensively (in all their forms), I will vigorously defend them, as the perfect tools for some people to learn an endless list of skills. They are just not my thing.
Over the years, I have attempted to decipher why I have this antipathy, and the only solid reason I can determine is the fact that my brain is not capable of holding onto sequential rules or strategizing. Rules and instructions, quite simply, confound me (and honestly bore me) – they are steps that I have to, not only, memorize, but then follow. Pure torture! When Grandma showed me the trick for winning tick-tack-toe, when I was four or five years old, I quickly became frustrated that I could never remember it. I think I accomplished it once or twice in my lifetime, and that was, utterly, random. Any three-year-old can beat me. And, chess, just “Oh my GOD!”
The other piece is that I get, very easily, visually overwhelmed. For that reason, I don’t like graphic novels or comic books, either. I have a hard time interpreting the drawings, and, then, connecting them to the few words the author has chosen to use, to understand the story. Video or computer games provide a similar challenge – there is too much going on at the same time. And, then on top of that, I have to figure out the rules.
Besides all of that, I also stink at spatial recognition. When I was in seventh or eighth grade, we took some kind of aptitude test to determine what field we should prepare for. The only clear memory I have of that exam is sitting and struggling with the part where you had to determine from the five choices (a – e) what an unfolded shape would look like if it was folded up, and, conversely, what a folded shape would look like if it was flat. Double ugh! I got so annoyed and bored that I started filling in random bubbles on the answer sheet. Consequently, when my Guidance Counselor sat down with me to go over the results, his one recommendation was that I avoid engineering. As a thirteen-year-old, I remember thinking, “well, duh, I also detest math, so there isn’t a chance in Hell I am going to pursue that field. Could you please, just, tell me what the test said I am good at?”
It is funny the things you look back on and realize how damaging they actually were. If only I knew then what I know now – that discussion would have gone in a completely different direction. And, as for that guidance counselor – well never-mind. Hindsight is always 20:20, right? What matters here is that as a direct outcome of that test and resulting conversation, I have actively avoided anything that will put me in the place where I have to use spatial reasoning, and, consequently, look dumb. That is, until, two days ago.
I have, for obvious reasons, never had any game apps on my phone. Late Friday afternoon, I was waiting for someone to meet me at the Center to purchase some of the items from our garage sale. I was tired and didn’t feel like I had the brainpower to start the next project on my summer "to-do" list. That is when an ad for a game app randomly floated by my eyes as I scrolled my Facebook news-feed and I clicked on it. What? Really? I NEVER click on ads. But there it was, a seemingly basic game with no rules. The goal is to “dig out” the sand under little green balls to guide them into their designated “hole.” My thought process went something like – “hey, I bet I can figure that out, easily enough.” Of course, there are multiple levels, and as soon as you succeed at one it sends you to the next, as well as the over-the-top ads for other games.
Guess what? Yup, I discovered that I am damn good at this game. It fulfilled my innate desire to solve problems. If I failed the first attempt, I was able to redo it as many times as I needed to deduce what happened and change the way I tackled the puzzle. And, once I figured out one level, I wanted to challenge myself to move onto the next. Let’s just say, in between messaging with a colleague in NH, I spent the entire evening completely caught up in "winning" this game – time disappeared.
I now fully understand how gaming can be so addicting. The lure is two-fold. It hooks you with the challenge – your stubbornness kicks in and you refuse to give up. Then when you succeed at a particular task, you get direct feedback that you are good at that discrete skill, you then feel good about yourself, and as a result, seek out that opportunity again. Case in point, there were a couple of levels that were ridiculously hard; however, I was not going to give up until I figured out the strategy because I thoroughly enjoyed that hit of triumph, every time I got close and then ultimately solved it.
To be completely clear, I still don’t like (most) games. It definitely comes down to the rule thing. And, you won’t find me compulsively glued to my phone, playing “dig it.” I soon discovered that I don’t like the feeling of having time erased from my memory unless it is when I am completely caught up in a project - working on something tangible. You know – like writing, or designing graphics, or talking to kids about what excites them and makes them utterly happy.
… kindness, warmth, generosity, neighborliness, and empathy seem to be in fairly short supply these days. Or - are they? No really, stay with me, here, for a minute – what if the spewing of hatefulness, xenophobia, and general toxicity is actually being magnified by a power of 10 by those who benefit from creating and nurturing divisiveness and mayhem?
Think about the people in our community – the folks you meet as you go about your business every single day. Now do a quick review and calculate how many of those encounters are filled with antagonistic, animosity. In my own world, I would probably say 5% at tops. And, those incidences are, generally not face to face, but while driving (people honking aggressively, flipping the bird, etc.). Now, survey the number of negative and divisive posts or news stories and the resulting hostile and belligerent comments you read while scrolling your feeds on social media or news websites. That number for me increases to about 50 – 60%.
And, now, ponder the feelings those stories and remarks engender – anger, frustration, disbelief, indignation, annoyance, and on and on …
I will argue that most of us strive to be, authentically, pleasant human beings – who sincerely want to be kind, helpful, considerate, and respectful - all those simple things. Unfortunately, it is the behavior of the @$$holes and jerks that are magnified and kept in front of us 24/7 that informs our overall depiction of the human race.
And there you have it. Propaganda! Pure and simple! Now, can you understand how every single news story or original post has been intentionally designed to bring forward all the feelings, to make you want to react and to choose a side? Do you see how we are all being played?
And, no, we can’t just blame the media (social or otherwise) on this regrettable truth. It is on all of us – every time we bring the focus to the jerks of the world, by sharing or re-telling a negative story, by expressing a critical comment --- every time damn time we respond, in any way, we are feeding the propaganda monster. And, let's expand that truth to understand that arguing with trolls, whether in person or online does not change minds, it only increases the desire to tenaciously hold onto those opinions.
Don’t get me wrong, I completely appreciate the unyielding desire to express horror and to resist all the crap that is counter to everything we believe in as a compassionate society. However, I firmly believe that by ignoring (refusing to participate) - literally starving them from the attention they seek – we can reduce the negative in the world. Without the “adulation,” the @$$shats won’t have an audience and thereby a platform to share their hostility.
Instead, I would like to think that we could drown all that hate with a tsunami of simple acts of kindness, by building up rather than tearing down, by sharing all of the uplifting stories of love in action - the tales of those talented, generous, and benevolent souls contributing positively to society, and in the process, together, we will all create a world that everyone can be proud of.
DRC as has the license to screen the important new film, Self-Taught. We are seeking a place and time (possibly an event) to share it with our community. Please let us know if you have thoughts on where and when it can be shown. In the meantime, here is a link to their Facebook page where you can find the trailer.
One month to go … don’t miss out! Register here.