Am I: Suspended --- Expelled --- Kicked-out? I hear a version of this question more often than you can possibly imagine, and, if you have read this blog for any length of time, you know that my answer is always, unequivocally, “no”, because (1) they usually haven’t done anything to warrant it, and, (2) if they had done something “bad” we would talk about it together to come to an understanding about respect and our mutual expectations.
I am the first to acknowledge that many of the teens who have chosen to become members of Deep Root Center are frequently conditioned to “be in trouble”. These incredibly bright, intuitive, and unique young people acted out because they were bored, disenfranchised, and were absolutely unwilling to conform to the stultifying, inflexible, intimidating, and compulsory establishment of traditional school.
As evidenced over millennia, authoritarianism simply does not work on account of the fierce human instinct to rebel against anything that represents external control. (I’ll save the extensive history lessons for those better equipped to pontificate.)
These nonconformist, resistant, and, yes, defiant DRC student members fall into two very distinct categories: the self-motivated who take to self-directed learning like proverbial ducks to water, who seek out knowledge and opportunities no matter what, and, the kids who appear apathetic and anxious, who seem to be in a state of complete shock. I am endlessly curious and completed frustrated, not to mention flummoxed, by this ever-present dichotomy.
Why? Why are some kids, by all appearances, “unharmed” and, if possible, more intrinsically driven while others are seemingly traumatized after progressing through the same exact system? I doubt that I will ever come to a clear, satisfactory answer to these questions. I can, however, dedicate myself to solving the inherently detrimental effects of coercion by: engaging the disengaged, de-schooling the schooled, respecting the disrespected, calming the apprehensive, as well as advising, mentoring, listening and talking in our comfortable, safe space, all the while waiting patiently for those little sparks of self-preservation to light the embers of ambition and curiosity from within.
I’ve observed this magic happen again and again; we remove the power struggle and then sit back and watch these kids break free from the chains of control and preconceived notions to set the world on fire with their enthusiasm and ideas. Heartbreaking (truly tear inducing) tales become triumphant stories with a little persistence, trust, kindness, love, and encouragement, with a few positive expectations thrown in for good measure.
DRC will be back in session on Monday morning, after this much-needed Spring Break, to finish out the academic year. We have plenty of adventures planned for this last month before warm, relaxing summer energy takes over our minds and bodies.
We have begun accepting applications for next September. If your child (ages 5-18) is seeking a safe and dynamic new educational home, which is relevant to their unique interests and passions, please get in touch.
Thank you to all of our volunteers from SLU, SUNY C, and Clarkson who spend at least one hour each week teaching classes, cooking us breakfast, and hanging out with our kids. You are all awesome! We look forward to spending time with you again next year, and, if you are graduating --- congratulations and best wishes! Please keep in touch!
Our entire culture is driven by reward and punishment. In our quest for control and perfection, we, as a society, spend enormous amounts of time and energy coercing others to do what we believe they should be doing. And, then, we have the gall to berate and criticize young people for relying on external stimuli. Yes, ironically, and, hypocritically, intrinsic motivation is touted as the ultimate educational goal, while we model the exact opposite.
This past week I witnessed two examples of this, one of which I let play out on its own to see which direction it would take and the other I was asked to step in and redirect.
In the first case, a college student was cooking breakfast for everyone at DRC and wanted to get the Seedlings to try something new. He tried to convince these two kids to make it into a competition. The one who tried it would get a prize, etc. I was delighted to hear them flat out refuse the offer. Yes, of course, I would like them to try new things, however, not at the expense of their individuality and desire to learn things on their own. These guys were not going to be conned into trying something they obviously had no interest in tasting.
Another volunteer asked me to intervene and provide an undesirable task when the student he was working with wouldn’t participate in the group lesson. I should mention that this St. Lawrence student has an excellent relationship with our kids and is an inspiring teacher. However, on this particular day, he was clearly frustrated with the behavior of this student and was not able to solve the conflict on his own. I didn’t go into the whole explanation of why we don’t utilize punishment or reward at DRC; however, I was able to bring the conversation to a place of personal responsibility and respect for others and asked the child if he would be willing to uphold his commitment to the class and continue with a good heart for ten minutes. In this case, the volunteer was able to learn (I can only hope) as much from that interaction as the eight-year-old.
You are probably thinking --- what’s the big deal? No harm, no foul, right? No one really got hurt.
If the kids, in the first example, had competed to try fruit in the oatmeal, one of them would have gotten a silly little prize. If the student in the second story had to sit in the office doing a sight word worksheet, he would have been unhappy for a couple minutes, but no biggie. He probably would have shaken it off after a few seconds of pouting.
These methods of manipulation are so second nature, so ingrained in our collective consciousness, that we do not recognize them for what they truly are --- insidious forms of bullying.
What do we really learn from coercion? Over time, we understand that we are powerless and that there are no real choices. We intuit that we are blameless, because, we, essentially, have no control over our own lives. Ultimately, we discover that our desires, interests, and passions are not important or worthy, because, conformity, obedience, and compliance with societal norms are the only means of achieving "real" success.
Carrots and sticks, not nearly as innocuous as we have been led to believe.
We are on Spring Break this week. However, if you are interested in learning more about our programs, please get in touch.
Modern culture will have us believe that children are empty little vessels awaiting to be filled with predetermined knowledge, who need to be guided with a list of instructions to follow, so as to achieve the perfect life. Then at the age of eighteen, we cut the strings and say, “OK, now go and do your thing.”
Within this mindset, we, as a society, are failing to prepare our kids for the real world, because life is ultimately the series of personal choices we make --- stacked up from birth to death. If young people have not been given the opportunity to make decisions, how can they possibly find their own way? How will they discover what is best for them? And, how on earth can they be expected to make good choices when their lives have been mapped out for their entire childhood?
These four words, “you are in charge”, is our way of offering our students, the five-year-old to the oldest teen, direct responsibility for their education, as well as their entire lives. When balanced with guidance, trust, and unconditional support, they soon understand, on a profound level, that this freedom is suffused with responsibilities, as well as expectations.
We have discovered that giving kids autonomy produces confident, intrinsically motivated, inquisitive, and concerned young adults who are unafraid of making mistakes, getting involved, making important decisions, and being happy.
When asked, “what do you appreciate most about DRC?” Our kids, time and again, refer back to this basic premise. They are grateful that they have the opportunity to make choices that directly affect the direction of their lives. When no one else seems to trust them with the big things – we do.
Assembly Woman Visit Postponed
Addie Jenne is unable to be here on Tuesday, as previously scheduled, due to unforeseen circumstances. Her office will reschedule her visit for some time in May. We will be sure to share the new date with you as soon as we hear.
DRC is Accepting Membership Applications for September.
We are the safe educational choice for children who want to spread their wings and fly. Contact us today for more information.
Our entire philosophy can be defined with the following three little words: learning is natural, which just happens to be the first half of the DRC tagline. Humans, beginning in utero, perpetually absorb information and process it. This never-ending cycle of data collection and dumping continues even while we are sleeping.
Our innate curiosity, quite simply, compels us to ask questions, which, in turn, instigates our desire to seek out the answers through exploration and discovery. Within that inquisitiveness, human imagination and creativity is, literally, ignited to generate ideas, and, theories, along with possible solutions.
The invention of compulsory, coercive education, over the last three centuries, has taken that hardwired trait and manipulated it into something that is not, even close to, natural. Acquired knowledge, within that system, therefore, is not based on inquiry, inventiveness, or creativity, but, on rote memorization of prescribed, finite, and static information passed from teacher to student to be regurgitated on a test.
As a result, I often meet young people who have, unhappily, out of necessity, accepted the regimented structure. Their inherent confidence and curiosity is diminished; they, simply, don’t know how to ask effective questions. The most distressing consequence, however, is their perceived lack of imagination and vision. They don’t know how to play and they are afraid of making mistakes! All of which is truly heartbreaking to witness.
You are probably asking yourself, if these kids have already conformed to stultified, inflexible institutionalized learning, how can DRC change that?
Extensive research tells us that authentic learning comes from asking the big questions and spending the time to seek out and imagine the answers. This is the process we call self-directed learning and what we encourage our student members to embrace on a daily basis.
Besides giving every student the task of designing, with unconditional support, their own learning plan, we ask them to consider their interests and talents and how they can use those to change the world. This is often accomplished, very subtly, by offering suggestions and opportunities and then standing back to watch. Many times, these kids do not comprehend the larger scope of our seemingly innocent hints. Eventually (sometimes months later), they come to realize that they are completely in charge of their education with the full freedom of making choices, including the ability to say, “no” to anything that does not “feel” right.
We also write a daily “big question” on the chalkboard in the maker room, for everyone (including staff and volunteers) to read and ponder, with absolutely no explicit instructions or expectations. This past Thursday, the board read: What makes you happy? I was surprised, and, yes, a bit delighted, to find, later in the day: this place, written beneath, with a smiley face drawn under the words, with no indication of authorship. This was only one reply made visible for all. How many responses does this and every question ultimately generate? We never know until --- boom --- on any given day, another kid suddenly comprehends her innate genius and starts asking “big questions” of her own.
Yes, indeed, changing lives and perceptions is, typically, as straightforward as providing opportunities for deep thought, extending caring guidance and resources, and, then, getting to hell out of the way to observe and wait patiently for the resulting awesomeness.
* The tagline - Learning is natural. School is optional. – is used with permission of North Star: Self-Directed Learning for Teens in Sunderland, MA.
Addie Jenne will be visiting DRC, Tuesday, April 11th at 2pm to tour the facility, meet the kids, and learn more about our programs. Some of the students will be talking to her about the New York State law that forbids homeschool students from playing sports with their local school teams. Their objective is to ask her to introduce a bill that repeals that law.
This is an open invitation to the community. Everyone is welcome to come to the Center to meet Ms. Jenne and learn more about the student’s proposal.
Fear of the unknown is a great motivator to fight against perceived threats to those things we find comfortable, safe, and culturally accepted. We are conditioned to settle in, comply with the inevitable, and conform.
In actively opposing adaptation, however, we are forcing and enabling intellectual, innovative, and imaginative stagnation, which only results in an apathetic population who are dogmatic about obeying and submitting to a static hierarchy based on a morally corrupt and outdated vision of society.
I will argue that a continuing evolution of culture (learned behavior) and ideas is absolutely necessary for the endurance and advancement of any society. In other words, we need to follow in our ancient, big brained, and versatile Homo sapien ancestor’s footsteps, because our very future depends on being cognizant of utilizing: common sense, imagination and creativity, critical thinking and problem solving skills, as well as, tools and information that have emerged and been researched over time to determine, which methods, developments, and changes are viable or not.
Open and engaged minds, very simply, are the passport to our survival.
Spring Break Programming April 17-21
You can find detailed information and register on line.
The DRC team took first prize at the Cabin Fever Trivia night. We enjoyed a fun evening spent with friends and supporters of GardenShare, a local not-for-profit organization, working to solve the problem of hunger in the North Country.