Agreeing to disagree is perfectly fine if you and I are discussing whether we think that kiwi fruit tastes good, or not, or that you like country music and I don't. However, when it comes to the issue of basic human rights, we don't (can't) have a simple difference of opinion.
If you can't say (or do not believe) that, Black Lives Matter, LGBTQIA+ folks should be proud, women are equal, refugees and immigrants should be allowed to seek shelter, healthcare (including mental and sexual healthcare) is a human right, the poor should not be denied the basic essentials of food, water, and shelter (or, even that poverty shouldn’t be a thing), and that climate change is devastating our planet, then our foundational moral beliefs are worlds apart.
I believe that ingrained (indoctrinated) fear and aversion of the "other," as well as the greed for not only money but the power and influence that accompanies wealth and status, drive the hateful beliefs and behaviors that have become so deeply entrenched in our culture.
So, how do we go about changing the very fiber of our culture? How do we teach the antithesis of hatred? How do we instill that greed is not good? How do we indoctrinate basic human decency? I mean really, how do we make it very clear that it is not OK to be an asshole? Respectful behavior, human rights, and moral ethics should have nothing to do with politics or religion. But, yet, that is what it seems to come down to.
And, NO, tolerance is not the goal. Teaching tolerance is like saying, "you have every right to dislike these things, but you have to put up with them for the sake of being PC." It is wrong on so many levels.
I do not believe that people will learn something just because they have to take a mandatory class as part of a curriculum. I don't believe that real learning happens in a forced environment. I don't believe that someone will change their mind, simply, because they have been presented with facts, that defeat their convictions, during an argument. And, I don't believe that shaming someone will change their behaviors. But, yet, I do believe that everyone has the potential, as well as the right to learn and grow.
While I struggle with this exhausting conundrum on a daily basis, I continuously look at my responsibility as a mentor. Within this non-coercive environment, I have always been committed to combating learned apathy, helplessness (hopelessness), and, yes, even, hate, by modeling empathy and compassion, respectful behavior, and service to others. But, I am discovering that is not enough. I have to be willing to say, "No! On this point, I will not agree to disagree, and this is why." And in doing so, begin the hard conversations - the ones that will begin to challenge those moral beliefs, that on their very fundamental level, place other people's lives in danger.
* H/T to Kenzie Corse for inspiring me to think more deeply about all this.
You have heard it before - time passes in the blink of an eye. The bright-eyed infant soon becomes the mischievously, curious toddler who is happily engaged in play while exploring everything about their world. Soon, you are packing their backpack for school - doing battle over homework and screen-time, and managing their sprawling schedule filled with sports, music or dance lessons, and other school obligations, not to mention your own over-crowded calendar. Before you know it, you are negotiating driving privileges, curfew, and romantic relationships, as well as overseeing college applications and visits. And, then, they are gone.
Despite the overwhelming evidence that children - in fact, all humans - learn from experimentation, exploration, and free play, the above is a typical scenario. School, with all of its cumbersome requirements, is the central focus of not only your child's life but your own as well.
I have to ask, why are we still tied to that antiquated, government-controlled system, which inhibits and mostly forbids those natural learning methods, where our kids, lose their natural curiosity, and self-motivation, to rigid adult-directed narratives?
These past few months of quarantine, while inconvenient for many families, who are balancing their work and home commitments, may have been, exactly, what our kids/teens needed. Yes, they were still under the school's thumb with assigned busywork, and remote classes, but many kids were able to finish that in far less time than a prescribed school day. They experienced more freedom. They had the opportunity to fill their time with the things that interested them. And, they were able to let go and stare off into space to dream, wonder, and imagine. In short, they had more time to be kids.
I can only assume there were feelings of confusion, apprehension, and fear, being expressed by both children and their parents, at the beginning. Our known world was turned on its head. Then after that initial hit, everyone adjusted and may have, even, realized that they were doing just fine.
Maybe, their normal anxiety levels went down, and creativity levels increased, and they discovered how to play again. They followed their curiosity to learn things that are not part of the curriculum. And, to top it all off, they seemed happier.
None of us knows what the new academic year holds. Will school start on time? Will there be massive safety restrictions in place that inhibit movement and social interactions that have the potential of generating (over the top) anxiety? Will virtual classes, filled with busywork, be the new norm?
If all (or some) of the above positive things did, indeed, happen for your children, and you were pleased by them, I have a potential scenario for the fall. You could circumvent the entire process of wondering and worrying by deciding to continue to follow your child's/teen's lead. Allow them to take charge of what they learn and how they learn it.
If homeschooling, on your own, seems scary, unwieldy, or just too daunting, Deep Root Center can help. We offer two options: membership or consultation services.
The Center will be open to our members in September, with modifications and a safety plan in place. This will include, moving many of the activities and classes outside to the yard and the open garage during September and October, in both Canton and Lawrenceville.
DRC members come to the Center 2-4 days each week and use the facilities, resources, and materials in whatever way serves them best. They also have access to a mentor who listens carefully and guides them, helps them and their parents navigate NYS regulations and the required documentation, and supports them to follow their aspirations.
DRC consultation services are available to those families who decide to continue their educational journey at home, without coercive school assignments. We can guide you through NYS regulations and will help write all of the required documentation.
Trusting your child to take control of their education comes with a whole host of benefits - including the privilege of experiencing child/teen-hood as a time to play and explore freely.
*Note - If you would like to read more about the evolutionary role of free play, there is an extra copy of Peter Gray's book at the Center that is available to loan out. Get in touch if you would like to borrow it.
How many times, during your childhood, did you hear this proclamation? How many times, as a child/teen, did you vow to never, ever repeat that phrase to your children? And, how many times, in moments of frustration and exhaustion, have you looked directly in your child's eyes and said those same four, seemingly innocuous, little words? We have all done it – a million times (or, so it seems) – no matter how angry it made us when our parents tossed them out, and despite the number of times we pledged not to say it to our kids.
“Because - I said so,” is designed to be a conversation stopper – a dead end. The understood message behind it is, “I am the authority. I am not interested in the facts you may want to present, and I am certainly not interested (do not have time, and I am too tired, etc.) in debating this issue.”
This past week, while writing a quarterly progress report for a DRC kid, his parents mentioned that he had listened to The World Undone, a book about WWI, which prompted him to begin researching Hitler and Nazi German, and how he influenced people to follow his ideological beliefs. That is when I realized that this phrase is not only used by parents around the world - but it is also a staple tool for anyone currently in (or seeking) a position of absolute power. Then I understood that it is possibly the reason behind one of the questions I have always had about the citizens of Germany during that time: Why did so many of them support a dangerous madman?
And, fast on the heels of that thought, came the realization that we are witnessing the very same phenomenon right now. “Because - I said so,” is the answer to any question that may generate more questions - it serves to stop the line of interrogation in its tracks. And, it neatly shifts the focus from the actual question to the authority figure and their agenda. The facts and truth are incidental. The motivation is clear – power, command, influence, and absolute obedience regardless of the cost to humanity.
Simply put, we have been well trained (as a citizenry) to sit back in complacency, and allow the consistent response to be: “because - I said so.” With that being acknowledged, I don’t believe we are destined to become an apathetic, hopeless society that history will look upon with confusion and disgust. There are people who refuse to be shut down. They continue to ask: “why.” And, yes, absolutely, we can all insist upon an answer.
Sending out best wishes for: A Happy Father's Day to all the Dads as well as to all those who have taken on the important father role in a child's life. And, a magical summer solstice.
]All humans are born with a natural desire to learn. The only thing that impedes this innate proclivity is bias – racial (ethnic), scientific, religious, personal, class (economic status), and cultural (often witnessed as Nationalism), etc. And, the only way to acquire bias is to learn it, through indoctrination – either directly from our families, or indirectly from our society.
The biases we adopt, influence our likes, dislikes, and fears, and they not only shape our personally held belief system and morals, and how we view the world, but they also dictate whether we are open to new ideas and concepts, and the resulting change – or not. Over time, our prejudices become deeply entrenched - so much so that they become habitual. Furthermore, like any other addiction, they are extremely hard to break.
Over time, we have designed an endless number of curricula and programs to address bias, xenophobia, and intolerance. Nevertheless, I will argue that unlearning these perspectives, cannot be taught in a coercive educational setting, including employment training programs, or even through incentivization or punishment. Additionally, changes in behavior certainly can’t be assessed through standardized (or, any other kind of) testing.
Nobody can force you to change your mind or your behaviors. With that being said, we should not be afraid to name (callout) bigotry when we witness it. However, we can’t expect that simply because we challenge someone’s attitude or behavior, they will be open to adjusting it. At some point, we all become responsible for all of our biases - no matter how they were formed, additionally, we, alone, have to do the, uncomfortably, hard work to change them - or not.
Openness (or - closed-ness) and curiosity are the keys. If we are willing to honestly explore a new idea - sit with it, ponder it from all sides, seek out other viewpoints, as well as factual information, and be willing to change our minds and actions - that is where we unlock the path for real learning and authentic change.
I can tell you that if (or when) your prejudices harm other people - whether explicitly, intentional, or implied, you will eventually be held accountable for them.
We are still considering when and if we will be offering our Summer Program. NYS is allowing Day Camps to open - even though we are not technically considered a "camp," this opens the way for us to begin programming with all necessary safety precautions in place. If you would like to provide programs this summer, please let us know.
Our social media this past week has used the words of notable black women to highlight our commitment to include the concepts of justice and equity, while providing a space where everyone is supported and encouraged to follow their interests, passions, and aspirations.
I spent a good part of this past week reflecting on why the Black Lives Matter Movement is, absolutely, necessary, at this moment in time, and what each of us can do, as individuals, to create a just and equitable society for every human.
This is, clearly, a time when every single one of us needs to stand (and, yes, speak up) against police brutality, racism, and bigotry (in all of its insidious forms, covert as well as overt). However, to do that, we need to first sit down (without ego) and listen. Listen to those black and brown voices of the community, who are impacted the most by injustice, and then follow their lead.
What I have consistently heard, over this past few weeks, is that they want advocates and witnesses, not saviors. Firstly, we (the white community) need to learn about, understand, and, take ownership of our history of slavery, why our attitudes about people of color are so deeply ingrained within our culture, and why as descendants of Europeans, we have privilege.
After this week of contemplation, I realized that the best way for me to contribute to this movement is to continue my work – educating myself, mentoring young people, creating a space where kindness and trust will always be the expected default mode, and, then writing about those experiences.
While thinking about all of this, I realized that in many cases, the things that I have written, in terms of self-directed education, also apply to the Black Lives Matter Movement.
Several months ago, the blog post, Trust and Respect Go Hand in Hand, was focused on trusting kids.
... Trust and respect are tricky, and, hotly contested concepts, especially when referring 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.
This post, from September, entitled Creative Thinking, highlighted the need for people who are creative problem-solvers in a society that embraces, and perpetuates the status quo.
... we have 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 substantiated.)
And, this, from, Sharing Our Lives, a post I wrote way back in February of 2015, speaks about the South African concept of Ubuntu, which for me is the ultimate ideology.
Ubuntu is an ancient word from the Nguni Bantu people of South Africa which expresses a way of being that encompasses equality, equity, and compassion for all. The rough translation is human kindness, or, I am what I am because of who we all are. I understand it to mean - together we support one another to sustain the earth for every living thing. Can you imagine a more perfect word or concept?
Humans are social beings and we are biologically designed to share our knowledge and life experiences. It is an essential ingredient that allowed our ancient ancestors to survive. We all (modern humans) exist because of the core values that support Ubuntu.
I would like to argue that we can recapture the very spirit that allowed our humanness to evolve. We can each deliberately choose to embrace kindness, integrity, empathy, and honesty in all we do. With those intentions, we can create a world where everyone consciously supplements those individual, positive attributes with the all-encompassing Ubuntu spirit. We can decide to practice this philosophy without hesitation. When we do, the health and happiness of our neighbors and the greater world become more important than our individual desires.
Indeed, all of these concepts - trust, respect, curiosity, creativity, kindness, empathy, and Ubuntu, even though not explicitly stated in these posts, are inextricably tied to the Black Lives Matter Movement. And, as long as there is an urgent need for them to be highlighted and spoken about to combat racism and bigotry, I will.
*You will notice this is the same title as last week, with a notable twist. I thought it was appropriate to highlight the word "kind".
How (where) to even begin - I am not the first, nor will I be the last to say, I am feeling utterly exhausted, sad, and just plain old angry. But, I think, confounded, dumbfounded, stupefied, and unbearably overwhelmed are the emotions that have consistently brought me close to the breaking point this past week.
Every time the news cycle tells the story of another person of color under attack or killed by a white person, my brain initially short circuits to disbelief. No! Not disbelief that it happened, yet again, but the thought that someone (a human being) is capable of hating another human being, enough to harm them physically, discredit them, destroy their integrity, or, straight-up murder them - simply because of the color of their skin.
The history of racism and white supremacy in the United States is monstrously long and ugly. To be clear, I am neither an expert nor a scholar of either. I am, however, a student of human nature. I am usually eager to learn why people behave in certain ways. Right now, I am merely appalled that right-wing terrorists are vigorously taking advantage of those who are suffering, and, justly protesting the right to be alive, to further their agenda.
Therefore, when it comes to systemic white supremacy, my interest lies in not understanding behavior, but where it comes from. How does one become a white supremacist? In my head, I know that the obvious answer is indoctrination. Nevertheless, there is no particular demographic that bigotry can be attributed to because it is found both in places of extreme poverty and enormous wealth and privilege.
I also recognize that covert racism is often hidden within comparisons between things that can not, and, should never be compared. Such as this argument against a living wage for those in the "unskilled" labor force: "I went to school to become a nurse (or, fill in the blank with another occupation) why should a food service worker (or, fill in the blank with another essential worker) make more than me?" These are folks who try to justify making equivocations, while indignantly denying their bigotry at the same time. The obvious answer lies within an irrevocably broken system - not with the people themselves.
The next question I have to ask is: how can we stop it from continuing in future generations? I know that I (we) can not (will, most likely, never) change someone's deeply held beliefs around race (which, as you probably know, is a human construct in itself - race does not exist except to say we are all part of the human race) through persuasive (or, belligerent) argument (in person or with comments on social media).
I can, however, actively model anti-xenophobia. I can use my immense privilege, as a white woman, to speak up as an advocate. I can normalize kindness, compassion, and empathy through my behaviors and language. I can express my humanity, with humility and respect for every human being, and I will expect those around me to do the same. And, most importantly, I can continue to provide a nurturing and trusting environment where young people are made aware of the injustices in the world and are given the opportunity to use their innate curiosity, creative ideas, and kindness to not only flourish but to help others do the same.
NYS is slowly and methodically re-opening. Phase Two began yesterday. If all goes according to plan, Phase Four (the last phase) will be open by the middle of July.
Other camps, including 4-H Camp Overlook, Cooperative Extension Day Camps, SLU Sports Camps, and Camp Unirondack have been canceled this summer. We have a much smaller capacity than any of those programs and we offer drop-in participation. We would like to provide programming, but only if parents indicate that it is a needed service.
Therefore, before we begin making plans to open our Summer Program - would you (local parents) consider registering your child for our summer programs? If so, beyond, mandatory masks for staff and youth, daily health check-in, fewer participants, sanitized surfaces, and plenty of outdoor activities, what safety measures would you like to see in place? And, lastly, when should we open, mid-July, or the beginning of August? You can get in touch through email or phone (call or text) to answer the above questions.
Oh, the irony! For the past six years, I have actively encouraged families with children in the public schools to opt-out of New York State high-stakes tests - now, under the pressure (guise) of a global pandemic, those very tests have been canceled, including the Regents Exams.
You can view this decision from two very different vantage points: 1) at face value - they don't think it is fair to the students to take tests after having lost preparation time, or 2) with skepticism.
As you can probably guess, I take the latter position. 1) New York State has battled the Opt-Out movement from its inception. They have gone so far as to say that they would penalize those schools (reduce funding) who had an Opt-Out rate over a certain percentage. 2) The powers that be know there will be backlash (lawsuits from the civil liberty folks) because kids didn't have enough in-person instruction. 3) They may even, at the heart of it, understand that standardized tests are garbage, and this is an excuse to remove them without admitting that they are garbage (unlikely, but I am putting it out there).
The data is clear - standardized tests do not, in any way, measure learning (long term retention of information). I will not address the very long list of reasons here. Nonetheless, both the Federal and State Departments of Education are inextricably tied to high-stakes tests. Firstly, we have folks who know, absolutely, nothing about education running these departments and implementing programs ("No Child Left Behind" and "Common Core") that have little to do with, actual, learning. And secondly, once again, I will invoke the phrase, "follow the money" to explain the testing phenomenon.
It is the textbook (Pearson, McGraw-Hill, etc) and tech companies (Microsoft, Apple, etc.), who are developing the above-mentioned pedagogical programs, as well as the assessment instruments that are mandated by the Feds and the States. In doing so, they are creating demand, and, let's be brutally honest, a guaranteed (coerced) market for the products they sell.
New York State Governor, Andrew Cuomo announced last week that he is forming an educational task force, with none other than, Bill Gates, to determine, among other things, if virtual learning is a viable way forward for the future of public education. With unadulterated cynicism, this is where I ask myself, "Is this simply appeasement, for canceling the tests this year, with the idea of expanding them in the future?"
Clearly, as long as the governmental education system, our children, and learning itself, are considered commodities to be bought and sold - we will need alternatives dedicated to serving and supporting our kids and our communities.
Congrats to our four seniors. Friday was the last day of our academic year. Sadly, we were not able to share hugs, high-fives, and stories of our time together, in person. Nevertheless, we send them out into the world with our gratitude and very best wishes.
In Maria's Kitchen - Find the latest virtual cooking class below.
Those of you who have received this Blog for a while, know that I am not a proponent of regulations that are designed, simply, to keep folks contained inside boundaries and expectations. You, most likely, also understand that I am not averse to looking the other way when particular rules that have nothing to do with safety, but everything to do with control and coercion, are not followed to the "T."
However, to be incredibly clear, what we are dealing with, currently, doesn't, or, rather, shouldn't have anything to do with rules. Yes, State Governments have put restrictions in place, but only because the population at large can't seem to grasp the concepts of common-sense, altruism, selflessness, and empathy.
Deep Root Center is closed. I am staying home, grocery shopping less often, wearing a face mask, when I do go out, and making do without some luxuries (including a much-needed haircut), not because I am in panic mode, or afraid of catching COVID-19, but rather out of concern for everyone in my community.
To continue on the riff from last week's post, we are all members of society, and, as such, we should all be held responsible for our behaviors. Stated plainly in bold letters - this is not about each of us individually, or, the ways our lives are being disrupted. We need to look beyond our sense of entitlement, and our unruly, outgrown hair and unkempt fingernails, our desire to be served in a restaurant or to attend a party, and our hankering to browse retail establishments - to consider our responsibility to the people around us.
We all want this to go away. We are all feeling confined and inconvenienced. Those essential workers who are (literally) keeping us all alive, want to feel safe at work, again. Wear a mask (correctly) in public, give people around you plenty of space (at least six feet), and, as businesses and services are phased into the opening plans please, please, please, for the sake of us all, use common sense, and, always, no matter how frustrated you become, be kind. I do it for all of you - please, do it for each other.
We are staying abreast of recommendations for re-opening. If everything goes smoothly, as St. Lawrence County phases in non-essential services, we will open our Summer Programs on July 13th, with a specific safety plan in place.
The Center is clean and ready for action. Click the link below to watch a video tour of the facility.
I don’t know about you - but I have heard more references to the demise of individual freedoms over the past eight weeks than any other time in my adult life. The snarky voice who occasionally lives inside my head (Well, to be honest, I should probably admit, at this point, she has taken up permanent residence.) would like to say (really loudly), "You need to understand that individual liberty coexists alongside personal responsibility. And, as a contributing member of society, you may be called upon, at times, to sacrifice a bit of freedom for the good of us all."
In response to some of the cries and (armed) protests about lost freedom, the following meme was created and circulated through social media: "Freedom, without responsibility, is adolescence." I read that and immediately got angry. I believe the meme should: "If you want freedom, without responsibility, you are a hypocritical jerk (read - asshole)."
Why do we, as a culture, denigrate teens? To be fair, most folks who shared that particular meme probably didn’t consider, or, even recognize, the negative connotations. This attitude is so ingrained that when I looked up the word "responsibility" in the Apple thesaurus, I found this example sentence: "Teenagers may not be showing enough sense of responsibility to be safely granted privileges." Seeing this, pissed me off even more.
The adolescents I know have a better sense of dependability, wisdom, and trustworthiness than some adults. They spend time thinking about how they can benefit their community. They are empathetic and kind. And, they worry about the future - not only their own - but the fate of society at large. Believe me, these teens recognize that they are looked upon as immature, inconsiderate, and lazy louts who prefer video games and virtual experiences rather than reality. And, then, they agonize over every decision they make, even though, on a fundamental level, they understand that no matter what they do, they won't be able to change our perception of them.
Beyond the negative overtone of the above-mentioned meme, it is, plainly, false. Most adolescents do not experience freedom, simply because adults do not trust them. Teens are, inextricably, tied to all of the (disproportionate, unrealistic, and inhibiting) expectations adults have for them.
For this very reason, those of us who work in the SDE (Self-Directed Education) field, see many kids struggle with the freedom and trust that we, automatically, offer them. First, they are, visibly, confused, then, the questions begin to flow: "What should I do now?" "But, does this count?" "How will I prove I learned something if I don't take a test?" "This is cheating the system - isn't it?" "How will I ever figure out what I am interested in?"
For some, the feelings of unease are so overwhelming that they return to the comforting confines of the known. Others, eventually, come to understand that the initial awkwardness of taking personal responsibility is the price of admission for authentic freedom of choice. These are the kids who have discovered that they are in charge of their lives, as well as their happiness.
You will find two new virtual cooking classes - easy mac & cheese and a three-part bread baking tutorial below and on the DRC Vlog page.
All those feelings I spoke about last week, continue to roll through. After another rough week, I had an additional epiphany Friday night. Not only have our lives have been, rudely, interrupted, without permission, we have also been relegated to the sidelines and forced to watch this particular game take shape, with no means of participating in any of the decisions being made that are directly affecting our lives.
Yes, we understand, acknowledge, and support the multitude of good reasons, on a cerebral level, but that doesn't make it any easier. After all, as humans, we like to be in control, or at least have the illusion of being an active participant in the game.
You and I are isolated in our little bubbles trying to make sense of all the external noise and confusion, while attempting, with some semblance of intelligence, and our hands effectively tied behind our backs, to, not only, plan for the future but to think completely outside the box.
The Governor announced on Friday that New York State schools are closed for the remainder of the academic year. I don't know about you, but I knew it was coming. That fact doesn't make it any easier for anyone. Even though DRC is technically not a school, and we always finish on the Friday before Memorial Day, and, that we would have only had one week to be together again, it still hit hard.
We won't have an in-person celebration for our four seniors, who are moving on to new and exciting adventures, or a party for everyone with a birthday during the summer months. We won't have a first swim (wade) of the season in the Grasse River or a week filled with hikes on the SLU or SUNY Canton trails. We won't dig up the front yard to plant a flower garden, and the backyard art installation will have to wait another year. All of the projects planned and spontaneous, big, and small are on hold. We won't have the face to face conversations about how much each of us has grown, emotionally, and intellectually, this past year. We won't experience our traditional last day hug. We won't have closure. Additionally, we are all left wondering, "what's next?"
This year had already felt like a roller coaster ride from the moment we all walked through the door on September 5th. From a capacity crowd and scrabbling to provide resources and support for those fifteen kids on the waiting list, to opening DRC-East, in Lawrenceville, inventing and initiating the ever-expanding Exploration Station Suite of services, losing a staff member and several student members in January, then gaining a staff person in March, and now our current reality - this year has offered an abundance of drama, and opportunities for learning and growth.
My job, right now, is to take all of those lessons and use them to forge a new path, within our current reality, a task that is eminently easier to write about than to implement while fighting off the indulgence in anger, frustration, anxiety, and deep sadness.
With that being said, I do have glimpses of positive outcomes, hanging out on the periphery. I am confident that, with patience, they will come into sharp focus over the next few weeks, and I will be back in the game, working, within, and through all the externally imposed handicaps.
One project that has moved forward is the DRC Virtual Cooking Class. I recorded the one below and then posted it. The next one will be live because the uploading process using a hotspot takes forever - literally hours and hours.
We are still looking for a name for this series of classes - so far there have been two suggestions: Edible Education: Cooking with Maria and Making Munchies with Maria. If you would like to add a name to the mix, or vote on one of the above, do it here.
During this series, I am focusing on the basics with the underlying message that when you bring a sense of play and experimentation to the kitchen, it is a ton of fun.
I think many of us have been experiencing this weird relationship with time. In one respect, the days, weeks, and months are flying by. In another, it seems like I have been "sheltering in place" for much longer than six weeks. My days have begun to follow a routine that conforms more closely with my natural bio-rhythms. Although, I am not up nearly as early as was my custom during much of my lifetime. In general, I work on various tasks during the morning, take a long break in the afternoon to nap, read, play word games, etc., and then, after dinner, I have another short creative period, before heading to bed at my usual early hour.
Within the comfort of this routine, I am still finding an overarching dissonance that invades every waking moment. I am restless. I can't seem to focus on anything that doesn't provide that hit of endorphins I get from being fully engaged and utterly buried in the creative process. This, in itself, is not highly unusual. Even during "normal" times, I tend toward attention deficit. Nevertheless, this feels different, and, for whatever reason, this past week has been particularly hard.
In thinking about it, I believe it comes from the absence of two things: 1) a "captive" audience, that provides immediate and direct feedback throughout the day, and 2) the ability to plan for the future.
Yet, this feeling seems to be coming from something even larger than those missing pieces. There is also a sense of personal failure attached. The "stuff" I am producing doesn't seem to be hitting its mark. No one is responding to my queries.
Maybe, I am not asking the right questions. Or, it could be, folks are focused on getting through one hour at a time and are not able to think beyond the next day, never-mind the next week. Nonetheless, I feel like I am an echo chamber filled with endless ideas, bouncing around inside my head with no useful or feasible outlet.
And, with this thought, I circle right back to the fact that I can not make concrete plans. Will DRC be able to have a summer program, as we originally planned? Will we be able to return to business as usual in September? And, if this is going to be an ongoing situation, what can the Deep Root Center facility be used for if we can not serve our community in the way it was designed? These questions are never far below the surface, which likely contributes to my restlessness and feelings of inadequacy.
In the end, I have to remind myself to trust that this, too, shall pass. The Universe in all her wisdom is taking care of all of us. As frustrating and unproductive as it feels, we simply have to sit back and let her work her magic. She will, ultimately, reveal everything, in her own time, on a need to know basis.
In the meantime, while you, too, are waiting to be enlightened, be gentle with yourself, and be well!
As you can see from the above graphic and the below VLOG post, we sincerely want to know how Deep Root Center can help you and your family, during this crisis, but also in the future. Please let us know - in comments here or in an email.
In other news, I am in the process of re-reading and categorizing all of these blog posts. I am finished with one year - only five and a half to go. Keep in mind this is only the sorting part - I still have to decide which posts to include in a compilation, and then edit them. Yikes!
Sorry to relay this bit of bad news, but none of us knows what our future holds - we can make predictions, set objectives or intentions, and make plans. However, as much as we wish them to be true – there are no guarantees.
I have no idea what post-COVID-19 looks like for myself, Deep Root Center, my village, or my country. I can sit here and dream up all the possibilities, and trust me, as someone who spends copious amounts of time brainstorming new projects (yes, I am an admitted schemer), I do it with the full understanding that I have no idea whether any of those plans will pan out. Nevertheless, that alone will not stop me from making more sh*t up - because, without hope, goals, and ambition, my life would be desolate.
The only thing any of us can be sure of is that we are doing our best – to be kind, to pay it forward, to create something worthwhile, and to support others in their attempts to do the same. The tea leaves may lie, but integrity will never disappoint.
With all the above being said --- Deep Root Center is rolling out, My Virtual Learning Buddy, this week. It is being incorporated into the Exploration Station Suite of Services being offered to children who normally attend public school.
The inspiration behind this new program, is, of course, the NYS Pause Order, in response to COVID-19, which has been extended through May 15th and has kept the Public Schools closed for over a month, already. This has effectively forced families to provide school at home. In response, we have designed this virtual service to help children navigate all of their feelings and this new world of learning opportunities, which is now completely wide open to them. The following graphics explain the details. You can register your child online, here. You can also contact us anytime to ask questions.
A special post script: Happy 26th Birthday to my son, Ian. Have a fantastic day, kid!
I ask this question of our society, as a whole, and each of us, individually. In all seriousness, what have you learned about yourself during this time of isolation? And, on a larger scale, what have you confirmed or discovered about our culture?
As I mentioned last week, I have verified (not that I or, anyone else, needed more evidence) that I am an introvert who enjoys solitude. On the flip side of that, I have also learned that I will never again take a hug for granted. Nor will I discount the importance of connecting deeply with someone about the things they are most passionate about, or, even, the basics we don't often think about, like reading the visual clues that mannerisms provide.
Unhappily, through all of this, I have been able to validate my previous assumption that greed contributes hugely to creating this grossly dysfunctional society, where we reside. You all understand the many issues. I don't need to enumerate them here.
In the past month, in two separate posts (here & here), I mentioned that I consider these extraordinary times to be a cultural reset. I now understand, based on evidence over the past few weeks, this to be a legitimate hunch.
All of us have discovered those things that are vital - the stuff that we cannot live without, as well as the bits and pieces that are cream. We have learned important things such as - love and kindness should be the foundation for every single thing. We can support everyone who needs care. Not to forget, those previously deemed unworthy of a living wage, are now considered essential to our very survival.
I fear, however, that once this is all over, we will go back to our busy lives and forget these lessons. The fundamental human condition, and our long history of greed, do not bode well for our success. I am invoking all the Universal Energies to prove that I am wrong. Please, Please, Please - (I DARE YOU TO) PROVE ME WRONG!
*Note: This post was partially inspired by this article, which was shared by several people on social media, yesterday. It is an important read. Please consider taking the time to fully digest it.
If this wasn’t a devastating worldwide pandemic, accompanied by the overhanging knowledge that we cannot make plans, because none of us knows how long this is going to last, I am perfectly happy to be sheltering at home. Unlike many, I have no desire to get out. This is not hard in the least. My nest is extremely cozy, and it offers all I need.
Yes, of course, I miss my DRC Peeps – along with all the projects and activities that fill our days at the Center. And, yes, I am sad that I am not able to meet with families to help them navigate the complexities of opting out of school. However, to be completely honest, as much as I love my role as the Executive Director of Deep Root Center (I wouldn’t want to do anything else), as an introvert, I find the job utterly exhausting – mentally and emotionally. During normal times, I feel like I never get enough downtime – space to pause and get completely lost in my thoughts.
I understand that I am fairly unique in my desire to be alone. My mother, indirectly, reminded me of this during a video-chat and texting session this past week. Mom is a widow. My dad died seven years ago. She had, up until a few months ago, refused to enter the technological age. I think it would be fair to say she came into it kicking and screaming. But, once she made up her mind, she acted fairly quickly. She took a computer class, bought a tablet, and had internet installed in her house. It took a while, (with my three siblings, and the Spectrum guys, working on it) to get it all set up. This past week, I talked (texted) her through downloading the Google Duo App on her tablet so she could do video chats with my siblings and me, as well as her grandchildren. She is thrilled to have that visual connection to her family.
After our initial conversation, I sent her an email with the link to my latest Vlog post about allowing kids to be bored. She responded, in a text, that I should do one about loneliness because it is similar to boredom. It is something that she has experienced, off and on, since my dad died, but it is especially prevalent, now that she is home-bound. She has talked about the effects of it with other folks who have lost a spouse and are living alone.
I find it disconcerting to offer suggestions for those who are feeling lonely, mainly because I don’t personally experience it, but here goes. I think the main part of this may be that most people are not comfortable with themselves, or their thought processes. They may have crowded every moment of their lives with busy-ness, so they wouldn’t have to dig deeper to learn more about themselves. Maybe, they have filled their emotional cup by serving others, and not taking care of themselves. There are so many variables to the equation, and I am not here to judge any of them.
No, I am not suggesting it is only, mind over matter. However, changing your mindset could be helpful. By switching up your narrative - the story you tell yourself - you may be able to experience something besides loneliness. Maybe, you could feel - useful, creative, or even joyful. The concept is similar to some of the memes that have been circulating social media since this pandemic started. "Instead of thinking: I am stuck at home – think: I am safe at home, and I am keeping the ones I love safe."
In these times, when technology is readily available, (like I tell my DRC kids) you can experience anything you, previously, may have only imagined or dreamed about. The world is, literally, wide-open to you, despite being confined to your home. Go! Explore something that captures your interest, take a class, learn a new skill, imagine, create, invent, and then share. Anything can be possible if you believe it to be so.
And, in the process, give yourself permission to mess up, allow yourself grace, and most importantly love yourself through all the ups and downs.
Stay safe and be well!
I am still thinking about compiling a book from the last six years of my weekly posts. I need help though. If you have been a regular reader of this blog, please consider sending me two things: 1) ideas for categories, and 2) specific posts that have stuck with you, and that you think would be important to include. Thank you!
I am also in the process of self-publishing my second children’s book as an e-book. I have it all formatted and one third edited. Stay tuned!
And, here are the links to, Cooking and Let Them Be Bored, the two, Yes, It Counts, Vlog posts from this past week. Enjoy!
Stewart’s Holiday Match Grant
Thank you to Stewart's Shops for supporting the DRC Cooking Class with a $250 grant! We will use the money to purchase food from the Food Bank of Central NY, as well as local grocery stores.
The Resources Page has been updated and organized. Check it out.
What are you and your family up to during these strange times? Are you working on cool projects, have you been tracking the progress of Spring in your backyard, or is life fairly normal? Send documentation. I will post them on the Front Page of the website and here each week.
Over the past week, while working on administrative duties and creative projects (see below), I have been feeling pretty useless – even peripheral to my DRC Peeps. After touching base with them again this weekend to offer resources and my support - I came to the abrupt and disconcerting conclusion that most of them don’t currently need me. For the most part, they are carrying on quite nicely. Yes, they do miss Deep Root Center, the projects they were working on there, and their social interactions - other than that they are perfectly fine.
Then, last evening, it occurred to me, as I was walking down the stairs - this is what I work so hard to achieve. They have become self-directed learners who are in charge of their education and their lives. Boom! They have heard me say, “yes it counts,” enough times to know that whatever they are pursuing - is exactly what they need to be doing at this moment. They understand that their education is so much larger than what is taught in school. They comprehend that they are free to investigate anything - whenever curiosity strikes because knowledge is available at their fingertips.
They are all using this time to create art, play, groom their dog, explore the world through their computer/phone/tablet screen, make music, engage in cool conversations with their families, hang with their pets, cook, take walks, continue their online classes, and work on projects that mean something to them.
When this is over, we can all go back to the Center, to happily pick up where we left off. Relationships will flourish, projects will once again take over every flat surface, ideas will spark, and our entire community will be able to breathe a sigh of relief that we are back together to share all we have learned while apart.
In all honesty, none of us know when we will be able to go back to the Center. It may be a lot longer than anyone anticipated. In the meantime, in an attempt to feel less useless, I have created a VLOG entitled, “Yes, it Counts.” The concept was born after seeing so many families struggling, in this time of unknowns, to recreate school at home. I want to try to reassure them that whatever their child is doing is valid - there is no right or wrong, and that children are learning all the time, whether it looks educational or not.
What we often forget is that learning is completely natural. We don’t turn off the desire to learn new things, just because we are not in school. And, education is not a “sit down” occupation. It is play and conversation; it is messy and riddled with mistakes, and, above all, it is fun.
I am hoping to post at least two vlogs each week. They can be found on the DRC Facebook and Instagram pages, as well as on the DRC website. The first one entitled, Conversations, is below. Please feel free to write a comment about the conversations (mundane or enlightening) you have had with your child.
I am also encouraging folks to share photos of their time at home. I am posting them on the DRC website with their first name and where they are located. You can send them here, and you can view others on the front page of the website.
Another project I have on the back burner is a compilation of my blog posts. As you can imagine sifting through them to find a few to be included is an overwhelming task. I have written a post every single week for over six years. Please let me know if you have one or more favorites.
Be well -
Last week I mentioned that this pandemic is offering us an opportunity to reset on a cultural level. Today, after sheltering in place for a total of twelve days (with only a 5-minute stop at the grocery store and a couple of trips to DRC to feed Pesce, the goldfish, and pick-up items that I need to work from home), I am coming to realize that this time of separation is also providing us the chance to reflect and adjust on a personal and emotional level.
Beyond lying in bed getting over the flu, I have spent those twelve days trying to re-imagine Deep Root Center’s role for our members, as well as for the folks in the greater community. In between naps, I have been working full-time from my bed, obsessing over this conundrum. Thursday, after sending the last of almost daily messages, I realized that this may be to partly compensate for the guilt I feel about not being at the Center working hands-on with “my Peeps.” But then, after very little response from the DRC community, I found myself thinking, “but what do they want from DRC- right now? And then it occurred to me, maybe they don’t need or desire anything from us - what then? If that is the case, how do I rationalize our existence to myself and all of our members?”
Fair warning - this is the kind of existential thinking that happens when you are fairly isolated while recovering from an illness, and intentionally removing yourself from in-person social interactions for the good of the entire society.
Now I am considering, in response to my questions - what if the point is that folks (everyone, not just DRC families) are realizing that they can opt-out of anything that does not serve them at this moment? In keeping with our non-coercive philosophy, I do respect that Deep Root Center may not be an important part of their lives right now.
I am coming to understand that families everywhere are taking care of themselves in a new way – relinquishing guilt over all of the should-s, and are, with great intention, not trying to make sure of anything beyond their family's most fundamental needs. I will argue that now, more than any other time – authenticity, happiness, health, and the opportunity to be creative, as well as the ability to offer empathy and compassion eclipse any other desire.
Therefore, do whatever you need to do to achieve those five goals – if DRC can help in any way, please let us know. We are here anytime you have a question or want to connect. Otherwise, we will see you on the other side, with a greater understanding of ourselves, as well as an obsession for keeping it real.
In the meantime, after a small community meeting on Thursday, a few of our kids, along with Elian, have set up a Discord server as a way to socialize and share ideas among themselves – if you are on Discord you are most welcome to check it out. Additionally, I am working on administrative duties for when we do get back, and I can guarantee that I will continue to share my thoughts, right here, each Sunday.
Take good care!
… and counting my blessings. Between the hourly (sometimes by the minute) updates of the latest closings and event cancellations in an attempt to flatten the curve of the COVID-19 virus, and my intense body aches, and high temperature, accompanied by the requisite fever dreams, this past week has been beyond surreal.
While lying in bed unable to do much else, beyond observing this crisis unfold through the lens of my FaceBook Feed, my mind kept wandering to the amount of privilege, beyond the color of my skin, I have in this world.
I can get sick and take time off from work without repercussions. This bout with the flu is a mere blip on my otherwise healthy immune system, not chronic or life-threatening. I no longer have children at home to care for. Therefore, with schools closed, I don’t have to choose between my kids being home alone and losing my job (or weeks of pay) to be with them. I have healthcare. While I don’t technically have WIFI, I do have an unlimited data plan and use my hotspot to connect with my laptop, which allows me to communicate remotely with anyone, in the world, I would like, or need, too. My kitchen shelves and refrigerator are stocked, and I have no worries about replenishing them (even though my diet this week has been limited to a few sick bed items). I have a comfortable home and a loving family who are all healthy. I am not a small business owner worried about keeping my business alive. And, I am not a healthcare provider on the front lines.
In my mind, this fairly long list precludes me from complaining about any inconveniences that may occur because of the efforts being made to keep this disease at a sustainable level that can be managed by our existing healthcare system.
These are the words Ken Danford, the Co-founder, and Exec. Director of North Star, and my mentor, shared with the North Star community (a message I also shared with DRC parents this morning) – “While young people are thankfully not at high risk from the novel coronavirus, closing is the responsible thing for us to do. This move is not only about the safety of our members, but to join community-wide efforts to protect the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions that make them more vulnerable.”
In reviewing the above long list of privileges, my largest concerns are about finding ways of helping others, through this time of upheaval and uncertainty. At this point, I have been thinking about innovative ways to not only continue to serve and connect DRC families, through online platforms such as video conferencing, but ways Deep Root Center can assist local families, who suddenly have their kids at home for an extended period, to join in on these virtual conversations and activities. I also have thoughts on ways kids can produce content for YouTube, etc. to share with a group. As I mentioned to DRC families earlier today, I imagine the kids will take the lead on this. If they know there is support for their initiatives – they will absolutely run with it and generate amazing ideas.
Over the next few days we will explore the best way to move forward with these ideas. I am imagining it will involve Google Hangouts for groups of up to ten people and Google Duo, Facetime, or FB Video Chat, for one on one conversations. As we develop ideas and strategies, I will share them on the DRC Facebook and Instagram pages, as well as our website. I also welcome your ideas and input on how DRC can help your family and our community, at large.
In the meantime, I am offering some resources, below, that have previously been shared in various places on social media.
I am viewing this as a time for a massive cultural reset - as an opportunity for all of us to take a couple steps back, along with a few deep breaths, to consider resetting priorities, and to decide how to use our privileges to advocate for the people and initiatives, in our communities, that need us most.
Again, copying from my message to the DRC community earlier today --- Be well! Take good care of each other! I’ll see you on the other side!
And, as always please be in touch if we can help you in any way!
(Note - Due to my continuing recovery, and the sheer amount of info in this post - please forgive the errors that I most likely missed in the editing process.)
**Resources: (I did not curate this list. I am simply copying and pasting links as they appeared in my social media feed, and in my inbox from other Liberated Learner Centers, over the past couple days. Deep Root Center does not specifically endorse any of these companies.)
One afternoon this past week as often happens, a few of us were sitting in the DRC office talking. These conversations are generally initiated by a fourteen-year-old who spends a large amount of time wandering through the Center in a seemingly aimless fashion until he comes up with a topic that he wants to discuss. Peeking through the office doorway, he checks to see if I am in a mentoring session, and if all is clear, he shuffles in to finally light in the chair on the opposite side of the desk, to begin the conversation with a question. These are usually deeply philosophical questions that center on his personal ruminations. He is profoundly concerned about intelligence, specifically that he behaves and expresses himself intelligently. Over the three years that I have known him, he has independently researched neurodiversity, sleep anomalies, human evolution, religion and spirituality, human connections and communication, psychology, and philosophy to some degree. And, when I say research, I mean to say that he devours information that he finds via internet searches and random you-tube explorations, in a non-linear fashion. He is an artist, who leaves brilliantly intricate pen and ink drawings “littered” throughout the Center. He is also a self-taught musician, who seeks out obscure musical genre and style in much the same manner.
This kid will, straight-up, refuse to participate in anything that resembles a class or group activity. He will not commit to anything that might have an expected outcome. As mentioned earlier, he spends a great deal of time meandering from one room to another, without an obvious destination or plan. To a random stranger, it would appear that he is at loose ends, without a plan or mooring.
On this particular day, I can’t remember the exact question he began the conversation with, but it had something to do with “normalcy,” one of the many things he is deeply concerned about exhibiting. As the conversation progressed, he revealed that he has synesthesia, as does Elian, our new staff person. They were discussing the ability to visualize and mind-map, and I was sitting there, simply trying to keep up and wrap my head around this amazing trait, when I confessed that I don’t usually conjure images in my mind’s eye. They looked at me as if I had two heads while I tried desperately to describe how it works, the closest I could come up with is that it is like almost everything is words, not pictures. I explained that I can’t for the life of me deal with abstracts – which is probably related to my inability to “see” things in my mind. I also have a very mild version of this weird thing called face-blindness. In my case, I, almost exclusively, first recognize people by their mannerisms and the way they move, then I zero in on their face.
At this stage in the conversation, I suggested that despite those notable “weirdnesses,” most people would place me squarely in the “normal” column; because, those particular diverse traits are not easily distinguished or recognized – unless I reveal them. My point being that none of us are totally neurotypical.
I believe that this is an extremely important concept for those who have been labeled and have always felt different and segregated to understand. We all have our own “thing” going on. We are all weird – no one is normal. In accepting, celebrating, and honoring your particular weirdness, you are boldly presenting your real, flawed, and authentic self to the world. And, that genuine person is the one that others will come to know and appreciate as completely and uniquely awesome.
Kid Expo – Deep Root Center will once again be set up at the SLC Chamber’s Kid Expo at SUNY Canton’s Roos House this coming Sat. March 14, with a table full of art and craft items. Stop by to play, create to your heart’s desire, meet our staff, and learn more about all of our programs and services.
Spring Break – Exploration Station. Parents - we have you covered. Your child is welcome to drop-in and join us to explore their interests, create, & play. Register today.
Summer Program - We are in the process of creating a program that is financially accessible to everyone in the community. Stay tuned as we roll out more info.
Barriers are simply the things that keep you from participating or making choices - whether it is a game, activity, project, or most importantly an opportunity for personal growth or advancement.
I think about this constantly, given the people I interact with daily. Consequently, I have come up with some conclusions. I believe that most barriers in our modern society are social constructs, not physically tangible impediments. Inequity, injustice, and discrimination are at the core of all the obstacles people, without the privilege of whiteness, family connections and social hierarchy, or elite education, come up against daily.
We live in a place where a large proportion of us, regardless of our European descent, do not, for the most part, have access to the “riches” afforded to the privileged, including natural respect and courtesy, reliable, ethical, and quality (not to mention affordable) healthcare (including mental healthcare), a wide variety of options for jobs, education (free from bullying, intimidation, coercion, and detrimental labels), or decent, reasonably priced housing, grocery stores and fresh, year-round, whole food markets, retail stores (that are not dollar stores), and dependable transportation.
This entire list, of what have become entitlements in our culture, determines whether you have the “luxury” of freedom of choice for yourself and your family, or not. Therein lies the conditions that have created the barriers in our inequitable, unjust, and discriminatory society.
When a large segment of the population is left without the basics of free choice in a “free” society – it says something about that society, not the people who are struggling to survive.
No, this is not a politically charged post. It is, quite simply, a nod to the folks I meet every day. They are the ones who feel like their hands are tied in a system that uses intimidation, outdated (to the point of obsolete) methodologies, and coercion (as a scare tactic) to keep people down - not lift them. These folks are seeking respectful dialogue and viable options, which will allow their kids to succeed, not a hand-out, or a "free lunch.”
This is exactly where DRC can help. We offer kindness, a listening ear, and validation, but most importantly, practical alternatives for a positive future, where there were formerly none (including the choice to opt-out of the existing system entirely).
If supporting people to be their best, in whatever way possible, is considered radical - then as a society, we are in enormous trouble. I refuse to lower my standards of common decency, justice, authenticity, and respect to cater to the lowest common denominator.
Note: I am linking these two articles related to the above graphic. The first is the one that uses this graphic to illustrate their point, the second has a different version. I found both to be helpful resources in thinking about systemic barriers.
I am also linking this article that I came across this morning, as a resource. It clarifies, for me, one way we could change our culture, which is currently steeped in greed, to be more fair and just.
DRC has open enrollment in both of our facilities – Canton and Lawrenceville. If you are seeking an alternative to public school – DRC is here to not only help navigate the legalities of developing an educational plan outside of school, but to provide a welcoming learning community with a personalized and flexible approach. Get in touch today for more information.
Our afternoon program peeps are having a blast. Check out our full suite of extended services, including our Spring Break Programs and register today .
I first met Elian this past summer when a DRC student member introduced us. During that initial lengthy conversation, I intuited that he would somehow fit into the fabric of DRC. He understood the philosophy and knew that if he had the opportunity to self-direct his education, everything would have been completely different for him.
Last summer, Elian was a SUNY Canton student. Over the past several months, as he mentions below, he realized that college, at this time, is not right for him. After reconnecting at the beginning of February, when he requested to join us as a volunteer, I asked him to be our Exploration Station, afternoon and school break, back-up person. He covered a few Exploration Station afternoons, and expressed, several times, his desire to work with us on a full-time basis. My response was always, “I know, and I really would like to hire you; however, our budget does not allow that right now.
Elian saw that as a challenge that he could take on, and showed up randomly, the day before mid-winter break, with a piece of paper. He had been working with a job counselor at the St. Lawrence County One-Stop Career Center and discovered a program that hires young people to work at local companies and organizations. A federal grant covers their salary and all payroll costs for 12-26 weeks, to provide workplace training so these folks can enter the workforce on their own. The ultimate goal is that they would be hired by the business or Not-for-Profit, that they received their training from.
I am so very grateful and pleased that Elian will be a part our community, as a staff member, for the remainder of this academic year. He will work closely with all of our Peeps to explore math and science concepts, through classes and hands-on projects. He will be available to facilitate a myriad of other activities that they are interested in exploring, and he will also be an active participant in the amazing conversations that swirl throughout the Center on any given day. Elian will also continue to cover Exploration Station programming, whenever Erin is not available. Our aspirations include being able to hire him to be with us for as long as he would like to stay. To that end, the last item on his job description is to research viable funding streams for DRC.
The following is Elian’s introduction, in his own words –
A shriek pierces me awake; I roll over and groan. My mammalian alarm clock can sense my hastened breathing and whistles again. My feet hit the floor, and trance-like, I walk over to her cage. She knows she is the head of the household.
“Emmie, you’re not even out of hay!” I sigh at my fat fur baby.
She chirps back at my happily as if to say, “Pick me up!”
Armed with the guinea pig, I go to my peach pink mini-fridge. The noise of the door triggers a scream, as I pull out lettuce and almond milk.
She sits in my lap as I pour Malt-O-Meal Tootie Fruities. I review Fruit Loops on Facebook as a hobby. I swear that my second tattoo will be a bowl of fruit loops on my bicep; the first: a stegosaurus, a triceratops, and a heart on my wrist.
Emmie sneaks a fruit loop from my bowl before I finish my cereal.
Originally, I’m from Iowa and I went to school in Delaware. I came up to Canton to go to college. School hasn’t turned out to be for me so while I was pursuing my degree in Early Childhood Education, I decided to leave and finish my teaching assistant certificate on my own.
In my free time, I like to embroider, paint, and write creative non-fiction. I also have been playing guitar since I was 8. I volunteer sometimes at various places around Potsdam. My guinea pig, Emmie, is my world and I have another human roommate named Scott who is also very cool.
Like Steve Miller’s “The Joker,” I have a lot of jobs. I review off-brand Fruit Loops on Facebook, I’m a pet dad, I’m a volunteer, I’m a writer, I’m an artist, I’m a guitarist, I’m an embroiderer, and I bake mean gluten-free, sugar-free cookies. I work at Deep Root now, which I can add to my long list of things that excite me.
DRC will offer programming during Spring Break, the week of April 13th. Families who are signed up and use our Afternoon Programs at least three days each week will receive a 5% discount for Spring Break Programming. Learn more about Exploration Station Programs here.
DRC has a rolling admissions policy. Young people can join us anytime throughout the academic year. If school is not working out for your child - contact us today to learn how we can help you. We have openings in both the Canton and Lawrenceville Centers.
Most visitors, who are just learning about Deep Root Center and our philosophy, are understandably skeptical when I tell them, that on any given day, you cannot tell the difference between the kids who joined DRC a week ago from the ones who have been with us for a couple of years. In addition, parents don’t quite understand this concept until they see their own child completely enveloped within our amazing community the day after they join us.
I spend a lot of time thinking about and marveling at this particular phenomenon. Is it the environment or is it this grouping of random kids? Perhaps it is our philosophy along with the absence of a list of finite rules. If you asked me at this moment, based on the cohesiveness of this particular group of kids, my response would be all of the above.
We work hard to create a cozy, comfortable, and non-institutional feeling space – filled with all those things you would find in your own home. The front door opens into our “chill space,” which is set up like any living room, including the cubbies and lockers often filled to overflowing with boots, coats, and backpacks, along with stray socks, and other minutiae of everyday life. Our kitchen, with the exception of the labels on the cupboards, is like any other, a gathering space, with open access to anyone who is hungry or wants to cook for the group. The art room and all of the creative supplies, the music room filled with instruments, the Seedlings Room and the toys, the classroom with all its books, and the front porch and huge backyard are all free and open to anyone who wants to use them. There are no barriers here (except for the stairs, unfortunately) or secret codes. Everyone is welcome anywhere at this facility.
The combination of kids is always changing – new kids arrive, some leave, others show up infrequently – the common denominator will always be their desire to be here. They come from all walks of life, with unique perspectives and ideologies, and they are each dealing with various difficult circumstances. Nevertheless, even within all those differences, they recognize kindred spirits here and allow their defense mechanisms to relax. We all get to know each other on a deep level because we have the time, space, and freedom to do that. We all feel safe to open up and share our fears, dreams, aspirations, and our past experiences.
Absolutely, yes, it is these amazing, open, and inspirational kids; however, it is also the foundational philosophy that allows for those things to happen. They understand clearly that no one will judge them, and that our one rule – respect yourself, each other and this place - will always stand. They know they will never be forced to do something they do not want to do. They also understand that we appreciate each of them for who they are, and for the gifts, they bring to the community.
Therefore, when the inevitable question pops up during intake meetings or phone calls - asking how many days their child would have to attend the Center each week - my answer will always be, “we are building a community here, and if your child is not here often enough, they will eventually feel like they are not part of that community; however, with that consideration, they are free to come as often as they would like or can.”
The DRC community is welcoming, organic, and flexible, and will always reflect the people who are here on any given day, including visitors and volunteers. This is why I can always look forward to the awesomeness of tomorrow – knowing that it will never be the same as today.
The DRC staff has experienced some changes. Christopher Raymo, after a brief leave of absence, has resigned for personal reasons. We miss him greatly and wish him well in his endeavors.
I am excited to announce that Elian Erickson, has joined the DRC staff. He will be with us every day and is looking forward to being a member of the DRC community and specifically facilitating math and science classes and one-on-one sessions. Stay tuned for an in-depth profile of Elian in the next couple of weeks. This was made possible through the St Lawrence County One-Stop Career Center and their program to place young adults in work-sites around the County to gain valuable skills for future employment. I am beyond grateful that Elian brought this amazing program to my attention.
Exploration Station Suite of Extended Services
February Break - Register your child today!
Afternoon Programs – drop in options are available – register here.
Snow day coverage – DRC facilities and staff will be available for local school snow days – per day fees apply. Learn more here.
Sap Run (walk) 5 & 10K
Deep Root Center and The Yoga Loft are teaming up to co-sponsor this 5 & 10K run (walk) to be held on March 28th at the Remington Trail in Canton. Play on joining us and register online. Your registration fee benefits both The Yoga Loft and Deep Root Center.
Do you first notice the effort, or errors?
Do you recognize the growth, or only see the immaturity?
Is their pain visible to you, or do you only note, and then emphasize their behaviors?
Do you focus on the potential, or do you obsess over the problems?
Can you gratefully accept a challenge, or will you throw up your hands in defeat?
Do you detect the beauty within imperfection, or will you discard it like trash?
Do you question why a five-year-old needs a special room at school to de-stress, or do you accept that pressure is an essential part of life for even the youngest among us?
Do you wonder why coercion is an immense component of our culture, or do you accept it as inevitable?
Your perspective is a powerful tool. Those initial interpretations will automatically determine your response, as well as the impact you will have on someone’s life.
Will you be an agent of affirmation, possibilities, empathy, and change, or will you be a curator of the status quo?
Have you checked out the DRC Exploration Station Suite of extended services? If your family needs programming in the afternoon, during school breaks, or on snow days we are here for you.
You and I, each, have opinions formed from our experiences and personal understanding, or perceptions of the world around us. Those convictions, however, give neither of us permission, nor an obligation to place judgment on each other, or anyone else for their life choices and beliefs and ideologies.
This may seem like a pretty straightforward concept; nevertheless, our culture is over-run with criticism, and overwrought, moral outrage in response to other people who are simply living their everyday lives. We seem to think that it is okay to judge, and yes, shame, someone for the clothes they wear, the way they style their hair, their body type or size, the color of their skin, the type of foods they eat (or don’t eat), how they spend their money (whether they are poor or not), how they earn their money, the house they live in, the type of pets they own, the number of children they have, including their reproductive choices, their gender identity and sexual preferences, the God, or Gods they worship, along with their spiritual beliefs, all the way to their method and approach to learning, as well as the choices they make to educate themselves and their family.
This serves as a reminder; as long as no part of someone’s physicality, lifestyle, or personal life choices are actively or potentially going to harm another, we have absolutely no responsibility, duty, or reason to place judgement on that person’s life. It is quite simply none of our business. The end!
Despite the seeming finality of that last exclamation, the above was just the beginning of my thought processes around judgment. All those assessments that we hand out, heedlessly, are based purely on our personal biases. Our thoughtless evaluations are the foundation for the indiscriminate assignations we place on people. What we can’t seem to grasp is that those insidious labels do irreparable harm.
Once a label is designated within your mind - not only will you begin to treat that person by their assigned tag – but others will too. Fairly quickly, everyone will recognize that person by their label, including the individual themselves. You know on a profound level that this happens all the time – you hear about the bad kid, the violent kid, the troubled teen, or the LD kid. “He is 5 and can’t read!” “He can’t focus or sit still in the classroom!” “They can’t seem to follow the instructions.” “She is provocative - she wears leggings and camisoles.” Or, “They must be troubled - they refuse to go to school – are gender non-conforming - have tattoos, piercings, and weird hair - listen to rap and Hip-Hop - play computer games – are on their phones all day - and … you do know who their older brother is – right ...”
The labels follow them wherever they go. It is especially hard to outrun your designated status, here in the NoCo, with our minuscule population, where everyone either knows (is related to), or has heard of you and your family.
Eventually, the child (teen) adopts the persona that has been, so handily, imposed upon them. In their minds, they really are the “bad,” “dumb,” or “worthless” kid, which in addition to becoming anxious, depressed, and completely overwhelmed, gives them the excuse to behave accordingly. And, then, we scratch our heads and try to “solve” the “problem,” that we in essence have created for them, by reinforcing their personally held convictions, with coercive and controlling methodologies and programs.
We are all guilty of this! Which is the main reason I tell families that I don’t want to see school records. I don’t want to hear about the labels that have been assigned to their child. In my estimation, they are nothing more than a rap sheet that, I know, will unconsciously affect my perceptions and the way I work with that child.
Through my daily interactions and conversations, and weekly mentoring sessions, I spend an enormous amount of time trying to erase the closely held, damaging beliefs kids have about themselves, and replace those with positive affirmations. “You are awesome.” “The way your brain works is genius.” “You have great ideas.” “Your artwork is brilliant.” “I am so proud of the way you handled that situation.” “I really like how you stuck with it, and worked that out for yourself.” “I couldn’t figure that out, but you did.” “I am glad that you were willing to help X with that project.” “That hack was amazing. I am glad you showed me.” “You can do anything that you put your mind too.” “You were incredibly kind, and thoughtful just now.” Or, simply, “thank you for being you - I appreciate you.”
My greatest hope is that my encouraging messages and observations will take hold, before they harm themselves, someone else, or do something illegal, because of those internalized convictions, and face extreme consequences within our society. My dominant fear is that my efforts will be too late.
Don’t miss out! DRC is extending our Exploration Station afternoon programming to the February School Break – 2/17-21. Drop-in options are available, as well as extended afternoon programming. Check it out here, and register today!
The one definitive thing I have learned over the past six years of providing a non-coercive, non-compulsory learning environment is that when people have the opportunity to make their own choices, the decisions they make are not necessarily the ones I would have suggested, or even anticipated, based on the information I was working with. In gifting free choice, I have relinquished all control over other people’s life. I can, and will, make observations and suggestions, but in the end, I understand clearly, that each person is in charge of their own life.
This comes with the knowledge that another person’s decisions may, very well, directly affect my reality. This means I will get disappointed, discouraged, and generally bummed on occasion (a few in the last couple of weeks). Nevertheless, I recognize (after the initial reflexive response to the punch in the gut) that fighting the outcomes and responding with frustration and anger will only make it harder to deal with in the end.
Ultimately, I have decided to trust in the power, and bequests, of Mother Universe. I know without a doubt that she is looking out for all of us. When I can step back, accept, and go with the flow – I can anticipate the amazing opportunities, hidden within all those disappointments and hurts, that Serendipity, in all her wisdom, is working on behind the scenes, just waiting for the perfect circumstances to bestow on each of us.
For most of us, the piece that requires us to adjust our perspective before we can recognize the advantages of the path to which we have been redirected - is the element behind our resistance.
Sometimes, we need the reminder that the ability to adapt and move on with new information, is the evolutionary advantage that makes us human.
We are curating a wish list of items and materials needed for various projects and activities. We are also looking for volunteers to help with some of those projects, as well as facilitate classes. Please get in touch if you can help with any of these things. Thank you!
Just for fun, type “productivity quotes” into Google and see what pops up. In case you were not already aware, this provides one more piece of evidence that our culture is completely obsessed with “productivity.” We are all constantly under pressure to produce stuff, anything, to prove something to the world. What we forget it is that the process is just as, if not more, valuable than a precisely finished product.
A perfect example of this is taken from my observations when I table at events and Farmer’s Market. I always have an abundance of various art and craft materials for kids to use while I engage their parents in conversation. I used to bring examples of projects – craft stick puppets, etc., but always told the kids they are free to use any of the items to experiment and play. Oftentimes, the kids were happy to examine the resources and start randomly creating whatever struck their fancy. However, in most cases, their adult immediately latched onto the example and stepped in to “help” the child produce a reasonable facsimile of the craft. They wanted the child to have something to show for their efforts while the kid was happy to let the process be the product.
What we don’t quite understand is that being productive does not necessarily mean anything, besides the appearance it provides of being occupied or competent. Busywork looks productive. Homework looks productive. Sitting silently and staring into space does not, nor does play.
You see, we are actually confusing productivity with progress. Just because you look busy does not necessarily mean you are doing anything beyond spinning your wheels.
Progress, on the other hand, sometimes, at first glance, appears to be stagnate - like a whole lot of nothing, or even extremely messy. One step forward and two steps back. What we forget is that the process of making mistakes, examining the outcomes of those errors, and adjusting our approach are all essential parts of learning – or making progress.
Progress can be quiet and contemplative, or it can be playful and fun. It can be infinitesimal to the point of not being noticeable, except by those who are paying close attention. Or, it can be giant leaps that seem impossible until you conceive how much invisible effort and time it took to get there.
As human beings, we are all making progress in our own unique way. To judge someone’s productivity based solely on what you see and what you believe to be necessary for advancement or success, only means you are missing the amazing progress that is happening on the levels that are not clearly visible.