As I see it there are three basic reasons rules exist: safety, control, and ease. Laws, regulations, and policies are created by many entities including: governments, cultures and religions, organizations and institutions, as well as individual families and clans.
The laws designed to keep the populous safe are generally guided by common sense (no killing or other violent acts, stop at stop signs, etc). Most of us are fairly good at obeying those rules, because (a) we want to stay out of jail, (b) we are interested in living a good long life, and (c) they make sense!
I would argue that the majority of rules, however, fall into those other categories of control and ease. They are also the ones that are usually the most open to different personal interpretations, can often have harmful side effects (ex. mandating girls clothing leads to the sexualization of female apparel), and are the ones most frequently disobeyed or ignored.
As many of my friends and family will attest, I do not like to follow instructions and I am not very good at following rules, even the ones that I have made up myself (one thing we often forget, rules are made up by someone). I quite often disregard directives and intentionally proceed in a way that makes the most sense to me (as long as no one else will be harmed by my disobedience).
When a rule is designed purely as a way to control others, instead of being supportive and nurturing, I firmly believe it should be altered or eliminated.
This is a message I pass on to my students regularly: challenge authority; ask why; in fact, ask lots of questions, and if you disagree, be willing to stick your neck out to create change in the most respectful way possible.
The majority of rules are made to be altered, all it takes is a few renegades to take the lead and show us the way.
*This post was not instigated by anything beyond my own thoughts regarding the senseless regulations that dictate our lives.
How does an idea or concept, product or service go from being viewed as wildly unorthodox and hazardous to being accepted by a large portion of the population? It often takes time and a small group of people (lone nuts- watch this video) who are willing to risk appearing foolhardy or flat out stupid to take a chance. Then, as those folks expound on the benefits, profit, or performance of the commodity, more people will be willing to try it; they in turn will spread the message and so on until it becomes a known quantity and therefore loses its aura of danger.
Yes, all it takes is those few crazy risk takers to start a trend or revolution!
This phenomenon has been repeated for every fad, craze, and culturally acknowledged norm throughout history, however, in today's world of social media, instant connectedness, and unlimited access to information this concept, also called horizontal marketing, occurs at an insanely rapid pace.
Deep Root Center is no different from any other weird, out there, demented idea, that eventually created cultural change. I mean come on --- we are telling kids that school is optional because learning is natural; if they are unhappy, bored, bullied, or disenfranchised, they can leave school and get a life. They can become students of the universe and study whatever interests them most. They can follow their passions now and not wait until they are 18. They can own their education, and, YES, we TRUST them to do just that!
Two years ago people actively avoided me because I was spreading this insidiously dangerous message of independence and intrinsic motivation.
Fortunately for DRC, there are a few lone nuts in St. Lawrence County who were willing to take the gamble and give this crazy concept a whirl. Those pioneers are spreading the word about their successful experiences at DRC, and now, in this very short time, people are seeking me out, asking questions, and they are choosing Deep Root Center as their educational facility, community, and resource, not because they are desperate, but because of the multiple benefits we offer our youth members.
No, we are not a hot commodity, yet, but we are leaving the risky station and heading for new status, who knows, in another year or two, we may be accepted as just another run of the mill, everyday, educational alternative in St. Lawrence County that just happens to be offering this extraordinary thing called self-directed learning.
1. I think it is fair to say that I love writing this blog. I find it intensely satisfying to craft something out of random thoughts that hit me as the result of a conversation or event, as well as from reading or listening to other blogs, YouTube videos, podcasts, and online articles. Going forward, I will continue to do my very best to acknowledge the people who instigated the thoughts and ideas that result in each blog post.
This particular piece was inspired by a combination of a Seth Godin blog, the DRC Housewarming event, a Ted Talk -YouTube video I watched several years ago, and the many conversations I have had with DRC families and community members over the past few weeks.
2. I am overwhelmed and so incredibly grateful for the sheer number of people who came out to our housewarming party this past Thursday evening. Thank you to everyone for embracing and spreading the word about this game changing concept for so many kids in our community.
Owning your education is compelling and rewarding, but often a logistically, culturally, and emotionally challenging objective to accomplish, and is possibly the single scariest thing people can execute in our society. Because, it is the exact antithesis to the messages of conformity, control, and competition that are ingrained in the very foundation of our formal educational system.
This, however, is the fundamental gift we offer to every youth member of Deep Root Center.
The message of ownership is implicit in all we do: We foster an atmosphere of mutual respect that is palpable for any individual who enters our doors. We never tell a kid what or what not to do. Respect for yourself, the space, and each other is, in fact, our only rule. We ask for opinions and listen carefully to the responses. We involve our members and implement their proposals in every aspect of DRC. We offer ideas for one-on-one classes, internships, or independent research during our individual mentoring sessions, without demands. We have expectations that are offered as a guide, not as coercive or restrictive directives. We (staff, students, and volunteers) are all delighted to learn and explore new ideas and seek out knowledge and our excitement is simply contagious.
In what other educational environment are kids encouraged to not only take ownership of their learning, but to take possession and personal responsibility of the learning facility itself?
I was so happy (actually ecstatic) to watch a group of kids, ranging in age from 7-15, do just that during DRC's first group meeting this past Tuesday. These youth had never been in a room all together, but yet in this short amount of time, they were comfortable enough with themselves, their ideas, the space, the staff (me), and the philosophy of DRC to confidently present ideas for group classes and then implement those ideas.
During that half hour session, they built a group schedule of one or two classes each day, to begin with. As more members and volunteers join us, their suggestions and interests will be welcomed and added to the mix.
DRC Promo, the class they seem most excited about so far, is one they initiated. They, as a collective, decided that they will be responsible for producing and writing weekly tag-lines for the signboard on the sidewalk. This week's is: “Real Kids, Learning Real Stuff at DRC”. They will also be creating and distributing the monthly poster advertising the DRC Third Thursday Info Sessions. As they gain steam, I can imagine their creative energy exploding into other areas of promotion. They may even have the opportunity to do PSA's on a local radio station.
Ownership is indeed powerful, enticing, and grounding. Amazing things happen when kids realize they are in charge of their own education. Not only has their desire to learn become intrinsically motivated, these kids are seeking out opportunities to explore their world in ways that are, for the most part, unheard of in school.
I find it confusing, upsetting, and downright alarming to discover that many people are completely amazed when they find a person, organization, or company that strives to do amazing work.
The perplexed part of me asks, “don't people feel better when they can help someone else?”
The distressed part asks, “isn't respect an important part of our culture?”
And the shocked part asks, “if you don't care about your work, who will?” And, “how is it that as a society, we do not have the expectation that everyone is ethical, empathetic, and kind?”
How has our society arrived at this deplorable and downright despicable state of affairs? As you have probably guessed --- I have a few ideas.
Instead of enumerating those, however, I will focus on the positive aspects and identify what doing good work entails: meeting everyone with respect without prejudice, taking responsibility without taking over, be willing to change the rules without compromising your organizations principles, be willing to go the extra mile without becoming a doormat, offer empathy without pity, apologizing when you mess up without blaming, listening without speaking over the other person, and be willing to change your mind without expecting the other person to change theirs.
We all do important work and we are all equals; although, some of us are leaders and others are the worker bees, all occupation and diversity of beings is important and vital to our society. Take pride in all you are and all you do whether you sweep the floors, talk to customers on the phone all day, stand at a cash register, teach, farm, paint, or run a large corporation.
This pertains to your everyday life as well; everything you do shows the world how much you really care about yourself and others. Because, when it comes right down to it, actions will always speak louder than words.
Make “doing good work” your default mode and lead by example. We will all benefit from your efforts.