A high percentage of conversations I have about Deep Root Center start with that question. This is my short answer: “We are instead of school. We support kids to leave school and get a life. We offer kids the opportunity to follow their interests and passions now instead of after they spend thirteen years sitting at a desk taking tests and being told what to do.”
Yes some would say what we do is pretty original, pretty out there, and some would even venture to say, pretty radical. Sometimes I understand why most people don't “get it” the first time they hear the explanation. We have, after all, been brainwashed into believing that kids aren't going to learn unless we put them in a classroom, at a desk, listening to a teacher, or doing worksheets for six to seven hours a day, and then send them home with two to three more hours of homework. I have even heard people claim that students won't get into college if they don't have access to AP classes or take Regents exams.
There are so many myths and untruths in the previous statements. Firstly, we have concrete, scientific proof from a multitude of sources that people learn and retain the knowledge--when they are interested, completely involved, and engaged in the subject. In other words, learning does not happen just because someone stands at the front of a classroom and lectures. It doesn't happen because kids are sitting still at their desks, and it certainly doesn't happen because they took a test and scored well. All that proves is that they learned the material for long enough to take the test or they are good test takers.
Secondly, colleges, and employers are actually looking for interesting, passionate individuals who know themselves, have the “soft skills” (outlined in this post), and are open-minded, life-long learners. They want to talk to young people who are compelling and have something unique to offer their institution. They want students who have actual portfolios with writing, and creative or STEM based projects. To reiterate, they are not looking for sheep and carbon-copy kids who have the same exact transcript (with AP classes or not) as every other student who comes through their admission's or human resource's office. In fact, many colleges and universities are intentionally choosing to be test-optional. Some are even refusing to accept SAT or ACT scores as part of the admission process. You can find the list at FairTest.
To return to the original question: What is it you do? Here is the longer, involved and more complicated response. We do whatever a student wants us to do, because this is self-directed learning! We listen closely to each individual youth and their family to develop a learning plan that is realistic and reflects the enthusiasms of the student. We offer rigorous classes for those seeking them; we offer a creative zone; we offer hands-on activities; we offer help finding internships and shadowing opportunities; we offer mentoring; we offer the space to think independently and to learn from experience; we offer the joy of exploring new ideas and concepts; and, most importantly, we offer the opportunity to learn how to learn.
And on the other side, this is what we don't do: We will not tell any child or family what to do or learn. We will not say “someday you will need to take x or y class, because . . .” We do not give exams, we do not give grades, we do not judge any student based on labeling or their past experiences, we do not get any state funding, and we do not make excuses!
Deep Root Center is here for kids who are excited about learning and don't want to wait until they are eighteen to explore their options. The world of possibilities is open to them now. They can break out of the mold, stop following the flock, and choose something original, bold, different, and radical today!
I am often flabbergasted that youth are blamed for not magically having the many skills they need to navigate the world when they turn eighteen. The complaints and accusations about youth being lazy, irresponsible, and disrespectful just don't compute. This is a gentle reminder that they are a product of the society we have all created.
We have to go back to the cause and effect nature of the problem. Our children are savvier about so much in the world. They are more mature in some respects than kids from my generation, but it is a different level of maturity. At the age of twelve I was entrusted to baby-sit a newborn baby; I was an innocent in so many ways, but I had common sense. I had already taken care of my younger siblings, and I knew how to cook and bake. I was able to look at a situation and decide what needed to be done. I was, in short, responsible.
Today we measure maturity by the ability to navigate a smart phone, by wearing the right clothes, having the correct hairstyle, and owning the latest gadget or fad. In other words, maturity often is determined by what other people think of us and how they see our perceived level of sophistication. Our kids worry about not fitting in instead of being themselves. If they are in the least bit different, they become the outsiders. It truly is a dog eat dog world. To paraphrase a quote I saw recently, being mature is the ability to try to understand why someone hurt you instead of hurting them back. Which brings back undesirable and uncomfortable memories of middle school for many of us.
Superficiality is just part of the problem. The number of opportunities our children have to think for themselves determines another factor directly related to maturity. We don’t allow youth to be engaged in many decisions that directly affect their life. From the very beginning kids are told what to do and it continues through their young adult life. Obviously, we don't want to overwhelm young children with 100 options. But, two or three gives them autonomy and the pleasure of learning how to make a decision. As children grow they are able, with guidance, to make bigger more important, life altering decisions and we should allow them those opportunities. As they become more comfortable making judgment calls, they are often able to look at an issue from multiple sides, therefore gaining the ability to empathize and understand other points of view. And boom they have a level of maturity that enables them to participate in the world as adults.
No it isn't an instantaneous process; it only feels like our children grow up in the blink of an eye. As long as we provide them with the opportunities and space to make mistakes and trust them with important life choices, they will be able to negotiate life on their own terms without apology when they do venture away from home.
People often express their desire for legions of things in the form of desperation. They are desperate for a good night’s sleep or a vacation, desperate for a nice chunk of dark chocolate or a glass of wine, or desperate for a home-cooked meal or an evening out without the kids.
We hear less, however, about the anguish some kids and their families are suffering through in school. Sometimes it sneaks up on them; after all, "she was happily engaged last year, so why should this year be different?" Sometimes they see it coming, but ignore the symptoms; “oh, he'll grow out of it; “It's just ___ class this semester; I made it through.” But sometimes in pure desperation they seek out tools and resources to support their child to leave the toxic environment.
Deep Root Center for Self-Directed Learning is that resource in the St Lawrence Valley. If you know of a family who is desperately searching for educational options, please tell them it is okay to leave school. Deep Root Center presents a multitude of learning possibilities designed to release the pressure and bring sighs of relief not to mention smiles back to their child's face.
By Maria Corse
Understanding that an organization has a level of responsibility to be truthful, completely honest and provide full transparency is universally acknowledged as due course. In the real world, however, that is not necessarily the case. Many times we are presented with an illusion of process, an illusion of truth, and an illusion of transparency, because many businesses and organizations understand two things: as a culture we have a really short attention span, and we only see what we want to see. Many of us are quite willing to be hoodwinked into believing something that is a few steps away from the truth.
We have all heard the term “white-washing;” well now we have “green-washing,” “local-washing,” and, get this, “pink-washing,” That's right, businesses, organizations and even government officials know that one way to please consumers and citizens is to provide what appear to be the desired messages or goods.
Only most of us don't look deeply enough to discover that in most cases (yes, there are exceptions), these promises are an illusion. My mother used to tell us, “if something looks or sounds to good to be true, it usually is.” If you think that big box store cares more about the environment, our community, or its workers than its bottom line, you are sadly misinformed. The same goes for any other organization that has a board of trustees, lobbyists, or shareholders to satisfy. Profits and power often speak louder than our disapproval.
This whole conversation does not exclude smaller entities that create procedural illusions meant to satisfy or appease us. This has become the unfortunate outcome of our collective desire for sound bites and feel-good propaganda.
We promise to counter all of the above with a vow to continue to build Deep Root Center with no hidden agendas or illusions. What you see is what you get, warts and all. We are real people making real change and honest mistakes. No, we are not perfect, nor do we seek to be. Some would say we are honest to a fault. I would agree; that is our intent. Look behind the transparent curtain, no wizards, and no cards up our sleeve, just pure and honorable intentions to help kids realize their awesome potential. We are here to serve.
This Halloween, I will be making an appearance as my alter ego, the Social Justice Fairy; I understand this statement is shocking for the people who have heard me express my deep dislike (okay, hatred) for Halloween and for dressing up. Yes, I can hear the exclamations of shock, skepticism, and in some cases dismay. And, yes, I am the person who recently wrote about her hesitance to wear earrings because of the unwanted attention they may bring my way. I figured it is about time to break out the costume (I am going all out, you won't want to miss this), after avoiding all things Halloween for 38 years (for those of you doing the math, I last wore a costume as a 6th grader). I am pretty excited about transforming into the Social Justice Fairy for one evening, to be perfectly honest. This old world is in need of some fairy dust, magic incantations, and some serious wand waving.
All fun aside, social justice is a topic that requires us all to think deeply about our own circumstances and those around us. Most of you have the good fortune to have all of your basic needs met: food, clothing, and shelter, check, check, and check. Many people around us do not have even those essentials. They have to decide whether they will pay their rent or buy food with their minimum wage paycheck. These folks don't appear outright homeless, but looks can be deceiving. They may be one mishap away from losing their home and one non-budgeted expense away from eating Ramen noodles for the remainder of the month. We all know the statistics, but it is so easy to blame the victims. If only they worked harder, if only they didn't spend money on “luxuries,” if only...
In my mind, the debate always turns to education. Our system has failed over and over again, because we put everyone on the same track. This conversation has become a group of clichés: fitting square pegs into round holes and one size doesn't fit all. At what point do we go beyond the platitudes, realize there are thousands of kids who are going to end up on the bottom of the economic heap if we don't do something today?
What does that something look like, you ask? How can we solve a problem that people have been trying to fix for a while? Can public education be part of the solution?
I (even as the Social Justice Fairy) obviously don't have all the answers, but the most basic, simple ideas are usually the best solutions for even the biggest problems.
Equality, the backbone of social justice, is often derided and misunderstood. I would like to clear up some misconceptions:equality does not mean we are all identical; however, it does means we are all given the same opportunity to make decisions and choices that influence our lives.
To go back to the philosophy that guides my life, let's put education back into the hands of the students. Let’s empower our kids to make the choices that will affect them. When kids are in the driver’s seat of their own education, they will have the opportunity to make decisions that will influence the direction of their lives.
No, this does not mean we put them out there without a rudder. Adults and teachers become their mentors and guides; education becomes a conversation instead of a lecture.
When all this happens, youth will be self-motivated, self-directed, and self aware. They will be able to take their place at the table because they have the knowledge and understanding of how important and powerful one voice can be.
Now back to my one concern about this whole costume thing... how long will my hair stay hot pink?