Learned helplessness is probably the most common, the least recognized, and definitely the most frustrating affliction I encounter among the young people who join DRC. Some of them come to us with medically diagnosed or institutionally identified designations, which they proudly own. While others have been bullied and come away with damaging epitaphs, which, strangely, also become points of pride.
Those of you who read this blog regularly, know that I despise labels, in their many forms, with a deep passion. As indicated above, they often become profoundly held convictions that are used, ad- nausea, as excuses or crutches.
Sometimes, learned helplessness is subtle, it may take me a while to realize what is going on, and at other times the metaphorical, huge, red victim sign is worn prominently around their necks – one that quite literally weighs them down. (The posture is unmistakable.) The entire world can see it without investigating too deeply. Blame and defensive attitudes are automatic and unconscious responses, which become justifications in every situation.
These kids are frequently commitment-phobes. They have no idea what interests them, and even if they did, they don’t want to (won’t) take on anything new or make their own decisions. Mainly, because in doing so, they ultimately have to take responsibility for the positive results, which totally ruins their closely held personal story of inadequacy, as well as their mistakes (they can’t blame someone or something else).
And, are they ever afraid of making mistakes! Each student understands that errors are to be avoided at all costs – they equal a bad grade or, even worse, a public reprimand.
Yes indeed, the coercive system of conformity, competition, one-size fits all, and high stakes testing has taught them well.
You can probably understand why I deem learned helplessness the hardest and most infuriating obstacle for us (them) to overcome. What these kids understand about themselves and about the world is the absolute antithesis of all that holds true of self-directed learning.
At DRC, during our mentoring sessions, we consistently ask our students what they are interested in – what lights their fire, and what they want to take on, including their aspirations. We want them to make clear choices with confidence, and we expect them to make mistakes because we recognize that blunders are the foundation for real learning.
Ultimately, what these kids need to shed this self-perpetuating and crippling label, is time to decompress – something some of them don’t have a lot of, considering they often join us as older teens – as well as, kindness, over the top encouragement, and endless patience.
Don’t be fooled – even though we don’t (won’t) tell our kids what, where, how, and when to learn - providing the elements and place for self-directed education is an exhausting and daunting task. But, oh man, it is, so very, worth it when another one of “my” kids smiles at me and says with self-assurance beaming from their eyes, “hey, can I …?” Or, when they offer an authentic and spontaneous gesture of kindness to someone who is obviously struggling. And, when they agree to take on something that I know they were previously deathly afraid to do.
These are all the transformational moments of pure hope and inspiration that I live for. In reality, I can’t empower “my” kids; however, I can give them the tools and unconditional support that helps them to discover and revel in their very own superpowers.
We Are In!
This past Thursday was our first day at 48 Riverside Dr. Through the intense excitement of finally being in our new home, comes the realization that we still have a ton of organizing and setting up to accomplish over the next couple months. Trust me when I tell you that the view of the crammed full garage is a scary sight indeed. We promise to keep you updated on our progress. Maybe, someday soon we’ll even have a photo of a completely set-up carpentry shop in that garage.
UU Church Shared Offering
Next Sunday, November 11th, the Social Action Committee at the Canton UU Church has designated DRC as the recipient of their SASO (Social Action Shared Offering). The entire collection for that day will be donated to DRC. I will be speaking briefly during the service about our work. Please join us for the service at 10:30am. We appreciate our neighbor’s recognition and support of our mission.
Join us December 6th from 4-7 for a celebration of our new home and all of the folks who contributed their time and financial resources to make this dream come true. We hope to see you there!