Do you obsess about the things that you are challenging for you, or do you focus on those that you excel at? Most of us can immediately name all the stuff we suck at – and for the most part, we know this because our deficits have been pointed out by someone else --- over, and over, and over again.
Eventually, at a fairly early age, we begin to define ourselves by our negatives. I am bad at math, I have a really bad memory, I do not comprehend anything I read, I don’t understand spatial relationships, I have a hard time relating my ideas to others, the rules of grammar are really difficult to grasp, I am clumsy and really bad at sports, I am not musically inclined, or learning another language is impossible for me.
The above list could go on forever, because, I’m going to let you in on a secret here, no one, I mean absolutely none of us, will ever be good at everything – although I understand, there are some people who might appear to be.
Our educational system is built on the opposite premise – everyone should be brilliant in all things – especially those subjects on school report cards. And, by bringing a hyper-focus to the things a student has difficulty with, they will (should) understand that they can only work on getting better at those things. This entire concept is highlighted beautifully in this article that I just happened to stumble upon this morning.
What the system has lost sight of, completely, in that equation, is each unique individual and their psyche – their feelings, confidence levels, and essential selves. This is the central reason I meet confused kids who don’t know what they like, what they are good at, or are interested in, whose self-esteem is shattered and are experiencing bouts of overwhelming anxiety, kids who have lost all sense of curiosity and have no idea how to play. It is also the main explanation for why most of us are afraid to be authentic and true to ourselves.
What if instead, we focused on and celebrated those things people (kids) are good at? What if we encouraged them and provided the resources they needed to work really hard at those to go beyond proficient to an expert?
I can tell you, there would be far less mediocrity and apathy in our world. Not to mention the fact that we would have fewer reasons to be awestruck by the stories in our Facebook news feed about kids who have had the opportunity to follow their passions to become “prodigies” because every kid would have the freedom to do the same – it would be utterly commonplace for genius and brilliance to be on display at every turn.
We had a busy and exciting week! DRC-East, in Lawrenceville opened on Tuesday, Exploration Station, the DRC afternoon program began on Monday. And, we had a fantastic article about all we do in the Watertown Daily Times! Thank you to everyone who has worked hard to get us to this place.
* Photo above and the following copy is from the article ...
CANTON — Walking up to the two-story Deep Root Center, a crafted Tin Man, from “The Wizard of Oz,” serves as a greeter. Continuing onto the porch and crossing the threshold of the front door, a creative, colorful frenzy can be observed on any given day.
On Monday, that frenzy involved a colorful birthday cake baking in Deep Root Center’s kitchen oven and a sweet aroma filling the house.
“Kids learn how to seek out the information they want to learn on their own,” said Maria Corse, Deep Root Center founder and executive director. “It’s completely different than anything most people equate with education.”
Celebrating her 10th birthday, Kiana Tiernan, a student at Deep Root Center, cut into a vanilla cake adorned with rainbow sprinkles.
Deep Root is an education and after-school hub for students ages 5 to 19, where one rule is solidly enforced: respect.
Other than that, kids are encouraged to work through individualized learning plans with the help of Deep Root staff and peers.
The Center, 48 Riverside Dr., Canton, celebrated its sixth anniversary Monday, and will now offer programs in Lawrenceville — the second center will temporarily be located at the Lawrenceville Fire Department, until the permanent Lawrenceville rental space is ready.
The need to expand to a second location, Ms. Corse said, has arisen due to the Canton center being at capacity. By September 2019, 15 students were on the waiting list for the school year. The first day of programming in Lawrenceville is scheduled for Jan. 7.
Ms. Corse has 17 years of alternative education experience and believes in the playfulness of learning, that the best learning outcomes are derived from hands-on experimentation.
With learning and curricular flexibility, Deep Root operates on “self-directed learning,” and is modeled on programs facilitated by North Star Learning Center in Sunderland, Mass.
Founded in 1996 by Ken Danford and Joshua Hornick, North Star provides an alternative to middle and high school for teens, and as interest in the education style grew, similar centers started to emerge across the country.
After sharing its vision at replication conferences in 2011 and 2012, Liberated Learners, Sunderland, was built on the principles of North Star to assist local centers with organizational needs and increase awareness of the education model.
As a member of Liberated Learners, Deep Root Center fosters student development through a home school legal framework, which allows students to leave traditional school to become members of Deep Root.
To fulfill that framework, Individualized Home Instruction Plans are developed for each student with guidance from Deep Root staff.
Specific subjects, including math and English, are incorporated into IHIPs in compliance with state law, and at Deep Root, such subjects are referred to as “buckets” that are intended to be filled with classes, projects, creative activities and independent research, all in line with a student’s personal interests.
Serving kids who have previously been enrolled at more conventional public or private schools, or acting as a supplement to kids who are home schooled at their own residences, Deep Root aims to offer something for everyone. On Monday alone, Ms. Corse said, “we’ve got kids playing chess, we’ve got the bakers and the art makers.”
While the younger students, called “seedlings,” are guided with more structure, older kids and teens are granted freedom to explore their learning goals and check in with staff mentors weekly.
For Deep Root apprentice Chase Villenueve, becoming part of the Deep Root team after completing his work as a student last year was an easy decision.
Mr. Villenueve arrived at Deep Root Center as a student in 2017 from Gouverneur High school, where he was constantly concerned about time — timed classes, time to study, timed tests and a generally time-oriented schedule.
“Here, I didn’t have to worry about time,” Mr. Villenueve said. “I had time to do stuff at my own pace.”
Though transitioning from public school to Deep Root required some adjusting, Mr. Villenueve said the stress level associated with Deep Root was more manageable, and he has been proud of his role as an apprentice helping other students at the center.
All students, Ms. Corse said, are welcome at Deep Root Center — regardless of a family’s ability to pay. And with the center providing around $120,000 a year in fee reductions, Ms. Corse has looked to community partnerships and a budding after-school program to fill gaps.
“I pinch a dime until it screams,” she said.
In partnership with the Food Bank of Central New York and through the Church and Community Program of Canton and the Canton Neighborhood Center, Deep Root receives food pantry items each week to keep the center’s kitchen stocked and students fed.
As Deep Root Center grows, so does the need for continued support, which can take a variety of forms, Ms. Corse said, from registering kids in the center’s after-school care program to volunteering to share a certain skill or passion with students.
Between the chasing footsteps and experimenting, a student sat in the “chill space” quietly reading, another composed a song upstairs using a computer software program.
But all eventually convened in the kitchen when Kiana informed them, “Cake is ready.”
No, I am not alluding to the massive trucks covered in flashing lights, filled with a grainy sandy-salty mixture, and equipped with an enormous curved blade on the front and another “wing blade” off to the side (famously known for cutting down rural mailboxes), that those of us here in northern climes both rely on, and dread meeting from the opposite direction or getting behind, during our long winters. I am, actually, referring to the, less than laudable, newly minted terminology describing parents who go beyond hovering (I’m sure you have all heard of the ubiquitous child rearing style – called helicopter parenting) to actually create a barrier of protection, and actively pushing (removing) obstacles or potential disappointment out of their child’s path, before the child can encounter it.
Beyond creating entitled, narcissistic, and obnoxious brats, these parenting techniques go against every natural law of childhood.
All animal babies, including humans, have evolved an innate technique that beautifully uses exploration, experimentation, and, an inborn flexibility to adjust the original plan, based on errors, as the dominant method of learning. Kids are incredibly resilient – their bodies and minds are designed to play, get bumps and bruises, seek out danger to see, for themselves, how far they can safely push the limits; they are supposed to encounter obstacles, barriers, and disappointment. This is the natural means of acquiring knowledge, not only about the world, but themselves – what they like, what they dislike, what they are good at, and most importantly how they each learn best as individuals.
Are they visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learners, or some combination? Do they gravitate towards logical, mathematical type thinking or are they more inclined to think about things in a more fluid and organically creative way? Are they happy to be solitary or do they feel better surrounded by people? Will they gain more information through visual and spatial cues, nature, or music and rhythm? The only thing children need to understand all of this is an environment filled with real-life stuff as well as caring, loving, and supportive adults (who are willing to get out of the way and follow the child’s lead) were they are free to roam, investigate, and explore on their own, and seek out help when needed, without hindrance or prefabricated agendas. Most of us know these things about ourselves because we have had the opportunity to investigate and test out our own preferences, throughout our entire lives – from infant-hood on.
I wonder, though, is it our culture itself that is responsible for producing Helicopter and Snowplow Parents? In our attempts to keep kids safe in what we perceive to be an unsafe world – we have attempted to recreate, carefully cultivated, antiseptically cleaned, “safe” environments that replicate everything children “need” - from “playgrounds,” retail “play spaces,” and specially designed “playrooms” in our homes, to daycare facilities, preschools, and (of course) schools. We shame the parents who actively avoid these often age segregated spaces filled with safe equipment, predetermined lessons, adult driven activities, and arbitrary rules that offer little room for exploration or outside the box thinking, and a whole lot of control.
As a culture, we have developed what amounts to unimaginative, creativity (and immunity) killing, padded cells. And, in doing so, we have effectively removed those biological and cultural mechanisms for learning (not to mention health); leaving children, as they grow older, to flounder, rudderless, without any other authentic means of seeking out information about themselves or their world. Subsequently, in our attempt to keep kids safe, we are anesthetizing them from real life, and we are also inhibiting their natural immunity (yes, kids are sicker), with (the irony of it all) toxic chemicals. You can be sure that these kids will eventually rebel!
This all means many of our kids are entering adulthood without a literal, or figurative, clue. They have no idea what they are interested in – what really lights their fire, and have no way of figuring it out, because they have been taught to fear the unknown (including the outdoors and all it encompasses - but most especially - dirt), change, disappointment, and making mistakes. They also don’t know how to solve problems or think creatively. They expect to be entertained, want everything to easily fall into their laps, and are keenly disappointed when they don’t. And, they honestly don’t know how to fix that. Instead, they blame others for their failures, seek out means of artificially removing obstacles, and often inflate their own accomplishments to appear more influential, well rounded, and smarter. I am deeply saddened to say, as a society, we are not growing people who care about kindness, or helping others - who understand empathy or compassion – we are raising people whose main objective is to get ahead, and they will use whatever unscrupulous means it takes to get there.
Opening day for DRC -East is Tuesday! Stay-tuned for photos and other developments, as we get established. Contact us if you are interested in learning more about joining us in Lawrenceville. There are limited spaces available.
The DRC Afternoon Programs opens Monday, January 6th. Register your child today!
This past week, I have been thinking about what to write in this last blog post of 2019, and, of the entire decade - no pressure there! I started reflecting on how far we have come over just the past year and the immense gratitude I feel towards the people who have invested an astounding amount of their time and talent, physical energy, positive vibes, and financial contributions - not to mention, the incredible families who trust us with their children’s education.
With all of that love and confidence standing solidly behind us, we are literally doubling our facilities and staff, and tripling our programming over the next week!
Looking back to the beginning of this academic year (as I have mentioned here before), I knew we would need to open a new facility – sooner or later. As the Fall progressed and we continued to add kids to our waiting list, it became apparent that it would have to be on the sooner end of things. Nevertheless, as with most things in my life, I trusted that everything would fall in to place, exactly when and where it needed to be. And, that is exactly what transpired – all starting with a spontaneous visit this past August.
One of our parents, happened to meet a friend at the local gas station. The friend was commiserating about how miserable her kids were in school. This parent said, “come with me, I have to show you this place that my kids love!” They showed up with kids, a grandparent, and a puppy in tow, during our Summer Programming. I gave them a quick whirlwind tour and then got on with my day of facilitating projects with the Summer Peeps – and in the process completely forgot the friend’s name.
Flash forward a couple weeks – Loretta, a Grandma (Mema) called to check out DRC for her grandchildren. We were full at that point, but I offered to meet with her to discuss options. Two amazing, in person, conversations, of marathon length, later, I discovered that her son owns a home in Lawrenceville that is massive, and upon inquiring, is open to having DRC use it as our permanent facility (we will use the Lawrenceville Fire Station short term until, it is ready for us). But the kicker of this whole story is, a month later, after finally putting the pieces together, I realized that the friend (Erin) who came by with the parent in August, is the one who told Loretta about us. And, after listening to Loretta expound on her many talents, I offered Erin the After-School Staff Position, which, I am thrilled to say, she accepted. I am excited to see how she, and our After-School apprentice, Ryan, bring this new program to life.
In this round about and inextricably, wondrous and serendipitous way, we now have a new center, an after-school program, and a lead staff person for each (not to mention, several more student members) all from that one spontaneous gesture!
This all would not have been possible without Chris. I really can’t begin to express my appreciation for my “sidekick” Christopher Raymo, who, like all well-respected sidekicks in the super-hero world, is the backbone and, let’s be honest, the magic behind the daily functions of DRC- Canton. He is the main reason I have been able to sequester myself in the office to focus on these expansion plans, as well as all the other admin. “stuff,” and the, essential, mentoring sessions with members. He, quietly and patiently, holds everything together, including the physical space. There is a reason I "secretly" refer to him as the “kid-whisperer.”
I am also thankful to have Chase Villeneuve as our apprentice at DRC- Canton. He has learned a ton over the last couple months and I anticipate awesome things from him, when we rely more heavily on him during the remainder of his tenure.
Trish Pielnik, has agreed to be our new lead staff for DRC-East in Lawrenceville; however, she is no stranger to DRC. After randomly picking up a DRC brochure from the Potsdam Food Co-op and “cold calling” one day, in February or March of 2017, to inquire about volunteer opportunities, she started spending one full day at the Center each week. Trish’s passion for the outdoors led us to begin the Water, Woods, & Wild Wonders in Sept. 2017, with her as our volunteer coordinator of that program. I am beyond grateful to Trish for not only making that initial phone call and her friendship, but for the amazing levels of empathy and compassion she brought to our kids each week in that role, and her leap of faith in accepting this position. I am super excited to witness the growth and accomplishments, as both she and our student members at DRC- East explore all the possibilities, and find their footing in that new facility.
While this post has been focused on the DRC staff, please know that this note of gratitude extends my deepest thanks to everyone (see the list above) who has had a role in getting us to where we are right now! I am beyond grateful and forever in your debt.
I look forward to exploring, with an open heart and mind, the many new serendipitous adventures and friendships this New Year (and decade) will bring! Onward!
* You will find the official bios of our inspiring staff (all 6 (!) of them) by following this link. *
Happy New Year to you all!
Two days left in 2019. Don’t miss out on tax-deductible contributions this year. You can donate online here.
Over the millions of years of human evolution – we, modern Homo sapiens, have only recently, lost our propensity for hibernating. No, it isn’t that the physiological or psychological needs went away – we are simply forcing our bodies to live as if it is perpetually summertime to keep pace with the modern world and expectations for busy-ness.
Nevertheless, our DNA carries that ancient memory of hibernating. Increasing darkness and colder days trigger that intense desire to curl up in a snug lair and sleep – just drowse away the days. Only waking long enough to fuel the body and the fire. We physically need those intervals of dormancy to allow for spurts of intense growth and renewal. In this crazy world of GO - GO - GO, we forget that new ideas, concepts, theories, and creative ingenuity are born in the still and quiet darkness.
On this day after winter solstice, I bestow upon you the gift of permission (not that you need it) to join me in hibernation. Pause - take a nap (or two, or three). Slow down, feather your nest with the coziest of blankets and pillows, a few books, (in my case, a Macbook) and a cat (or dog) or two, let go, allow your mind to meander wherever it chooses, be with your deepest self, and dream! Take as long as you need to replenish the reserves of mental and bodily strength and creativity that you will need to continue on your journey of growth, as you pursue all your aspirations. Rest well!
You were born curious. All humans come into this world with an innate desire to explore – taste, touch, hear, smell, and see everything within our reach. To be as succinct as possible, we are all, every single one of us, natural scientists.
No! Despite cultural evidence to the contrary, science is not a separate, exclusive, elusive field where brainy researchers conduct baffling experiments in rarefied environments.
Play is our fundamental mechanism for experimentation and every part of learning. At the end of the day, our inherent passion for information drives that playfulness. Science is art. Art is science. Curiosity is the key!
Without the desire to explore the possibilities there is no innovation, ingenuity, or revolutionary ideas. Science is life. Life is science. And - curiosity is the key!
Imagination, vision, individuality, and poetic genius, cannot exist without the compulsion to create. Life is art. Art is life. And, wait for it – curiosity is the one, and only, key.
Tragically, the coercive systems within our society are designed to obliterate all sense of inquisitiveness to, purposefully, produce obedient, compliant, docile citizens, who are not provided the tools or environment to learn how to think for themselves or create change.
When you take away the opportunity to question, explore, and create, not only do you remove the artistry and eloquence of science, but, eventually, the beauty and intentional merits of life itself.
You can make a difference by investing in DRC – the environment deliberately designed to instigate curiosity and creativity, and to generate outside the box - free thinkers. Thank you!
We are thrilled to announce that Erin Teirnan will be the lead staff person for Exploration Station – which opens January 6th. Stay-tuned to this space for her complete bio. Register online. We anticipate the limited spaces filling up quickly.
… is the one thing we, humans, prize above all else, and the ideology that this country was founded on. Nevertheless, if we are being utterly truthful, we clearly have very little choice in a large portion of the decisions that determine much of our lives. And, when you look closely at those allowed little or no privilege, never mind, a voice or opinion, including: people of color, women, single mothers, LBGTQ individuals, the impoverished, the traumatized, the isolated, rural, and marginalized populations, the sick, and most startling of all, our children - the stark reality of how few options exist for an enormous cross-section of the population is damning.
No! This is not a politically charged post. Except to say that governance should have everything to do with allowing people to live authentically, with common senses and decency – within a culture dedicated to kindness, equity, and above all the freedom to choose the best options (in all matters) for themselves and for their families, without judgment (criminalization), or blame.
As I have mentioned before, many people around the world are choosing various forms of self-directed education (SDE) for their children. Not only are local families flocking to DRC (as indicated by our growing waiting list), it has become a worldwide phenomenon. Kerry MacDonald, an economist and a founder of the Alliance for Self-Directed Education, who un-schools her own children outside Boston, MA, has become an important voice for the SDE movement. She has written a book called Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children Outside the Conventional Classroom and she also writes articles for various online formats, as well as renowned periodicals like the Wall Street Journal.
She wrote a recent article for Forbes, entitled - Closing the Choice Gap in American Education, with the image of “mind the gap” that you find in subway and train stations, directly under the title. This particular article and photo caught my eye and my imagination, because here in the NoCo (an enormous geographically, rural area), besides DRC, two Catholic schools, and a small, rural non-public private school, there are no other accessible educational alternatives to the public system. And, now, I just read that St. Mary’s in Canton will be closing at the end of June.
But, as someone recently pointed out, this constricting phenomenon, in impoverished areas around the country, but especially here, doesn’t only apply to education. It carries over to health-care, including mental health, housing, food, and durable good choices, which encompasses a scarcity of retailers (No, the sudden proliferation of the Dollar General stores in rural hamlets do not count as a viable choice.), and on, and on, and on …
I firmly believe that this endless list of free choice deprivation is the driving force behind the ubiquitous ills that plague St. Lawrence County. I won’t enumerate them all here – however, I think we all understand that the resulting traumas are what we encounter and try to deal with on the daily.
I am a proud native of the North Country; born in Potsdam (fun fact: my daughter, Kenzie, was born in the same room at CPH- 32 ½ years after I was). I grew up in Norfolk, Brasher, and then after living out-of-state for ten years, returned to raise my children in West Potsdam and finally built a home and settled off-the-grid in Pierrepont. I may playfully threaten to move someplace like, oh say, Vermont; in spite of all the teasing, as you probably guessed, I am profoundly committed to staying right here.
However, in all honesty, if I spend too much time cataloguing the problems that exist here, I too become easily overwhelmed and exhausted by the enormity of the challenges they represent. This is why I have honed my focus to establishing a viable option for children. In creating a positive space for them to grow, learn, and play, where they can take the time to develop goals and aspirations – an inspiring, safe environment filled with resources, materials, and supportive mentors, we consciously provide them with the freedom to make individual choices that will guide them to be the people they were destined to be.
And, we are dedicated to, intentionally, “minding the gap” that clearly exists in educational alternatives, by opening Deep Root Centers in towns, villages, and hamlets throughout St. Lawrence County. I envision doing this by becoming an integral part of each community, by sharing buildings and spaces that already exist in other capacities. Thus, we are excited to announce that DRC-East, our second center, will be opening January 7th using the Lawrenceville Fire Hall as our temporary home until the permanent location is ready for us. Beginning with two days a week (T & Th), it will eventually be open every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. This expansion will allow us to accommodate most of the folks currently on our waiting list - however, we anticipate several new applications once we open this DRC on the eastern side of the county. We understand that this one new Center will not fulfill the need!
As with most not-for-profits dedicated to creating opportunities, we work within the constraints of an extremely tight budget. BY consistently keeping our promise to accept anyone who needs our help, whether they can pay the full fee or not, over the past six years, our staff and Board are constantly seeking ways to fill the budgetary gaps. The families waiting to join DRC are a never-ending reminder that the educational option we provide is an essential component of the North Country.
We are asking you to contribute today. By choosing to underwrite Deep Root Center, not only are you investing in those inspiring young voices who are bravely choosing to take charge of their educations with us, but in the process, you are helping to tackle the systemic problems, created by scarcity of free choice, which persecutes the entire region. Thank you!
Yes, there is more exciting news from DRC! Our afternoon program, which offers a much-needed option for after-school care, with the basic DRC philosophy of non-coercion and hands-on, interest-based learning, is opening January 6th. Click here for more information. Please share this opportunity within your network.
Who decides what excellence means, or to be more accurate, what it looks like? What are the criteria? These questions could continue for another paragraph or so, but, I’ll stop here because I think you know where I am headed …
Excellence, along with its alter egos - perfection, superiority, flawlessness, and grade A+, has created a culture in which we are never fully satisfied with our real and authentic selves. This discontent includes all of the superficial imperfections, as well as the limitations, involuntarily, determined by the labels placed upon us by others, and ourselves. As a society, we slot everything into predetermined categories and then feel the compulsion to harshly judge the “broken,” the “flawed,” and the less than ideal. We don’t allow ourselves to celebrate the awesomeness of everyday accomplishments, feel gratitude for the commonplace, or honor the beauty of individual struggle. We simply don’t see the superpowers behind the labels.
As a result, most of us spend our lifetimes seeking out that elusive ideal by engaging in a variety of activities, which only produce a temporary "high" but will never completely fill that void created by the feelings of discontent and failure. When you think about it consumerism (our entire economy) is fueled by this obsession for achieving excellence.
Many of you will recall my dislike – I mean my complete and utter aversion of using diagnoses to label someone. I truly believe that they do nothing more than provide people with excuses: 1) to treat the labeled differently, and 2) for those who carry the label to allow that diagnosis to determine their behaviors and hold them back from achieving the things they always wanted.
A couple of weeks ago, I had a teen, who knows this about me, look me square in the eye and say, “but sometimes those labels can be helpful because they give a name to the thing that someone has been struggling with and believed they were the only one.” Well, that certainly gave me pause; however, after contemplating her view for a long time, my stance remains intact.
Simply put, I look at it like this: as humans, we are all somewhere on the various scales of neurodiversity, mental, and physical ability. So instead of pigeonholing, condescending, or condemning, I am encouraging that on a broader level within our society, we intentionally create space, time, and support where everyone has the opportunity to fully explore and recognize their inherent abilities - their personal brilliance. And, then, work through their own challenges to figure out and develop the techniques and personal life hacks that work best for them - which may not be (are probably not) the same ones that work for others with the same diagnosis. This along with the understanding that our life, itself, is in constant flux, is necessary for our personal evolution. For instance, I always work with the underlying knowledge that as I grow and change, every single project I undertake can be revised, or, even scrapped and redone, at any time. In my mind, nothing I have worked on is ever completely "finished."
Envision a culture driven by the compulsion to encourage the strength and tenacity of individual talents and authenticity, where we would no longer have a large portion of our society who feels like their personal quirks and obstacles make them inferior. And, now, imagine a world crowded with enthusiastic people who acknowledge their innately flawed humanness, have the audacity to embrace their imperfections as their superpowers and use their lives to inspire others.
Annual Funding Appeal -
Please remember DRC in your end of year giving. We rely on your contributions to do our work.
Exploration Station -
We are super excited to announce that DRC is launching an Afternoon Program beginning January 6th. Space will be limited to ten kids. Details can be found here.
With our official number at twenty-six, and a daily attendance hovering around eighteen to twenty, the 48 Riverside Drive facility is at capacity, and then some. In the past three months I have had to say, “no,” to several kids who want to become members (two this past week). Which means there are currently fifteen kids on the waiting list, homeschooling on their own, with our consultation services. There have been a few who were not willing to homeschool without us, and decided to stay in school. I try not to think about the outcomes of those decisions, too often.
When DRC opened in that sad, one-room space, January 2014, above the McFadden Dier Leonard agency, with one student, and the following eighteen-month period when that number tanked to zero and occasionally climbed to a whopping five (only to drop back down to zero), none of us could have imagined or predicted the immense growth that has occurred over the last two years.
In those intervening, nearly, six years, we have served a total of seventy-four youths, as members - some of whom joined us for a few months, rarely showing up, before moving on, others who stayed for a year or so, and a few who are still members after four years.
Here are a few snap shots, to help you understand the magnitude of this recent influx, I have written forty-three IHIPS (Individualized Home Instruction Plans) since August, along with the accompanying Quarterly Progress Reports this November. This Fall, I met with twelve to fourteen teen members every week for their individual mentoring sessions. These unique conversations represent the integral piece of DRC that cannot be replicated within a coercive and compulsory system. This is the time I am able to really get to know each of them. Their fears and anxieties, hopes and dreams, likes and dislikes, and their ambitions. Some are very casual and last for a few minutes while: standing in the kitchen cooking lunch, hanging on the couch, setting mouse traps (don’t ask), sorting out the garage, or watching DIY videos on You-tube in the classroom; others happily evolve into awesome, mind blowing, dialogs that extend upwards of an hour in the comfy chairs in the office.
While these conversations swirl throughout our days – it is the hands-on projects and activities that dictate the flow. This year alone, the kids have used over 200 hot glue-sticks, emptied a few bottles of paint, and commandeered every empty box, piece of cardboard, plastic bottle, etc. to create an uncountable number of art and craft projects. They have cooked an abundance of pasta and tomato sauce, mac and cheese, homemade tomato soup, pancakes, and grilled cheese. (Our repertoire is sometimes limited by the items available through the Central NY Foodbank and our personal tastes.) They have baked cakes, cookies, fruit crisps, and quick breads. And, we have gone through enough Greek Yogurt, apples (120 lbs.), bread, butter, orange juice, eggs, and peanut butter (12 – 1 lb. jars) to sink a ship. This next week, we are making a Thanksgiving feast. Yes, the dishwasher runs once a day and the dish drainer is never empty. There is always at least one guitar being strummed, with the drum-machine thumping in the background. The chess board is permanently set-up on a “tv-tray” in the “chill-space” with barely a pause between games. It is not unusual to see an eighteen-year-old engaged in a strategic battle with a nine-year-old. The upstairs classroom is generally occupied with teens in front of laptops working through online classes, watching documentaries and You-tube videos to research various subjects, or even popular films and television shows, reading from a range of text books that inhabit the bookshelves that line the walls, while constantly plugged in to a variety of music. The Seedlings Room is filled with kids playing Legos, magnetic rod toys, creating story-lines, characters, and settings through imaginary play, coloring, reading, working with Khan Academy or Prodigy Math programs or online Language Arts programs, and researching random interests, online.
This all provides the backdrop of an ever-present droning hum created by spontaneous, non-adult directed activity, Some would classify it as utter chaos, I prefer to label it happy, magical artistry that inspires all who enter.
When we took a long, hard look at our stated mission of providing the facilities, resources, and support for young people to take charge of their education, we felt an obligation to all of the children, of the NoCo, who want to be part of this exciting and exhilarating place. Therefore, as you have probably heard, we are expanding! We are bringing all this crazy energy to Lawrenceville, DRC-East, in January. This, of course, will stretch our already limited resources. Because we have maintained our promise to accept any child who needs us, whether their family can afford our tuition or not, fee reductions this year, alone, total more than $105,000.00, which is more than double the annual budget.
Over the past six years, we have had the great, good fortune to have amazing friends and supporters who have contributed several large (for us) grants and donations between $4,000 – $10,000. Those along with smaller (but no less significant) donations have sustained us though some intensely lean times.
We are once again looking to you, our neighbors, to help us provide the facilities and resources for all of the kids in the St. Lawrence Valley, who are inspired to leave a system that is not working for them, to take charge of their education and lives. This is just the beginning – as families leave the established system in droves, we envision a Deep Root Center in every small town in St. Lawrence County, where young people can happily forge a life filled with curiosity, creativity, and hope.
This is your opportunity to invest in our collective future, by supporting our (their) dream. Thank you!
As you have probably guessed, it is once again that time of year that we come to you for support. This year, we are trying a couple of different things to increase visibility and participation. We will be sending out the below double-sided color version appeal to a select few via US Mail. The remainder will be sent digitally through email.
To make it as easy as possible, we have set it up so you can contribute in a variety of ways:
As always you can send a check to - Deep Root Center, 48 Riverside Drive, Canton, NY 13617
Click the link here or in the emailed version - it will bring you directly to the donation page on the DRC Website. With the PayPal button you can choose a one-time donation or you can become a sustaining donor, by clicking the monthly contribution box.
You can also choose to sponsor a DRC Kid. That link is in the digital version of the appeal, as well.
We are also encouraging supporters to check with their employers to see if they provide matching donations or may be interested in sponsoring a DRC kid themselves.
You will also find an on-going Giving Tuesday Fundraiser on the DRC Facebook page.
No matter how you contribute, we are grateful! Thank you!
Watching young people, who have experienced trauma, flounder, make excuses, and disengage from their life is a heartbreaking task I am “forced” to endure (and, respond to) every single day. I am embarrassed to say there were a few occasions, these past couple weeks, that I was not able to meet this challenge with positivity or compassion; in fact, my reactions bordered on frustration and barely contained anger. Not a proud statement to place in the first paragraph of a blog post that is an attempt to illustrate the devastation of learned helplessness, one of the detrimental and life-long effects of childhood trauma. Nevertheless, it is a personal disclosure that I hope will help others, not only recognize the symptoms, but attend to those who are suffering, without bias or criticism.
Learned helplessness is a term coined by Psychologists, Martin Seligman and Steven Maier, in 1967, when they were conducting animal behavior research and discovered that after repeated exposure to stress, an animal (in this case dogs) would become passive and stop trying to “fix” their situation. They soon realized that this phenomenon transfers to humans too.
Children who have been exposed to trauma behave in much the same way. To put it bluntly - they just give up. They are sad, apathetic, lack the ability to self-motivate, feel powerless, have few interests, deflect, are unwilling to try new things because they are afraid of failing, and, possibly the most concerning symptom, is their seeming detachment from their own life, as well as the people around them. Through exposure to trauma, they are simply conditioned to believe that they are incapable of making positive changes that will affect their own realities and those of the wider world.
For a person who is the complete opposite of all those things – it is, straight-up, exhausting to be around those who are passive and defeatist. Yes, I understand, honor, and respect all the reasons – it is still extremely difficult to watch. (After all, I am neither a saint, nor am I superhuman.)
No, those suffering are not lazy. Nor are they willfully trying to make you (me) angry. Although, at times (especially this past week), it is very easy to believe those two particular condemnations.
How then, do (can) we, as mentors and (safe adults), maneuver through our own emotional triggers to help these kids?
I believe that our first goal is to present ourselves as real, flawed people with all the typical baggage everyone carries through life. Use your personal stories as examples of the ways you met challenges and succeeded. Provide time and space for healing – as much as they need. Create an atmosphere that feels cozy, comfortable, and safe – a place they can equate with feelings of positivity, love, and acceptance. Present opportunities for them to talk about their experiences without judgment and draw out tales from their lives that exhibit favorable outcomes. Politely point out their negative self-talk and coach them to use affirmations instead. Gently get them up and moving – engaged in everyday activities. When they say “I can’t” or “I don’t know how,” walk them through the task – one step at a time - calmly and without censure (this is the exact point where I came up short of patience in the past few weeks). Encourage those who feel powerless to make one change – one decision, and then support them to take ownership of that choice, whether it was favorable or not. Prompt them to start thinking and talking about their future – to make lists with goals and aspirations along with incremental steps they can take to get to those objectives. Make a point of noticing and mentioning every single positive step they have taken – no matter how small.
Most importantly – be gentle with yourself. If you screw-up, admit it, apologize, and move forward. Our most valuable contributions to those who are suffering from learned helplessness is to model real-life, with all of its opportunities to contribute to the elegance and beauty of human connection, as well as the pitfalls that will inevitably cause pain.
I fully believe that our core purpose for being here is to enjoy our one life to the fullest, and to advance purposefully with new knowledge (acquired from all of our mistakes), and, intentions to do better next time, all the while helping others to do the same.
End of Year Funding Appeal
Reason Number One for investing your philanthropic contributions in Deep Root Center:
DRC is the one place in the North Country committed to providing a safe, non-coercive, self-directed learning environment where kids, who are not positively served by the public-school system, are authorized, and, supported to follow their interests and to make decisions about their own education and life. We do this by keeping our promise to help any child, whether their family can pay our tuition or not.
You can contribute to my Facebook Birthday Fundraiser here. Or, you can go to our website and donate there. We are specifically encouraging people to sponsor a DRC kid with a one-time donation or a monthly contribution. You can also check with your workplace to see if they offer matching contributions. Thank you!
Behind the Scenes:
We are making some progress on DRC – East. However, as with all new ideas and ventures, we have encountered the fated “two steps forward, one step back” syndrome. We will keep you updated in this space.
Our culture has instilled, within all of us, this bone-deep, paralyzing fear of standing out and being different. I am sorry to be the one to break this to you, but you, me, all of us, as unique individuals, are completely, off the wall, bonkers, weird! Not one single one of us is normal! Therefore, the sooner we get over ourselves and accept it, the freer we will all be to live authentically!
After observing teens at the DRC dance Friday evening, I am now convinced that the main thing our society is missing is our ability to ignore our own inhibitions (throw caution to the wind) to be utterly real and celebrate our own innate human-ness. Instead, we have buried our true selves alive in fear of judgment, bias, and criticism of self and others.
The atmosphere was set – a generous DJ playing fantastic upbeat music, cool disco lights, and snacks … but the teens held back – no one, except me, was willing to step onto the dance floor and move their bodies. After a little while, a few brave souls became entranced by the thumping beat, and ventured over. But, it wasn’t until a couple of younger kids arrived and quite literally threw their bodies into action (dancing, spinning, jumping, jiving, and doing cart wheels) that most of the other kids, eventually, joined in. A few continued to hold back, eat snacks, and converse in a small cluster. They never allowed themselves the pleasure of pure abandon.
The struggle to fit in (keeping up with the Joneses) consumes our lives, to the point where our energies are focused on accumulation and the economy of deficit (both inside and materialistically), instead of recognizing and celebrating the abundance we already possess. Our internal compasses are eternally set to “search” mode instead of “happy” mode.
Being content with our real selves – the ability to acknowledge and accept both the positive and negative aspects of our personality is when change can occur and the intentions we set for ourselves begin to manifest.
My main job, as a mentor, is to convince young people that they are completely awesome right now. And, that, I really want to get to know them as real people - their talents and gifts, the pieces of their personality they would like to change, the things that they find hard, their worries and concerns, as well as their hopes, dreams, and aspirations. I especially want them to fully understand that they are welcomed and honored for who they are, in this moment, and, that I fully expect them to pay that respect forward.
Get comfortable in your skin! You are, absolutely, perfect, exactly, as you are! Yet, don’t be afraid of transformation because the next version of you will be just as superb. Celebrate you! Dance! Use your voice to advocate for change! Share your amazing self with others, all while honoring their distinct human-ness. And, please, let your weird light shine, so we can all see the real you!
It all begins with the nervous phone call or email (on average 1 or 2 a week). The script is nearly identical for most. “My child is really smart, but miserably unhappy, anxious, depressed, not eating, etc. They are beginning to act out in ways they never have before. They are rarely attending school, or are going to the nurses (guidance office) and calling me after an hour to come and get them. The principal is calling every day and threatening to call (or already has) CPS to report truancy. They are recommending my child be admitted to the Psych. Center. I just don’t know what to do, but I just want my child back and “X” told me that you could help.” In very few cases, the parent has already decided that Deep Root Center and homeschooling is the answer and just want to get everything set up.
My first job, in every single case, is to simply listen on the other end of the phone, offer reassuring murmurs every once in a while, and schedule an appointment. Currently, within that conversation, I have to let them know that Deep Root Center is full; however, I can still help them as a homeschool consultant.
Then we meet. Frequently, my initial impression is an anxious parent (usually Mom) with a quiet, subdued child (or, teen) in tow. After introductions, I either give them a tour or invite them to sit in our “chill space” (living room area) to talk. Upon making sure they are comfy, my opening question is always, “how can I help you?” The responses vary but generally center around their stories. I won’t begin to try to repeat the heartbreaking tales I hear. However, most focus on a child’s needs not being met, multiple failed attempts (by the parent) to advocate for their child and resolve the situation within the system, and their ultimate frustration in dealing with a coercive, dismissive, inflexible, and intimidating authority figure.
By the time a child and a parent are sitting in the DRC “chill space” telling me their story, they are just plain-old tired from dealing with people who won’t listen, and an establishment that is so very entrenched in decades-old methodology that it can’t see the harm they are inflicting on those they are supposed to serve. They are exhausted, at their wit's end, and utterly frightened of leaving a system that tells them that their child will fail life if they opt-out.
My main task, besides writing the NYS required IHIP with the child dictating (which often involves me lightly prodding and asking tons of questions to determine exactly what they want to do), in each of these encounters is tell both the parent(s) and child (teen) that they are going to be absolutely fine. In fact, they will thrive. Most look at me as if I am completely off my rocker - crazy.
Nevertheless, the only thing they really need from me, in that moment, is permission to breathe and to take time to heal. "Yes, everything is going to be OK. Disregard the state mandated curriculum – it is total b*llsh*t anyway. Everything they teach in school can be contained in one small, hackneyed, constraining, dull, and boring box. The world of knowledge is infinite and it is all yours for the taking. First - rest! Then - go! Explore! Open your mind to all the possibilities!”
With those few words, I see (parent and child’s) shoulders dropping, a hint of a smile, and a deep breath. By the time we get to this point, the young person is walking around, exploring the space, asking questions, and engaging comfortably in the conversation. Oftentimes, they both hesitate to end the meeting, because they don’t want to leave the safety of the little cocoon we have spun together. They continue to ask questions, seek reassurance a million times, and then, ever so gently, I remind them (while shepherding them toward the door), “Yes, you are, both, going to be fine. Go out there and be awesome. And, if you need anything, I am only an email away.”
As you have heard, here, several times this Fall, Deep Root Center's Canton facility at 48 Riverside Dr. is at capacity. Hence the above conversations have been extremely hard for me - knowing that I cannot, immediately, offer kids, who need us, a place at DRC. The waiting list now has 13 kids on it.
That will all be changing very soon, when we open a new Center in Lawrenceville (on the eastern- most edge of St. Lawrence County) to be called DRC - East. We will share details as things develop over the next couple months. The plan right now is for it to be open in January when we return from Holiday break - exactly six years after opening our Pilot Program in Canton. Stay tuned for more awesomeness from DRC!
I think we can all agree on a few basic tenets: there are varying levels of traumatic experiences, no two people will respond identically to the same trauma, a young person who has endured it is forever changed, and while the experience(s) can never be erased, emotional healing can be achieved. I would go even farther to say that the layers of catharsis fully depend on how the trauma was originally dealt with. Those who are instructed to hide it, as a secret, will continue to be traumatized throughout their lifetime. This is probably the main reason that incidences of childhood trauma tend to be generational. The only way to fully heal and break the cycle is to bring those horrible experiences into the light of day to be dealt with in a productive manner.
The main reason DRC has built a solid reputation for helping young people is because of our insistence on recognizing, and in fact, honoring each individual’s unique perspective and history, whether they have endured trauma, or not. Most kids perceive that Deep Root Center is a safe place almost immediately upon entering. Not only is the atmosphere relaxed and homey, the vibe naturally projects animated engagement. It is a hive of activity filled with happily, absorbed kids who are freely occupied with independent and group ventures. And, it is, most definitely, not school, which, in many cases, is all they need to know.
When a young person first joins DRC, we don’t always know whether childhood trauma is part of their history. Our first goal is to create a natural, easy rapport with them – a connection of mutual trust. We, quite simply, treat every single child with dignity and respect. We want them to understand on a deep level that even though we are the adults, it doesn’t mean we will ever coerce them to do something they don’t want or feel ready to do.
Within this mentoring relationship, their past experiences are eventually revealed one infinitesimal anecdote at a time until we are able to piece together their story. With that being said, based on their behavior, we are usually able to determine pretty quickly whether they have endured childhood trauma. Those who have often exhibit high levels of anxiety, have a difficult time trusting and developing friendships, have a fear of committing to anything (classes, a project, etc.), are extremely hard on themselves, have a victim mentality, are afraid of making mistakes, have trouble making plans for the future, and are frequently exhausted.
Beyond creating a comfortable environment, sitting with a child who is hurting – merely being there as another human being, is probably the most important thing we do. I want to be very clear in stating that we are not trained therapists, nor is DRC a therapeutic center. Nevertheless, we are mentors who care deeply for each child entrusted to us. We are dedicated to working tirelessly to provide whatever resources each child needs to begin their arduous climb towards emotional well-being. If that means encouraging them to seek out professional counseling, that is what we will do. When it requires patience, affirmation, and pure kindness, along with occasional gentle reminders of our community agreements while they work things out in the best way they know how, that is exactly what we will provide. And, when they make progress, we bring it to their attention and celebrate (loudly) with them.
There is never a good reason for condemning a child for being lazy, irresponsible, stupid, or a troublemaker, who seems hell-bent on making your life miserable. You may never know their personal stories. However, we all know there is a good chance they may be just one of an incredible number of children who are completely overwhelmed from dealing with the symptoms of PTSD, and, are only able to focus on surviving each individual moment in the best way they know how. All children, not only those who have suffered hardship and trauma, require understanding, respect, and compassion, as well as, the time, tools, and space to become healthy, kind, and motivated individuals, who are ready to explore the possibilities, dream big, and tackle whatever challenges come their way.
Childhood Trauma is life-altering. No one can negate that fact. Neural pathways and general brain chemistry are damaged for those who have endured either a one-time traumatic event or long-term, sustained trauma. There is a general recognition that children and teens are at a greater risk than adults who experience similar harm because their brains are developing and growing.
There are entire professional conferences and training that address and teach the “Trauma-Informed Approach.” I am not going to delve too deeply into this latest buzz phrase in the field, except to say, like so many things in the professional educational world that are commoditized and standardized, , in my mind, provide little in a practical or individualized application. I firmly believe that trauma-informed care cannot be accomplished in a coercive, institutional setting. To offer something that requires personal connection and open minds in a facility that does not provide freedom of choice or self-determination for the practitioner or the child is, truthfully, an oxymoron.
The triple threat of poverty, anxiety, and depression exists because of trauma. The resulting apathy, disenfranchisement, hopelessness, and anger are continuously fed by that preexisting damage. We cannot solve society's problems with the band-aid of Trauma-Informed Care. Our response requires a complete cultural shift that places compassion before judgment or blame, people above profit, engagement beyond detachment, and freedom without coercion.
Children who are living with PTSD need personalized, adaptable, compassionate, and loving connections, not an inflexible, “one-size fits most,” “cure-all” that feels cold and clinical. They don’t want a “safe room” (padded solitary cell) where they can “de-escalate” on their own. They do want a comfortable space where they can vent to a safe and trusted person. They do not need confrontation or condemnation – they do need empathy and understanding. They should not have to change themselves to fit into a particular environment – the environment should be accommodating for everyone. They won’t recover in a system designed to change behavior with punishments and rewards. They quite simply need to heal in a place with caring people who will provide flexible tools- to recover on their own schedule and in their own way.
*This is Part One in a two-part series. Next week, I will discuss how the effects of Childhood Trauma present at DRC and how it informs everything we do.
DRC Fundraising Store
Students in the DRC DIY/crafting class have decided to sell some of their creations as a fundraiser for Deep Root Center. They are starting out with up-cycled braided dog toys and will be expanding to other pet related items soon. Check out their on-line store here. All purchases go toward DRC fee reduction program.
We are in the process of developing an After-School Program for children who attend other schools in the area. This program will offer the time and space for kids to dive in and investigate all the interests they have, but don't have time to do during a regular school day. The entire Deep Root Center facility will be open for kids to build and create, play and explore (indoors and outside), as well as chill and relax. The lead staff person will have a background in STEAM education and will be available to provide guidance in a variety of projects based on the specified desires of the attendees. We will be seeking 10-12 participants for the Pilot Program that will run from January - June 2020. Like our regular programs, we anticipate this will fill in quickly. Get in touch to be placed on our enrollment list. Fees will be posted soon. Family discounts will also be available.
Only in a society that is hyped up on fear, will the local police be called because a young man is wearing a trench coat. True story! And, it was not the first time! This post is not about that specific tale, which is truly not mine to tell, but the sense of disconnection we have fostered through our, obsessive, willingness to judge and criticize others based on our personal and cultural biases.
Why did we stop talking to people? Why are we afraid of teenagers? Why do we hone in on the differences instead of the similarities? And, most importantly, why have we, as a society, lost our ability to create connections, instead of dissonance?
Does anyone else recognize how utterly stupid it is that someone actually called the police because they saw a teen walking around wearing a trench coat, or, the multitude of other ridiculous reasons law enforcement have been contacted in recent memory?
The only way we can fix this is to counter the culture of fear and prejudice by developing bridges across the perceived divide of differences to recognize our shared humanness and to create relationships. Go - talk to a stranger! Look at people and smile when they walk past. When you are curious about something, ask the question - get engaged. And, most importantly, open your mind and your heart to the beauty of diversity. Only then can fear of the other be replaced with the sense of community and connection.
Most young people come to DRC with a severely distorted image of themselves, which has been cultivated, manifested, and sustained by the negative verbal and subliminal messages they received from peers, authority figures, or from people they respect and love, as well as all the traumas they endured. Those critical implications ignite a perverse and dangerous cycle of self-perpetuation. Perceptions are powerful, and they do not discriminate! Say or hear something, negative (or positive), often enough and it will become normalized and very real within your mind.
The following statements I hear from kids, on the daily, are all I need to confirm this truth: “well you know, I am the bad kid.” “I am so dumb. I can’t do anything right.” “I am lazy.” Or, even, “I am not creative, artistic, or imaginative.”
Pointing out negative behavior does not force someone to change – it only reinforces all those internal negative images and profoundly impacts their future. In time, the label becomes their excuse, their reason for not trying, and for ultimately not succeeding.
This is just one of many reasons I never request school records. Most consist of nothing more than a rap sheet. And, I understand that whether I am aware of it or not, my feelings about a student could be unfavorably influenced by knowing their previous record.
Seeking out and focusing on the affirmative accomplishes, as you would expect, the exact opposite – positive steps forward. The following is a short tale to highlight this basic principle: we currently have a teen who believes with his whole heart that he is the “bad kid.” He (as well as a parent) has relayed a well-documented reputation to confirm why he believes that statement. We have spent the months, since he joined us, refuting that conviction – honing in and frequently remarking on the sweet-natured kid we see underneath the bluster, immaturity, and bravado.
Friday afternoon, Chris was talking to another student who was having a bad day. He was simply feeling blue and disappointed with how the day had unfolded. The teen overheard the conversation, got up from the computer, took off a silicone bracelet that had an inspirational saying on it, and handed it, without fanfare or explanation, to the kid who was feeling unsettled. Needless to say, we immediately expressed our appreciation and the pride we felt for his selfless and kind behavior.
When he left for the day, he was standing a bit straighter, with the hint of a smile, indicating a sense of personal achievement, on his face. That one small, but, significant action could very well be the beginning of healing for that teen. I look forward to watching his journey unfold as he manifests positivity in his life by being the “good,” kind, and compassionate kid who helps others through some of the rough patches he understands far too well.
Trust and respect are tricky, and, hotly contested concepts, especially in reference 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.
At DRC, we trust that all young people are capable of self-regulation and that they will make good choices when offered the opportunity.
We do this because our main goal will always be to encourage our students to embrace and rediscover their natural curiosity and creativity; and, in the process, rekindle their love of learning and their belief in themselves.
The concept is actually quite simple. Without coercion, along with the cycle of reward and punishment, kids are free to make choices that speak to their interests and aspirations, not to what society or an authority figure commands. With that freedom, they learn responsibility for their actions through natural cause and effect. Not to mention that, all-important, the notion of self-motivation, which is always the first excuse I hear for not allowing a child to explore self-directed education.
Everyone at DRC understands that our one rule is based on the fact that respect is freely offered to everyone who enters. We have discovered that when you foster an environment where everyone is viewed as an equal, where kindness and compassion abound, and where freedom of expression is sanctioned - respect naturally follows.
Yes, sometimes we need reminders, and when that is the case, a straightforward, “that’s not OK,” is usually enough to prompt reflection and take personal responsibility.
At the end of the day, we appreciate that all DRC members are individuals, moving forward in unique directions at a pace that is right for them. And, we are responsible for providing this comfortable place where they feel utterly trusted, respected, and safe to take on their next adventure.
No DRC is not Utopia, and we don’t pretend to be. Furnishing this non-coercive, nurturing space is hard and emotional work, but we would not be anywhere else because we want all of “our” kids to understand that they can have a positive future, as long as they remain true to themselves, meet others with respect, and follow their hearts. And, that future can entail anything they imagine - college, entrepreneurship, a trade ... the possibilities are absolutely endless.
This coming Wednesday, October 2nd, will be the first drop-in day for family support of self-directed education. This weekly program has been developed as a stop-gap measure for the families who would like to join DRC but are currently on our waiting list. We are also making it available to any family who has received consultation services from DRC and is home-schooling on their own but would like some additional support. You can visit this page on our website to learn more.
DRC is gearing up to inform and educate folks about our mission and vision for the future. We are looking for people in our community, as well as the wider world who are passionate about investing their time and money to make sure any child in the NoCo has the opportunity to pursue self-directed education if they choose to. You can learn more here.
Everything you spend time on counts - every activity, project, plan, strategy, puzzle, game, and creative pursuit is valid. Indeed, absolutely, every single thing you do (or, think about), including all the mistakes you make, is credible (in fact, those errors may actually be worth more in the grand scheme of things). Nevertheless, our kids, as well as society in general, have been brainwashed to determine the value of an activity based on a set of arbitrary standards generated and ordained by people who have zero imagination and no interest in creativity, and whose sole interest is the bottom line.
I will argue, forever, that if we continue on this trajectory, we are completely doomed, not only as a society, but as a species. This may sound unnecessarily harsh, fatalistic, or even a bit fantastical and dystopian. However, I am a direct witness to the results of a system that teaches young people that they will fall behind and be deemed stupid, if they don’t spend enormous amounts of time on rote, canned, predetermined, grade assigned tasks. They tell me that they are deathly afraid of making mistakes, and, they believe that “play” is a four-letter word. They have often lost sight of the joy and fun of learning. These kids judge themselves, as well as others harshly if they feel they do not “measure up” or “assimilate” in a variety of ways - academically, physically, and emotionally. Consequently, their awesome, brilliant, and authentic personalities are subdued and not allowed to shine through.
To be clear, the state-run, compulsory educational system is primarily responsible for producing compliant, judgmental, ferociously competitive, uninspired automatons for an industrial economy that no longer exists. Our kids are, quite literally, being set up to fail in this new world that no longer needs those human robots, but requires imaginative, creative, non-conformists who are not afraid to follow their interests – those who are excited to brainstorm, experiment, and explore all the possibilities.
Therefore, Go! Hike through the woods, splash around in a river, play the guitar, write a song, build a beat and write a rap, draw, paint a mural, design a hands-on project, cook (real) macaroni and cheese with your friends, bake pumpkin bread and chocolate cookies, sort and organize a room, dig a hole, build a cabinet, install a sink, work with others to develop guidelines for your community, sew a pillow, read a book, develop new characters for D&D, write a story, study the history of your community, share personal experiences and socialize with a group of friends, train a dog, ride a horse, tear apart a motor, organize a haunted Halloween dance, refinish a piece of furniture, play a computer game, race around the backyard in a game of freeze tag (or murder mystery), rewire a lamp, play and design board games, or sit still in your comfy place and stare off into space. All these things, along with the multitude of other activities and pursuits that do not look particularly “academic,” are valid, important, and essential (and, absolutely count) toward the development and education of free-thinking, authentic, and innovative individuals who are destined to save us all.
This is your chance to own some DRC swag. Contact us to order your t-shirts and hoodies before Friday, September 27th.
I am proud to be known as a problem solver – an individual who automatically looks at a problem and sorts through the issues to find the solution. Here is a silly example from this past week: I stopped at the gas station to fill up my car on my way into town. I decided to get my coffee while there to free up my early morning time at the Center. When I walked in, there was a guy trying to get coffee out of one of the carafes. He stated that it wasn’t working, while he repeatedly tried to pump it. After filling my cup from another dispenser, I said (what seemed obvious to me), “maybe the tube is disconnected.” He opened it up and sure enough, it wasn’t even inside. The funny thing is – he then told me that he had seen a tube laying on the other counter before he even started trying to fill his cup.
It honestly confounds me that some folks have lost all sense of innate curiosity, they don’t know how to look beyond what has been presented to them, and they are often afraid or don’t know how to ask questions. But, I guess I shouldn’t be astonished given that we have intentionally 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 clearly substantiated.)
I will always argue that, instead, we need curious, imaginative, open-minded, unbiased people who are excited to meet challenges head-on - who are inspired to look beyond the obvious and develop exciting new solutions.
I am grateful to be one of those people who is always looking at the big picture (despite my early training within said system) – one who has a constant stream of ideas (chatter) running through their heads, which can be in response to an immediate problem, something somebody mentioned in passing, or even a potential future complication. I literally cannot turn it off – even during my summer-time adventures, when I was totally relaxed and living completely in the moment, I was still subconsciously churning out plans and ideas.
This compulsion, along with my willingness to jump on an idea, comes in handy when we are faced with exciting opportunities/challenges at Deep Root Center. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, we have reached capacity at 48 Riverside Drive (DRC Canton). This has created an intense emotional struggle for me, because I have had to say, “sorry, we are full,” to three families (10 kids) already this year (literally, within two weeks of opening). It really does break my heart to say, “no,” to people who reach out to us for help.
Which leads me to my most recent brainstorm --- As you probably know, we are closed every Wednesday. It is the day we expect our student members to use for independent pursuits and the one day of the week that I can schedule meetings and get some of the admin. stuff accomplished. My current idea is to have the kids who are on our waiting list come to the Center on that day to access my direct support, to use our facilities, and to have the opportunity to socialize. This provides a multi-prong solution to several of our ongoing challenges. I don’t have to feel horrible about giving families a “hard no.” Parents will have a consistent face to face support to create their own self-directed learning environment at home. And, in the process, we can provide some additional cash flow to help ease some of our financial issues by charging a daily fee for our services. In addition, when we can offer those students full membership, they will have had some time to settle in and understand how DRC works. It seems like a win-win for everyone, at least for now. We do know, as our waiting list continues to grow, that we will ultimately need a second facility, most likely within the year.
Stay-tuned as we continue to generate exciting, new, and creative, “outside the box” ideas and collaborations to meet the needs of all of the NoCo families who are breaking barriers, smashing educational norms, and hopping onto the Self-Directed Educational train, with their children.
* I wanted to share one of Seth Godin’s recent blog posts; he speaks to all of the above in his uniquely, brilliant fashion.
A useful definition of art
Art is a human activity. It is the creation of something new, something that might not work, something that causes a viewer to be influenced.
Art uses context and culture to send a message. Instead of only a contribution of beauty or craft, art adds intent. The artist works to create something generous, something that will change us.
Art isn’t painting or canvas or prettiness. Art is work that matters.
It’s entirely possible that you’re an artist.
Everyone can be, if we choose.
The most common misconception about Self-Directed Learning is that the learner has to be, by default, super motivated. In reality, Self-Directed Learners become self-propelled by the virtue of having the freedom to follow their interests and aspirations in an open environment filled with resources and materials that feed those interests, along with supportive adults. Those guides, then step back to allow all that amazing exploration and discovery happen naturally, all the while, being readily available to offer comfort, positive reinforcement, mentoring advice, the occasional nudge of encouragement, and the periodic gentle reminder about their commitment of respectful behavior towards the entire community.
“But,” you ask, “what does this all look like in practice at Deep Root Center?” Well, it is usually “messy” and chaotic; it oftentimes looks a lot like play, and, it frequently sounds loud and boisterous. Believe me, when I say, no two days ever look or sound the same. We encourage spontaneity, along with a willingness to jump into new adventures and make mistakes, all while remaining true to themselves. Within that extemporaneous atmosphere, the kids soon understand that flexibility, and openness to all the possibilities are necessary skills to acquire when you are a self-directed learner. Consequently, there is usually something happening in every room of the DRC house, as well as the backyard, instigated by one or several student members, based on whatever they are interested in exploring and/or creating that day. Some would describe it all as pure chaos, those of us who recognize raw and real learning when we see it, call it pure artistry.
Thursday and Friday this included: kids gathered for our first community meeting where we introduced ourselves to the entire group and talked about our one rule - respect yourself, each other, and this place. We brainstormed ideas for a more extensive guide called DRC Basics, and, chose a committee to produce a draft of that document. This was followed by a session where the Teens listed ideas for classes, clubs, and workshops. Then, spontaneously, several kids decided to make pancakes for lunch and form a core cooking crew to plan and make lunch every day (pasta and sauce on our second day). A few others started exploring the materials in the art room and making cool projects from tubes and cardboard boxes and playing freeze tag and murder mystery in the backyard. On the second day some kids decided to organize and revamp the music room, and then play some music (one wrote chord progressions for a new song), another finished writing a research paper for a SUNY Canton Class - with some feedback, another group generated their D&D characters, and some played chess and checkers, more spent nearly the entire day in the art room producing awesome pieces of art, others designed and hand sewed the new flag that will hang from our porch, and some started sorting out the garage. One teen spent the entire day in the classroom drawing a very cool free-form design – insisting that he wanted to use a pencil and not add any color. Then there was a six-year-old who drew pictures and wrote stories in her own notebook, with the help of a sixteen-year-old. The Seedlings planned themes and ideas to work on together, explored all of the toys in the Seedlings room, and took long walks on the SUNY Canton campus – rolling down the hill and getting soaking wet from the dew-covered grass. And, finally, the teens signed up for mentoring sessions and started developing their personal weekly schedules.
This next query usually follows hot on the heels of that original one. “But, how do you make sure they are learning all the stuff they need to know?” My answer is usually pretty diplomatic, “all of those essential skills are woven in through whatever they are interested in exploring.” To be completely honest, we can not make sure any child is going to learn something that we might deem important, even when they are following a specific curriculum within the coercive system. There are no guarantees. What we do understand is that all humans learn best when they are having fun, and when they are not coerced. As a species, we have been doing it that way since the dawn of time, and, in modern times, this fact has been proven over and over again (study after study).
With the exception of those first couple activities that involved our group meeting and logistics, everything else that happened on Thursday and Friday was instigated by the kids. Besides providing information on where resources and materials can be found, my main job for those two days was to say, “yes” to most requests, get to hell out of the way, and then offer honest feedback on all the awesomeness being produced. I am so very honored to have the opportunity to spend my days with this amazing group of engaged, and brilliantly creative DRC Peeps; I sincerely can’t wait to see what transpires next week. (And, what they make us all for lunch!)
When Deep Root Center opened in January 2014, with one student member, I had, absolutely, no concept of how much this thing would evolve over the next 5 ½ years, how many amazing people would show up to participate, or how drastically my life would change.
For those of you who were not around for our humble beginnings, one sentence can sum up that first year and a half: DRC was a, less than inspiring, one-room space (shabby, unheated for the first couple weeks, overheated in the summer, but most importantly cheap) with a few pieces of ancient furniture donated by SLU, a few kids, who randomly participated, me, and my (slightly insane) vision.
Because we made a promise at the very beginning to accept any child, whether their family could pay the tuition or not, I knew that the financial aspect of keeping DRC alive would always be the hardest part. To this day, we honor that original policy (fee reductions each year have ranged from 45,000.00 to 85,000.00), and, we continue to struggle financially, but somehow, year after year, always manage to pay our bills and remain viable. This has been due to a few well-timed donations and grants, my incredible sidekick, Christopher Raymo, who is willing to take a stipend, instead of full salary, and that I was able to work without a salary for four years, and with a small stipend since then.
Like most new ventures that require people to show up and buy-in, for the first five years, we accepted anyone who said they needed us. A fair number of these kids didn’t really want to take charge of their education, they were, simply, disenfranchised and desperate to leave the place that was traumatizing them. This de facto policy helped us grow from three committed and dedicated students in 2015, when we moved to our new, two-room, home on the 2nd floor of 7 Main, to seventeen by the end of that year – a number we hovered around for the entire time we remained in that space, with many kids coming and leaving. I do not want to diminish the courage it took all those young people, who joined us, but did not show-up or fully engage, to leave school. In the end, we will never know the impact (if any) we had in helping them abandon a system that was making them miserable.
Over that time, we hired Andre as our part-time Program Director, for 1 1/2 years, introduced our Seedlings Program for kids between 5-10, and hired Christopher as the Coordinator for that program and as our Music Director. The space was always humming with the activity of happy, engaged kids working on hands-on and independent projects, as well as small classes. We also developed some much-needed policies to address all the new challenges we encountered along the way. In late winter, 2016, Trish showed up as one of our volunteers. At her instigation, at the beginning of the 17/18 academic year, we started our Tuesday outdoor program, Water, Woods, & Wild Wonders. Our student members have the opportunity to immerse themselves for the entire day outside, to learn through observation and to develop an appreciation for our natural world.
By that same year, we had also increased our number of rooms to six, as well as the amount of rent we were paying. It was also at this point that we realized that we needed to purchase our own property. Those twenty-five steps from the street level, as well as the space itself, was limiting our growth potential, and the opportunities we could offer our kids.
Long story, short – after viewing several houses, with a ton of folks sending out positive vibes, lending us the down payment, and, quite simply, believing in us, we made an offer on 48 Riverside Drive (the first house we ever looked at), at the end of June 2018. A long summer of drama around zoning ensued, but finally, on September 26th, we closed on our new home. Thanks to many completely awesome folks, who volunteered their time, we were able to address some needed repairs and officially move in November 1st, 2018!
This house has made it possible for us to grow exponentially, in both numbers, and opportunities we are able to offer our kids. The basement and garage are now workshop spaces, where we can create larger more complex hands-on projects. A full kitchen allows us to cook together and for each other. We are also partners with Central NY Foodbank so we can access free or reduced cost ingredients. The property consists of ½ acre. The backyard is a huge space which allows for hours of free, unrestricted play. A landscaping project is planned for this fall to beautify the front yard.
We have also been able to step back and recognize that DRC is not right for everyone. We, simply, can’t help those people who really don’t want to be here and don’t want to participate fully. As a result, we are much more deliberate with our application process and have instituted a two-month trial period for all incoming members.
The staff and board are incredibly grateful to provide this non-coercive space, where together, with our members, we can create an environment, where everyone feels safe, comfortable, and inspired to try new things.
Which brings me to our latest milestone, as of this Friday, when we signed on four more student members, DRC has reached capacity. I never, in a million years, would have thought that, in this relatively short period of time, we would reach a point where we would have to start a waiting list. Nonetheless, that in fact, is what we have done, not to mention, it already has one name on it.
What does this all mean for our future? In the short-term, in addition to serving our existing members and supporting them to reach their very own milestones, I will continue to offer consultation services to those kids who are desperate to leave school. There are infinite ways to become a self-directed learner and I am dedicated to supporting anyone who wants to explore a new way forward. In the long-term, 48 Riverside has the potential of expanding by building a room over the garage. That endeavor, of course, requires money. It has always been my plan to open Deep Root Centers all over the NoCo, as we are able. Which means we have to get Canton fiscally sustainable first! The possibilities are endless, and I am committed to exploring them all, as they present themselves. Onward!!!
* Additional notes of appreciation: First to our ever-evolving Board of Directors, which currently includes- the excellent Kara Mcluckie and Candace Cowser (who have both been on the board from the beginning), Steve Hamilton (our new Board President), Bart Harloe (our VP), Matt McAllister (a parent of two DRC members), and Andrew Carpino.
Thank you, to Ken Danford, co-founder of North Star: Self- Directed Learning for Teens, for creating the original vision on which all Liberated Learners Centers are based. Without him, there would be no DRC.
I would be remiss, if I didn’t thank all of the volunteers who, over these 5 1/2 years, have shared their knowledge and talents with our kids. DRC would be, a whole lot, less awesome without their contributions.
Imagination Station 2019 - DRC's Summer Program has concluded for this year. We had a blast. See you all next August. Thanks again to Kelly, founder of the brand new Flying Lotus Yoga and Juice Bar, opening soon on Main Street, for sharing yoga with our summer kids. Go and support this new business in our wonderful village.
DRC's first day is Thursday, September 5th. We are looking forward to a completely amazing 19/20 filled with growth, compassion for one another, and an abundance of personal milestones.
You have no idea what a person has endured throughout their lifetime, even if you think you know, based on what they have chosen to share with you. Many folks have survived traumatic experiences that remain so very raw, intensely personal, and painful that the act of telling about it, feels more like a confession than a release. Therefore, their traumas remain shrouded in secrecy with internalized feelings of guilt and shame.
Despite our very best intentions, we end up helping very little or not at all, since, we, simply, have no idea that we don’t know the full story. Which was the case for me earlier this week.
During an impromptu mentoring session, instigated by a teen while working on their learning plan, I offered ideas on how to move past some behaviors that were hindering their growth. My assumptions and resulting suggestions were fully based on, what ended up being, the tiny pieces of information that I was privy too. Even though I have known them for a while, I discovered that I wasn’t just missing a few pages, but almost the entirety of the beginning chapters of this young person’s life story.
This, right here, is the lesson I needed to learn this past week: I don’t know all you have gone through to become the person you are right now. I can’t possibly understand the pain that has shaped your perceptions about the world. I will never fully appreciate the work you have done already and the struggles you will face, as you continue on your path to healing.
I can, however, ask you if you want my help, or, solely, a listening ear, before immediately jumping into problem solving mode. I will listen without presumption, judgment, or blame, especially when you are only able to comfortably reveal an incremental piece of your tale at a time. I will hug you when you are sad and dejected, and celebrate with you when you reach an important milestone in your journey towards emotional health. And, please know that I will always provide unconditional love, support, and a safe place to be exactly who you are, at that moment in time.
Please remember to share our Amazon Wishlist. Our kids have some fantastic projects planned this year, but we need your help to purchase the needed supplies. Please contact Maria if you would like to share your talents and knowledge in carpentry, DIY, crafting, sewing, metal working, and gardening.
Monday begins the final week of Summer Programs. There are still a few spaces available.
We are once again volunteering at the final Aid Station for the Lake Placid 70.3 IronMan – September 8th. Last year we received a grant for $500 because we had 20 volunteers working with us. Thanks again to the Todd and Rodriguez families, and board members, Candace Cowser, and Kara Mcluckie, along with their families, as well as a couple of DRC student members. We are looking for at least 20 folks to join us again. Each person has to register themselves. Get in touch and I will provide the link to the volunteer registration.
In case you missed the ubiquitous memo, it is once again back to school time. The retail rush is on – get all your school supplies and new clothing before the sales are gone. Parents are sharing memes about getting their kids back on a schedule and out of the house. And, everyone is trying to shove that final bit of summer-time energy into these last two weeks before the first bell rings.
What if I told you, all that retail therapy was intentionally designed to distract kids from the fact that they will no longer have all the time and space to explore the things that truly interest them? What if you knew that rushing around to get all those summer-like experiences is not necessary? What if I told you that it is OK for a child to be bored – that it is, in fact, the catalyst for most creativity? What if you discovered there is another way for kids to learn all they need to survive, and thrive, without the ridiculous stress, timetables, restrictions, intimidation, or coercion? Would you believe me if I told you that back to school propaganda is one more way to convince you and your child that they are not capable of learning without the societal institution known as school?
For many of the families I work with at Deep Root Center, the call to action went far beyond the unhappy kid who was still complying, to the utterly disenfranchised, despondent, child who was acting out and no longer cooperative. In all fairness to parents, most kids will not blatantly say, “I hate school! It makes me feel uneasy, uncomfortable, and anxious.” Instead, all that stress and anxiety around school take on many disguises from seemingly unprovoked melt-downs to sleepiness or insomnia. Your child may suddenly lose the ability to choose clothing and get dressed in the morning, or become indecisiveness around food choices. Or, they lose interest in all the things that formerly excited them. A formerly chill kid may become decidedly un-chill and overly sensitive.
No, for the most part, they will not say, “I want to leave school.” Since, the two main concepts they have learned from the institution are that: 1) they cannot be trusted to make good decisions, and 2) they will not be motivated to do what is required without all the punishment and rewards schools employ to get them to do what they want them to do.
When a child has reached that deeply flawed understanding of learning, it takes tons of time filled with constant, gentle, nurturing reassurance before they fully comprehend that they can be trusted to, capably, make good choices about their life and education.
Slowly, they begin to understand that all their interests and passions, which are often shunted to weekends and summertime, can become the fuel for all of their learning. I know they have begun to reach this point when they start to ask, “does this count?”
This is the point in this post where all the disclaimers are obliged to live – yes, most of us went to school, yes, most of us survived, and, yes, some of us did just fine – with no major complaints, and no (or little) residual trauma. However, most of the adults I speak with usually say something like, “where was DRC when I was growing up?” Or, “man, my child could have used you guys. We went through Hell, getting them through school.” (The latter is actually the reason DRC received a $10,000 anonymous donation last August.)
Imagine that you had the opportunity to focus on the things that only received part of your attention because you spent the majority of your time locked into a system that required your full concentration to simply survive. How could your life have been different? Would you have followed a different career path? Would you be more curious and open to exploring all the possibilities? Would you be happier?
Now envision your child – what would happen if they were allowed to get completely engrossed in those things that they normally save for their “downtime?” What would it look like if they were able to shake off all that societal pressure that holds them back from fully exploring the abundance of subjects that they are interested in? What if they could fill their personal buckets of knowledge from a place of contentment, excitement, and wonder? Would they be happier?
These questions about our system of education are all receiving national attention through respected sources and outlets. Dr. Peter Gray, the author of Free to Learn and a regular column in Psychology Today (here is one related to back to school from 2014), is a well-respected developmental psychologist who has spent much of his career researching the role of play throughout human history. Kerry McDonald is a Senior Education Fellow at FEE and the author of, Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children Outside the Conventional Classroom. She also had this opinion piece published in the Wall Street Journal, recently, and here is another related to back to school. Jeremy Stuart just released the independent film Self-Taught, which follows six young adults who were unschooled through much of their childhood. Not to mention, Ken Danford's new book: Learning is Natural. School is Optional. These are just a few examples of media around self-directed education in the past couple of months. You can learn more from the Alliance for Self-Directed Education.
*note – Deep Root Center owns copies of Free to Learn and Learning is Natural. School is Optional. We are happy to lend them out to anyone interested in borrowing them. We also have a license to screen Self-Taught and we are looking for suggestions for venues. The film is also available for private viewing at Deep Root Center. Simply let us know if you are interested in watching it.
You can support DRC student' s independent hands-on projects by purchasing items from our WishList on Amazon. Simply click this link, add the items to your cart and they will be shipped directly to us. Thank you!
DRC is still accepting applications for membership; however, we are closing in on capacity pretty quickly. Contact us today.
Summer Programs begin tomorrow. There is still room either week. Register today!
I am a firm believer in the power of Universal energies, and within that, the type we send out into the world will be the ones that return to us. Affirmative, kind, loving, and nurturing energy and language attract all the positive vibes, and, I am pretty sure we all understand where hate and other negative vibrations originate from.
With that being said, most people, even if they are not aware of, or believers in, Universal energies, are conscious of being helpful, gracious, and generous when they interact with others; however, they forget those very same principles apply to their own personal dialog, and thereby, beat themselves up daily. Stop! You wouldn’t think of behaving that way towards others, so why do it to yourself?
In addition to all of that, I was reminded a couple weeks ago (thanks to my little sister, Melanie), that even when we are placing most everything in a positive context within our own minds, if we are not intentionally sending those messages out into the great beyond, achieving our goals is harder and far less likely.
Use all those Universal energies to your advantage, write it all down - every dream, every aspiration, every damn single brainstorm, whether it seems plausible in the moment, or not. And, the most beautiful thing is - no one, necessarily, needs to read them – the act of inscribing them is enough.
Since taking my sister’s advice, the most delightful things have happened. Not only am I more aware of my own goals, and attracting positive into my life, my internal radar is, actively, receiving the intentions that others are putting out there, as well.
I have discovered that even when we don’t think we can be helpful, our skill set, or the resources we have access to, are exactly the support someone else needs to inspire them to renew their focus and work towards making their own dreams come true. The added bonus to each of these interactions, beyond the immediate enriching conversation, is the potential for future collaborations, and friendship, whether professionally, personally, or in some (most) cases, both.
In this way, together, we can, intentionally, make the world (our corner of it, at least) a place we are all proud to inhabit.
Imagination Station, DRC's Summer Program, begins the 19th - one week from Monday. Remember to register here.
When I went back to SUNY Potsdam as a “non-trad” anthropology student, in 2001. I learned in my Human Origins class that all humans are born with only two fears – the fear of falling and loud noises. The startle reflex, that we witness in babies, and sometimes experience ourselves, as we are falling asleep, or when we hear a loud sound, is our ancient response to those fears.
All other fear is learned. For the most part, it is either: intentionally cultivated by society, codified and legislated, thereby, designed to control our behaviors, physical phobias such as all the creepy crawlies, etc., or incredibly nebulous, but very real angst including the fear of the unknown, or of making mistakes.
I believe that those amorphous anxieties, and the taboos society has created, as restrictions, are inextricably tangled. The prevalence of judgment and blame within our culture feeds the restrictions, which then drives our apprehensions. We are taught from a very early age to keep our heads down, to follow the rules, be perfect, and just be “normal,” or else.
Many of us have a desire to take chances, make waves, explore the possibilities, learn through our mistakes, and create change; however, ejecting ourselves from our cozy little comfort zones involves facing that fear of being judged and ostracized - head on.
I feel this anxiety of potentially screwing-up – daily. The “what-ifs” could be overwhelming, if I let them. There are days that I am mortified by the errors I have made, while there are others that I am so very proud of our accomplishments, and, even, slightly amused by the mistakes. Yes, I have “bucked” the system, by creating something that is completely new and different, which, ironically, involves encouraging and trusting others to push through their own personal blocks erected by fear, to do those things that are important to them. Indeed, there are still those days that I want to chuck it all, and retreat back into my shell; where no one will judge or confront me, and where I can attend to mindless tasks that won’t involve nudging anyone, including myself, to do anything but bask in the comfort of low expectations. Thankfully, those days are few and far between, because wallowing gets really old, very quickly; and, oddly enough, I have come to appreciate the discomfort of being the “weird” one with “strange” ideas.
* This post was inspired by a personal mistake I was made aware of on Friday, and all the subsequent feelings I had in response to that discovery.
Time is marching on. August has arrived with September close on its heels. If you have been thinking that DRC might be an option for your child, please get in touch soon. There has been a flurry of interest over the last few days and I anticipate reaching our maximum number, soon.
Summer Programs are open to any child in the community – Register today.
Anyone who knows me, my family, friends, and, the kids I work with (even the ones I have recently met), can tell you I hate playing games. It doesn’t matter what genre – board, card, console, computer, puzzles, or even those silly little phone games. Don't get me wrong – I fully appreciate that many folks like them or even love them. Along with the psychological community, who have researched them extensively (in all their forms), I will vigorously defend them, as the perfect tools for some people to learn an endless list of skills. They are just not my thing.
Over the years, I have attempted to decipher why I have this antipathy, and the only solid reason I can determine is the fact that my brain is not capable of holding onto sequential rules or strategizing. Rules and instructions, quite simply, confound me (and honestly bore me) – they are steps that I have to, not only, memorize, but then follow. Pure torture! When Grandma showed me the trick for winning tick-tack-toe, when I was four or five years old, I quickly became frustrated that I could never remember it. I think I accomplished it once or twice in my lifetime, and that was, utterly, random. Any three-year-old can beat me. And, chess, just “Oh my GOD!”
The other piece is that I get, very easily, visually overwhelmed. For that reason, I don’t like graphic novels or comic books, either. I have a hard time interpreting the drawings, and, then, connecting them to the few words the author has chosen to use, to understand the story. Video or computer games provide a similar challenge – there is too much going on at the same time. And, then on top of that, I have to figure out the rules.
Besides all of that, I also stink at spatial recognition. When I was in seventh or eighth grade, we took some kind of aptitude test to determine what field we should prepare for. The only clear memory I have of that exam is sitting and struggling with the part where you had to determine from the five choices (a – e) what an unfolded shape would look like if it was folded up, and, conversely, what a folded shape would look like if it was flat. Double ugh! I got so annoyed and bored that I started filling in random bubbles on the answer sheet. Consequently, when my Guidance Counselor sat down with me to go over the results, his one recommendation was that I avoid engineering. As a thirteen-year-old, I remember thinking, “well, duh, I also detest math, so there isn’t a chance in Hell I am going to pursue that field. Could you please, just, tell me what the test said I am good at?”
It is funny the things you look back on and realize how damaging they actually were. If only I knew then what I know now – that discussion would have gone in a completely different direction. And, as for that guidance counselor – well never-mind. Hindsight is always 20:20, right? What matters here is that as a direct outcome of that test and resulting conversation, I have actively avoided anything that will put me in the place where I have to use spatial reasoning, and, consequently, look dumb. That is, until, two days ago.
I have, for obvious reasons, never had any game apps on my phone. Late Friday afternoon, I was waiting for someone to meet me at the Center to purchase some of the items from our garage sale. I was tired and didn’t feel like I had the brainpower to start the next project on my summer "to-do" list. That is when an ad for a game app randomly floated by my eyes as I scrolled my Facebook news-feed and I clicked on it. What? Really? I NEVER click on ads. But there it was, a seemingly basic game with no rules. The goal is to “dig out” the sand under little green balls to guide them into their designated “hole.” My thought process went something like – “hey, I bet I can figure that out, easily enough.” Of course, there are multiple levels, and as soon as you succeed at one it sends you to the next, as well as the over-the-top ads for other games.
Guess what? Yup, I discovered that I am damn good at this game. It fulfilled my innate desire to solve problems. If I failed the first attempt, I was able to redo it as many times as I needed to deduce what happened and change the way I tackled the puzzle. And, once I figured out one level, I wanted to challenge myself to move onto the next. Let’s just say, in between messaging with a colleague in NH, I spent the entire evening completely caught up in "winning" this game – time disappeared.
I now fully understand how gaming can be so addicting. The lure is two-fold. It hooks you with the challenge – your stubbornness kicks in and you refuse to give up. Then when you succeed at a particular task, you get direct feedback that you are good at that discrete skill, you then feel good about yourself, and as a result, seek out that opportunity again. Case in point, there were a couple of levels that were ridiculously hard; however, I was not going to give up until I figured out the strategy because I thoroughly enjoyed that hit of triumph, every time I got close and then ultimately solved it.
To be completely clear, I still don’t like (most) games. It definitely comes down to the rule thing. And, you won’t find me compulsively glued to my phone, playing “dig it.” I soon discovered that I don’t like the feeling of having time erased from my memory unless it is when I am completely caught up in a project - working on something tangible. You know – like writing, or designing graphics, or talking to kids about what excites them and makes them utterly happy.